30 April 2009

Cantuccini and Latin Food Day

Today was supposed to be Latin Food Day at DD#2's school. More on the "supposed" later. This time the kids can bring any modern Italian food, so we have been discussing the possibilities for a week or so. I suggested Cantuccini. As DD has Latin last period, she thought I should also bring espresso. They can dunk, plus get a recharge for the rest of the afternoon.

Cantuccini, also known as biscottini di Prato, are a traditional Italian almond biscotti from Tuscany. More specifically from the town of Prato and called biscottini because of their smaller size. Like other biscotti they are twice-baked cookies which are meant to keep. Originally cantuccini were flavoured with anise seed, but they have evolved and many variations can be found today, both sweet and savoury. Although they originated in Tuscany, they can now be had most places in Italy. We were able to indulge in them in a number of different spots last summer.

Biscotti have a long history. The word biscotto derives from “bis,” Latin for twice and “coctum” or baked, which became “cotto,” or cooked. Roman biscotti were designed as travel food. The unleavened breads were baked first to cook them, then a second time to dry them out. This made them last well as sustenance for long journeys. Pliny boasted that they would be edible for centuries and biscotti were a staple for the Roman Legions. Now I can't attest to the centuries part, but they do keep well for quite a while!

During the Renaissance cuisine flowered along with everything else, and biscotti emerged in Tuscany. The dry, crunchy texture was deemed to be perfect for dunking in the sweet local wine. Even today many people still agree that dipping cantuccini into Vin Santo is a perfect way to end a meal, or while away an hour at a café. (But should you choose to have coffee with your cantuccini, do not order cappuccino after 11:30am. Cappuccino is a morning-only drink in Italy.)

These days cantuccini are dipped in the Tuscan Vin Santo, sparkling wine, or coffee. And I like them with tea. This particular recipe is adapted from Baking with Julia, by Julia Child, and a few other sources. While Julia uses vanilla, I've seen some other recipes that call for using almond extract instead. Julia likes blanched almonds, but some other variations leave the skins on; the almonds can be toasted before mixing into the dough, and another uses a pinch of saffron to give the biscuits a bright yellow colour.

Now back to the "supposed" to be Latin Food Day. Two cases of swine flu have been reported in our county and all of the schools are closed until at least Monday. Therefore, these won't be going to school today. I spoke with the Latin teacher and she is planning to reschedule Latin Food Day one day next week. With school nearly out, missing two days puts a lot of pressure on getting everything finished. But everyone has to eat, right?

And just a note: these make wonderful gifts!

This recipe goes together very easily. It is one of simplest biscotti recipes I've ever made and I highly recommend it. Let's gather our ingredients:

Ingredients in the bowls (and I do love the Fiesta mixing bowls):

Mixed up dough:

Ready to knead:

Kneaded and divided in half:

Rolled into logs and on the baking sheet:

Loaves cooling after 1st baking:

Starting to slice:

All sliced:

And ready for 2nd baking:

Slices are cooling (and I was getting hungry!)

Dunk away!

Cantuccini served with green tea using Fiesta dinnerware in the Champagne pattern:


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon (I use Vietnamese cinnamon, which is more strongly flavoured.)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole almonds, with skins
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (yes that is tablespoon)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and stir. Add the almonds and mix well.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir. Turn the dough out onto a floured workspace and begin to gather it together. Knead it for a few minutes until it comes together in a firm dough. It helps to keep some extra flour on hand in case it sticks.

Divide the dough in half and shape it into two 12” logs. Place the logs on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat and bake for half an hour. The logs will rise and be lightly golden brown. Transfer the logs to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.

When the logs are completely cool, slice on the diagonal into one-quarter-inch slices. Lay the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cantuccini are dry and lightly golden. Cool completely. Cantuccini can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week. (Not centuries!)

1. You can substitute the zest of one lemon and 2 Tbsp honey in place of the vanilla in this recipe.
2. These can also be varied by using hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts or any other nuts. And you can toast them first, if you like. If using pine nuts, try adding the zest of 1 lemon and 2 Tbsp of lemon juice instead of the vanilla extract.
3. Try adding a bit of anise seed to the recipe for the more traditional flavour.
4. If you like, you can brush the logs with a beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar before baking.
5. Count on getting 5 to 6 dozen cantucinni from this recipe.

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27 April 2009

South of the Border Stuffed Shells

Last night's dinner. I have been making this recipe for a number of years now - ever since my friend Alison from Someone's In the Kitchen first posted the original version on one of the foodie boards. It's great to use for company, as well as for family dinners. And it is always a hit amongst teens and college students, as well.

This is such a versatile dish. The way I make it is somewhat changed from the original. People have added black beans, crumbled cotija cheese, etc. to the filling to make it their own. Others substitute tvp, soy crumbles, etc. to make this a vegetarian dish. Sometimes people use packaged taco seasoning in place of the listed seasonings. At least one person likes to substitute green salsa and tomatilla sauce for the red salsa and tomato sauce. And the toppings were not originally included. I always love to come across recipes that can easily be adapted to individual tastes or to use ingredients on hand. This is one of those.

I also like to make a bunch of the shells ahead of time and freeze them. This makes it very easy to put together dinner, even for just one or two people. Just put the filled shells on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. Once frozen I put them in Ziploc bags and remove as needed, then complete the recipe adjusting the amount of sauce to the number of shells used.

So last night I doubled amount of the filling & sauce and cooked three dozen shells. This yielded 36 stuffed shells and four stuffed bell peppers. I put three shells each in Fiesta individual oval bakers, nine shells each in Fiesta square bakers, froze a dozen shells, and baked the remaining filling in four bell peppers in Fiesta ramekins.

Barilla shells are my pasta of choice

Cook till al dente

Turkey and veggies ready for the seasonings

Layer of sauce in bottom of baking dish

Stuffed shells in baking dish

Topped with sauce

Extra stuffed shells ready to go in the freezer

Going back in the oven for the cheese to melt

One of the stuffed peppers

Shells plated and topped with sour cream on a new Fiesta square plate. (A colour other than scarlet would have been better to show off the shells, but they tasted great anyway.)

South of the Border Stuffed Shells

24 jumbo shells, uncooked (I like Barilla brand)

1 (16 - 24 oz) jar picante sauce (I typically use Pace's medium heat)
1 cup diced tomatoes with juice

1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup whole kernel corn
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp minced chipotle in adobo sauce
1 (4 oz) can chopped green chilies, drained
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese, or more if you like things very cheesy

Toppings: (all optional)

sour cream
chopped cilantro
chopped green onions
sliced black olives

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Prepare pasta according to package directions and drain. The Barilla shells cook to desired doneness in about 11 minutes.

Mix picante sauce and tomatoes in a small bowl.

Cook onion, bell pepper, garlic and ground turkey in oil over medium heat until meat is browned and onion is translucent. Add corn, stir, and remove from heat. Stir in chili powder, chipotle, chopped green chilies, 1/2 cup shredded cheese and 1/2 cup picante sauce mixture to the turkey. Stir to combine.

Pour half of remaining picante sauce mixture in bottom of 13"x9"x2" baking dish. Fill each cooked shell with a couple of tablespoons of the turkey mixture and place shells in baking dish. Pour remaining picante mixture over top of shells.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Uncover, top with remaining cheese and bake, uncovered, an additional 5 minutes until cheese melts. Serve immediately with any desired toppings.

1. This recipe can be assembled and frozen. To bake, thaw at room temperature for 8 hours and bake as directed above.
2. Leftovers are great the next day.
3. When using the toppings, I pass them separately and let everyone add them as they like.

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25 April 2009

Photo Hunt ~ Protect(ion)

PhotoHunt #159: Protect(ion). I had to think about this one, but finally decided this sign fit within the theme.

Probably the best neighbourhood watch sign I have ever seen. This is a photo I made several years ago in Tallulah, LA. Our neighbourhood watch signs do not have nearly so much personality and character.

PhotoHunt is hosted by TNChick. Check it out!

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24 April 2009

Roseanne Roseannadanna - It's Always Something

Sometimes I feel like quoting this character, created and played by Gilda Radner, on the old Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday night I noticed a spot on my left eye. Kind of like when you have looked at a bright light and have an afterglow when you close your eyes. It wasn't really dramatic or out of the ordinary enough for me to think much of it. Well, last night the spot was still there. Same size and not floating. And, the spot was red whenever I'd blink. Like looking through a piece of stained glass. I don't really see it much when my eye is open, just mainly when I blink and close my eyes.

As I was supposed to get my picc line bandage changed today before I got blood & platelets, I decided to ask one of the nurses about it. So I did, and she went off to consult with my doctor. My doc wasn't there, and the other one wanted me to see my eye doctor. So this afternoon, after all the transfusions, that's where I went.

After having my eyes dilated, the eye doctor determined that I have a retinal hemorrhage. These apparently can happen when platelets are low. It's been pretty much the same size since I first noticed it Wednesday night, and the eye doctor expects it to go away eventually. She wants me to come back in a month for a recheck. Apparently there is nothing to do to prevent this from happening again, and nothing to do about this one but wait for it to go away. I really was glad the eye doctor could see me today. At least I know what it is and don't have to worry about a detached retina or something worse.

She also had them refract me for a new glasses prescription while I was there. I needed one as I only get new glasses every couple of years as a backup for my contacts. Now that I have to wear glasses until after I get off of anti-rejection drugs, I'd like to be able to see as well as possible!

P.S. Gilda Radner wrote a book about her journey with ovarian cancer, but I have not read it. She did personally record it as an audiobook, and just today I have downloaded it on my iPod. In the introduction she talks about when she was diagnosed and says, "Suddenly I had to spend all my time getting well." I can so relate to that! The story chronicles her inspiring attempt to keep an upbeat attitude during her illness, and the title is It's Always Something. Cheers to you, Gilda. and thanks for all the memories.
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Friday morning ~ 24 April

It's supposed to be beautiful here today - sunny with a high in the 80s. I, however, will miss a good part of it.

Mike is the executor of his Dad's estate and had to go to Louisiana to sign papers and such. Plus there are some other things he's doing over there to help his Mom. He left yesterday morning after he took DD#2 to school. I will be taking her this morning and then will head over to the lab to get blood tests and then transfusions - 1 unit of platelets and 2 units of red cells. My ferritin count will get checked today to see how the Exjade is working to get rid of excess iron.

DD#2 and I are excited about such good weather. We will be riding top down. Yesterday afternoon she drove us home from school and to pick up this week's veggie box. And it occurred to me while we were doing that she really needs to be driving my car every day as in just a little over two weeks she will be driving it for her license test. Hmmm. I wonder if the examiners have any preference on the position of the roof?

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22 April 2009

Good News from Vanderbilt

Nothing is certain yet, but today's news is good. In the international donor base there are two people who are complete HLA matches for me. They are CMV negative and I am CMV positive so that is of some concern. We'd like to both be positive or both be negative.

There are some other people who may be matches. What "complete" for Vanderbilt means is that these people have had all the HLA tests that Vanderbilt ran on me and that we match. They will have to have the tests redone to double check. Three other people were chosen who may be matches. They have not had all the tests run that Vanderbilt does.

So now we wait on the donors. They will all have to get physicals and have blood drawn and sent to Vanderbilt. Once Vanderbilt gets the samples, it will be about 10 days before they can tell if these people are perfect matches for me or not. The ages of these people are 22, 22, 23, 21 and 38. The 22s are the two that currently look like complete matches on the HLA.

I think that if I get bone marrow from one of these 20 somethings, I will be like a 20 something afterwards. My hair will come back in with no grey and I will be as energetic as I was in graduate school. This is a good thing! LOL

Now the hard part is the waiting. It will take several weeks to accomplish all the testing and such. When I asked I was told that the very earliest anything about the transplant could start would be the first of June. And probably a week or so later. It just depends on the donors and their schedules. Me, I am ready anytime after DD#2's 16th birthday. Gotta be here for that and to go get the all important Driver's License.

In the meanwhile, I will do my best to stay well and will continue getting the transfusions twice a week so that I can maintain. Last Thursday my neutrophils were 0.4, but yesterday they were back up to 0.6.

Thinking positively is a good thing!
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Earth Day 2009

Earth Day began in 1970. It was founded in the United States by Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in, but is now celebrated in many countries around the world. It's a day to teach and learn about how to live green and be environmentally friendly. I've always been conscious about doing my part for the environment, even back when it was considered a weird hippie type thing. (But I was a charter subscriber to Mother Earth News and was probably considered a weird hippie type girl. It all fits.)

Since today is Earth Day I thought it would be a good idea to think about and share some of the things I do to help out Mother Earth. It is my hope that more and more people will do something, not just for Earth Day, but every day in taking care of our planet. If we don't take action, who will? What kind of things do you do to decrease your environmental footprint?

Here are some of the things we do at our house:
-- Recycle as much as possible. I always used to say that my grandparents were the original recyclers. And I think this is true of many people who lived through The Great Depression. My grandparents had gotten married in May and my grandmother was pregnant with my Mom when the stock market crashed in October 1929. Recycling was economically essential.
-- Garden. I grow many herbs and lots of vegetables and flowers, all organically.
-- Compost. This is something my Mom was doing even back in the 1960s.
-- Turn off the lights, television, etc. when we are not in the room. My Papa was a stickler for this when I was growing up.
-- Use re-usable canvas shopping bags. They live in the trunk of my car so that they are always available when I go to the market.
-- Switched to spiral fluorescent light bulbs in as many fixtures as possible.
-- Belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group and get a box of organically grown local produce and free-range eggs every week.
-- Pay bills electronically and stopped getting my actual cheques returned to me in my monthly bank statement.
-- Bought travel mugs that we use to get coffee when we go to Starbucks and a stainless steel bottle to carry with me for water.
-- Stopped eating red meat (in 1984) and when we eat fish or poultry, try to use what is locally produced whenever possible.
-- Leave the doors and windows open as much as possible so as not to run the air conditioner. This is a challenge in the deep south.
-- Consolidate errands and plan the route to reduce fuel use.
-- Purchase grains, seeds, flour, coffee, etc. in bulk from our local health food stores, so as not to be a consumer of excess packaging.
-- Forage when feasible. Remember Euell Gibbons? My grandmother and her friends used to forage for asparagus every spring. Watercress is readily available in many streams and creeks around here. Morels and fiddleheads can be found now, too, but fiddleheads are much farther north. Berries are available in the summer and nuts are plentiful in the fall. Just BE SURE you ask permission from landowners before foraging on property that is not yours. And never take all of anything. We want it to come back the next year.
-- Wear natural fibre clothing, rather than fabrics that are man made.
-- Purchase items made from recycled plastic, paper, etc, whenever they are available.
-- Mulch outdoor plants and use indigenous plants when possible to reduce water requirements.
-- Have a house with no lawn. Requires no mowing, fertilizers, etc.
-- Don't litter.
-- Encourage our highway department to plant native wildflowers along roadways to remove the necessity of mowing.
-- Have not renewed subscriptions to many magazines. I read the online versions.
-- Planted a number of different fruit and nut trees at the farm. Not only are these better fresh picked, we don't have to buy ones that have been shipped from elsewhere.
-- Can, pickle, dry and preserve our own fruits and vegetables. I was helping my grandmother do this when I had to stand on a stool to reach the counter. Back then my job was mostly peeling the tomatoes and peaches, but I learned other aspects of food preservation as I got older.
-- Use environmentally friendly cleaning products.
-- Rinse all my laundry in cold water.

I know there are more things, but these are what I can come up with at the moment.

So now, let's celebrate

'cause this isn't good

we can

Happy Earth Day

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20 April 2009

Ruby Tuesday

MaryT/TheTeach over at Work of the Poet started a photo meme for people who have photographed something red. I love red. I have lots of photos with red.

Display of Fezzes in a shop
Morocco, Epcot, Walt DisneyWorld

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Album Cover Meme

This is my album cover using the Facebook Album Cover Game. I was tagged by my elder daughter. :-) You can create your own! First you need a name for your band. Then an album title. Last but not least: cover art.

1. Select the name of your band. To do this, go to Wikipedia and hit “random article" in the left column navigation.The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2. Select your album title. To do this, go to quotationspage.com, and choose "random quotations" in the left navigation. The last four or five words of the first quote become the title of your album.

3. Select your cover art. To do this, go to Flickr.com and click on “explore the last seven days.” The third picture — no matter what it is — will be your cover photo.

4. Use Photoshop (or whatever) to pull it all together.

5. And then, of course, post it, cut-and-paste these directions, then let your friends play, too.

Band Name - IP; IP is the usual abbreviation for Internet Protocol
Album Title: Random Quote: We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse. -- Anne-Sophie Swetchine
Cover Art - from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/krobbie/3432896462/

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