Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

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

Boosting the Immune System with Yoga and Wholesome Food

October 19, 2016

I am writing from Japan.  Japan posts soon to start coming (so exciting to be here!), but first a follow up on two fabulous in-city one-day retreats that I just offered with MJ Conboy of MJ’s Plant Smart Kitchen this past weekend.  The retreat’s focus was on building and boosting a strong immune system via yoga asanas and learning a few new recipes espousing a plant-based diet.


Read on below.  I hope you are able to glean some ideas from this blog post, be inspired by the photos, try the yoga sequence, peruse the cook book titles below, and be inspired by the various readings shared in our retreat.

Plant Based Cook Books:


Books with recipes based on a plant-based diet:

The Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage

Salad Samurai, 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-To-Make Salads by Terry Hope Romero

Veganomicon, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Coleen Patrick Goudreau

The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

A Grateful Heart, Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles , edited by M. J. Ryan

Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, 150 Pizzas, Pastas, Pestos, Risottos, and Lots of Cremay Italian Classics by Chloe Coscarelli

The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health by Michio Kushi and Alex Jack

the milf diet, Let The Power of Whole Foods Transform Your Body, Mind, and Spirit…deliciously by Jessica Porter

Macrobiotics for All Seasons by Marlene Watson-Tara

Mayumi’s Kitchen, Macrobiotic Cooking for Body and Soul by Mayumi Nishimura


A yoga sequence for Immune System Boosting:

  • Seated Forward Bend (relaxes the nervous system)
  • Half Spinal Twist (Seated, twists help to cleanse, stimulate and strengthen the internal organs)
  • Dolphin (like downward facing dog, but on your elbows) to an inverted pose balanced on your elbows (can be done at the wall or with your legs walking up the wall) inversions are excellent for bathing and enhancing function of the endocrine system.
  • Uddyana Bandha (standing breathing exercises sometimes called the Abdominal Lift) breathe in through nose and exhale through the mouth while pulling belly in.
  • Sun Salutations
  • Standing Forward Bends (feet together and feet apart)..when in a wide angle forward bend, you can add twists
  • Arches: lying over a block, camel, bow, cobra, upward facing dog, full backbend (some of these were done in pairs with a helper)
  • Seated side bend
  • Shoulder stand—plough—fish pose
  • Block under your upper back (another way to do fish)
  • Legs up the wall (great for movement of the lymphatic fluids, enhances the lymphatic system)


Yoga helps boost the immune system by reducing stress and strengthening the lungs (with the breathing).  We all know that psychological stress doubles the chance of a person getting a cold!  Yoga practice lowers stress hormones and calms the nervous system.  The fight or flight response is eclipsed by the relax and renew response.  It also helps by optimizing the functions of the following systems:

  • circulatory system
  • lymphatic system
  • respiratory system (the yoga postures help improve mechanical efficiency of our lungs by conditioning them.  With yoga, we increase the elasticity of the lungs and strengthen them)
  • nervous system
  • immune system

Twists specifically increase oxygen to organs for optimal function.  They also cleanse, rid the organs of toxins, and supply the organs and glands with fresh blood supply.  Twists massage the body and internal organs and help us to relax.

Restorative postures, such as lying over a block or bolster, putting legs up the wall, or lying in shavasana, are soothing.  They help us to relax and they also help build vigor!

In addition to the featured poses and breathing pranayama exercise to help boost the immune system, don’t forget to inject these other essential elements into your daily life:

  • ANY ACTIVITY THAT HELPS YOU RELIEVE STRESS (can be walking, dancing, listening to music, vigorous aerobic exercise, reading, spending time with people you love)
  • EAT WELL (and eat as much of a plant-based diet and non-processed food diet as is possible_

We also shared several readings (below are a few):

“The food movement is about quality of life. What we eat affects how we feel physically and emotionally. How food is grown and processed has an impact on the health of those who eat it. How our food is produced affects the environment, the existence of wildlife, and the size and characteristics of our country’s farms. It also impacts the local and global economies. How we eat affects our ability to interact with others and provide for ourselves, and it influences relationships with friend and families. Eating and preparing food with those we care about provides a much different experience than driving through a fast-food restaurant or eating in one’s car. How we spend our food dollars determines the kind of food system we create, and the health of our farms, families, and communities. As Wendell Berry said, ‘Eating is an agricultural act.’ With the present focus on local food systems, now is the time to vote with our forks, as well as our ballots, and make positive changes in the food system.”

Marion Kalb, Co-founder, National Farm to School Network

OK, the food we made and ate did not have cheese or meat, but I couldn’t help but read this fun poem by Shel Silverstein.  I read it with gusto…You really have to wet your tongue with a bit of olive oil and recite this aloud.  It’s a mouthful:

Italian Food
Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops–I think I split my jeani.

Very exciting was learning how to perfect making Nori Rolls!!

Roll your own! Nori Rolls

Roll your own! Nori Rolls

Got the hang of it. Perfect food to take with you on flights, for travel, or for lunch

Got the hang of it. Perfect food to take with you on flights, for travel, or for lunch

Read to cut

Read to cut

A sharp knife should do the trick of cutting the rolls easily!

A sharp knife should do the trick of cutting the rolls easily!

Macrobiotic Chef MJ Conboy

Macrobiotic Chef MJ Conboy  (So much fun working with her! She brings much nutritional knowledge to the table.)

Wholesome ingredients for making chocolate truffles!

Wholesome ingredients for making chocolate truffles!

Truffles..we also rolled them in cinnamon. Some rolled in cacao powder

Truffles..we also rolled them in cinnamon. Some rolled in cacao powder

Windblown on the rooftop (Saturday's group)!

Windblown on the rooftop (Saturday’s group)!

After the storm (though it was not as much of a storm as was predicted)

After the storm (though-thank goodness- it was not as much of a storm as was predicted)

My Aunt Lily (Revised Re-Post)

July 30, 2016

July 30, 2016:  I am reposting this and have added a few more photos.  I wrote this a few years ago in honor of my Aunt Lily.  Today, sadly, she died.  She just turned 89 years old last month.  I am overwhelmed with sadness.  The world today seems to be a very empty place……

I have immense gratitude for my Aunt Lily.  I have wanted to write about her for so long now, but as I write, I am not sure where to start.

I am not even sure how to write about my Aunt Lily..  She is a very special person in my life and even my friends, who have only met her through my stories, are in love with her!  She is my godmother and she has been a part of my life since day one.

When my parents and sisters immigrated to the United States, they first settled in the Boston area to be near Dad’s brother Joe (Giuseppe) Gallo, his wife, and their two children (one of them is East Coast Fran!).  My family was having a great time, settling in Boston.   However, Aunt Lily, Dad’s little sister, was living in Gary, Indiana with her husband and was feeling very lonely.   She got married at age 19 in Grotte, Sicily  to a man much older than herself.  I am not sure of their age difference, but my guess is Uncle Sam (Salvatore) could easily have been 30+ years her senior.  If given a chance to get out of an impoverished situation, who knows, many might have made the marriage choice my auntie made.  Salvatore Cuffaro (Uncle Sam) went back to his hometown, Grotte, in 1946 looking for a wife to bring back with him to America (to Gary, Indiana) where he had been living for many years.  He was well dressed, well fed,  and well filled-out in contrast to the post-war Grottese who were struggling to put food on the table.   My grandmother encouraged Aunt Lily to marry Uncle Sam, knowing she would most certainly have a better life in America.  When we were together last Christmas, I asked Aunt Lily  if she was happy in her first marriage and she said, without any hesitation whatsoever, “Yes!”.  She said Uncle Sam was a good man and he was really kind to her.

Aunt Lily lost one child and was never able to have other children. Childlessness was the absolute heartbreak of her life.  The prospect of having her only brother and his wife and his beautiful 4 little girls live near her made her heart beat once again with the promise of life!  Eventually my parents decided to leave Boston and go live near Aunt Lily in Gary, Indiana.  I can only imagine how excited she was when my mom became pregnant with me.  As I have mentioned in another blog, my mom and Aunt Lily shared the special relationship of what Sicilians call “cuma”, or co-mothers.  Together, they co-mothered me.  How many people do you know raised by two mothers and one father?  One mother disciplined me and the other, Aunt Lily,  coddled me!

Aunt Lily’s life in America was anything but easy. She worked and worked and worked.  She has told me more than once, “I been a work’ real-la hard all-a my life!”  Uncle Sam had a restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri and as soon as Aunt Lily settled in America, she was busy working at the restaurant.   She did everything!  She ran the show!  She was prep chef, sous chef, main chef, shopper, bartender, waitress, bus boy, dishwasher, and cleaning person.  She made everything from bread to tomato sauce to pasta by hand!  The restaurant was hopping!  The verdict was out about Isle of Capri. It was outrageously great!  If, today, you ever meet an old timer from Gary, Indiana, he or she will have a recollection of Isle of Capri!  Uncle Sam welcomed the guests and did the accounts.  Then he started having heart problems.  Aunt Lily continued doing the impossible, now running the entire business by herself and nursing her husband.

Eventually Uncle Sam died.  I was 10 years old and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  It was most disturbing to see Aunt Lily so distressed over his death.  Sicilians WAIL at funerals and that is what she did. I was very frightened and my parents regretting bringing me along to the funeral.  Aunt Lily came to live with us for a while and eventually she remarried an American, my Uncle Gardner Lum.  Her life changed.  They bought a huge Winnebago and traveled the USA.  They became snowbirds and spent winters in Yuma, Arizona! For the first time since leaving Grotte as a 19 year old bride,  Aunt Lily  went back to Sicily with Uncle Gardner to see all of her relatives.  Uncle Gardner charmed the villagers as he looked at Aunt Lily and declared the only words he knew in Sicilian, “Ti vogliu bene, mugliere mia.”  (I love you, my wife.)  Aunt Lily taught him well!

After 20-some years of marriage, Uncle Gardner died and Aunt Lily was widowed a second time. Even though she says, “It’s no good-a be alone, believe-you-me!”, she continues to be the independent awesome woman she is!  She will be celebrating her 85th birthday in June 2012.  She used to drive a truck that she had been spray painted with the words “Lily’s machina”  (Lily’s machine!)  She is adventurous.  She still drives, and travels solo to Canada and Italy to visit her friends and relatives there.  She still makes bread and is one of the best cooks I know.  She said to me at Christmas when I was with her, ” When you gotta good-a man-a, you gotta good-a life-a.”  She always says she was ever so lucky to have had two good husbands.

Aunt Lily is sharp, remembers everything, and is a great listener.  She is worldly and nothing shocks her. Trust me, I have tested the waters and she is solid in her wisdom and worldliness!  She has seen and heard it all. She is very easy to talk to. She has a lot of friends and her friends are of all ages.  Everyone loves Aunt Lily!  She is independent and is impressed by strong men!  If she meets you and you are a strong man, she will surely have a chore or two in mind for you to do. Maybe she will have you move her sofa, or pull out the oven so she can clean behind it!  Or maybe she will have you till the garden soil, so she can plant her zucchini!   Needless to say, she loves Rick.  His muscles get her thinking about all sorts of chores she can get him to do!

I can’t even imagine a world without my Aunt Lily in it!  I love her way of talking, her expressions, her way of laughing, her sense of humor, her gestures, her smile, her stories, her cooking.  She is so much like my dad and it is comforting to be around her.  I love her and I am so lucky to have her in my life.  We talk on the phone often and I am always the one to end the phone calls. It seems we can talk together for hours if only time permitted!  Enjoy these pictures of my dear aunt:

Uncle Sam and Aunt Lily 1955

Aunt Lily

Aunt Lily

Crying me with my godparents 1962 (my first New Year’s Celebration)

Mom, Zina, and Aunt Lily 1963

My all time favorite photo of Aunt Lily with her nieces and my mom!  I wasn't born yet, but you can see how the girls absolutely love her!

Above: My all time favorite photo of Aunt Lily with my sisters and cousins and my mom! I wasn’t born yet, but you can see how the girls absolutely love her!

Another lovely old photo with my sisters.

Above: Another lovely old photo with my sisters. (I wasn’t born yet!)

Aunt Lily in purple

The Matriarch of our family: Aunt Lily in purple

The good old days in Gary, Indiana: family gathered around the table!

The good old days in Gary, Indiana: family gathered around the table laden with food!

With Toni, Nora, and me

With Toni, Nora, and me

She loved children.  Here she is with her great-great niece!

She loved children. Here she is with her great-great niece!

A very svelte Aunt Lily taking a break from the hard work at her restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri.

A very svelte Aunt Lily taking a break from the hard work at her restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri.

Faded photo, but a good one!  She is holding me in the very back!  She loved to hold me.

Faded photo, but a good one! She is holding me in the very back!  I always look like I am whining or crying!! 

Cooking up a storm in her kitchen with Nora

Cooking up a storm in her kitchen with Nora

This is what we call Aunt Lily's "Wedding Soup", at her house.

This is what we call Aunt Lily’s “Wedding Soup”, at her house.

We made pies together

We made pies together

With her close friend Teresa Amore

With her close friend Teresa Amore

Aunt Lily and Uncle Gardner Lum 1983

Aunt Lily at Ocean Shores, Washington (and lentil soup and her homemade olive and onion bread rolls on the left)

Opening to Inner Wisdom

February 4, 2016

Arlene hosted a day-long yoga retreat in Woodinville on Sunday.  I enjoyed leading our day retreat, Opening to Inner Wisdom, held on the last day of January.  The New Year is a perfect time to fine-tune the way we approach and live our lives.  All activities, meditations, and discussions helped us open to inner awareness and provide access to our innate wisdom.

House sits on the edge of a lake and minutes from a state park ideal for a level meditative hike

Our day retreat was held in a house situated on the edge of a quiet lake and minutes from a state park, ideal for a meditative hike.

We enjoyed a morning of yoga, practicing (almost all of the) 60 fundamental postures, as taught by B.K.S. Iyengar.  After such a long yoga practice, we ravenous yogis enjoyed a hearty lunch prepared by Arlene. I wish I had gotten the recipe for her delicious lentil soup, but, instead, I have included recipes from two of the other dishes Arlene served:

Arlene’s Kick-Ass Salad (appropriately named!)

Ten ingredients leading you to the healthiest version of yourself!  Chop up the following and serve with Poppy Seed Dressing or dressing of your choice:

  • Red Cabbage
  • Green Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Broccoli or Brussels Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Apple
  • Cranberries (not chopped up)
  • Blueberries (whole, fresh)
  • Pumpkin Seeds (whole)
  • Sunflower Seeds (whole)

Quinoa and Kale Patties

Mix the following ingredients together and saute in oiled pan:

  • grated ginger
  • 1 cup of quinoa, cooked in 2 cups of water and given time to cool (can be made one day ahead)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 3 spring onions, sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup steamed kale, chopped
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Serve with the following optional toppings:

  • lemon wedges
  • salsa verde
  • garlic oil
  • avocado

After lunch we drove a short distance to a nearby state park in Woodinville. There we did a silent meditative walk for an hour.  A half hour into the hike, we broke our silence to hear Carol read Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese and to take a few group photos!

I really didn't mean to eclipse some precious faces!

Sorry!! I didn’t mean to eclipse some precious faces!

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

Silent Meditation/State Park hike in Woodinville

Silent Meditation/State Park hike in Woodinville

A contemplative mantra: SA TA NA MA

During our yoga session we practiced internally/silently chanting the mantra SA TA NA MA.  The mantra translates to Birth-Life-Death-Rebirth.  When we took our silent walking meditation in the forest, we noted how the cycle of SA TA NA MA is simultaneously present in the forest at all times.  SA/Birth is seen in the saplings, the younger trees so full of promise.  TA/Life is abundant in the forest.  TA/Life is seen in the various shades of green, in the lichen and the moss, and in the ferns and currant bushes decorating the undergrowth of the forest.   NA/Death is seen in the trees that have fallen, old and decayed.  NA/Death makes for a soft trail cushioned with dead pine needles and withered or dry leaves.  And before anyone has time to feel despair at the presence of death in the forest, we see MA/Rebirth in the form of a nurse-log, covered by moss, nourishing and supporting perfectly aligned robust trees.

photo of nurse log (from on-line, not my photo)

photo of nurse log (from on-line, not my photo)

The forest, we discover, holds the wisdom of the earth and shows us how to understand the mantra SA TA NA MA!

Sweet kitty

Winter’s Long Shadows

January 11, 2016

Once upon a time not so long ago, we gave living at Ocean Shores a go.  The plan didn’t work so well for me.  I missed my Seattle life.  My heart and soul ached for my friends.  I missed teaching yoga on a full-time basis and I yearned for the cultural heartbeat of the city.   So we returned to life in the city and I gradually took up most of my classes again.  In the process, I started up and discovered a new aspect of yoga that I feel passionate about: teaching Adaptive Yoga for Special Needs Children.

In the move back to Seattle, we took up one apartment after another until we found one that suited us both quite well. And now, my Seattle week days are once again filled with teaching yoga, enjoying time with friends, and diving into all the interesting aspects of city life.  Through this process, once again, I rediscovered the preciousness of our home at the coast, Little Renaissance, and our weekends spent there.  Whereas I cannot live there full time, I deeply enjoy the quiet weekends our light-filled home and green wildlife-protected property offer us.

Little Renaissance is a sanctuary, una casa di salute, as my parents called it:  a house of health.  It is a healing place where nature and home are inseparable.  When I do yoga in the great living room, it is as if I am in a tree house, looking out at beach forest.  As I reach my arms across the room in Warrior II, I see birds flitting their way across the green corridor of bird-wilderness.  After a week in the city, the pristine air of the ocean greets us.  I marvel at this quiet peaceful house my husband built.  I admire the winter garden in its winter-resting stage and the wildlife traipsing or flying across our land.  I seemingly breathe in the constant lull of ocean waves and the night sky, void of light pollution, scintillating with stars and distant planets on clear nights.

Because I have am back to my full life in Seattle, I have a new-found appreciation of Little Renaissance, our home and sanctuary at the coast. After a week of intensive teaching and being with so many wonderful people (my life is very people intensive), it is a joy to spend quiet time at the coast.  I find my equilibrium at Ocean Shores.  I am renewed there.  It is a place where we offer retreats, but also a cherished place for us to retreat on weekends, a home away from home.  Many times we considered selling the property to consolidate living in one place.  We don’t feel that need anymore.  Our sanctuary at Ocean Shores has been in our lives for so long.  We will continue to beautify it and give the property all the loving care and respect it deserves.  Little Renaissance lives on!

This past weekend, we shared our home with some friends from our Yogi Culinary Group.   We have some fantastic cooks in our group and the theme this time around was Mexican.  Our menu?  Guacamole and chips, Mexican lasagna, Shrimp Diablo and Mexican rice,  baked beans,  and cabbage salad/slaw with lime dressing, punctuated by a plum almond tart served with a plum compote and chocolate sables. Needless to say, the meal required a postprandial one-mile walk around the block, our flashlights safely revealing the path along the otherwise pitch-black road.

We meet about once a season and this is the first time we had the group out at Little Renaissance.  It was great, just sad that two from our culinary group were unable to make it due to work-related travel conflicts. Ours was a weekend of laughter, wonderful conversations, bird watching, shared stories, cooking and great meals, yoga, and beach walking under the vast clear sky, chased by Winter’s Long Shadows.

Winter's Long Shadows

Winter’s Long Shadows

Zooey, our wind-blown guest of honor this past weekend

Zooey, our wind-blown Westie guest of honor this past weekend

Lively group

Lively group

Laughter on the Beach

Laughter on the Beach

Driftwood I

Driftwood I

Driftwood II

Driftwood II


Taking it in






So Much Gratitude

January 3, 2016

I meant to send this blog post out on the last day of 2015. However, I had the stomach flu! This seems to happen when I am in Mexico or always around the holidays. (And, yes, I had my flu shot!)

So here it is, already the New Year 2016 and I am sending out a collage/retrospective from last year 2015. My heart is filled with so much gratitude for all the people in my life. The photos do not include everyone dear to my heart and I wish I could include more more photos! However, the photos capture some peak moments from last year, mostly yoga events I organized or took part in.

Love and Thanks for helping make 2015 unforgettable! My heart is filled with gratitude for 2015. Thank you for being a part of it!

Happy New Year! May 2016 be a year filled with love, good health, dreams fulfilled, creativity, and happiness!

Turn up your speakers and take in the fun, excitement, and fullness of living life (darn it if this collage cut off some lovely faces…sorry!):

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Fridheimar Greenhouse

October 5, 2015

Fridheimar Greenhouse yields 300 tons of produce annually in an interior space, run electronically, covering 5000 square meters. Produce from the greenhouse at Fridheimar’s consists uniquely of tomatoes and cucumbers. The tomatoes at this particular greenhouse contribute 18% of Iceland’s tomato market. Tomatoes are vine ripened, and immediately sold in supermarkets throughout the Iceland. Fridheimar’s greenhouse tomatoes are fresh, tasty, sweet, and organic.


Helena is one of the owners of the greenhouse. Together with her husband, she has been working the greenhouses for over 20 years. Helena talked to us about Iceland’s sustainable energy used to power her greenhouses. 90% of Iceland runs on clean bio sustainable geothermal energy and the greenhouse we visited was a fine example of how a country can use high technology and geothermal energy to produce food without harming the environment. Imagine delicious tomatoes grown in a country so far north that it receives only four hours of sunlight per day during the cold winter months!

The greenhouse growing culture got started in the 40s and 50s in Iceland. Today’s greenhouses are high tech greenhouses controlled by computers. The computers control the opening and closing of windows and the turning on and off of the high pressured sodium lamps used as grow lights. The computers even read the outdoor wind and make appropriate changes to create a perfect environment for tomato and cucumber growing. Helena told us (first group) that by using the computer on her iPhone, she was able to control the climate in her greenhouses while lying on a beach in Thailand!

At Fridheimar’s Greenhouse, artificial and chemical pesticides are not used. They do, however make use of one natural pesticide. It is a small green fly, whose exact name I cannot recall, whose job it is to feed on small microbial critters. The small green flies are the good guys.

Helena and her husband also make use of bumble bees. Cucumbers are self pollinators and have no use for the bees. Tomatoes, by contrast, rely on the bumble bees for pollination/ fertilization to produce fruit. One queen and hundreds of worker bees are flown in from Holland every few weeks. They arrive in a box, ready to work. Worker bees live 6-8 weeks. There are up to 600 active worker bumble bees at any one time at their greenhouse. Bumble bees are extremely industrious and one worker bumble bee can do the work of several honey bees. Compared to honey bees, bumble bees rarely sting. Bumble bees only sting in self defense.

Once the tomatoes start to ripen, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and piccolo tomatoes are picked weekly. Cucumbers, on the other hand, are rapid growers and they are picked daily! Everything is carefully picked by hand and the work of harvesting is labor intensive. All produce is ripened on the vine. Of the tonnage produced in tomatoes and cucumbers, none is exported. Everything is for domestic consumption.

After the explanation, we enjoyed a fabulous tomato soup lunch. Fridheimar Greenhouse has a lovely bright cafe within the greenhouse, complete with a bar and dessert offerings. We ate tomato soup served with the best of breads, made in onsite geo thermally run ovens. They even produced a gluten free bread that was, according to a gluten free member of my retreat group, some of the best bread ever produced! Might I mention the bread was served with Icelandic butter?

Fridheimar Green House where tomatoes and cucumbers are grown by tons!

Fridheimar Green House where tomatoes and cucumbers are grown by tonnage!

Greenhouses are bio sustainable and make use of 17 hours of sunlight from geothermal energy-run lights

Greenhouses are bio sustainable and give 17 hours of sunlight from geothermal energy-run lights


Bumble bees to fertilize the plants in the tomatoes and cucumbers: Queen Bee and her drones

Bumble bees to fertilize the tomato plants: Queen Bee and her drones

Helena passionately explains how the greenhouses work!  She and her husband have run the green houses for 20 years.

Helena passionately explains how the greenhouses work! She and her husband have run the green houses for 20 years.


Bread made and served at the greenhouse!  They also served gluten free bread and Russ said it was the best gluten free bread he has ever eaten in his life!

Lisa sits down to tomato soup made from Fridheimar's tomatoes.

Lisa sits down to tomato soup made from Fridheimar’s tomatoes.

Tomato Soup Recipe!

Tomato Soup Recipe!

More bread served with the soup!

More bread served with the soup!

Oh, and more bread! (always served with delicious Icelandic butter.)

Oh, and more bread! (always served with delicious Icelandic butter.)

Dessert!  Yes, someone ordered this tomato ice cream served in a planter.  Apparently, it was really good.

Dessert! Yes, someone ordered this tomato ice cream served in a planter.

Yoga at Crystal Creek

May 6, 2015

Below are some dreamy images from Saturday and Sunday’s Yoga Day Retreats at Crystal Creek in Issaquah, Washington.

The retreat days are filled with an all-level Hatha yoga morning session, a deliciously nourishing lunch, connecting to other people interested in living a healthy and holistic lifestyle, and a two-hour hike on Squak Mountain, whose trail is within a short walk from the beautiful studio where our yoga sessions are held.  Some people like to opt out of the hike and enjoy reading or napping.  In lieu of hiking, some yoga participants like to hang out in the yoga studio, lying next to the fireplace, draped over bolsters, the ultimate experience in relaxation! The hike or free time is followed by restorative yoga.

Our host, Cathy, is an artist.  You can see her artistic touch from her flower arrangements to the meals she cooks!  She and her home are PURE MAGIC.

Our host, Cathy, is an artist. You can see her artistic touch from her flower arrangements to the meals she cooks! She and her home are PURE MAGIC.

Colorful artwork everywhere you look

Colorful art everywhere you look

Lunch:  always delicious!

Lunch: always delicious!

Trees on Squak Mountain, Issaquah.

The Hike: trees on Squak Mountain, Issaquah

On our walk back to the studio, we saw a tree peony which was much larger than Dayna's hand

On our walk back to the studio, we saw a tree peony which was much larger than Dayna’s hand

Chillin' out:  Restorative Yoga

Chillin’ out: Restorative Yoga

Another flower arrangement by Cathy.

Another flower arrangement by Cathy.

A Feast For The Eyes

May 2, 2015
Precious Tulips

Precious Tulips

Both yesterday and today I was able to capture some colorful shots which bring to life the color of spring from a visit to the West Seattle Chinese Garden and the idyllic life of Seattle houseboat living from today’s waffle breakfast gathering after yoga class.  Enjoy these photos and the captions that tell their stories.


Simone and I went to the Chinese Peony Garden in West Seattle.  Simone read about these fabulous peony trees planted there, so we had to go!  We found that hardly any of the peony trees were in bloom and there were very few buds.  We felt lucky to see this yellow beauty.

Another yellow peony.  Please don't kill ants if you see them on your peonies!  No ants, no peonies!

Another yellow peony. Please don’t kill ants if you see them on your peonies! Ants help nurture the peonies.

Chinese design

Chinese design

Peeping in on the tulips at the Chinese Garden.

Peeping in on the tulips at the Chinese Garden.

After yoga this morning, the class enjoyed waffles at Carol's boathouse.  I so enjoy looking at the colorful houseboats.

After yoga this morning, the class enjoyed waffles at Carol’s boathouse. I so enjoy looking at the colorful houseboats.

"What can I bring?" "Flowers." Sometimes you get what you ask for!  Lilacs, rhododendron, Solomon's Seal in a vase!

“What can I bring?”
Sometimes you get what you ask for! Lilacs, rhododendron, and Solomon’s Seal from Simone’s garden!

A cooking magazine lying about

a cooking magazine lying about

The table waiting for waffles and hungry yogis

Carol’s table waiting for waffles and hungry yogis..

Houseboat shelving laden with the best cookbooks ever!

Houseboat shelving laden with the best cookbooks ever!

This is what a cooking lover's kitchen looks like!

This is what a cooking lover’s kitchen looks like!

Waffles:  Almost every square filled with French

Waffles: Almost every square filled with French butter and maple syrup!

Joyful Playful Ceramic Art made by Carol's sister, Joy

Joyful Playful Ceramic Art made by Carol’s sister, artist Joy Brown

Sicilian Heritage and Hatha Yoga Retreat

October 29, 2014

Another wonderful retreat last weekend, the Sicilian Heritage and Hatha Yoga Retreat, was held at Ocean Shores, Washington.  We hosted a fabulous group and offered homemade Sicilian food.  I was inspired from my recent trip to Sicily.  Our yoga weekend at the coast was one filled with great group dynamics,  deep yoga sessions, enlightening conversations, and an all round fun time!

The weekend started with a rain and wind storm, with gusts up to 60 miles per hour, and ended with sunshine and gorgeous late October weather.  Enjoy the photos below.  RECIPES follow at the end of this blog!

Sunny late October day after big rain and wind storm...

Sunny late October day after big rain and wind storm…

Backyard Deer

Our backyard Deer

Peggie and Fran

Peggie and Fran

Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean

The jetty at Ocean Shores

The jetty at Ocean Shores

Jetty in Sepia

Jetty in Sepia




Mineschia  (Sicilian Minestrone)

2-5  tablespoon olive oil

1 cup tomatoes, diced

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup carrots, diced

1 cup sliced celery

1 cup zucchini, diced (I didn’t use this)

1 cup eggplant, diced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Saute the above ingredients in oil for 10 minutes.

6-10 cups water  (I go by the consistency and try not to make this too watery)

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

1 tsp. oregano

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Add the above and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes

Add 1/2 cup cooked beans  (canned beans ok) Cannelloni is what I used

1/2 cup potato, peeled and diced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

Add the above three ingredients and cook for another 10 minutes or until the potato is cooked


Caponata di Melanzane (Eggplant Caponata)  from Grotte, Sicily

2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes


1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup tomato sauce

1/2 cup tomato paste, thinned with 1/2 cup water

1 stalk celery, strings removed and coarsely chopped

3 carrots, diced very small

1 cup green olives (more if you like olives), pitted and cut into thirds

4 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained  (more if you love capers)

two tablespoons of golden currants

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

black pepper

oil, for frying

Put the eggplant cubes in a colander and salt them.  Let them stand for 1 hour to drain while you prepare the other ingredients.

Saute the onions in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes, until just golden.  Add the sauce and thinned tomato paste.  Simmer, uncovered, until thickened 5-8 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, olives, capers, and sugar.  Stir in the vinegar and salt and pepper. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, then transfer the sauce to a large blow and cool.

Heat 1-inch oil in a large saute pan. Wipe the eggplant pieces dry and fry them in batches, one batch at a time, until golden brown.  Drain well on paper towels.

Add the eggplant to the sauce and mix well. Taste for seasoning, then let cool.  Serve at room temperature.  This recipe makes 6 cups of caponata to be used as an appetizer to spread over bread.

Note from Fran  (I always prepare the eggplant one day ahead of time as this is the most time consuming part of making the dish.  And I always double this recipe.  Contrary to what the cooking school in Modica said, I find that the caponata freezes well.)

Frittata with Spinach (or Chard) and Roasted Red Peppers  

1 bunch spinach  (I used chard and kale combined)

1 large leek, chopped  (equals about 1 cup)

1 cup mushrooms

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp marjoram

1 tsp salt

2 large roasted red peppers  (equals about 1/2 cup)

6 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated fontina cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Wash spinach (or chard), remove stalks and cut into ribbons.  In large pan, saute leeks and chopped mushrooms in oil and butter over medium heat until soft.  Add spinach (or chard), herbs and salt.  Saute about 7 more minutes until spinach is well cooked.  Remove from heat, stir in peppers and cool.

In large bowl, beat eggs with milk and add bread crumbs, herbs and  and cheese.  Stir in spinach (chard) mixture.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bake in buttered 9″x9″ pan for 40 minutes, until center is firm and crust is golden.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!!

Sformato di Spinaci (Spinach Souffle)

9 lbs fresh spinach (I used chard)

1 finely grated parmesan

1 cup fontina, grated

salt and black pepper

5 eggs

3 tablespoons butter (I used olive oil)

Wash spinach, steam until tender, 8-10 minutes, Drain and puree in a food processor and measure out 6 cups.

Mix spinach with the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the eggs.

Preheat oven to 300 F. Thickly butter (or oil) a 6-cup ring mold or a 10-inch loaf pan.

Fill the mold or pan with the spinach mixture and tap on the counter to make it settle. Smooth the top. Dot with butter (optional), or drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the sformato from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. Then unmold it onto a serving platter.

The sformato could be covered with melted cheese.

You can also add pine nuts or peas to the mixture.

Pesto di Pistacchio

1 ½ cup packed basil

1 cup olive oil

1 cup dry-roasted or regular shelled pistachios

½ cup Italian parsley

¼ cup finely grated Parmesan

1 tsp lemon zest

3 cloves garlic

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Process basil, oil, pistachios, parsley, Parmesan, zest, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper.

Semolina Cake (recipe from Marilyn Alterman)

10 T sweet butter, soft

1 C sugar

2 eggs

zest of 3 lemons (3T)

1 C sour cream or yogurt

1 ½ t vanilla

1 C flour

3/8 C semolina flour

½ t salt

1 ½ t baking soda

For the syrup:

½ C fresh lemon juice

¼ C orange juice

½ C sugar

Combine the three syrup ingredients and bring to a boil.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9 inch spring-form pan.

Whip butter with sugar, zest and vanilla. Mix in eggs. Sift

Dry ingredients. Add them to the butter mixture, alternating

with sour cream/yogurt. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until set,

approximately 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out with

a few crumbs.

While the cake is baking, prepare syrup. Prick cake all over the

top with a toothpick. Pour hot syrup over hot cake, slowly,

until it is all absorbed. Cool before serving.

Cranberry Scones:

makes 8 large scones

2/3 cup non fat yogurt

1 egg

3 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut up in small pieces

1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

Heat oven to 375 F.

Mix together yogurt and egg using a fork.

In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add the pieces of butter using a pastry blender or using your fingers until mixture looks like fine granules.

Add cranberries, sugar and orange peel.

Add the yogurt mixture.

Stir with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and give 5-6 kneads, just until well mixed.   Divide into 8 balls and form into 8 wedges.  Place onto un-greased cookie sheet.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until medium brown.

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