Sunday, December 18, 2016

Merry Christmas to All!

Every year I bake an assortment of cookies to share and enjoy during Christmas and well into the New Year.  I've blogged about a few of my favorite cookie recipes in the past--the Fig, Date and Nut cookies, regular Gingerbread Men, and Rainbow (Neapolitan) Cookies recipes can be viewed on this post.  Over the years I've begin making the King Arthur Flour gluten free Gingerbread men recipe as my daughter-in-law and one of my grandsons is sensitive to wheat.  The cookies are delicious, and we all enjoy them, so I don't bake the regular any longer.   This year I made a batch of Gluten Free Rainbow Cookies, in addition to my regular Rainbow cookies, and they are also almost indistinguishable in taste so they will become a regular addition to my cookie making routine. I found that my Spritz cookie press was not working well this year, so that will be one of my first after Christmas presents to myself.  Only one disc worked well and even that did not make very sharp designs and it was a bit of a struggle to work with when it should have been the easiest cookie to make.

My oldest grandson celebrated his 8th birthday last week! This darling boy was first seen on my blog in 2008, when he was born. How life has changed for us since then!  It has been a joy to live closer to him and to watch him grow.  Like all grandparents, we believe that every one of our grandchildren is the smartest and best-looking child there is!

This week I'll be very busy shopping for, and preparing, our traditional Italian style "Feast of the Seven Fishes."  It is a meal we, and our guests, look forward to all year long!   As an appetizer, I make my Italian Mixed Seafood Salad. It is one of my most pinned recipes, and truly delicious. Another recipe I make on Christmas Eve, that is truly Italian and my husband's favorite, is Baccala Florentine.  It is made with salted cod that has been reconstituted in water, but you can also substitute regular codfish filet. We also have stuffed calamari, fried shrimp, mussels and clams, stuffed lobster tails, salmon, and an assortment of vegetables. 

One thing for sure, is that we will have a white Christmas!  We had about 8 inches of snow this past weekend on the Front Range of Colorado, and it has been unusually cold so the snow is not melting as quickly as it usually does in the warm Colorado sun.  I love snow and it made me happy to see this quiet beauty all around our neighborhood.

A Christmas Day visitor last year!
Will he come back this year?

Love Came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Stars and angels gave the sign.
~ Christina G.Rossetti

May you and your family have a very Merry and blessed Christmas! 

 I will see you in the new year!

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Nonna's Savory Calabrian Zeppole

The Christmas season is such a busy time of the year, but it is also a time for recreating wonderful traditions and adding on new ones. One tradition my husband and I have reinstated, after moving to Colorado from New York City four years ago, is making a savory, fried potato dough taste treats called Zeppole. They are Calabrian style, and not to be confused with the sweet doughnut type that is also served warm and covered with powdered sugar, which is more Roman or Neapolitan style, and often sold at Italian street festivals. My husband's mother and oldest sister made zeppole the afternoon of every Christmas Eve, and often on other occasions when a crowd of people would gather, such as family birthdays.

Making zeppole was truly a family affair, often with friends, siblings, and their spouses, children, and grandchildren all gathered in the kitchen to help. They would take pieces of dough and twist them to drop in the frying pans filled with hot oil, helping to turn them as they fried, and then greedily gobbling them up after they were cooked.  Some zeppoles were made with plain dough, but many that followed, and our favorites, were made by twisting the dough around a nice big anchovy.  The combination of the salty anchovy and fried potato dough was quite addictive!  We could eat many of them, while also enjoying a glass, or two, of red wine.

My husband immigrated to the United States as a child, with his parents and siblings from a small hilltop town in Southern Italy near the Ionian Sea, from the Provinces of Reggio Calabria. This is a postcard view of his town. Each region in Italy and even each town has its own variations for making many traditional Italian foods, all of them delicious, but some with quite different ingredients, according to what was available in each town.   The following is the recipe my mother-in-law used, and what my oldest sister-in-law always makes. They would make large quantities of zeppole, as they were always made for festive occasions and served to a lot of people, but my husband and I cut the recipe in half, which was a more reasonable portion for us to enjoy with our family here in Colorado.

Nonna's Savory Calabrian Zeppole


2.5 pounds of potatoes
6 cubes of active wet yeast (found in the refrigerated section of the grocery, often near the eggs or dairy)
1.5 tablespoons of salt
2.5 pounds of flour 
1 pound semolina flour
Anchovies preserved in olive oil


Boil potatoes whole, with scrubbed cleaned skins, in water until fork tender. Drain, cool, peel, and use a potato ricer or food mill to mash onto a pile on a lighted floured board or clean countertop.  Make a well in the middle of the riced potatoes.

Mix the semolina flour and the white flour in a bowl. Add half the flour mix and the salt to the middle of the potato mixture.

Dissolve the active yeast cakes in one cup of warm water.  Add slowly to the potato and flour mixture a little at a time, while also adding the rest of the flour semolina mixture. Keep hands moist to help with mixing--we keep a bowl of warm water nearby to do this.  

When the potato/flour/semolina dough is all incorporated into a sticky elastic dough, knead on a lightly floured surface until it forms a smooth ball. Place the dough ball in an oiled pot, turn once to cover the dough with oil, cover the pan with a towel, and place in a warm place, without drafts, until it is doubled in size.

When the dough is doubled in size, heat oil in a skillet deep enough for the zeppole to float as it cooks. You can use olive oil if desired, but we use a canola oil/olive oil blend as it can heat at a higher temperature without smoking.  Heat the oil until it is almost boiling. You can drop a small piece of dough into the skillet to test if the oil is ready--the piece of dough will begin to sizzle and rise to the top of the oil.

With wet hands take a piece of dough and pull and roll it into a four-inch rope shape. Add the dry anchovy in the middle (if desired) and twist the dough around it.  Gently place in hot oil and fry, turning the dough as needed with forks or tongs, until it is golden in color and crisp.  

Place on paper towels to drain.  

Eat warm and enjoy! 

Uneaten zeppole can be refrigerated and warmed in a low oven to reserve.  

This Christmas season we also made time for a new tradition.  We had fun making a gingerbread house with our oldest granddaughter. She thoroughly enjoyed the process and was quite proud of the finished results!  I had to convince her that we would have to wait until Christmas to eat some of the house and that in the meantime it would be a nice decoration. 

Our tree is up--a Noble Fir from a tree farm in Oregon, and we've had some light snowfalls and chilly nights where we could enjoy a cozy fire. This is truly the most wonderful time of the year! Enjoy the season, and please tell me what your favorite tradition is this time of the year.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Oh What Fun!

I'm late sharing photos of our Thanksgiving celebration and my daughter's birthday that happened to fall on the same day this year. My son and family were celebrating at his in-laws, so our celebration was smaller this year, with just my daughter and family and a neighbor friend.  I know it will look like a large amount of food for only five people and a grandchild, but everyone takes home a large tray of leftovers, and my husband and I then enjoy what is left for a few days. Nothing goes to waste!

In fact, one of our favorite Thanksgiving traditions is to make turkey stock from the carcass of the turkey the next day.  I place the carcass in a large pot with a large onion, 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled carrots, stalks of celery, and any washed and frozen vegetable pieces and peelings that I've saved from preparing for our Thanksgiving meal the days before. I add the stalks of fresh parsley I've saved from using the leaves, and a large sprig of rosemary and a bunch of sage leaves from my herb garden.  It is brought to a boil and then lowered to a simmer for hours--I really cook it all down to a rich broth.  Then, when cooled, I strain the juice into a large bowl and discard the bones and cooked vegetables.   I refrigerate the large bowl of broth overnight and then scrape off all the fat that has risen to the top the next day.  Now I have a wonderful turkey stock that can be used to make soup! When making soup add salt and pepper and other seasonings like thyme, parsley, etc.   Add freshly chopped vegetables of choice to simmer until cooked in the stock, or frozen cooked vegetables.  Add chopped turkey meat leftover from the holiday meal and cooked rice, egg noodles, pasta or barley.  I add leftover mashed potatoes, if I have any, to thicken.  It really is a delicious way to enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey all over again!

The day after Thanksgiving our town of Littleton holds a delightful celebration called the "Candlelight Walk." Main Street shops remain open for shopping and carolers stroll the street singing Christmas Carols. There is hot cider for sale and one can buy candles to hold in the procession. Around 6:30 PM a parade begins with a few floats passing by and then Santa Claus and his sleigh come down Main Street. As he passes by he magically illuminates more than a million lights in the trees as he passes each block. When he reaches the end of the street he throws a switch on the big Christmas Tree in the plaza.  We brought our oldest granddaughter this year and she really enjoyed the festivities while sitting on her Pop Pop's shoulders!

Our community has a large ranch house community center that is decorated beautifully for Christmas, and every year Santa Claus makes an appearance for the members. We took our two granddaughters/cousins to see him, dressed up in their matching dresses.  Only the oldest granddaughter was brave enough to go up to tell him her Christmas wish list--the little granddaughter thought he was too scary.  She did enjoy the ladies playing bells and the hot chocolate and cookies that were part of the celebration, however, as we all did.  My daughter and son-in-law and oldest granddaughter later went on a hayride through the community park grounds, along with other members, and sang Christmas carols along the way as the sunset. It was wonderful fun!

Another fun beginning to this Christmas season was that both of our children and their families gathered with us for a Denver tradition--an outing at Casa Bonita!  Casa Bonita is a restaurant and a family entertainment spot that has been delighting visitors for over 40 years. It is cavernous in size with many different dining areas that can seat 1,000 people. Made to resemble a Mexican Village and local environment, it has at its center a 30-foot waterfall leading to a 14-foot deep pool. Daring cliff diver shows take place all evening from the cliff. The faux palm trees were lit up for the Christmas season and there were other holiday decorations all about. In addition, there are strolling musicians, and "haunted cave walk" arcades, a puppet show, and ride on figures for young children.  The food is simple Mexican, and although far from gourmet, the food portions are generous. All in all, it is a fun and kitschy experience that children really enjoy.

This evening my husband and I went with a few friends to a concert at the Lakewood Cultural Center in Lakewood, Colorado, to attend the 19th annual Timothy P Irvin and the Rocky Mountain Stocking Stuffers Concert.  All the musicians and singers were very talented as they sang a combination of Western country and bluegrass Christmas songs.  One very remarkable rendition of Silent Night was sung by Jon Chandler.  He told us that when he was growing up his grandparents and great grandmother lived with his family.  His great grandmother told him as a child that her great grandfather was Franz Gruber, the composer who wrote the guitar music to the song Silent Night.  He then went on to perform the song so beautifully!  I found the video above, on YouTube, of him telling the story and singing the song at a different venue. Click here to go to YouTube if you can not see the video.  There are so many beautiful renditions of Silent Night, but I think you will also enjoy hearing Jon sing it in English and native German.
For all the fun and novelty of the Christmas season that we all enjoy--the lights, the tree, the culinary treats and presents--it is good to honor the very best of all is the reason for the season, the birth of Jesus! 

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

This past spring my husband and I took a road trip to SE Colorado to visit The Great Sand Dunes National Park--click here to read that post--and we decided to visit two National Historical sites on our way back home. One was of these sites was the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site located in Kiowa County, near Eads, on the great high plains of Colorado. This site is sacred, controversial, symbolic and a reminder of a national tragedy that happened on November 29, 1864. I was profoundly touched by what I read and saw at this site, and although it is a difficult subject, I thought it would be fitting to show what we saw on the 152 year anniversary as well as to wonder what has the United States learned from its past?

Our drive was very long.  The high plains of Colorado are very vast and very desolate in many areas. The remoteness of the Sand Creek location made me wonder even more why this event happened so long ago.

We passed through dry prairie grasslands, by ranches, and some farms before we passed by the desolate ghost town of Chivington.  This was a landmark that the Sand Creek Massacre site was close by.

When we passed through the gate there was still some drive ahead, with only a few trees visible a small visitor center and some placards describing what happened here. My husband and I and one other man were the only visitors at the time, but a ranger came to meet us to tell us the history of the area and direct us towards the massacre site.

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Along the Big Sandy Creek, about 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho native people were living peacefully at a winter camp in what was then Colorado territory. They believed they were under the protection of the US Army by treaty. Many of the men were away hunting for food, so the camp consisted of mainly old people, women, and children. At dawn on November 29, 1864, approximately 675 U.S. volunteer soldiers, commanded by Colonel John M. Chivington, attacked the sleeping natives with guns and cannons. Black Kettle, one of the peace Chiefs, raised an American flag and white truce flag above his tipi, as he had been promised protection, but he also had to flee. While many managed to escape, about 200 women and children, and the elderly struggled to run in the sandy earth of the dry creek bed.  Some women tried to dig trenches in the creek bed, or in the hollow logs of cottonwood trees to hide their children, but most were mercilessly slaughtered during the eight hours of fighting. During the afternoon, and the next day, the soldiers wandered over the field committing atrocities on the dead, taking native belongings as souvenirs, and burning down the encampment, before departing the scene on December 1, to resume campaigning.

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A placard on the site explains the events of the massacre.

For many years the Arapaho and Cheyenne people had lived their way of life on the plains of Colorado, but the discovery of gold in 1858 brought many prospectors and then many settlers into the Colorado territory, increasing conflicts and clashes with the natives.  Territorial Governor John Evans wished to apply for statehood and felt the eradication of "hostile natives" would ensure the safety of the new citizens. Sadly, many at the time felt the natives were soulless savages not worthy of the same rights as Christians.

Please click on to enlarge

Chiefs Black Kettle and Left Hand pleaded for peace and an end to violence and were promised this just a couple months before at a counsel in Denver, with Governor Evans, Colonel Chivington, Major Wynkoop, Captain Soule, and other officials. They were told to surrender at Fort Lyons.  Prisoner rations were not enough to sustain them at the fort, so they moved further east to the Sand Creek area where they knew they could hunt for food.

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Captain Silas S. Soule, and Lieutenant Joseph A Cramer, who knew these people had been promised peace, put their military careers and lives at danger by refusing to fire on the peaceful encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek on November 29.  They wrote letters to their former commander Major Edward Wynkoop, describing the horrible atrocities they witnessed. These letters led to an investigation by two congressional committees, and an army commission, which changed history's judgment of Sand Creek from a battle to a massacre of men, women, and children, but charges were never brought against those responsible.  Sadly, Captain Soule was murdered soon after he testified to the commissions.

A placard at the Sand Creek site shows the letter Captain Soule wrote to Major Wynkoop graphically describing the atrocities of the massacre.  For a long time, these letters were displaced but copies resurfaced around the year 2000 to help convince the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to establish the Sand Creek Massacre site as a National Historical site.  You can read the full letter on this government website--click here--scroll down the page. Be warned they are horribly graphic in description.

Today the park preserves approximately 2,400 acres of the massacre site.

The actual creek site is restricted to visitors.

Native Cottonwood trees line the creek where tipi once stood.

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Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members still gather here to pay homage to their ancestors, to heal, and to help educate future generations to the horrors of genocide that still exists around the world

The Sand Creek Massacre is one of the most disgraceful events in American history--a tragedy reflective of its time and place.  As time has marched on, most Americans realize the injustices done to our country's native people, who were trying to protect their way of life from change and destruction.

Every year, for the last 18 years, there has been a Spiritual Healing Walk Run Event that is sponsored by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, and the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes (Oklahoma) to honor the victims and survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre and for healing of ancestral homelands.  They run/walk from the Sand Creek Massacre site to Denver over four days, stopping at the memorial plaque for Silas S. Soule located at 15th and Arapaho Ave, in Denver and then walk a mile on to the Colorado State Capital Building for a ceremony.

To watch a video about the Sand Creek Massacre, presented by Rocky Mountain PBS, click on the arrow above or go to this link: YouTube Sand Creek Massacre.  The National Parks Service also has a video about the Sand Creek Massacre Site dedication as a National Historic landmark on this YouTube video link.

As my husband and I drove the 180 miles or so back home to the Denver area, we thought about the sad events that took place 152 years ago at Sand Creek. Unfortunately, events such as this continue to occur in the world and probably will continue in the future as long as humans judge each other by race, nationality, and creed.  There are many lessons to be learned if we hope to see hatred end and peace come to our world. Can we ever hope to see that day?

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