Crunchy Cereal Chocolate Chip Cookies & Memories

I’ve been trying to comfort myself. I haven’t been home much over the past few weeks, as I spent most all of my free time with Ginny. Little did I know two weeks ago that these would be the last two weeks we would be physically together. It’s the kind of realization that leaves me with a difficult to swallow lump in my throat. At 104, Ginny (AKA Gram) my paternal grandmother was remarkable. She would be the first to tell you that she had lived a good life and was ready ‘to go’- but somehow that had remained well beyond her control.

Since she was in her 90’s I had wondered how I would feel on the day we were no longer together. Little did I know that we were going to be granted 14 more years to enjoy each other’s company during our weekly visits and calls. And while I know it would have been selfish to want more, there was no amount of time that was going to make it easier for me to let her go. I was never going to be ready. I just don’t do ‘good-byes’ gracefully.

In retrospect, I realize that everything about me during these past few weeks was trying to find comfort from reality and my emotions. I wanted to dress in only the softest materials – flannel hit the top of my list, and leggings weren’t too far off either. I was constantly craving my favorite comfort foods – and yet none of them satisfied me. In the past, pasta and chocolate could almost always turn the corners of my mouth upwards into a smile, until now. Sleep escaped me and it seemed that music was my only outlet to calm my otherwise inconsolable emotions.

I tried to prepare my children for the inevitable as my mother, aunt and step-mother tried to prepare me. My head understood that it was time for Ginny to go but my heart refused to cooperate. Each car ride into San Francisco to see her left me in tears as memories would sneak out of my eyes and rapidly roll down my cheeks. The return ride home was much the same. I thought there might be at least one ‘dry’ day but such a day never materialized. It seemed I was capable of providing an unending supply of tear juice.

I haven’t had much of a desire to cook or bake which makes it challenging to be a food blogger. This week I paced around the kitchen in a circular clockwise motion, for the better part of 30 minutes, until I decided that I had to try to crack the seal and figure out how to unlock my suppressed cooking gene. I pulled out my recipe archives and after a lengthy span of time, and several opportunities to be side-tracked, I finally summoned some cookies into the oven. It was not easy. My heart wasn’t in it, but I pushed through to try to find that glimmer of me that has gone suddenly missing. The cookies certainly put smiles on faces around the house and at the office, which was all I could ask for given my state of mind. It confirmed that while I may be momentarily lost in emotions, my baking abilities still work. And I am sure with a bit of food coaxing, time will help me find my stride again.

In the process of rediscovering my take on an old-time classic cookie recipe I managed to somehow feel closer to Ginny. I’ve been searching through my archives and found SO MANY of her amazing recipe creations … and there is one that I can’t wait to make (yes, I am a tease) … which we will discuss soon. Until then, I share with you this crunchy cereal infused chocolate chip cookie. While I typically tend to make chewy chocolate chip cookies there was a time when I was a “tried and true” crunchy cookie gal. Meet a cookie with some serious texture in its character– and while it is not necessarily a beauty for the eyes to behold, it does the belly good.

Crunchy Cereal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

1 TBS brown sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup corn flakes, crushed into crumbs

½ cup raw oatmeal

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, using a hand mixer, combine butter, sugar, vegetable oil, brown sugar, egg and vanilla together. Add in flour, baking soda and salt and mix well. Lastly add in corn flakes, oatmeal and chocolate chips. Stir by hand until well combined.

Bake 10-12 minutes.

Old World Lasagna (the real deal)

I am staring down the barrel of loosing Ginny. I am trying to be brave, trying not to be emotional and grossly failing. Most days, I avoid mentally ‘going there’, to the irreversible moment where our conversations only remain in my memories. The rational non-emotional version of me knows that I need to let her go. At 104 years old she is tired. And while her decline often feels as if it is accelerating I remind myself that until she was 103, she was remarkably sharp and able to keep tabs on most all of our comings and goings.

When I reflect back, I realize that in many ways she has been gradually leaving us. For years after my grandfather passed we had our nightly 6pm calls but those faded away as she forgot how to engage with electronics, in response my father and I migrated to increased visits and she remained happy for the interaction. As her physical stability became more limited at 102, she tried to remain engaged by having us tell her stories. Up until she was 103, we had been girlfriends kibitzing about every day life, but these last few months we’ve seen a rather quick slide backwards in her cognitive abilities as her short and long term memories have been stolen away. Stories and conversations are difficult to sustain, so often times we just sit and smile and hold hands.

As I walk into her apartment I am filled with anticipation, as I wonder if she will remember my name. There are visits of complete and total clarity, and then there is the opposite of that. Her dementia has progressed from occasional memory lapses to occasionally remembering key things and people. I look for glimmers of her in her somewhat vacant eyes. And I live for those visits when she calls out my name upon seeing my face, and quickly grabs my hand and holds it to her face and kisses it.

I’ve stopped planning the every other week visit with my children as I know they would be crushed to see how much she has changed. They have such wonderful vivid interactive memories of her that I want to hold those sacred for them. I try to get all my tears out before and after each visit. Attempting to mentally prepare for what is the unavoidable and anticipated outcome – yet it NEVER gets any easier to imagine a life without her. I understand that it must be so but in my heart I can’t find the calm acceptance I need to have.

Letting go of Ginny, is one of the most difficult things I could ever imagine because against all odds she has been an active participant in all of our lives. I remember when her first great grandchild was born and she wept – happy to have been able to meet this new person and sad that she would never see her grow-up; and yet, she has seen her the first 16 years of her life and the first 14 years of her great grandson’s life – I won’t bore you with the tawdry details of how old she’s seen me grow as that would require numerous Campari’s on my part!

For me Ginny will always illicit food memories. She was a fantastic gourmet cook. She would tell me stories about when she first married and how awful of a cook she was, yet she was determined to become better. Growing up her mother had always done all of the cooking and she and her sister were not allowed to participate for fear of getting dirty. So when she married as a 29 year old, quite late for someone at that time, she was up for a bit of a challenge. My Grandfather’s sister Ida was her guide to better cooking; or at least she was so brutally honest that she encouraged my Grandmother to subscribe to ‘Bon Appetite’ Magazine to up her game. And the headstrong determined Ginny, did just that. It was commonly known by the time that I can recall my birthday party’s at their home on Telegraph Hill that she was an amazing cook, having surpassed both of her sister-in-laws and then expanded into elaborate cakes and cake decoration. Everything she made from pastas to birthday cakes was a work of art.

Born in San Francisco, in 1913 Virginia ‘Ginny’ Dora’s parents originated in Northern Italy up near the Alps in Valtellina. They were proud mountain folk that took pride in their polenta and lasagna. Lasagna was one of the dishes that she prepared that my maternal side of the family never made as it was not as prevalent of a dish where they originated from in Sicily. Ginny had numerous recipes for lasagna, but her favorite was the one she learned from our dear Maria Rosa from Montecatini. It has been years since I’ve made my Grandmother’s recipe, having migrated to a more American version, but recently we had our good friend from Parma, Tobia, staying with us and he offered to make lasagna. I can tell you, at first bite I was taken back to Ginny’s adaptation of Maria Rosa’s delicious recipe. Without knowing it, Tobia had given me the sensory boost I needed to reconnect and chin-up emotionally. And while I know the road ahead for Ginny will remain filled with a few peaks and numerous nadirs I also know that through the recipes she has shared with me, as well as her passion for cake decoration, she will always be a part of our lives.

The main difference between American style lasagna and Italian lasagna is the lack of copious amounts of cheese and in its place a buttery layer of béchamel sauce. If you don’t have all day to make your ragu (meat sauce) then make it ahead and allow the flavors to set up for a day or two. And if you want to really leverage your time investment then I recommend doubling the recipe, assembling two lasagnas, and freezing one of these meals to be enjoyed at another time.

Lasagna

There are three sets of ingredients and directions to this recipe – Ragu, Béchamel Sauce and Lasagna ingredients plus assembly.

Lasagna Ingredients

Lasagna pasta sheets, fresh preferred, Buitoni in the refrigerated section

1/2 lb Ethmental cheese, sliced or torn into small pieces

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Ragu Ingredients

1/2 lb sausage

1 lb ground beef

3(15.5 oz) cans tomato sauce

2 carrots, finely diced

1/2 yellow onion, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 1/2 cups of milk

2 TBS olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup dry white wine

Béchamel Sauce Ingredients

10.5 TBS butter (6 oz or 150 g butter)

1 1/8 cup (150 g ) flour

6 cups whole milk

dash of nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

Ragu Directions</p>

In a medium pot, over medium heat, add olive oil and carrots, onions and celery and cook until translucent.

In a bowl, combine the ground beef and sausage and mix until well combined. Then add this into the vegetable mixture. Cook stirring frequently until meat changes color from red to a light gray color. Add in white wine and tomato sauce and bring mixture to a low boil. Once boiling reduce heat and cover with a lid, leaving it slightly offset so that some evaporation will take place. Cook sauce for 2-3 hours, stirring every 20 minutes. The last 20 minutes of cooking, while stirring, add in milk.

Béchamel Sauce Directions

In a small pot over medium low heat, add butter and stir continuously until melted. Add in the flour slowly, stirring constantly until well combined and the mixture turns a slightly yellow color. Gradually begin to add in the milk 2 cups at a time, stirring with a whisk. Once all milk has been added continue to stir until sauce noticeably thickens. It should thickly coat the back of a spoon when ready.

Lasagna assembly Direction

Using a 9×11 baking dish, put ¼ inch generous layer of béchamel sauce, layer the uncooked fresh lasagna sheets next, then béchamel sauce, ragu and then Emmethal cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Repeat for two more layers finishing with béchamel and ragu and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese.

Extra sauce can be frozen for use with pasta.

Spicy Blackout Eclipse Cake & The Little Things

I recently read an article that in the end of our lives we will realize that it is probably all of the little moments that were the most important ones. It encouraged me to take a step back, to realize that even when I am rushing through my day to meet all of the expectations placed on me that maybe I should take a second to appreciate what I have- wonderful family, friends and health. Continue reading ‘Spicy Blackout Eclipse Cake & The Little Things’

Roasted Tomato Bucatini

I have a way of getting swept up in summer. I suppose it is something I never fully realized or appreciated until now. The long summer days that feel like you can squeeze three, possibly even four, chapters into your day are definitely worth smiling about. Relaxed lazy dinners followed by trips to the ice cream store or a dunk in the pool give me that feeling I had as a child growing up in the summer. The feeling that I have time: a release from the regimented deadlines and time frames that can seem all consuming and important. Weekends without sports schedules and endless commitments can be amended to include a slightly fluid plan to BBQ and indulge in a few cocktails.

Continue reading ‘Roasted Tomato Bucatini’

Sloppy Joe-lene (Italian Ice Cream Sandwich- Focaccia Gelato)

I am often asked how I got started with my passion for cooking and yet when I reflect back it was more of an evolution than one life changing revelation.

I wasn’t any sort of prodigy in the kitchen. I certainly enjoyed good food and that is probably what eventually led me down this path. Continue reading ‘Sloppy Joe-lene (Italian Ice Cream Sandwich- Focaccia Gelato)’

Cherry Berry Campari Spritzer

I’ve changed

The thing about having been ill is that you do things differently, maybe not right away, but then you look back and realize that you’ve changed. I’ve changed.

You laugh harder, live larger, love more deeply, and take more chances. The focus is on living and doing so memorably. Continue reading ‘Cherry Berry Campari Spritzer’

Acquafaba Chocolate Coffee Coconut Mousse

About a week ago, I was having dinner with my family when my daughter shared a conversation that she had with one of her friends about my food blogging that was spot on. We laughed until tears streamed down our cheeks. It was a moment that still makes me laugh. Because when you explain this recipe, and well, maybe a few of my others, it fits into the category of intriguing and bizarre (and down right delicious!). Continue reading ‘Acquafaba Chocolate Coffee Coconut Mousse’

Tea and Pineapple Infused Blood Oranges

IMG_3772

Lessons learned. Sometimes I feel that despite my age, I remain a student of life’s lessons. There is an inherent energy that comes with this type of continual adrenalin rush that toggles the line between invigorating and insurmountable.

Continue reading ‘Tea and Pineapple Infused Blood Oranges’

The Memphis King’s Cupcakes

Memphis King Cupcakes

One of the things I love about being an Aries is how much we enjoy being around other Aries. I used to think I was the luckiest girl in the world; my birthday was one day before my maternal Grandmother’s birthday- Antoinette. She was an idol to me in so many ways. She had a passion for life that seemed unquenchable, a wickedly fun sense of humor and while she seemed like she was emotionally tough beyond belief, she was deeply sensitive. Continue reading ‘The Memphis King’s Cupcakes’

Turmeric Citrus Hot Toddy & Tom Brady

IMG_1634

What do Tom Brady and I have in common? While I am a moderate sports fan, I was recently shown an article about Tom Brady, an NFL American football quarterback for the New England Patriots who because of his accomplishments (one of two players to win five Super Bowls) and accolades (honored with four Super Bowl MVP Awards), is considered by many analysts and sportswriters to be among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The gist of the article is that no matter what you should not let situations define you. I like the way that sounds… being ‘undefinable’ is a far more thought provoking concept than being rebellious. Continue reading ‘Turmeric Citrus Hot Toddy & Tom Brady’