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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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!

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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!

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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.

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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

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                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

Family, Food, Italian Traditions

Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love

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, and Napolitano descent…I call it, “the best of both worlds.” I feel cheated in a sense that I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up with grandparents. My maternal grandparents died when I was very young, and I only have small bits, and pieces of a memory of my grandmother, who died when I was 6 years old. My paternal grandparents lived in Puerto Rico, and my grandfather would never get on a plane to come to New York, to visit or anywhere else, for that matter…his famous words were, “If God meant for me to fly, he would have made me a bird.” I did have the opportunity to visit them, twice in their lifetime, but that’s a story for another day.

While Puerto Rican, and Italian food cultures are completely different, family bonds, and family meals were extremely important, and strong in both cultures. Interestingly enough, my father was a better cook than my mother, however, we would never tell her this…she would have been crushed. My dad was probably the first influence in my life, where I learned to be completely passionate about food, and the art of cooking. His belief with cooking…”cooking took time, and you just couldn’t rush it.”

First, let me start with my Puerto Rican heritage. I have memories of waking up, on Saturday mornings, to my dad just coming back from somewhere in the Bronx (I always regretted not asking where, exactly), with this fabulous Spanish bread, Pan de Agua (Puerto Rican Water Bread), which was always still warm, and the butter would just melt right into it. Heavenly!

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Then there was always that little white box that contained Budin (Puerto Rican Bread Pudding). It was so delicious, and it’s nearly impossible for me to describe its flavor, and taste but I can tell you this, I have never found a replication of it that can come even close to it. I have searched, and searched, and that flavor, smell, and taste are burned into my childhood memory, and I am still hopeful that one day we will meet again.

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Some Puerto Rican dishes that were pretty much a staple in our house…pernil (Puerto Rican slow roasted pork), rice with gandules (pigeon peas), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), tostones (fried plantains), and flan that delicious vanilla custard, with just a touch of a caramel flavor.

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However, there are three dishes that hold the fondest memories for me, from my childhood until today. Paella was a special treat, and my dad would take us to a restaurant in City Island (again, regrettably, I don’t remember the name) but the length of time it took to make this one pot meal, which includes chicken, chorizo, mussels, clams, shrimp, pork, and some other great ingredients, and flavors, was well worth the wait.

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Then there were pasteles, which is a cherished culinary recipe, and they are typically made only around the holidays (most often, Christmas). I wouldn’t even attempt to recite what the ingredients are…I don’t have the knowledge or the experience with making them to give them the justice they so rightfully deserve. What I do know, is they are extremely labor intensive, and are made in batches of a hundred or more, and when you receive these culinary treasures, as a gift, sharing is something you really think about, and most often, you don’t want to part with them.

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Lastly, I think the meal cooked by my father that we still talk about till this day, my children, sister’s, and nephew included, is Bistec Encebollado, which is fondly known as Poppy’s Steak & Onions. It is strips of shoulder beef medallions (pounded thinly), and sliced onions, which were marinated together for hours in garlic, oregano, olive oil, vinegar, and Poppy’s secret sofrito, and adobo (well, he thought it was a secret). He would sauté everything, and stew all of it for hours, and then it was served with white rice, and beans. While it may not sound like much…trust me, after the bread dipping into the juices, and the fighting for the last piece of succulent steak, everyone left that meal extremely satisfied. This was just one of many dishes that I wished I paid closer attention too. Even though we all know the ingredients or we think we do, no one has perfected it nor has anyone come close to replicating Poppy’s Steak and Onions.

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Typically, they say your mother’s heritage, and traditions dominate your upbringing. For me, while my father had a great influence in my life, he had very little family in New York, and with my mother being one of eight children (4 sisters, 4 brothers), it was her Italian side that dominated my upbringing. Since our home was fairly small (a 2nd floor apartment), most Sunday dinners were spent with one of my relatives on my mother’s side but that’s not to say there weren’t meals at my mother’s table. She always found room, and there was always enough.

Growing up in a large Italian family, (4 generations of 90 or more, and growing), there is such a wealth of knowledge around cooking. I learned from many, if not, from all of my aunts, who I consider to be some of the best home cooks, how to perfect my cooking skills, and the precision, along with the finesse in presenting food. They truly cooked with love, a lot of passion, and for each one of them, it was always about pleasing those sitting at their table, and the gratification they received from your enjoyment of their food.

I grew up watching, and standing, side by side with many of my aunts, at their stoves, mentally absorbing their skills, and techniques. With the exception of baking, which is pure science, they were cooks who measured nothing, and they could never really recite a recipe without saying, a pinch, a handful or palm full measurement. Everything was measured visually, and by taste. It’s a talent that’s hard to learn unless you really enjoy cooking or more importantly, paid attention.

I grew up on Italian favorites such as, pasta fagioli (macaroni and beans), bistecca alla pizzaiola (steak, marinara, garlic, oregano, mushrooms, onions, and stewed in one pot), and pasta e piselli con carne macinata – sauté onions, and garlic with ground beef, add peas, penne, small elbow macaroni or ditalini, and meld everything together. Serve with grated cheese, and crushed red pepper flakes…ahhh, a feast!

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One of my lasting memories is of my aunt’s famous, patate e uova frittata (potato and egg omelet), which included five pounds of potatoes, and at least a dozen or more eggs. She cooked the potatoes in this old cast iron pan, which she still has today, and when the potatoes were nearly cooked, she added the beaten eggs. Once the frittata was done, it was about 3 inches high, and the potatoes always had a crisp to them. Visually, it is an absolute work of art, and since the pan is so heavy, my uncle is in charge of turning it over so that it can continue to cook, and once done, onto a serving dish, and he would carefully place that masterpiece on the table.

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Sunday’s were always about family visits, eating, and playing with your cousins, who lived near, or far. It could be any one of your relatives house that you would visit…traveling to the Bronx or to Flushing or to Brooklyn or to somewhere in between. Whoever’s house it was, it was almost a guarantee the smell of frying meatballs would immediately hit your senses once you walked through the front door, and that Sunday pot of gravy (yes, we call it gravy, not sauce) would be simmering on the stove. The Sunday meal was considered a feast, and that pot of gravy included meatballs, pork, braciole, and pelle di maiale (pig skin), which while today it is considered so unhealthy (I agree)…back then it was so delicious, and it just melted in your mouth after being cooked for hours in the gravy.

Before we ventured out to visit family, my dad always took a ride, after Sunday mass, of course…to the Italian deli, Zuccarelli’s, on Gramatan Ave, and to Dante’s Italian Bakery on 241st Street in the Bronx. It was a given, you never visited family without bringing pastries. I can remember walking into that deli, and even as a child, you were immediately intoxicated by the aroma of the delicacies on display. The Italian cold cuts, specialties, and breads that were purchased were either for the weeks lunches or if you were still hungry when you arrived home from the Sunday family dinner, which usually started at 1pm (on Sunday’s, lunch was dinner), you had an early evening sandwich. And as for the Italian pastries, who could resist a cannoli or a chocolate éclair or a sfogliatelle or a pasticiotto…just to name a few.

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All of these influences have added to my current day traditional Italian Sunday dinners, and holiday’s with my family. Sadly, my parents are no longer with us but the traditions they instilled in me live on. When my children were growing up, my son would smell those Sunday morning meatballs in his sleep, and he would immediately wake up to eat a few of them, just fried, before they went into the pot of gravy. As he got older, and those teenage years rolled around, he didn’t get up as easily but Mom always made sure there was a small bowl of fried meatballs left on the kitchen counter for him.

Before becoming a Nana, my dream had always been for my grandchildren to wake up on a Sunday morning, and say, “I want to go to Nana’s to eat her meatballs.” Today, with the busy lives that many people lead, and with both parents in the workplace, along with keeping up with children’s sports activities, school work, social events, just to name a few…Sunday dinners, as I grew up knowing them to be, has changed. Maybe it’s too much work or maybe people have become very health conscious (everything in moderation is my motto) or maybe families just decided to change, and start making their own new Sunday traditions. However, for me, a Sunday dinner, any holiday or any meal, for that matter, will never be anything less than it was for me growing up…not for this Nana.

Today, my sisters, and I have grown our immediate family into 16, which now includes our own children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews to great nieces and nephews. Last year, when I moved into my new home, my first priority purchase was my dream dining room table…one that seats 12, and then there is always that folding table for 4, which is fondly known as the kids table. Most Sunday’s, Nana’s table is filled with family, and whoever shows up, shows up. It’s a given that there is always enough, there is always room, and an invite is not necessary.

Over the years, the biggest self-gratification, and compliments I could ever receive have been endless. My 11 year old grandson is truly convinced that his Nana once had a cooking show on Food Network, and my 4 year old nephew says, “Aunt Deb’s meatballs are the best.” With every Christmas Eve, in the past, that was hosted at another family members house, it was a given that I would receive a frantic call from my son or nephew confirming I was still doing the cooking, and lastly, my cooking being referred to as “gourmet” is the ultimate compliment I could ever receive.

I always tell my daughter, and now I include my daughter-in-law, and granddaughter’s…“pay attention because I am not going to be around forever” (reality) but for as long as I am here, and I am physically able, Nana’s stove will always have a Sunday Pot of Love simmering on it, and it will always be filled with my famous meatballs, sausage, and succulent pork that falls off the bone.

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The meal will always begin with antipasti, which typically includes fresh mozzarella, fried sweet and hot peppers, an assortment of Italian olives, and soppressata.

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There will always be fresh Italian bread or a homemade focaccia, along with one of Nana’s famous dessert creations. Dessert can be anything from a puffed pastry apple tart served warm with vanilla ice cream to chocolate lava cake to zeppoles with apricot dipping sauce.

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Cooking together as a family builds strong family bonds, memories, and it brings everyone together for laughter, sharing old and new stories, learning, and teaching old family traditions. So surround yourself with family, pour a cup of coffee or espresso or a glass of wine…break out the flour, and dust off that mixer, chop some garlic, and take out the hidden cast iron or frying pan. Get yourself some extra virgin olive oil, and some great Italian cheese, olives, bread, and put on your mad scientist hat!

When you’re passionate about food, the possibilities are endless. In the end there will always be a tasteful surprise, and more importantly, it’s a feast with the people you love, family! The family this Nana loves, will always have a place at her stove, and her table, and unconditionally, they will always hold a special place in her heart, and in her life, along with “Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love.”

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La famiglia e mangiare!

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

Food, Uncategorized

‘Tis The Season of Fall

You clearly know the season of Fall is upon us when there’s a little nip in the air, you break out the sweaters, the trees burst with magnificent, brilliant colors, you hear the sound of rustling leaves beneath your feet, and the aroma, along with the wonderful taste of the first soups of the season strike your senses. There is just something about soup that envelopes you, makes you feel all warm inside, embraces your heart, palate, and for whatever reason just feels like home.

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Growing up, in an era where we were considered to be middle class, and honestly, reflecting back, I think we probably would have been considered poor by today’s standards. However, we were rich in family, and a long history of traditions. Being raised by an Italian mother, who grew up during the depression era, most dishes were referred to as “peasant food” but they were always delicious, and stretched to feed a family, small or large, and there was always enough, and room for the unexpected company. To many our meals weren’t elaborate but to me they were rich with an Italian heritage, along with flavors, tastes, and smells that fill my head, and heart with many special memories. The meal was a time where the family gathered around a table, and reunited from a day of school, play or work. Soups were made from anything, and everything. From the cheapest cut of beef to vegetables to beans to poultry. Everything in one pot, and it simmered for hours on the stove. Add a loaf of Italian bread, a little or a lot of grated cheese, rice, ditalini or friselle (Italian pepper biscuits), and ahhhh, a meal that was a feast.

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Today, as a mother, and a Nana, I have taken my Italian family traditions, and the teachings from some of the best home cooks that I admire, and grew up with, and added my own twist on some old, and new favorite soups. Sometimes, we make life so complicated but there is no need to make soup complicated…keep it simple, make it with love, enjoy it with those you love, and add some great conversation. Family is about building strong bonds, making loving memories, and you can build, and make both around any meal.

La famiglia, and buon appetito!

Deborah's Italian Wedding Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Uncategorized

A Newbie Blogger

Yes, that’s me a newbie blogger. This is my introduction to writing about food, interior design, dreams, life, and then reality but first my story as to what got me here. After 33 years of a successful career in the financial industry, I found myself in a position that many middle managers eventually do, and 4 months ago, I was presented with a separation agreement or maybe I should say my hand was forced to sign one. To be completely honest, I never thought I would be in this position, and I always thought I would someday retire from the industry when age dictated it was time but it happened sooner than I anticipated. I want to be clear here, I have no regrets, and I truly loved my career. The financial industry is rapidly changing, and today, working on the frontline is not a happy place for many to be in. For me, every day was about the client, providing a high level of service, and presenting life solutions were always forefront in my mind, and my teams but somewhere along the way the industry lost sight of the clients, their employees, and it became a widget driven industry. During the last 6 years of my career, my personal, and team’s achievements, along with the many awards speak volumes about our accomplishments, and what we represented to the industry, and more importantly, to the client, and what I represented to myself.

As I turn the page, in yet another chapter of my life, I had to take a hard look at where I was in my life, and what paths, and opportunities were now available to me. I thought, how do I take my business knowledge, my skills, wisdom, life experiences, talents, and utilize them all to help me live my life passions of cooking, interior design, being a mentor, and a writer. So I explored, and I listened to my intuitive inner voice, and I am pursing my life passions, and dreams, and here I am. My comfort in the kitchen, my creative interior design ideas, teaching, and my passion for telling a story are all possessions I am eagerly willing to share. As I move along this journey, my hope, and desire is that I bring to you new, innovative, and creative ideas, a wealth of life wisdom, and thoughts, and to teach all of you to never lose sight of your dreams. It’s never too late…you just have to believe, and keep the faith.