Feast Your Eyes On the 7 Fishes

pasta with fresh clams

pasta with fresh clams

When I think about William I think about how much he loved to fish and hunt. While cooking is my therapy I do believe fishing and hunting was his. He loved everything about being in nature and had a great respect for it. He only took from the waters and the forest what he knew he could eat and the rest was returned unharmed. He had amazing vision and often could spy the fish underwater, the deer camouflaged in the brush and the hawk way up high in the trees. We’d be walking a trail when all of a sudden he would spread his arms silently commanding everyone to halt. And then he would point towards some wonderful creature that we otherwise would have missed. It was impressive………

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And it was shocking to later learn from his Navy physical that he was color-blind. This disqualified him from his life-long dream of becoming a SEAL. Awe-too bad so sad thought his mother…and the gene for color blindness is passed from mother to son, so it was kind of all my fault. Truly, I felt bad, but at the same time was hopeful that he could do something a little less dangerous. The joke was on me as he later trained in field medicine and became part of the elite Scout Sniper Platoon. Those guys are bad-ass and Will was a natural fit.

Will's room

Will’s room

It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow and I sure am missing my son and those gorgeous, loving color-blind eyes. He loved the feast of the 7 fishes and he would be right beside me in the kitchen taste testing everything. Tomorrow we will have smoked salmon, crab cakes, seared scallops, shrimp fra diavalo, grilled salmon, calamari and baccala. I love keeping this Italian family tradition alive as much as I love honoring William here on this blog. I know he is here in spirit baiting my hook and rowing the boat.

baccala salad

baccala salad

Probably every Italian family has their own version of dried cod fish salad because there really is no right or wrong except when it comes to rehydrating the salted dried fish. It takes a good 3 days of soaking the fish in cold water changing the water daily. Then just boil it, flake it and start adding the goodness. Lots of fresh lemon juice, fresh chopped parsley, capers, chopped cured black olives, chopped sweet and fiery vinegar peppers, celery, good EVOO and anchovies.

Merry Christmas everybody. May you have peace in your heart and be surrounded by all those you love.

The Miracle of Roasting

IMG_2443Tis the season of comfort and joy, but if one is grieving over the loss of a child it feels like anything but. Time to dig deep. Time to remember the reason for the season.  Let’s push the source of our greatest sorrow aside for a just a bit and celebrate our greatest joy. Our children. Trust me on this one. You are stronger than you think.

There is nothing more joyful than the birth of a child. As a physician assistant I delivered quite a few babies. It was a miracle every time and the glorious experience never got old.  I hoped to be a mom one day myself. It was “the job” I looked most forward to.

I remember every detail of the birth of my children like it was yesterday. Secretly, I prayed for a girl and wow did I deliver! My miracle is perfectly beautiful and loves me like no other. Two and half years later I am blessed with William. Let the fun begin. So many treasured memories to wrap myself up in; warm and fuzzy all over.

Christmas in San Diego

My most precious gifts. Christmas in San Diego.

Caitlin is the daughter that dreams are made of. She is my greatest gift and always will be. She is my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Something I never thought I could do after William died. Without ever knowing she handed me the “shovel” so I could dig deep. It takes a while, but the time will come. The strength to dig deep is inside of each and every one of us. Find a reason to emerge from that dark hole. Ask for help if you can’t see the light.

While the parent is supposed to protect the child somewhere along the way our boundaries get blurred and roles get reversed. Truthfully, Caitlin and I have exchanged very few words about William’s death. Maybe there are no words for the death of a young son and brother. But healing begins with a few words. “Mom, we will find happiness again, I promise”.  Much like her brother, my daughter is strong and confident and determined. She follows through on her promise with a little help from a guy named Sam.

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Next to her birth, Caitlin’s wedding is one of the most joyful experiences of my life. I did not know I could feel that kind of comfort in my heart again. The year leading up to the big day is filled with priceless moments, laughter and I’d be lying if I didn’t say a few tears. But I let it go. I open my heart to the possibility….that I can feel joy again and I do. You can, too. It’s a very real miracle.

Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower

Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower

In my cooking world there is nothing more miraculous than the transformation taken on by raw vegetables when roasted. How anyone can bite into a raw mushroom, broccoli floret or chunk of cauliflower and enjoy it is beyond me. But take those same vegetables, roast them up and I am in veggie side-dish heaven. My dear Caitlin taught me the virtues of roasted cauliflower (I love that this apple didn’t fall far from the cooking tree), so this one is for her. I love her more than I can say. She is my greatest gift this Christmas season.

Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower

1 head Cauliflower
3 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
½ tsp Kosher Salt
¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Non-pareil Capers, drained, rinsed
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
¼ cup Golden Raisins
2 Tbsp Pine Nuts, toasted

Heat oven 450F. Cut cauliflower into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place in a large baking pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss around. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, turning twice, until tender and golden. Meanwhile, warm the remaining olive oil and capers over medium heat. In a large serving bowl, toss cauliflower, warm caper oil, lemon juice, raisins, and pine nuts. Season with additional salt, pepper and lemon juice, if needed. Serves 6.

Helpful Tips: Cauliflower can also be separated into florets instead of slicing.

Loss and Giving Thanks

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Celebrating the holidays is especially difficult after losing someone near and dear to the heart. It can be such a time of sadness and of dread. The loss hits hard. It’s a time when one feels like burying their head in the sand rather then planning family gatherings and buying gifts. I remember our first Thanksgiving and Christmas following my son’s death. I could not stop crying. I could not be in my house.  Thankfully, my brother and sister in-law offered to have Thanksgiving at their beach house and my father in-law invited us to North Carolina for Christmas. It was the great escape from so many happy holiday memories. It was a relief to not have to decorate, plan a meal or see an empty chair at my dinner table.

The holidays will never be the same and will always bring some sadness, but I can assure that with time it gets a bit easier.  It becomes a time to decide what you can still be grateful for. For instance, I can truly say that I am so grateful for the 23 years I had with the most amazing son on the planet. I am grateful that I can still hear his voice and feel his hug. I am grateful for all the times he made me laugh and let me take his picture as I see his dazzling smile and loving eyes in so many photos. I am grateful that he is still with me in spirit and that his energy is ever present giving me peace in my heart. And isn’t having peace in one’s heart what the holidays are supposed to be about? Yes, I have many things to be grateful for.

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There isn’t a more peaceful place for me to be than at the beach. Luckily that is where my family is headed this Thanksgiving. What a blessing to be surrounded by family and friends. We will all be banging pots and pans together, enjoying an amazing feast, playing bocce in the sand and searching for sea glass along the shore. We’ll remember all the reasons why we are grateful to be together.

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This year I am grateful for the vegetable garden that keeps on giving. I am amazed that I grew these pumpkins from seed in a plot of ground no bigger than 2 by 4 feet. The pumpkin vines were out of control, but never mind about that. Just yesterday I roasted the baby pumpkin to try out this new recipe I created using some Martha White self-rising cornmeal mix. It is surprisingly moist with a pleasant kick from the warm spices. Hope it makes its way onto your Thanksgiving table or holiday brunch. Let me know if you try it. And if you don’t own a Lodge cast iron skillet that is a must have on your Christmas list.

Spicy Pumpkin Cornbread

2 cups self-rising cornmeal mix*

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated preferred)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup mashed pumpkin**

3 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup olive oil

Heat oven 425F. Heat a lightly greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the cornmeal mix, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, pumpkin, eggs and olive oil. Add the pumpkin mixture to the cornmeal mixture, stirring just until moistened. Carefully spoon the batter into the hot skillet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick or wooden tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Slice into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

*if cornmeal mix is unavailable substitute 2 cups white cornmeal, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt

**if using canned pumpkin, spread it out on a few layers of paper towels to absorb some of the moisture. It is shocking how much liquid gets absorbed into the paper towels.

Note: to roast the pumpkin all I did was remove the stem, plop the whole pumpkin in an oven-safe skillet and roast at 400F for about an hour or until it is soft and skin is turning dark orange. Cool. Peel away the skin and remove the seeds and stringy stuff inside. Then I put all the pumpkin meat back into the skillet and over medium-low heat cook it for a good 10 or 15 minutes, stirring with a heat-safe rubber spatula, to smooth it out and remove as much moisture as possible. The pumpkin gets sweeter and a little darker in color as it caramelizes. Cool and use in all your favorite pumpkin recipes.