Good Grief Going Old School

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Yesterday, I attended a family reunion. It was a Sicilian love fest! I felt so fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood where all my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents lived within blocks of each other. Stuck like glue everyone gathered including those who have gone before us thanks to old home movies which were shared on a big screen. 

The more remarkable story has to do with this lady who was in attendance. She is 89 years old. Her name is Miss Robbina. She is not a blood relative, but totally part of our family. Miss Robbina was my 6th grade teacher at McKinley School in Westfield, NJ. Over the years, she taught many of my cousins, siblings and nephews, as well. She raised us up. She engaged with our parents. They were a team of high expectations and a force to be reckoned with if:

  1. We were not doing our homework
  2. Misbehaving in class
  3. Not living up to our potential
  4. Late to class
  5. the list goes on…

As much as we might try to “divide and conquer” the adults they were always in control because they supported each other.  The teachers back then were extensions of our families. Bring back the good old days in our schools. 

Inspired by those I love most here is a family friendly recipe that was recently chosen as a winner in the Explore Cuisine recipe contest. With roasted cauliflower, salty capers and sweet golden raisins it’s an old school rustic recipe updated with red lentil penne.

Skillet Roasted Sicilian Cauliflower Red Lentil Penne

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 (8 oz) box Explore Cuisine Organic Red Lentil Penne

½ large head of cauliflower, sliced into 3/4-inch planks

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ cup golden raisins

2 tablespoons small capers, rinsed, drained

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook penne according to package directions reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking liquid. Separate sliced cauliflower into small florets. Drizzle olive oil over bottom of large unheated skillet. Add cauliflower in a single layer. Sprinkle with pepper flakes. Cover skillet and cook cauliflower over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove cover, stir cauliflower. Add golden raisins, capers, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add cooked pasta, reserved pasta water and parsley; toss well. Serve topped with pine nuts and parmesan.

Warm Pear Pad Thai Salad

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I am taking part in the “USA Pears Blogger Recipe Challenge”. This is my first entry into the side dish category.

USA Pears are at their peak of freshness right now, so I’m simply happy to accept this challenge using this beautiful versatile fruit. The fact that northwest pears come in 10 varieties and work well in both savory and sweet dishes get me excited about breaking away from the traditional side dishes I typically serve this time of year. I personally love Bosc and Anjou pears for baking, but any firm ripe pear variety works in this salad recipe. Pick your favorite. 

I hope you are ready to tingle your taste buds with this Pear Pad Thai Salad. It’s the “pear-fect” side dish to your roasted poultry, beef tenderloin or fish and will absolutely satisfy any take-out cravings. Here is the bonus: If you just happen to have a vegetarian guest at your table this really could be their meal, so no fretting as to what to serve them.

This Thai inspired pear noodle salad checks off the boxes for authentic Asian flavors. It’s crispy, crunchy, salty, sweet and tangy and in the time it takes to boil some noodles it’s ready to go.

Warm Pear Pad Thai Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Peanut Dressing

½ cup smooth peanut butter

¼ cup warm water

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

½ teaspoon Thai red curry paste

Pear Pad Thai Salad

2 firm ripe USA pears, julienned (do not peel)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

8 ounces pad Thai noodles, rice noodles or soba noodles

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1 carrot, julienned

¼ cup thinly sliced scallions including some of the bright green

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish

¼ cup chopped roasted peanuts

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

In a bowl, whisk all the Peanut Dressing ingredients together until well blended; set aside. In another bowl, toss pears with lime juice; set aside. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain noodles. In large bowl, toss noodles with sesame oil and ¼ cup of dressing.  Add pears, including the lime juice, bell peppers, carrot, scallions and cilantro; toss to combine. Pour remaining dressing over salad; toss again. Sprinkle with peanuts and sesame seeds. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 6.

For more information and delicious recipes check out the website www.usapears.org and their social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram) @usapears

Good Grief Geese

As a bird watcher and lover of nature in general I could not help but think of the natural instincts of geese as I sat through 3 beautiful weddings this month. Early in my own marriage my husband had given me a lovely gold pin created by a Maine jeweler titled “Geese Mate for Life”. Did you know that geese mate for life? It is just one of the reasons why I love this bird. Not to mention that young William would walk around the house imitating their call “ga-LEEK ga-LEEK” in a high-pitched voice. 

When it comes to grief humans should be more like geese. Their devotion to not only their partner, but their entire flock is incredibly inspiring. They illustrate perfectly the notion of “many hands make light work”. Grief work is the hardest you will ever do. If there is ever a time for a need of loving and supportive companionship it’s when someone we love dies.

Geese have a few other instincts that we can all learn from. Look up. It’s this time of year with winter in their cry that geese are flying in “V” formation. Their journey is a long one. They do it together for a reason. The flapping of their individual wings allows the bird behind them to have a bit of an uplift making the flight less of a burden. The difficult journey is made more bearable. No one need or should travel a grief journey alone. Accept support. 

Once in awhile a goose falls out of formation. (Oh, those angry years.) It immediately will feel the drag and difficulty of flying alone. What does the flock do? A pair will drop from the “V” and follow the wayward goose to support and protect it until it is able to continue on its own. It’s a through thick and thin kind of friendship. It’s the bond of love and compassion at its best. Just hold your friends up when they can’t hold themselves.  

Now one thing is for sure. A griever can be super high maintenance. The journey is long. No one person can care for and protect you. When the goose at the point, the one leading the journey, gets tired he/she falls back and let’s another take over. He/she is exhausted and needs comfort. It is wise to understand that no one person can bear the burden of your grief. Take a cue from the geese and expand your flock.

There are times in life when we must rely on each other. Times when we need to be connected and encouraged. We need to honk like the geese to show our mutual support and love otherwise we end up traveling alone. Make room for your partner in life and a few trusted family and friends. 

To everyone: Be the Goose

As a side note, one of William’s favorite movies was “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise as the character Maverick. His wing man was aptly named “Goose”. 

With the holidays on the horizon you might be expecting a recipe for goose, but that ain’t happening here. I love geese, but not on my dinner plate. So, I looked back in my arsenal of recipes and thought I’d share one from a family cookbook that my cousins and I put together many years ago. My extended family are totally a flock of geese. They have been there for me on so many occasions, but it was aunt Faye who rescued me in times of trouble during elementary school. Back then we walked to school and mid-day took a break for lunch. Aunt Faye lived only a few doors from the school and rather than me walking the long route home in the rain and snow she’d invite me in for a warm bowl of her pastina. How lucky was I to have the love and support of Aunt Faye. Here is her recipe as written in our family cookbook. 

Aunt Faye’s Famous Pastina

1 pound pastina

2 eggs

Butter

Parmesan cheese

Salt & Pepper

Boil pastina till tender. Drain and add 2 eggs, butter and parmesan cheese Salt and pepper to taste.

Okay…for all you cooks who like clear-cut quantities just go with your instincts. Be Italian for 5 minutes and add a spoonful of this or a pinch of that. Be the Goose!