Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

High on Montana

May 31, 2018

Our yoga retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch in Whitefish, Montana was better than I could have ever imagined. The weather was excellent, the ranch and accommodations beautiful, the vast property exquisite, the guided hikes almost perfect (perfect except for the damned surge of voracious mosquitoes on the first day because it had rained the night before our first hike), the optional on-site massages with Michelle Richards therapeutic and deeply relaxing, the yoga studio spacious, fully equipped, and pristine.

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Swings

The guided hikes fell into two groups. The group who chose to do the easier and shorter hike was led by Amanda.  I was not in this group, but had a twinge of regret when I heard that Amanda knows her wildflowers and was able to identify the array of flowers popping up here and there, dotting the landscape.  The second group chose to go on the more challenging hikes, the first hike being a climb to the ridge on the property where the views were breathtaking. My group was led by James on both days. Though he does not do plant identification, he was knowledgeable in other areas: landscape and geology, plus we learned so much about his interesting life. There were only four of us led by James on the first day hike and two of us on the second day.  On the second day’s hike, Zimmie and I selfishly felt it was a treat to have James all to ourselves on the hike!

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Our happy group participants came from Seattle, Vashon, Eugene (OR), Whitefish, and from the District of Columbia environs. We enjoyed nutritious, abundant, delicious vegetarian meals made by our on site chef, Michelle Berry.  One evening after dinner, Michelle, a very talented and knowledgeable nutritionist, plant-based chef, and beautiful mother of three came and sat with us, answering our questions about plant-based nutrition.  We learned so much from her as you will see below.

How much water should we drink per day?

Take your weight, divide it by two and that is the number of ounces you should drink in water per day.  Drinking green drinks or herbal teas do not count as your recommended water intake.  These are seen as medicinal (good), but do not replace your water needs.

Sole Water Link 

Please refer to the link above to read about sole water!  I am going to try it. It is a great way to make sure you are getting essential minerals into your diet.  It helps prevent muscle cramping. All you need is Himalayan Salt and Water to make the mixture.

Name some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Bee Pollen with Almond Butter
  • Spirolina (add to your smoothie)
  • Sprouts
  • Hemp Seeds

Strategies to Detox/Cleanse:

  • oil pulling using coconut oil (how to and benefits) LINK
  • Body Brushing on skin that is not wet and later oil your skin before your shower  (See technique and how it is done)
  • Michelle mentioned that there are many kinds of detox.  Detox can include “emotional” detox as well as “screen” detox. Screen detox means moving away from your phone or your computer for a few hours or for a whole day at a time.
  • Colonics

Diet for people undergoing chemotherapy (these detox strategies can be used by anyone, even when not undergoing chemo):

  • Include chlorella in your diet (probably in a smoothie)
  • Eats lots of cilantro (sorry to those of you who do not like cilantro)
  • Better yet, if you do the following, it is one of the best ways to support and cleanse your body when undergoing chemo:  Eat Chlorella.  Wait one hour.  After one hour, eat Cilantro.  Do not eat the two together.  Do not change the order.  Wait one hour before eating the cilantro.
  • Eat a super low carb diet and a high vegetable fat diet (ketogenic diet).
  • Follow the detox ideas above.

What are some Calcium Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Figs
  • Tahini
  • Broccoli
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Leafy Vegetables (includes Kale)
  • Almonds

What are some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (list is not complete):

  • Edamame (soy beans)
  • Spirulina
  • Peanut Butter and other nut butters
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chick peas
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black beans
  • Broccoli

Below: one of Michelle’s breakfast skillet dishes:

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Everyone we met on the ranch had a very gentle spirit and I am left to believe that those who are lucky enough to live in such a pure peaceful environment, take on a very grounded, peaceful, gentle, and content demeanor.

One evening before dinner, the manager of Walking Lightly Ranch, Dave, played music for us with his friend Lee. Dave plays guitar and Lee plays cello.  Put the two together and add vocals, lyrics from renown folk singers or lyrics written by Dave or Lee, and you have a delightful impromptu evening of pure joy!  The next day, Lee came to the yoga studio and played cello for one of our yoga sessions.  Wow!!

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We also had an inspirational Shared Reading one evening after dinner. Some of what was shared follows:

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Rumi

 

Mary Oliver
In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

 

The Yoga Exercise by Floyd Skloot

Within a rushing stream of morning light

she stands still as a heron with one soul

held flush against the other inner thigh

and her long arms like bony wings folded

back so that when the motion of a breeze

passes through her body there is a deep

repose at its root and in an eye’s blink

she has become this gently swaying tree

stirring the wind of its breath while linked to ground by the slow flow of energy

that brings her limbs together now in prayer

and blessing for the peace she is finding there.

I already look forward to going back to Walking Lightly Ranch for another long weekend retreat. Not too early to sign up for February 2019.  Just let me know of your interest by commenting below and I’ll be in touch with you.

Feb 15-18, 2019 (3 nights) Yoga + Snow Shoeing (two guides: one for an easier shorter trail and another for more challenging longer trails offered on both days).

and further down the line…

May 22-25, 2020 (3 nights) Yoga + Hiking (just like this past one)

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I came back from Sicily and hit the ground running with teaching my weekly classes, leading the Vashon Yoga Retreat (a blog post yet to come!) and leading the Montana Yoga Retreat, doing workouts geared to get me in shape for a 5k Run for the Ovarian Cancer Fundraiser I am doing for my friend Lynn Fallows and for a duathlon I am doing with my nephew Chuck in Chicago in August (am I insane…a duathlon in August in Chicago??).  AND Jury Duty, on top of it all, these past two days.  I really wanted to be on the case as it appeared to be very interesting, but just got dismissed today.  A much needed quiet restful weekend at Ocean Shores awaits me this coming weekend.

OM SHANTI

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Yoga and Hiking in Sicily

May 24, 2018

I will let the slideshow of the Yoga and Hiking in Sicily say it all!  The slideshow is set to the music of Carmen Consoli called Madre Terra, Mother Earth.  Carmen Consoli is from Catania, Sicily and has a soulful voice that is as rich as the Sicilian soil.  Turn up the volume!

I do want to mention that most everywhere we went has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The retreat was a complete success and, though I have been back only 10 days, I miss Sicily terribly.  I miss my group, the caretakers and cooks at the villa, and all the wonderful people I have met via my Sicily journeys.

Not too early to sign up for next year’s yoga retreats in Sicily. Contact me for more information:

Week I September 7-14, 2019 (Yoga + Cultural Outings, includes a visit to a ricotta farm, a day at a cooking school, two fabulous winery visits)

Week II  September 14-21, 2019 (Yoga + Hiking, includes one cooking course and a visit to a winery)

Wrapping Up The South India Tour

January 19, 2018

Already, we have parted ways with our first tour group and yesterday we left South India.  We are now back in smog-filled Delhi.  Most of the members of the North India and Rajasthan Tour arrived yesterday and we met up with most members of the group last night.  It takes a lot of energy to shift gears, but I know how incredible North India and Rajasthan are so I am also excited about these next two weeks.  We will all meet shortly for our first yoga session.  Theme of the first yoga session will be Post-Travel Openings and Grounding.

So before I fully enter this new phase of the overall trip, here are some photos and short comments on the photos to wrap up the South India trip.

We stayed on a houseboat in Aleppi on the backwaters of Kerala. The houseboat overnight stay was a very soothing experience.  It was so relaxing to float on the water and do yoga on the boat.  I had to be very creative with our space for our yoga sessions.  The first yoga session we had on the boat was Yin Yoga and we used the benches to do a form of Legs Up the Wall pose.  And, yes, at one point tea was served, along with banana fritters!  I mean, who does that?  Yin Yoga, Tea, and Banana Fritters on a houseboat in Kerala! We laughed so hard at the very reality of our experience!

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I’ve been eating papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and delicious mini-bananas daily. The fruit is delicious in India!

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Sunset on the backwaters of Kerala:

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Arvind, relaxing on the houseboat:

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We ended our South India tour in Kochi. Kochi (Cochin) is a wonderful city filled with much history. We visited “Jew Town”, an ancient Jewish settlement.  Sephardic Jews seeking refuge from Europe in 1492 were invited to settle here.  The community thrived, but in the late 40s, many left India and went back to live in the homeland in Israel.  Today, only 5 members of the Jewish community exist.  We visited the lovely synagogue, but were not allowed to take photos.

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Kelley with our local Kochi guide, Mary:

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We had an evening at Maria’s cooking school.  We cooked in the late afternoon and then we all had dinner together.  Later her husband, George, sang some Hindi songs for us.  It was lovely to experience their home and Maria’s wealth of knowledge about South Indian cooking. They live in a house that was built by the Portuguese 350 years ago!

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Maria’s hand ground spices and preparations for the many dishes we made together.

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Meal magic done on this one humble shining stove!  Amazing.  Maria offers cooking courses to many groups.  She is truly amazing and we had a wonderful last evening in South India together with her. She’s the real deal.  The Indian experience, whether South or North IS the real deal.

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Onward to North India!

The Chakra Rainbow

July 20, 2017

Last Saturday, MJ Conboy, of MJ’s Plant Smart Kitchen, and I offered an in-city yoga and cooking day retreat at a very modern and elegant condominium in the Belltown area of Seattle.

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The day could not have been more beautiful.  It was a day filled with pure sunshine and a slight breeze.  It was nice to start our gathering at 8:30am.  The casual half hour before the morning yoga session gave participants leisurely time to meet each other and to connect.

The morning yoga session was held out on the terrace.  I took the above photos during the yoga session. As we practiced yoga, I admired the herb garden.  Obviously, it was planted by loving hands.  And as we practiced yoga, we looked out over the trees that line 4th Avenue downtown Seattle.

Chakras were the theme of the day.  The word “chakra” means wheel in Sanskrit.  Ancient yogis felt specific energy vortices along the spine.  They felt this energy moved like a wheel spinning fast, producing energy.

The chakras are energy centers. There are specific yoga postures or categories of poses for each chakra.  I always find it fascinating that a given posture, or physical movement or stance,  can help bring the various energy centers into balance.  Each chakra has its own color, its own element, and an area of spiritual growth associated with it.   The colors of the chakras make a rainbow.

Root Chakra (Muladhara)

  • Red
  • Earth Energy
  • Represents cultivating stability, ability to thrive when one’s foundation is good, focus on shelter and sustenance, connection to earth, nature, and home.  Root chakra asks us to examine and work through our fears.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses that involve balance such as Tree, Eagle, and Half Moon.  Also included are pelvic tilts, bound angle, and child’s pose.

Pelvic Chakra (Svadhisthana)

  • Orange
  • Water Energy
  • Represents physical well-being and learning to honor the body by balancing nutritional needs, sleep, work, and pleasure. This chakra controls our emotional center and how we experience emotions.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses that are hip openers.  I included the following: pigeon, crescent moon, horse pose (stretch version), triangle, wide forward bends, seated forward bends, and uttanasana (forward bend with feet hip distance apart).

Navel or Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura)

  • Yellow
  • Fire Energy
  • Represents internal, physical, emotional and spiritual strength. This chakra rules our sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem.  As this chakra comes into balance, we learn how to use our strengths in a very positive way.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses to help us grow strong, such as Warrior I, II, and III.  Also included are Horse Pose, Chair Pose, and Archer.  All abdominal strengthening poses are included such as Side Plank (all variations) and Boat Pose.

Heart Chakra (Anahata)

  • Green
  • Air Energy
  • Represents vitality and love, love that nourishes our spirits and this is unconditional and free.  This energy center helps us to become loving, kind, and generous.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses that open the chest, lungs, and shoulders.  Arching (backbending) and twists help to move energy into the heart center.

Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)

  • Light Blue or Turquoise
  • Air/Ether (Space) Energy
  • Represents communication, the ability to say what you mean to say, to speak truthfully, to speak one’s own words, to express oneself well.
  • Postures (Asanas) include doing the Shoulderstand Cycle, which includes Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana), Plough, (Halasana), and Fish Pose (Matsyasana).

Brow Chakra (Ajna)

  • Indigo
  • Air/Ether (Space) Energy
  • Represents ability to perceive, to tap into one’s wisdom, to be perceptive and intuitive, to be mindful and aware.  The brow chakra helps us to see, know, and understand ourselves and the world we live in.
  • Postures (Asanas) include seated and guided meditative poses such as Shavasana or Seated Meditation.

Crown Chakra (Sahasrara)

  • Violet
  • Ether (or Cosmos) Energy
  • Represents the source of all healing, the highest attainable energy center.  The crown chakra represents tapping into one’s full potential, connecting to the soul’s longing for peace, love, and happiness.
  • Postures (Asanas) include inverted poses.  In a given chakra class, I work the inversions in before the final meditation portion of the session.  Inverted poses include Legs Up The Wall (Viparita karani asana), headstands, shoulderstands, and downward facing dog.

And of course, the food was as colorful as the Rainbow Chakras!  Below is a photo of a Green Glo Drink:

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MJ’s Green Glo Drink was made with the following ingredients:

  • Green Apples
  • Lemon
  • Ginger
  • Parsley
  • Spinach

A few photos from our outdoor terrace session (choice of sunshine or shade for all).

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Lunch included food preparation demo from MJ.  Below is a delicious and colorful Thai spring roll (dipping sauce was made from almond butter):

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And a Creamy (non dairy) Avocado Cucumber Zucchini Soup made in a blender and served at room temperature, topped with dill and pistachios:

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After lunch, we took a fun and brisk walk over to the Olympic Sculpture Park.  We all marveled at how beautiful this park is.  I always feel so proud that we have this fabulous park in Seattle:FullSizeRender 15

Words of wisdom, with love from Fran:

  • Do yoga and take time to sit still in meditation every day.  Even short bursts of yoga and meditation count!
  • Walk and walk some more and enjoy your environment (even in the city there are many green pockets).  Seek out green spaces and breathe in prana-charged air.
  • Include more plant-based foods into your diet.  Explore new greens, new vegetables, new recipes.  Respect your body and eat wholesome, nutritious foods.
  • Take a day of wellness for yourself.  You deserve it!

A photo of MJ and Fran (moi) in front of a Belltown Mural:

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Sicily 2017 Slideshow

May 13, 2017

Was it one week or two?

It was one hundred lifetimes lived in a single day.

Warm sun on my skin

Within days, my skin goes brown, my eyes grow bright.

A gentle breeze floats in from the sea.

I am surrounded by beauty

and smiles.

How will I ever go back home?

This ancient land clings to my feet, tugs at my heart.

I am trapped by an invisible seaweed netting.

Cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The local markets display mounds of dried wild herbs and mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, which will taste as beautiful as they look.

Every morning and evening, we practice yoga to the sound of birdsong

and to soft lapping of waves.

The fragrance of the zagara flower is intoxicating.

Orange blossoms perfume the wall-less outdoor yoga studio.

Mt. Etna lets out a steady stream of smoke, steam, and dreams.

Mongibello stands tall, shrouded in purple at sunset, pink at sunrise.

What do you call the blue of the Sicilian sky and sea?

Flamingos, not yet fully pink, are feeding at the marsh.

Are there words to describe such insane raw beauty?

At night, I wonder how my parents ever left?  I wonder if I  carry the scars of their pain?

Quarry stones, hewn perfectly, stand witness to ancient history and warm today’s cat.

With the click of my camera, I capture the wild red poppies growing in a field of yellow daisies and I offer the poppies’ perfection to my lost friend Adriana.

We do yoga in the ruins of the tuna fisheries.

I feel the solidity of ancient stone under my feet, the mass suffering of the giants of the sea, and the beauty of the moment.

I watch my friends, long-time friends and new ones, do yoga on this ancient island. I lead them in a yoga sequence and I feel  Madre Terra’s energy coursing through us all.

Mother Earth and the Sicilian Sun nourish our spirits.

I breathe and I am renewed.

Fran’s website: http://www.frangallo.com

Turn up your speakers and enjoy the slideshow below (about 8 minutes long):

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Alive in Modica

May 3, 2017

Once again…a few of my photos to share from this incredible trip.  I have slowed down in my photo taking.  I can’t compete with Rick, Gail, Monica, and Karen, who all take great photos!  They have a good eye and their cameras are so much nicer than mine is.  Compared to their cameras, my Leica seems to be a child’s toy.  Hopefully, I will get some of their photos from the yoga sessions and some of the group photos we have been taking to share with my readers.

Below: the town of Modica!  We had a cooking lesson with Chef Ninni Radicini at the cooking school, ate a wonderful lunch, and then went walking in the town of Modica with our fabuloso guide and friend, Giorgio Modica of Modica!

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On the way to Modica, I finally got the shot I wanted: fields of wildflowers at their peak of beauty.  Red poppies standout against yellow flowers

On the way to Modica, I finally got the shot I wanted: fields of wildflowers at their peak of beauty. Red poppies standout against yellow flowers

The tomato sauce used in the Pasta alla Norma

The tomato sauce used in the Pasta alla Norma

The base for the caponata..later the eggplant, vinegar, and sugar are added to make a very delicious side dish.

The base for the caponata..later the eggplant, vinegar, and sugar are added to make a very delicious side dish.

Cannoli shells

Cannoli shells

Filled with ricotta and ready to eat!

Filled with ricotta and ready to eat!

Espresso: You cannot get a bad cup of coffee in Sicily!

Perfect Cup of Espresso: You cannot get a bad cup of coffee in Sicily!

Perfect Setting for Yoga Practice

Perfect Setting for Yoga Practice

And Yes, we really do yoga, twice daily!

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Fran back bends over Lisa

Fran back bends over Lisa

Sicily for Adriana

April 27, 2017

I thought to post some of my best photos from the past two days.   This post is dedicated to my friend and co-worker from Seattle Athletic Club, Adriana Allison Brown, 34 years old, married to Aaron Brown and mother of two beautiful little girls.  She passed away two days ago on April 25, was hit by a vehicle as she was walking the crosswalk at Lenora and Western (Seattle) on her way to work at the Seattle Athletic Club as a personal fitness trainer.  I thought of Adriana all day these past two days.  She told me recently that she would like to come to Sicily one day.

I am heartbroken.

Adriana was as bright as the Sicilian Sun.

Adriana was as beautiful as the red poppies below.

Adriana “era buona comu lu pani“, a Sicilian expression which literally translates to Adriana “was as good as bread”  (see explanation below).

 

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say, "Era buonu comu lu pani" = He was as good as bread!

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all.  Bread is the staff of life. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say of that person, “E buonu (buona) comu lu pani” = He/She is as good as bread!

Old tile detail

Old tile detail

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Simple delicious ingredients for sauce alla Norma.

Simple delicious ingredients for Pasta alla Norma.

Sicilian Cat. Her name was Meow!

Sicilian Cat. His name was Meow!

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Cheese at the Siracusa Market

Cheese at the Ortigia Market

One of the pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

And ancient pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

La Campagnia (The Sicilian Countryside)

April 25, 2017

We wake up to birdsong and sunshine.  We wake up to our beautiful villa.  We make jokes about staying here forever.  We breathe and take in the smell of orange blossoms, laurel in bloom, fragrant flowers that smell of jasmine.  We wake up to the great big Ionian Sea.  I do the sea a great injustice if I attempt to describe the water as a deep blue.  It is that and more.  The sky is the same.  Both sky and sea take on different colors at different times of the day.  We cannot take enough photos…of the sea, of the smoking mountain, of the great blue sky, of the food, of the sunrises and sunsets, of each other.  It seems nearly impossible to capture it all and it seems not to be enough to simply stand still and take it all in.  But, we do that too: we stand still, breathe in the Sicilian air, draw in the Sicilian sunlight, and open our hearts to this experience.

our villa

our villa

Yesterday we had two beautiful outdoor yoga sessions.  We worked on elongation of the spine and on creating space.  And then we discovered, in our yoga sessions, how lovely the lettini (pool chairs) are.   You will see below how comfortable it is to do our ending meditation with legs up the chair, a form of viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) along the poolside.  Everyone in the yoga group is relaxed, happy, peaceful.

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style  (Woody and John!)

Hello Nora!

Hello Nora!

We drove to the countryside, passing the most beautiful green terraced fields, orange and lemon orchards, vineyards, and olive groves. Fields and fields of wildflowers grow brightly in the springtime in Sicily.  We passed cows, sheep, stone houses, and bright red poppies and purple thistles growing amid dainty yellow carpets of flowers I cannot name.

Wild Poppy

Wild Poppy

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Thistles

Thistles

And then a visit to an organic ricotta farm.  Yes, the real deal.  We were greeted by Maria, the ricotta and cheese maker, her sister Giovanna, and Maria’s husband, Nino.  Their walls were filled with photos of their four daughters and their families, of their daughter’s wedding photos.  We watched Maria make the ricotta.  It was amazing!  They cooked so much homemade food for us. We felt like stuffed birds at the end of the visit. They served us their homemade wine, their country bread (and they also had gluten-free and dairy-free to suit some dietary needs in our group), their homemade pasta and sauce, their various cheese made from their ten cows, their prosciutto (yes, we saw the little piglets oinking around), and so much more.

Maria makes the "tuma" for the various cheese.

Maria makes the “tuma” for the various cheese.

The cow's milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

The cow’s milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a "Stir the Ricotta Asana"

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a “Stir the Ricotta Asana”

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

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Nino

Nino

A Tavola!  The feast.

A Tavola! The feast.

When it came time to leave, Maria and Giovanna packed up bags and bags of food for us to take home.  There were 14 of us at the table, but our farmer hosts had cooked enough for the army of the Roman Empire.  They kept bringing out food.  I made the mistake of not telling my group that the first dish set out on the table was just the appetizer, that there was more to come.  Oops!  Rick delighted in having our group experience Sicilian hospitality, country-style, just as my relatives have done for him time and time again.  We now have enough ricotta to last us a month, though it is meant to be eaten right away.  We will share with our caretakers and driver.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

At the end of our visit, Maria tenderly gave me a special mystery gift, all wrapped up in butcher paper.  “Here, Francesca.  This is just for you.  A little something made with love from our farm.  Take this home with you to America.”  Later, at the villa, I unwrapped the mystery gift and saw about a large hunk of prosciutto.  The real thing, crudo prosciutto, made from their own pigs, pigs lovingly raised from piglet-hood, fed on figs.  An extremely valuable chunk of meat, cured so perfectly that it can last 1-2 years.  I know the value because I know.  Of course, I will share with the group.  Even though I don’t eat prosciutto, I can still appreciate what it is.  Our unique ricotta experience was truly remarkable.

Our bus/van

Our bus/van

Sicilian Green Bean Salad

Sicilian Green Bean Salad with Capers (served last night at the villa)

Cooking, Sicilian Style!

April 15, 2017

Next week I will be leaving for Sicily, where I will be hosting two back-to-back yoga retreats.  I have been so incredibly busy, with teaching classes and workshops and planning Sicily 2017!  You haven’t seen many blog posts from me, but I hope to post more often these next few weeks!  I am very excited to share this sun-kissed island with this year’s yoga retreat participants.

Last time there in Autumn of 2014, we did a cooking course with the chef Maestro Peppe Barone.  It was a great experience.  He and his staff welcomed us.  We cooked and later ate the fabulous meal we cooked under Chef Peppe’s guidance.  Afterwards, we walked the lovely Baroque town of Modica.  Below are the photos from 2014.  We will be going to the same cooking school with my yoga groups this year.  I sure hope you are not hungry as you see the photos below!  The food that stands out in my mind -and taste buds- are the cannoli!

I am so excited for my yogis!  They are in for a treat.  Of course the food below belonged to the Autumn menu.  The spring menu will be completely different and equally delightful!

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica.  Beyond the doors on the right is a lovely terrace surrounded by lemon trees.

Michelin Star Restaurant

A Michelin Star Restaurant, Fattoria delle Torri has the honor of having received many awards!

Action!  One of the chef's assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Action! One of the chef’s assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Ricotta Ravioli

Ricotta Ravioli made with the pasta in the previous photo.

And the finished product!

And the finished product!  Perfection.

Making Caponata

Making Caponata.  Every village makes caponata slightly differently! Since we were in Modica, Chef Barone added pure dark chocolate powder to the caponata. When I told my uncle in Grotte about this, he crossed himself twice, saying over and over again incredulously, “Chocolate in the Caponata?” 

An interesting note about Modica.  Modica is known for its chocolate!  When Columbus went to the Americas, Sicily was under Spanish dominion.  Some of the men who traveled to the New World with Columbus were Sicilians from Modica.  They brought back chocolate beans and the ancient Aztecan recipe for making chocolate.  To this day, chocolate is made in Modica using the ancient Aztecan recipe.  View this interesting article on the history of chocolate and Modica.

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

Making arancini (rice balls)

Making arancini (rice balls):  Saffron makes them yellow.

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like oranges (Arancini refers to "oranges")

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like the color of oranges (Arancini refers to “oranges”).  In the center, you may discover melted cheese or a bit of ragu.

Action in the kitchen...making pasta

Action in the kitchen…making pasta

One of the pasta dishes....

This is what the pasta looks like after it is cut into tiny pieces…

One of the meat dishes...

One of the meat dishes…

And what would life be without cannoli?  This was studded with pistachio.

And what would life be without cannoli?  Ok, now I know your mouth is watering! This was filled with ricotta and studded with pistachio nuts.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Afterwards, we walked the town of Modica to explore and digest! Otherwise, how on earth would we be able to do our afternoon session of yoga?

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In Modica, we saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

In Modica, Karin and I saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

Modica!  It's a jewel of a town.

Modica! It’s a jewel of a town.

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push


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