Around the Table, Around the World

By Siv Volden, Anita Rubino, John Martin, Pamela Capriotti Martin

One of the greatest benefits of Facebook to our family has been connecting with family members, particularly overseas. Daughter Maille connected easily with her cousin Siv in Vinstra, Norway and her cousin, Anita in Naples, Italy about their family traditions in their homes and countries. When I read their accounts, I immediately recognized some of the traditions from my childhood through Siv (we are related through my grandmother, Hildred) and some from Anita (Johns mother Giulia and Anitas father, Guglielmo are sister and brother). John has added his memories of how his Italian mother and Irish father brought their family celebrations together during the Christmas holidays.

Anita:

One of the two main Christmas traditions in our family and in Naples can be found in the nativity or ‘presepi’. At midnight the 24th of December we sing a song and in procession take the little Jesus Christ to the main scene of the nativity. Usually it is the youngest member of the family who has this honor of carrying the Christ child.24956869_10213029430922792_1783634754_o.jpg

On Christmas Eve we eat fish. We begin with a salad with shrimp followed by spaghetti with sea fruits, bass cooked in the oven, fried shrimp and there is a special salad which is named insalata di rinforzo (backup or reinforcement salad) ironically because the dinner doesn’t need any backup! The salad is cauliflower with olives, pickled peppers and many other things.Image-1 (1).jpg

The rule for the end of the meal is fresh fruit and eating almonds and other nuts.

The other tradition every year are lighting fires in every home, out on the balcony or on the terrace of the building: at midnight of 31st of December. It’s a gesture of invitation to the Virgin Mary, who can warm newborn Jesus next to the warm flames. Afterwards, according to tradition, families would use the ashes as charms to protect the house from damage.

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Siv:

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Advent is very important in the Norwegian tradition. It starts Dec1. Most children get a Christmas calendar with one little gift a day until Dec. 24. Norwegian television has calendars with Christmas stories and lots of people are having Christmas parties with neighbors and family.

Building up to the Christmas holiday we will make homebrewed beer, bake lefse, clean the house and make seven different cookies. Years ago, Norway was a very poor country which is why so many families emigrated to the United States, including Pamela’s great-grandparents Mathea and Thron Thronson. (Siv and Pamela are related through Mathea). So long ago the custom was to bake the seven kinds of cookies to show neighbors that we were wealthy enough to bake so many cookies.24209224_1483484111698650_1112224394_o.jpg

In Norway, Christmas Eve is when Santa Claus arrives with gifts. The holiday starts Dec 24 at 5 pm. Dec 25 and Dec 26 are also holy days. Santa Claus has a Norwegian relative: fjøsnissen, who live in the barn and are taking care of animals and people at the farm IF people treat them nice. So we’re making porridge and putting it in the barn on Christmas Eve so fjøsnissen will keep on helping us at the farm.

Typical Christmas dinner is: pork ribs, lamb ribs, lutefisk and lefse.24321780_1483482095032185_956396611_o.jpg

John’s Christmas traditions include Italian traditions like the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve and Irish traditions on Christmas Day.

John:

We always had pasta with different fish including smelt, shrimp, and some sort of white fish. On Christmas Day there would be a roast, usually beef with roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert a Christmas pudding with stirred custard.

Pamela:

My family had Christmas Eve with my mom’s parents and Christmas Day with my dad’s family where we usually had turkey with all the trimmings including pies for dessert. My Norwegian grandmother always thought Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas Day and was always the first to open her gifts. The house smelled of cookies and lutefisk but she always made a pork crown roast with lingonberries for dinner.

The melding of John and Pam’s heritage began with honoring our Italian and Norwegian roots on Christmas Eve. While I did not grow up with any Italian Christmas traditions despite my last name, John did. On occasion we would prepare several fish dishes and pasta, but mostly we would order a crown pork roast stuffed with sausage, my grandmother Hildred’s Norwegian tradition. There would be cranberry compote (too hard to find lingonberries) mashed potatoes, and root vegetables. For dessert? That’s always been pretty open to whatever the girls wanted to make or wanted to eat but there would be lefse and sandbakkels. This year we are making pasta. Christmas Day we now are fully committed to prime rib, roasted English potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert – well John gets his mince pies, Christmas pudding and a puddle of custard. For the rest of us – an apple pie with the same perfect custard robe.

Happy Christmas to all.IMG_0694.JPG

Have a Holly, Jolly Meatball

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

We’ve been blessed to have friends who love to cook as much as we do. Sally, Luke, and Sophie are great friends and Sally is a marvelous, creative cook and baker. And the cooks in our house, and the cooks in their house have a tendency to talk smack about whose dish is better. For John, Sally, and three of my daughters – the big smack one year was meatballs. When the Meatball Shoppe opened in NYC and issued a cookbook, the talk got louder and louder. While some of us thought all their meatballs were fabulous, some people wanted affirmation.

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And so the Great Christmas Meatball Off was born. I organized the rules and the teams were formed. Team One: Sally vs Team Two: John and Manda vs Team Three: Morgan and Maddy. I decided to remain neutral and organize the judges: Andrew, Todd, Jeff, and Luke – all a bit “cooking” challenged but big lovers of meatballs.

The plates were the same, the ballots were created and the meatballs fashioned, simmered, and served.

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Over the years we have enjoyed having celebrations to share with our friends and neighbors and the Holiday Season is a perfect time to open your home for a soup party (everyone bring a pot) an appetizer and cocktail party (bring your favorite signature cocktail mix and a fun appetizer, and one year a New Year’s Day Dessert Levee – everyone brought cookies, cakes, pies and we sugared our way through New Year’s Day. Make it simple, make it delicious, make it fun and invite everyone to play a part.

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I shall keep the meatball winner(s) of this particular Meatball Off a secret but here are some winning meatballs.

Winning Meatballs

INGREDIENTS

For the tomato sauce:
5 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
700g passata
75ml dry red wine
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
1 mozzarella balls, sliced
Salt & pepper
For the meatballs:
250g good quality minced beef
250g good quality minced pork
100g pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
60ml buttermilk
50g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp dried oregano, chopped
A small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
50g grated Parmesan cheese,
Salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS
Cook onions and pancetta until translucent. Let cool. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the meatballs. Season with salt and pepper and mix until completely and evenly combined. Using a tablespoon form large golf ball sized meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Transfer to a large baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining mixture, cover and leave in the fridge to become firm for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Place a large frying pan over a medium high heat and add a good glug of olive oil. If all the meatballs don’t fit in the pan at once, fry half the meatballs until browned on all sides, this will take 8-10 minutes and then transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. If doing two batches, wipe out the pan with kitchen paper, add another glug of oil and fry the remaining batch. Preheat the oven to 300F.

Drain any excess oil from the pan and place back on a low heat, add the garlic and allow slowly simmer until just golden but not browned. Pour in the passata and red wine a stir through. Season with dried oregano, chili flakes, salt & pepper. Bring to a steady simmer and allow to cook for 5-6 minutes before adding the meatballs to the pan and gently turning to coat them in the sauce with a tablespoon. Cover the pan with a lid and transfer to the oven.

Cook gently for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, turn up the oven to 425F and dot the meatballs with mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan and return to the oven.
Serve the baked meatballs with spaghetti cooked in a pot of well seasoned boiling water until al dente and sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese.

Have Yourself a Hygge Little Christmas

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

Simple pleasures. Family, friends, graciousness; sharing and caring for others. The Danish word “hygge” has become part of our vocabulary recently, and this year, it was pretty much the guide I used as I bought my Christmas gifts.

It isn’t about the expense. It isn’t about technology or hype. It’s about bringing the actual ‘comfort and joy’ in the old song, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.IMG_0677.JPG

As a writer, we are meant to give texture to our writing with more than just dialogue and plot points, bringing together the ‘life’ details around our characters. It’s really the same for the Christmas season for me. Living in the South there are some missing elements: the scent of the pine trees, the feeling of snowflakes on your eyelashes. The scent of a first snow before it begins. The warmth of hot chocolate in your mittened hands. And so, Hygge is about honoring the five senses for me this Christmas. The sounds. The sights. The tastes. The touch. The smells. The simplicity that brings joy.IMG_0694.JPG

I’ve created a Christmas playlist on my phone. Random Christmas songs don’t bring me joy. I love the sounds of Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and perhaps a few artists who are still with us, Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and even a little Madonna.

My top ten songs for Christmas:

White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Santa Baby by Madonna
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Michael Buble
Count Your Blessings by Rosemary Clooney
Holy Night by John McDermott
Sleigh Ride by Harry Connick Jr.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Dean Martin (childhood favorite)
Silent Night by Frank Sinatra (1957)
The scents of Christmas support the feelings of warmth. I’m a candle person. My diffuser is always out of whatever is meant to bring scent to a room, but my candles this season bring warm spices of cinnamon and cloves, the fruitiness of cranberries, the piney woods, and even the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven. (Although, there are plenty of cookies baking.)

Taste. There are so many tastes that evoke the season. The tartness of dried cranberries in granola, biscotti, and oatmeal cookies. Who needs raisins? The warmth of cider with spices and a beautiful velvety chocolaty hot chocolate. I’ve included recipes for both. My husband is Irish and Italian and so it’s not Christmas without a Christmas pudding, a large pot of spaghetti on Christmas Eve and mince pies.

While my grandmother scented the house with Norwegian Christmas traditions of lefse, warm rommegrot (a Norwegian pudding) topped with cinnamon and sugar and the not so welcome Lutekfisk, my grandfather, who was German brought out the pickled herring and sauerkraut. The best though were her homemade cookies, the sandbakkels which signaled Christmas to me. They’re baked in little tart tins and some were terribly stubborn and didn’t come out of the tin perfectly. And that meant they were to be eaten because they wouldn’t make the cookie tray. Shucks.

Warm flannel nightgowns made by my mother were part of our Christmas tradition. I remember particularly one that was a pale blue print with hearts, so soft and warm for those cold Minnesota winters. My daughters have received Christmas pajamas for most of their years, not always flannel pj pants but some in soft cotton or silky fabric that feels delightful on the skin. There have been cashmere socks or hats and scarves, mittens, and other things that envelope us in warmth. Not to mention handwarmers from LLBean in the ski boots and ski mittens.

The sights of Christmas are married with the sounds.

Films and Books I recommend:

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – A beautifully illustrated children’s book

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci – Strangers on a train bound for Los Angeles at Christmas

Letters from Father Christmas J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters written and illustrated by Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 from Father Christmas to his children

Madeline’s Christmas Ludwig Bemelmens – My favorite childhood heroine

The Greatest Gift is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943 that became the basis for It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Wish by Lori Evert (Author),‎ Per Breiehagen (Illustrator) – A beautiful book. Anja wants to be one of Santa’s elves. When she skis off in her quest to find Santa, a bird, horse, musk ox, polar bear, and reindeer show her the way.

Christmas Films:

Holiday Inn – Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Every single number but the 4th of July dance with the firecrackers is my favorite.

Come to the Stable – Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. I loved the tennis-playing nun the best.

Miracle on 34th Street – Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn. I wanted to be Susan. And I wanted her house.

Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyk. Just a sweet retro pic.

The Santa Claus – Tim Allen. I don’t love Tim Allen but I do love the whole silly premise but mostly the relationship between Charlie and his dad. And the souped up sleigh.

Love Actually – Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and more.

And perhaps one of my very favorites, no matter the season, Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – made me want to do research and learn to make floating islands. I did. If you like this one – get every single one of the Hepburn/Tracy films. They’re dynamite.IMG_0681.JPG

One of the best parts of the season are the activities that bring you together as a family. Wrapping presents together. Creating your own festive wraps by decorating plain brown wrapping paper with a stamp with silver or gold, or writing Merry Christmas or other holiday words in script with a colored marker. Putting red or green ribbons around each package and making tags from old cards or brown cardstock and tying a bit of evergreen to the bow. Making ornaments.

Playing a game. In years past we broke into teams to play Trivial Pursuit. Mapomimoes (Europe) is a new favorite geography game. Apples to Apples or Candyland (another childhood favorite) with the younger crowd. Doing a Christmas puzzle together on the floor. Baking cookies or making gifts for teachers together. Making sure you allow the young ones to add their own creative and unique suggestions ensuring the perfection in the adult in you doesn’t overpower their vision.

For the time in Vermont this year, I’m packing the games, the pajamas, the hot chocolate mix I’ve made, the books, the songs, and I’ll decorate a little tree in Vermont. We will have ourselves a Merry Hygge Christmas. I hope there’s snow. (I’m sure there is snow)!IMG_0695.JPG

Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved.

Homemade Mulling Spice

large orange, zested, peel and pith, minced

1 ounce jar cinnamon sticks, chipped

.75 ounce whole allspice

.75 ounce whole cloves

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and put a piece of parchment paper down.

Scatter the zest, peel and pith over the parchment paper and bake for about an hour until dry. Meanwhile, place the cinnamon sticks in a Ziploc and wrap it in a towel. Smash. I use a wooden meat hammer but a rolling pin would work.

Mix everything gently together and store in an airtight container.

Add 1 tablespoon to each eight ounces of cider. Warm and strain into a mug.IMG_0689.JPG

Sugar and Spice

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of young families in 25 houses with 68 kids. While my mother was the only one who had a full-time out of home job, the others served as afternoon surrogates with cookies, brownies, and treats galore. Every Christmas we would bake 24 dozen cookies and bring them to the annual cookie swap. I both dreaded the work and loved the exchange. The kids had our favorites and with no disrespect meant to the other mothers – we all loved Mrs. Jensen’s cookies the best. Mrs. Jensen was from Sweden and we thought her so worldly. Mr. Jensen was Danish, and as I found out when I interviewed him for a college Oral History project, was a leading member of the Danish Underground during World War II. He met Mrs. Jensen, a nurse, when he ferried Jewish families from Denmark to Sweden where she and others moved them to safety. The Danish Resistance managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark’s 7,800 Jews plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden. Sadly, I lost the tape of our interview, but I remember every detail very well. I remember being so awestruck that this hero was living down the street that I barely could keep my eyes on my notes and ask him questions. Thank heavens for a tape recorder. They were an amazing family right in our little neighborhood.

Mrs. Jensen was a sweet lady who made the most delicate horseshoe shaped Swedish ginger cookies. We waited ever year for the crispy brown cookies and coveted the recipe although she never parted with it. My mother made Norwegian sandbakkels (a crispy almond sugar cookie baked in a fluted tin) every year. Many of the mothers in the neighborhood had Scandinavian roots and then there was Mrs. Gallagher (Lebanese) and Mrs. Grady (Irish) and Mrs. Woodburn (German). Popular cookies with the kids were candy cane sugar cookies, a wonderful stained glass cookie, spritz with sprinkles (although we always thought they were too small), almond snowball cookies, and always some great baklava which technically isn’t a cookie but it was much appreciated.image1.jpeg

Here are three of our favorite cookie recipes – my favorite easy shortbread, my grandmother’s favorite molasses cookies and my recipe for cranberry and pistachio biscotti.

Shortbread

Ingredients:
3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use a heavy hand on this)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a cookie cutter of your desired shape. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

**Don’t want to roll them out – I generally don’t. Halve the dough, roll into two logs, (I always freeze one) cut them ½ inch thick and follow baking directions above. To festive them up – dip in melted chocolate of your choice.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

Ingredients:
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup boiling water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water. Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes. Drain, and set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture, and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly. Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet. Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack. Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack. Biscotti can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Great-Grandma’s Molasses Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup mild-flavored (light) or robust-flavored (dark) molasses
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
Coarse sanding or raw sugar (for rolling)

Directions

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 375°F. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine.

Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes). Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.

Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

MAKE AHEAD: Cookie dough can be made and rolled into balls 2 weeks ahead. Freeze on a baking sheet; transfer to resealable plastic bags. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before rolling in sugar.image1 (2).jpeg

Traditions around the Tree

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

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I have no idea how my passion for Christmas began but I can venture a guess. When we were young, my mother worked hard at making Christmas special for my two brothers and me. She sewed matching outfits or nightgowns for me and my cousins Cindy and Nancy. My grandmother was Norwegian and she made lots of lefse and taught me to press the cookie dough in the sandbakkel tins (theyre a Norwegian almond flavored sugar cookie.) I spent endless hours searching through the Sears catalogue looking at pretty dresses I would love for Christmas. And my brothers and I would sneak a peek at around 2 a.m. Christmas morning when we were certain Santa had already put all our things under the decorated tree.

But the tree was a hassle for my father and the tree stand never actually held the tree appropriately upright. It fell at least once annually. My father absolutely hated putting up the tree but I looked at it as magical with the colored lights, handmade ornaments, and tinsel, carefully placed strand by strand by me and thrown like spaghetti by my younger brother toward the angel on top.

It was fine but I thought there must be more. I found “my Christmas in the movie, Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and I was certain thats how it was meant to be. On a little 16 inch black and white television I would wait for my movie every year on Channel 11, Movies with Mel. Then, I found out there were more magical films. Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, Come to the Stable, and while we didnt have color, White Christmas because now I was certain if Bing Crosby was around, it really was the beginning of Christmas. (It should be noted here that my ringtone for Christmas is Mele Kalikimaka by Bing). I wasnt a big fan of Its a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol because they werent as happy as I presumed Christmas should always be.

I spent the fall semester of my senior year of college studying in Italy and the UK, arriving home Christmas Eve to no tree! I began to cry as Id been homesick for much of my time abroad and in my mind, the tree would be up, cookies baked, and hot chocolate would be ready. None of the above. My father dutifully put me in the car and off we drove to the barren tree lot. Only one tree remained and no one was there. A note was attached to the tree If you found this tree then it is free. And so it was, and I took it home, decorated it myself after finding all the decorations in the basement, and baked myself cookies vowing I would never ever not have a tree.

I started my own traditions and mini rules in my brain. My husband has willingly played along in what I consider important to our Christmas holidays as he has his own expectations which involve mince pies, skis, and plenty of tasty Christmas cookies despite his protestations that they have carbs.

Im pretty sure I passed some of my passion along to my four daughters although they all pass on watching Holiday Inn but may watch Love Actually or a marathon of Christmas Story instead. They have begun their own traditions of making ornaments, putting ribbons on the tree, having more than one tree with a theme and decorating their homes with joy.

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The Christmas Tree trimming begins for us immediately after Thanksgiving. (USA not Canadian) It was a daddy/daughter outing with mummy getting things ready at home. The girls were always told to choose a tree no taller than the tallest girl. And I swear it was always 9-10 feet tall. And oh, so beautiful. My husband and however many of his daughters were available, one then two, then four, and then three, then two and the last two years, just one, chose the tree. This year, our first without a daughter living at home just him and me.

Many years we spent Christmas skiing as a family, and yes, there was a second tree cut down by the girls and their father at a tree farm in Vermont. I pack one small box of lights and unbreakable ornaments and our little tree reflects the warmth of the family tradition we built together over time.

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This year, the tree is as tall as me. A little more petite than Im used to, but its perfect. I have ornaments for at least three trees that size, for you see, I also bought each girl a new ornament every year with the intent they would take their own ornaments with them when they moved away and put up their own trees with the families theyve created. I probably should have marked them though. Anyone want to figure out who belongs to which ornament?

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Our Pasta Fazoo

By Pamela Capriotti Martin

In my husband’s Italian/Irish household there were very specific dinners for every night of the week with some variations. Sunday was always a roast and his mother would make a sauce for the week ahead, which may have been used on a carne pizzaiola, or just pasta. Other nights there would be Nana potatoes and pork chops, minced beef and onions with a Bisto gravy served over mashed potatoes with a side of turnip or peas, and on Fridays, if there was money – fish and chips. If money was tighter than usual it would be chips and eggs or chips and beans. If the Sunday roast was a ham then the bone would be available for a nice pasta e fagioli later in the week. Like many households in the 1950’s in Canada and the U.S, this was a family. on a tight budget. Beans and pasta made for a great week night dinner and meat was meant to be stretched to feed a family of five.

Most of my children are fans of the soup, although M2 was never enamored as a child. M3 feels quite proprietary about her soup. She would order it in every Italian restaurant we frequented and then rate it. One chef took her to the restaurant kitchen and showed her how he made his version. She didn’t like the kidney beans. She was six. I’m pretty sure she told him he was ruining the soup. Another, Chef Frank would see the girls walking in Yorkville and would make it only for them since it wasn’t even on his upscale Italian menu. It’s Italian comfort food.

The dish has simple inexpensive ingredients and began as a peasant dish. John’s mother was from Naples and so while the word for beans is ‘fagioli’ in standard Italian, it’s ‘fasule’ in Neopolitan. So in this house, this simple family favorite, is affectionately known as “fazoo.”

I was introduced to my mother-in-law Giulia’s version of the soup when we traveled to John’s parents every Saturday for lunch. While I felt it was okay – I thought it lacked something. It became a discussion for us as to how we could give the soup more depth of flavor.

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John’s mother always used only water in hers and when she taught me to make it was specific that I was to use only four tomatoes from the can. The water in the soup was changed to chicken stock and I cut mine with water in about a 60/40 ratio, and John uses only chicken stock. If you don’t have that handy ham bone, we use pancetta. I find bacon too salty and don’t like the smoky flavor here, but would use it in a pinch and pull the salt back and use low-sodium chicken stock. Vegetarian M3 won’t use chicken stock or a meat product so substitutes vegetable stock.

This is one of those recipes that depends on who is making it and what you have in your pantry and fridge. I’m certain every Italian household has their own version and certainly John and I even have our own way of making this flavorful and filling soup. Little hands can pick basil leaves or grate cheese to make this a family event. This is my recipe. So, this is a starting point and is definitely open to change with the person who stirs the pot – of soup.

1 T extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta (or bacon)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 t dried basil
1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (diced works well)
1 Parmesan cheese rind
2 cans (15 ounce each) Cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
8 ounces small pasta (ditalini, tubetini, conchigliette)
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
Black pepper, salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, basil (not fresh), stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. 3. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan.
4. Add cheese rind and beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, 10 minutes.
5. Add chicken broth, 2 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt; increase heat to high and bring to boil.

6. Cook pasta separately and until tender, about 10 minutes. If you keep the pasta separate and put it in the bowl under the soup, then you can actually reheat the soup base the next day and just boil a new batch of pasta. If you add it to the soup, the pasta becomes flabby and honestly – ruins it.

7. Discard cheese rind. Off heat, stir in 3 tablespoons parsley; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual bowls over pasta portion; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing grated Parmesan separately.

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family sunday soup, sunday soup, beef soup, beef and vegetable soup

FTW Kitchen: Family Sunday Soup

By Pamela Capriotti Martin

I grew up in a family without many food traditions. How could that be for a girl with an Italian last name? My mother was Norwegian, and while my grandmother was a marvelous cook, I don’t think my mother ever really cared to cook. Or bake. She loved the convenience foods that came to be in the 50’s and 60’s and she worked full-time from the time I was 4. Dinner was never a priority although it should be noted, we definitely ate dinner every night.

When I was a senior in high school, my mother broke her leg and was unable to walk without crutches for months as it required surgery. I took over the cooking. Totally. And the shopping. I had a cookbook and taught myself to cook before cooking shows existed. I worked my way through the book to the delight (lasagna) and annoyance (eggplant parmesan) of my brothers and father.

Onions

When I married my Italian/Irish husband – he loved cooking. So we cooked. And created. And Sunday has always been my day to cook. Pot roasts, roasted chicken, buttermilk pound cake, apple pie, and the family favorite – Sunday Soup. Because Sunday is about family. It’s about comforting food. And it’s about the joy of fresh ingredients melding together to create a family tradition of love.

The recipe for Sunday Soup, so named by my girls, originated in a cookbook I bought from the Cookbook Store in Toronto in 1986. Today, we can find recipes on the internet in moments, but not so in the 80’s. This soup and so many other family recipe traditions we have built as a family is about my daughters – who all are wonderful cooks – and the memories we created as we cooked together. Some days we learned fractions by measuring. Some days we created disasters that looked better in our minds than it did on a plate or in a bowl. And some days we logged time just simply being together creating, experimenting, and eating the spoils.

It should be noted that this is a full meal soup accompanied by a crusty bread, a little cheese, and possibly, just possibly a homemade apple pie – hence the apples in the picture.

This is our family’s: Sunday Soup (adapted from Soups and Stews by California Culinary Academy)

Beef-soup-ingredients

2 T Olive Oil
2 1/2 – 3 lb beef short ribs (bone in)
2 medium onions (I like Vidalia but a white or yellow onion works as well)
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic (grated)
1 red pepper seeded and chopped
1 – 2 t chili powder (this is the ingredient that makes this soup sing)
1 large can/box chopped tomatoes
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
4-6 small red potatoes quartered (scrubbed but not peeled)
1 bay leaf
2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t dried marjoram
8 cups chicken stock (or water but the stock gives it greater depth)
1 cup small pasta
1/2 cup chopped parsley

  1. Salt and pepper short ribs. In a 6 – 8 quart Dutch oven over medium heat, add olive oil and brown short ribs well on all sides. Add onion, celery, garlic, and bell pepper around ribs, stirring occasionally until vegetables are limp. Sprinkle with chili powder.
  2. Add tomatoes and liquid, half the carrots, bay leaf, salt, pepper, marjoram and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cover. Reduce the heat, and simmer until meat is tender (3 – 4 hours.)
  3. Remove and discard bay leaf. Remove short ribs; when cool, remove meat from bones. Cut meat into bite size pieces, return to soup discarding fat and bones. Soup can be made to this point, when at room temperature, place in fridge overnight.
  4. At this point, I add the remaining carrot and potatoes and bring it to a boil, reduce heat until new vegetables are tender.
  5. While soup is finishing, boil salted water, add pasta. When pasta is cooked al dente, drain, don’t rinse. Place ladle of pasta in bottom of soup bowl.
  6. Taste soup, adjust salt if needed, add parsley and serve over pasta.

NB: This is a forgiving soup in terms of adding vegetables – more, less, whatever you like or have on hand. I often add turnip or rutabaga and definitely peas are generally put in at the end to give it more color.