HelloGoodbye

I have loved blogging here this last year, and as much as I’ll miss it, I am THRILLED to announce that I am now the proud owner of my own domain.

Please visit me at http://colorhungry.net and update your reader, as well. I’m so excited for what I’ve created in my new digs and I hope you will be, too!

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BIG NEWS(Possible total lunacy ahead).

First, Dottie, that one was for you. ;)

So, as I oh so casually mentioned in the title of this post I have BIG NEWS. Now, I know in the world in which I blog, people are always making “race plans” and “race announcements,” so maybe this is just another one of those for most of you. For me, however, this is a momentous occasion because, as some of you may know, I have not been able to run in over two years due to Postural Orthostatic Tachcardia Syndrome (or the less scary POTS- fitting for a food blog if you’re going to have a weird disease or syndrome, yes?), which meant that for the past two years I have not been able to run for more than two minutes without fainting dead away because the system that controls my blood pressure, heart rate and so much more can no longer be relied on to do so properly.

I mean, I suppose that if things are a little slow at a soiree, this could be a quite nifty party trick(if I was willing to zoom in circles around the house, of course), but for someone who used to run daily and was in training for a 1/2 marathon before she passed out on her doorstep, it was devastating. My heart would pound wildly out of control and the world would start to turn black unless I dropped immediately where I happened to be standing and put my head between my knees, waiting for it to pass. I mean, that gorgeous guy did stop once to ask if I needed assistance, but regardless, every single run became frustrating and terrifying. Before long, I knew that it was getting too dangerous for me to continue until I was able to get the POTS under control(Hmmm…that’s a funny sentence. I’m imagining my cooking pots marching out of my cabinet and whacking me over the head…). In the past two years, I’d try to run every so often, but I was thwarted by blackness creeping over my field of vision every.single.time.

Then my life changed. I started living my healthiest life. I started listening to my body. I do yoga. I’m losing weight. I learned to love myself- both body and mind. One day a couple of months ago, in the pouring rain and without an umbrella, I started to run. I could barely see two feet in front of me, my shoes were soaked through, my hair was matted against my face and I ran like I was being chased by zombies-  Really really fast moving zombies, of cours. I finally got to the car, pulled the door open, plopped myself inside, lamenting the frizzies that were sure to follow, when it dawned on me: The world wasn’t spinning. The world wasn’t turning black. My heart wasn’t pounding out of control. I RAN.

In the past few months, I have been taking it really slow, testing my body, learning my limits and how and when to push them. I’ve learned techniques to cope, learned the signals my body emits, and gained confidence in myself that I never thought I would find again. So, it with the greatest excitement and joy that I announce that I will be training to run, walk, or even crawl if I have to, the Run to Remember half marathon in May.   I am making the commitment here and now.  This is for real.

I am under no delusions that this is going to be easy physically or that I won’t be frustrated or angry that I am not the runner I once was and may never be again.  It will be slow going as I continue to reconcile what was with what is.  I am not cured.  I am not completely symptom free.  What I am though is self-aware, stubborn as hell, and 100% sure that somehow I can cross that finish line.  I am not running this with the hope of getting a great time.  I am running this for myself- to prove to myself that I am truly whole again.

This blog won’t become a diary about my training, but I will post updates- both good and bad.  This is still a blog about food, design, and now it’s also about muddling your way through trying to live a healthy life.  Some people want you to think it’s easy to be the best version of you that you can possibly be, or that it’s all puppies and rainbows, but the truth is that while success can give you so much, it’s the hard work and dedication that gives  you more.  It’s not always easy, but it’s when you find the strength in yourself that it’s worth it.

I plan to start off very slowly with the Couch to 5k to get myself back on a schedule of sorts.  However, if it is necessary for me to do week one two or three times, so be it.  I have months ahead of me and I have to learn to be patient (says the most impatient girl on the Eastern seaboard).

There are so many of you out there that inspire me and awe me with your accomplishments.  Any advice?  Running or otherwise?  Any cool sayings to put on my shirt? Help a gal out!

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I’m Armed and Dangerous. And I Have Falafel.

This is my gun.  This thing is small, but don’t be fooled.  This thing has erased nearly half of my fingerprints.

Yes, I know. The Paper Source bag is a brilliant backdrop. You're too kind.

We’ve been through thick and thin. First degree, second degree, and probable third degree burns, as well.

The gun and I made this hairpiece for Halloween

I just can’t quit it.  How can I when it was instrumental in the construction of these faux tiles for my kitchen?  (Well, my gun and lots of paint sample hoarding at Lowe’s and Home Depot.  Major props go out to my mom and assorted friends who were cool enough to loudly engage me with talk about my “interior design business” as I made off with 4 inch high stacks of paint chips)

The "backsplash" above my stove

This is one of many projects I’ve undertaken in my apartment redecoration.  I’m a renter, so while my awesome landlords are reimbursing me to paint the walls the colors of my choosing, I’m definitely not going to tile the place.  These are removable and so fun, don’t you think? This is one of three panels.  The process was worse than the poli-sci course in college that taught me nothing except how to sleep with my eyes open.  First, I hole punched out a bajillion circles.  Then, each flower had to be put together with the gun.  Now, let’s crunch some numbers: 24 tiles, 8 flowers each, 6 circles per flower…that’s…a LOT of burns, people.  Actually, that’s 192 flowers made out of gluing 1,152 circles.

I can glue 1000 coin sized circles together, but ask me to wait in a ridiculously long line and I'll tear my hair out. Yeah, I don't get it, either.

It only cost me 4 fingerprints.  The remaining six will be taken care of soon enough, like, when I’m playing with this awesome paper:

I digress.  The 192 flowers were affixed to custom painted mini canvases with my trusty gun and then I put a protective layer of resin, which gave a nice shiny finish.  Soon, the walls will be painted a lovely blue, but in the meantime, I have a nice, colorful backsplash to look at while I cook.

So, what did I cook tonight?  After several failed attempts at making falafel that didn’t go down like wet sand, I decided that I needed to bring in reinforcements.  So, what did I do?  Added avocado, of course! And holy crap- it worked.  This was the PERFECT consistency and went beautifully with some tzatziki I whipped up.

Falafel (Vegan.  Admittedly, because I forgot to buy eggs, but still vegan!)

1 can chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 ripe avocado (ripe enough to make guacomole with)
4 Tbsp whole wheat flour
4 Tbsp yellow cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp. coriander
Juice of one lemon
1/4 tsp garlic powder

*Note…you can up the spices in here.  I’ll admit to adding a TON of cumin.

1.  In a food processor, blend up your chickpeas and oil until it is smooth.  Add your flour, avocado and cornmeal.  Blend until smooth.

2. Add a crapload of parsley.  Yes, a crapload.  And if you aren’t familiar with that unit of measurement, I suppose that’d be about 1/2 a cup of chopped parsley.  Trust me.  Then add the rest of your spices and the juice of one lemon.  And on a side note, if you happen to be wearing a Lululemon sweatshirt with the thumb hole, don’t think you’re going to outfox it while squeezing the lemons.  Just take your thumb out.  Take it from me.

4.  I tried this recipe two ways- pan fried and baked.  I did this so that you, my readers, would have options.  Ok, ok.  I cannot tell a lie.  I was STAHHHHHVING and pan frying was quick, but I figured i’d see if the leftovers I’m having for lunch tomorrow will bake up well.  There.  I admit it.  Yeah, it didn’t work.  You have to pan fry these, unless you like eating frisbees, of course (It’s ok if you do- This is a judgment-free zone, people.).  Put a little olive oil in a NON-STICK SKILLET and pan fry until crispy on both sides.  Top with tzatziki.  Enjoy!

These would be great with a greek salad or in a pita, too.  They come out crispy on the outside, but moist on the inside.

I’ll be posting my recipe for foolproof tzatziki tomorrow night, so be sure to check back! Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is a GIANT mess in my kitchen for me to clean up.

Posted in Cooking, Healthy eats, Recipes- Tried and True, Old and New, Vegetarian/Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Battle Gnocchi. Jenny: 2, Oven: 1.

What a day.  I’m wearing real jeans for the first time in over a year (and not jeggings because they’re the only things that don’t cut off oxygen to my brain), I had a slight oven mishap, and I churned out a fabulous meal that would make my Italian relatives on Isola del Liri proud.

Ridiculous things I have done in a kitchen:

  • Set fire to two three microwaves- CHECK
  • Cut my hand open slicing an avocado- CHECK
  • Exploded a glass dish- CHECK
  • Forgot to put raisins in oatmeal raisin cookies- CHECK
  • Melted spatula and set dishtowel on fire simultaneously- CHECK
  • Used salt instead of sugar- CHECK (damn non-descript brown bags from grain bins.)

And I’d like to officially add to that list- melted blender in oven.  Yes, that’s right, folks.  Today’s cooking exploits included the sacrifice of my awesome blender to bake up some potatoes for gnocchi.  I curse you, Italian blood that wouldn’t allow me to simply nuke these things!  This is what happens when you pull a Carrie Bradshaw and store stuff in your oven:

This is a blender carcass when you’ve put it in your oven at 425, forgot you preheated because you’re deaf and can’t hear it ding. This is probably 15-20 minutes at 425.

Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Any Italian who knows her gnocchi will tell you that it is practically sacrilege to microwave your potatoes.  Any farmgirl worth her salt will say the same thing.  Remember my trip to the farm in August?  I came back with enough produce to feed several families.  Some of it needed to be consumed post-haste, but then there were the gross tons of onion and potatoes, which I’ve been saving up for a special recipe.  My favorite had to be the Purple potatoes.  Look at how beautiful these are!

I scratched the skin a little so you could see the incredible color underneath!

For some odd reason, I got it in my head last night that I wanted to make ricotta to go with my gnocchi, but I’ve never made it with skim milk.  I’m all about the trial and error, so I decided to give it a shot.  The results?  Absolutely incredible.  The best part?  So freakin’ easy.  You could burn toast on a regular basis and still be qualified to make this stuff.

Fat Free Ricotta

1 Quart Skim Milk
2 Tsp distilled vinegar
pinch of salt

1.  Pour quart of milk into saucepan and heat over medium heat while whisking.  Do not boil the milk.  You simply want it to  simmer and when it starts to get little bubble along the edge like this:

Finally, a picture where my lens didn't get fogged up.

 

Turn off the heat and add the vinegar.  Do not whisk- the ricotta curds will stick to the whisk.  See?

Obviously, I did this just to demonstrate this little phenomenon. And yes, that is my blender in the background. At this point I was trying to think of some way to salvage it... *sigh*

 

3.  I waited about five minutes and during that time, I got out a very fine strainer, lined with a coffee filter and put it over a bowl to drain out the whey.  It looked like this:

I guess the coffee filter is only a small step up from paper towel. Maybe it's time for me to invest in a cheesecloth.

 

4.  Skim out the curds and place in strainer.  I let it strain for 20 minutes for firm ricotta.  I mixed in a little olive oil, salt, pepper and stuck it in the fridge, fresh for my gnocchi.  It’d be absolutely delicious sans the salt with some fresh berries, too.

Note:  The yield for this wasn’t all that impressive.  I got about 3/4 cup of ricotta from a quart of milk.

Now, back to the gnocchi.  The potatoes, unaware of the blender chaos, baked up beautifully, and when cool, I sliced them in half to reveal this beauty:

I dug these out of the ground with my own two hands! I ruined a perfectly good manicure for these puppies. SOOOO worth it.

Here’s what I needed for the gnocchi:

Purple Potato Whole Wheat Gnocchi

3 Purple Potatoes (or whatever potatoes you have on hand but NOT red potatoes)
4 Tbsp Whole Wheat Flour and more to spread on your cutting board and your hands
1 egg
Salt

1.  As we’ve already discussed above, it is crucial that you bake the potatoes.  Sorry, but ancient Italian recipes don’t care if you don’t have any patience.  Poke holes so they don’t explode (i.e. you don’t pull what is affectionately called a “Jenny” in my family. This generally means you have either started a small kitchen fire or blown something up.  Either way, it’s probably not good.) and stick them in the oven at 425.  It’ll take about 30 minutes for three medium- large potatoes.

2.  When the potatoes are cooled, cut them in half and scoop out the innards.  Use either a potato ricer or mill to get your potatoes nice and smooth.  A mill or potato ricer is the best option because you will not only get a smooth potato, you will also be aerating the potato as you put it through.  That’s the key to getting nice fluffy gnocchi.  Don’t try to get all clever and put them in the food processor.  The joke will be on you when you end up with potato glue.

3.  You’re about to get nice and messy.  This next part isn’t for the neat freaks.  Crack one egg into the potatoes.  Add two Tbsp of whole wheat flour.

I LOVE the color here.

Now, rub some flour on your hands and  mix it up., but don’t knead it.  Working the dough too much will give you really dense and heavy gnocchi.  You want to  fold it on top of itself. It’s going to be really really messy and it WILL stick to your hands.   Once you’ve incorporated the first two Tbsp fully, add the next two.  The dough is going to be very sticky- this is ok.  Once you have incorporated all the flour, refrigerate (I know.  But if you had the patience to bake the potatoes when the microwave was beckoning, you can wait while the dough chills out for about 30 minutes or so.)

4.   Spread some flour on a cutting board and roll about an inch wide log of dough.  I just did mine about 6 inches long at a time.  Use a fork to take off about a half inch of dough at a time (You can make it smaller, if you’d like.  They do expand a bit in the water).  Pinch it between your fingers and use the back of a fork to put impressions in the gnocchi if you want to get fancy.

At this point I was so hungry that the aesthetics went out the window. The Italian judge would deduct artistry points, but I don't care.

5.  Drop the gnocchi in boiling water.  It’s easy to tell when it’s done- it rises to the top like ravioli.  It only takes about 4 minutes.

6.  Top with the sauce of your choice.  Enjoy!

Here’s my finished bowl.  I made a fresh cranberry and spinach sauce with fresh sage and topped with the fresh ricotta with olive oil.- Twas amazing.  The recipe for the cranberry and  spinach sauce does need a little refinement, so I’ll save that for another day.

Oooo...What's in there?

That's a helluva closeup!

Like my vintage pyrex bowl?  There’s plenty more where that came from.  I’ll show off my pyrex collection another day.  Flaunting other kitchenwares so soon just seems disrespectful to the blender.

I hope you had a wonderful day!

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Labels. Cookies. General Fabulousness.

Let’s talk about labels. They’re everywhere. We label ourselves and other people label us- fact of life, right? Heck, I label myself in my “About me” section. When you’re struggling with body image, weight, losing weight, etc., labels get tossed around a lot, even if mostly in your head. It was perfect timing when I read this post from Katy Widrick the other day and really loved it- It was eye opening, actually. I highly suggest you read it if you haven’t already. It’s a look at something that every single female who has ever been clothes shopping has experienced- the baffling lack of standard sizes and the deviations between brands, styles, and cuts(and the resulting frustration).

The entire time I’ve been losing weight (and I didn’t start losing weight solely to fit back into my clothes), I’ve been starting entirely too many sentences with “When I am a size 4/6 again…” There are several things wrong with this. 1.) I’m still me, no matter what size I am; 2.) Sizing these days is so arbitrary that basing any iota of body perception or self-satisfaction on it is completely pointless and probably detrimental; and 3.) I am so sick of labels that I could just SCREAM (LIKE I’M DOING NOW BY TYPING IN CAPS!)! So, I’ve taken a pledge:

I will no longer say, “When I’m a size 4/6…” I will remember how fantastic I feel physically and mentally, how far i’ve come, and I won’t let the fashion industry dictate how I feel about myself (unless I find seriously fabulous clothes that make me feel like a Christina Hendricks-like bombshell, kinda like my new dress). I will rock my newfound self-confidence regardless of the size label on my clothing.

There. Now, I WILL label this recipe Simply Freakin’ Fabulous, because, well, it is. I give you the recipe for Coconut Lemon Sugar Cookies with POM frosting. I have a friend (who shall remain unnamed) who HATES sugar cookie and she ate seven of these when I made the mistake of letting her try one before dinner.  I think that speaks for itself. You need these. Now. Flee! Go forth and bake!

Coconut Lemon Sugar  Cookies with POM Frosting

1 Stick Butter (room temp)
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups Organic Cane Sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1 1/2 cups oat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

For Frosting

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tbsp butter (room temp- I used earth balance for this part)
1/4 cup POM juice

Preheat oven to 350

1.  Combine butter, sugar, lemon and lemon zest in mixer or with handheld mixer until thoroughly blended and somewhat creamy.  When the mixture is smooth, add the eggs and mix until batter is thoroughly mixed and slightly fluffy- about one minute on medium-high speed.
2.  Add baking soda and salt, mix thoroughly- be sure none of it is trapped on the side of the bowl!  This is what will make your cookies rise up (and revolt!- ok, couldn’t resist)
3.   Put the mixer on low and slowly add the flour in a steady stream.  Stop every so often to scrape the sides of the bowl.  Continue until all flour is mixed in thoroughly.
4.  Put in coconut and mix on medium-high for a minute.
5.  Place cookie batter on sheets in balls.  Each one should be about a Tbsp of batter.  Put in oven for approx 12 minutes or until slightly brown.  These cookies are very chewy and moist when done perfectly.  Allow to cool on cookie sheets for about 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.
6.  While cookies are cooling, make the frosting in the mixer.  Combine all ingredients and whip on high until smooth and creamy.  You may need to add more sugar.  The frosting should be smooth and creamy with a little tang.
7.  Frost cookies and ENJOY!

Tomorrow, I have the day off.   I think I’ll make purple potato gnocchi with a sage, cranberry and shallot sauce of some kind.   Will it work?  I guess we’ll see!  I also want to show you some happenings from around my apartment- the redecoration is still in full swing and soon, i’ll start painting!  Ok, ok.  I’ll be bribing people to come and paint.  Thank goodness I know how to cook.  Do you have ANY IDEA how hard it is to get paint out of your hair, people!?

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The Cold, Hard Truth.

First of all, I want to say a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” to Colorhungry mama, who turned xx years old yesterday (I won’t reveal on penalty of death).

Second, today I want to talk about weight loss. I haven’t wanted to share much beyond the fact that I am losing weight but last week, a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while said to me, “The best change is that you LOOK HAPPY again.” I had to agree with her- I AM happy again. A year and a half ago, my world was upside down. I was depressed, feeling badly about myself, and my self-care was completely in the toilet. Flash forward to today and I have turned my life around- the weight loss is a symptom of everything somehow coming together. I’m losing weight because I’m happy and in the right frame of mind, and I’m happy because I’m losing weight.

Of course, when people realize you’ve been successful losing weight, they ask you how you’ve done it. “Eating well and exercising” tends to be met with a blank look and a, “No, I mean…tell me what you’re doing. Give me examples.” I started thinking today and wondering…what do I know for sure right now? If I didn’t feel like I had to tiptoe around people about this topic, what would be the cold hard truths?

1. Here’s my magic formula: Eat less, Eat better food, and move your ass more. No substitutes. Voila.

Eating better means different things for different people. Figure out what works for you. I’m not going to tell you what to eat and what not to eat. I publish all kinds of recipes (and ALL are tested before posting- I make them up). However, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, you have to burn more calories than you take in. It’s simple math. This is where the moving your ass part comes in- just move it in some way. I’m starting to run again, which is scary and exciting.

Now, how about that? You now know the secret to weight loss and you didn’t even have to make those 6 easy payments of 19.95 (plus S&H!). Of course, this means you won’t get a free gift or that second kit free…

2. I am the one that must live with my choices at the end of the day- not my friends, significant other, mother, brother, aunts, grandparents, etc. ME. I am responsible for what goes in my mouth, so it’s important to get real with myself. Furthermore, if i’m not making real changes and being honest with MYSELF, I’m the one getting the crap end of the stick. Looking back I realize that people may have offered me food, but I was the one who took it, put it in my mouth, chewed and swallowed. No one forced me to eat it. I could have said no. Every bite is a conscious decision on my part.

3. No excuses. There will always be a reason to do or not to do something. What means more? My health and happiness or that extra twenty minutes of sleep if I skip my run? Make the choice and stand behind it, but excuses will get you nowhere. If you choose to do or not to do something, own it.

4. I didn’t get fat eating sweets or Doritos or “junk food.” I could care less about that stuff. It was bread, pasta, rich sauces and cheese in quantities that could feed a small Italian village that made my butt big. The world will always have pasta, bread, rich sauces, and cheese. There is no reason to eat them like they’re going extinct. Have some perspective on your eating habits. I complained I was gaining weight while continuing to eat heaping portions of brie mac and cheese. Man, the eye rolling that must’ve been going on behind my back… I fooled myself into thinking that it just wasn’t in the cards. I had to call B.S. on myself.

5. My body is AMAZING. I have put it through so much crap and still, it keeps chugging along and doing exactly what I ask of it. Be grateful for what you have and don’t beat the hell out of yourself in your mind like I used to do (and my thanks to my incredible friend Carolynn, who is one of my BIGGEST cheerleaders and supporters, for breaking me of this nasty little habit).

6. Weight loss is selfish- in a good way. It has to be. It’s about caring and respecting yourself enough to embrace change. You have to want it for yourself because anything less simply isn’t enough.

7. BALANCE , BALANCE, BALANCE.

8. Try. Look, weight loss is weird. Our bodies can be weird about it. You can do everything “right” and get no results and you can feel like you’ve had a rough time of it and lose 5 pounds. Results aren’t set in stone and you can’t always predict what’s going to happen. So, what does this mean? What matters is that you put in the effort- sincere effort. Don’t make it about the number on the scale. It should be about feeling good about yourself- the whole package. To do that, you need to know you’ve at least invested something in yourself. Remember- the stupidest thing you can do is try to fool/cheat yourself.

9. I create my own happiness. I complained for a long time. What I really needed to do was shut up and start changing it. If there’s something making you unhappy that you can change…the hope comes from the fact that you CAN CHANGE IT.

10. Weight loss is as mental as it is physical. Commit. Be positive. Be tough. If you fail for a single second, put it behind you and press on. Remember- no excuses.

Now, let’s start the week with a recipe you’ll love that’s *gasp* quite good for you and ridiculously simple.

Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Butternut Squash and Apple

6 large portobello mushroom caps
2 Fuji Apples (or other sweet apple), peeled and diced
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 medium spanish onion, finely diced
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 Tsp ground sage
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp finely grated parm (I used a microplaner)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1. Sautee onions and garlic in olive oil in a large skillet. When onions are soft, add butternut squash.
2. When squash is soft, add apples, sage, salt and pepper. Cook until apples are slightly soft. You do not want mushy apples.
3. Spoon mixture into portobello caps, sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of each (and please, for the love of all that is holy, if you can help it, don’t use the canned stuff- I promise the real stuff is what you need). You”ll want to put these in a baking dish and not try. Put in oven for 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are ready. They will release juices when done (hence the baking dish.). Enjoy! This is a perfect fall recipe- simple, quick and delicious.


Posted in Cooking, Healthy eats, Weight loss | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Give me a C, Give me a U, Give me a P, Give me a…Never Mind. CUPCAKES!

My grandparents came over for dinner last night, and while food is generally the centerpiece of many family gatherings, for me, it was the conversation that made it such a meaningful night.  My complete obsession with all things vintage includes hearing stories about my grandparents when they were growing up, when they were dating(They met at a youth center dance.  My grandfather spilled Coca-Cola on my grandmother.  He insists he didn’t.  She’s adamant he did.  I like to think he did.), when they were starting their family and then, naturally, when my mom was a baby.

My mom was born profoundly deaf,which meant that she didn’t learn to communicate and no one could communicate anything to her until she was 2 1/2 years old, when she got her first hearing aid.  Even then, my nana had to work really hard with her to try to catch her up.  Nana was remembering sitting on the front steps with my mom when she first got her hearing aids and my mom kept taking them out and trying to put them in my nana’s ear, because she wanted her to hear, too.  Smart girl.  She was a hellion, though.  Nana regaled us with the time that at my great-grandmother’s house my mom got ahold of a giant frying pan, put all of the eggs in the house in it, and proceeded to stamp on them like Lucille Ball stepping on grapes.

I learned a little more about my Italian heritage, and the village of Isola del Liri, where my family is from- between Rome and Naples.  My grandfather told us about how his grandmother made pasta by hand (never with a machine), making a hole in a pile of flour, cracking eggs into it, and then kneading it.  He recalled how she always made uniformly sized pieces, which he and his sister would unfurl and that the other Italian women in the neighborhood starting ordering pasta from her.  They ordered it by number of eggs: e.g. “I want two eggs of pasta” or “I want six eggs of pasta.”

80 years later, her great-granddaughter, my mom, makes pasta (but with a kitchenaid mixer)

He told us how every Saturday, they’d go to the market and buy things for the week, olives and vegetables and all sorts of goods.  The big staple?  Pasta, of course- at least once a day, every day.  I’m Italian on my mom’s side and Jewish on my dad’s side.  So, food pushing on both sides.  Is it any wonder that every day my grandfather got three sandwiches in his lunch, except on Fridays, when he’d get Italian tuna on a loaf of Italian bread?  He’d complain to his mother that he wanted to buy his lunch like all his friends, but she’d say, “But you need a good sandwich!” I will say that NO ONE makes a sandwich like my grandfather.  Joey Tribbiani would’ve ditched Ross and Chandler for him.

I made the dessert last night.  For weeks, I’ve had this recipe marinating to perfection (I hoped!) in my head, and this seemed like an opportune time to try it.  My grandparents love to taste my cooking- especially my grandfather.  I guess three is the magic number.  He told stories about three sandwiches for lunch and  then he ate three cupcakes last night. Even nana had two.  They were a hit! I’ll warn you, though…if this picture makes you shudder, turn back now!

There are three more sticks behind these two.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream filling and Maple Italian Meringue Frosting

For cupcakes:

1 stick butter (melted)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup and 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 can pumpkin
1/2 Tsp. vanilla
1/2 Tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tsp. cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

*Preheat oven to 350.  Makes 24 cupcakes.

1.  Crack eggs into mixing bowl and beat at medium speed for 30 seconds.


2.  Add the melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla, pumpkin, nutmeg, and cinnamon, put mixer on medium speed and allow mixture to double  in size, reduce speed and stream in the vegetable oil slowly.
3.   Add baking powder, baking soda, and salt, mix in thoroughly.
4.  Slowly add the flour a little at a time, beating the flour into the batter thoroughly before adding more.  Make sure you use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl!

5.  Pour batter into lined muffin tins, filling each compartment approximately 3/4 of the way.

6.Bake cupcakes for 25-30 minutes at 350.  Use a toothpick to gauge readiness. When the toothpick comes out clean, they’re ready!

While your cupcakes cool down on the cooling rack, you can start to prepare the Cinnamon cream filling.

For Cinnamon Cream

1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 block of cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 Tsp. Vanilla
1 and 1/2 Tsp. cinnamon

1.  Put your whipping cream in your mixing bowl and beat on high until it starts to thicken.  Add half of the confectioner’s sugar and continue to beat until you have a stiff whipped cream.
2.  Add cream cheese and mix thoroughly.  Increase speed gradually and ensure that there the cream cheese is completely mixed in, with no remaining lumps.
3.  Add cinnamon, vanilla and the remainder of the sugar- mix thoroughly.

You want to wait until your cupcakes are completely cooled because warm cream filling is a recipe for disaster and will leave you will completely mushy and leaking cupcakes.  Patience pays off in this case.  I used a pastry bag with a syringe to inject my cupcakes- you can get them for 3 bucks in your baking aisle at your grocery store, or, barring that, you CAN cut a small divot in the cupcake, hollow out a little hole, fill, and replace the divot.  If you have the patience for this, then all the more power to you.  Anyone who knows me, however, would laugh in my face if I suggested I would do this.

Carefully inject filling into your cupcakes.  If you watch, you will see them start to plump up.  Just as they plump, STOP.  If you continue to fill, they will crack.  Fill all 24 cupcakes.  You will have some cream filling leftover, but you can use it for all sorts of things- topping for raisin toast, bagels, french toast, hot chocolate, etc.

Lastly, you want to do your frosting.  Now, everyone knows I very very rarely follow a recipe.  The ONE recipe I will always follow is the one I found for Italian Meringue Buttercream frosting from Joe Pastry, which you can find here (scroll to the bottom of the page for the recipe).  I added 1/2 tsp of organic Maple extract and 2 Tbsp. of REAL maple syrup (Do NOT use faux maple syrup.  If I get wind of it, i’ll drag you to Vermont and tie you to a maple tree.) at the end for the flavoring.  I used a pastry bag to pipe the frosting onto each cupcake, and lightly sprinkled cinnamon on the top for aesthetic purposes.

Here is the finished product.  While this isn’t a project to do when you are pressed for time, it is WELL WORTH the time that it takes to make these.  Oh, and please pardon my poor piping skills.  i’m still learning!

And one more for good measure…

Trust me.  You want these.  Make them now.  Thank me later.

I hope you’ve had a lovely weekend so far.  Enjoy your Sunday.  We’re going to tag our Christmas tree!  I.E.  My stepdad and I will spend the next hour or so teasing my mom about her tendency to pick anemic looking Charlie Brown trees.  One year we ended up with a tree that bent at a 45 degree angle about 3/4 of the way to the top.  Here’s to a great tree this year!

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