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Friday, August 31, 2007

Midnight..mezzanotte.. and almost ready to leave the office. With music loudly playing in the piazza -a block away from my window-I can barely concentrate. The end of the summer is drawing near and everyone is trying to soak up every last drop of the pleasures of the summer- the weather, the warm summer nights, the air, the food ,the fun..

Anyway, as I set out to do before I go home tonight, I want to send you a souvenir of my day here. Besides working and writing, and meetings, eating and cooking takes up some part of the day. The souvenir I can send today is the wonderful taste of today's lunch. I made a simple’ risotto con funghi’ with the fresh mushrooms. I was able to find them at at the market early this morning walking to the office.
I prefer to eat risotto in the winter time since it does require 20 minutes of concentrated stirring over the gas range. But withstanding the heat for 20 minutes was well worth the results!! Enjoy.

1 cup of carnaroli or arborio rice
4 cups of broth
1 slice of fresh onion
a small handful of freshly chopped parsley
2 tblsps of olive oil
2 tblsps of parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 cup of dry white wine

Saute onion slice in olive oil till golden, place in sliced, washed mushrooms. Pour in some broth and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour in cup of rice, then cup of white wine. Put timer on for 16 minutes. Continuously stir and add broth in as liquid dries up. When timer goes off, taste. If not finished, add more broth until al dente.
When finished, place in serving dishes and top with fresh parsley and freshly grated parmigiano-reggaino cheese.

Serve with chilled white wine.
Ciao for now

Copyright, Maria Liberati 2006, 2007- The Basic Art of Italian Cooking

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mysterious Squash

"These seeds are from the village in Greece," said my mother-in-law. "They'll make beautiful squash in the fall." And she handed me the thick, white coarse seeds that looked a lot like the pumpkin seeds I buy in bulk. I expected these seeds to grow pumpkins, and told my kids to be ready to decorate them on Halloween.

A week later the squash seeds from Greece we had planted in June erupted into a plant that took over our backyard 5x8 vegetable garden. The heirlooms fared well, as they were planted next to a wall. The cucumbers shrunk a little due to the competition, and the cabbage, as I am learning, takes forever to grow.

But I am a patient gardener.

The mysterious squash that came from Greece does not exist anywhere in the States, from what I can tell. I have done internet searches on it, shown it to my gardener friends who have shown it to their mothers...I've done everything but take it to the Farmers Market which is my next step. It looks just like the picture above, but the color of zucchini. In description it sounds like a delicata - pale yellow in color, sweet and mild, like a mellow butternut.

But here's the thing - I don't care what it is, I only care how it tastes (and if it's good for us). It becomes sugary and fragile when I roast it, and paired with oven-roasted heirlooms it grew alongside, topped with shaved Grana Padano mixed with whole wheat pasta, we are in summertime harvest bliss.

Tonight I plan to make soup with my mystery squash. It should pair well and look beautiful with a sprinkling of red curry at the end. I've been marinating some chicken breasts in balsamic and brown sugar. With a crisp, fresh salad and a crusty French bread it'll be an end of summer almost autumn feast.

Now if I could only get everything in my garden to grow as enthusiastically as this squash from the homeland, "What's for dinner?" wouldn't be such a mystery, either.

~ Samantha Gianulis

Anice Stellato

Everyday is remembered by a taste , a flavor, a recipe while here in Italy. These are my special souvenirs or 'ricordati'. Yesterday, my favorite flavor was 'anice stellato'-or star of anise. After leaving the office at 10:30 last night, we headed to our favorite coffee bar. Too hot for that usual cup of espresso before heading home- but a chilled espresso is perfect. This was not just any chilled espresso- it was more like a milkshake without the milk- 'a shakerato'.
Start with a cup of good hot espresso- just made. Place in a milkshake shaker, add in some ice cubes, sugar. Stir until ice is almost melted. Shake. Then place in a blender until creamy and frothy.
Pour into a martini glass, top with freshly grated star of anise (anice stellato).
What a refreshing way to end a day!!
Even though the freshly grated start of anise was just a pinch- it made the drink a special one. The flavor blends so wonderfully with espresso.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cold pasta to lift your spirits....

(Sorry I have not been writing as frequently as usual, I am here at my office in Italy now till mid September). Hope this little splash of words helps yourday as it did mine yesterday...
Anytime I need something to lift my spirits a wonderful dish of pasta is a great start. And todays' meal was no exception. Of course I had to rush home so that I would have enough time to make the pasta dish I was dreaming of; A cold pasta salad with fresh mozzarella, small 'pachino'tomatoes, fresh basil and some extra virgin olive oil..
I say 'rush home' because I had a lot of work to finish up and had to quickly stop to pick up fresh mozzarella before stores close at 1:30. ( I am writing from my office in Italy). But I made it a few minutes before 1:30. As typical Italian approach to life- no one was rushing or running-even though it was 3 minutes till closing and people were still entering the store -albeit in a relaxed pace.

We were getting really hungry it was now 2 PM by the time I got home.
Water in the pot..
Pinch of salt in the water...
Place gas on...
Cut small tomatoes in half
Chop fresh basil
Cut fresh mozzarella into small chunks

Now place fresh tomatoes. fresh basil, fresh mozzarella in bowl. Place penne pasa in boiling water and cook for 9 minutes. Drain. Place in bowl with fresh tomatoes, drizzle with jsut about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and toss gently to coat and mix all ingredients..

Oops, don't forget the freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese on top. Grate on top of each individual serving...
Ahh.. perfect pasta to lift anyone's spirits. And a glass of chilled white wine like a light Trebbiano goes well and keeps the meal light and refreshing.
Ciao for now, and don't forget to visit me at

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Having Fat in The Wrong Places Could Be A Life Or Death Situation

Where your fat is located can be just as important as how much you weigh. If you carry extra fat in your abdominal area then you’re at a higher risk for weight-related health problems. If the fat is packed on your hips and thighs then the risk is much less.

One technique you can use to make sure your on the right track is the waist/hip ratio. You can easily find yours by measuring your waist at the smallest point and your hips at their widest point. Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

For example if your waist is 34 and your hips are 42 then your waist/hip ratio is 0.8.

For women, a waist/hip ratio over 0.8 indicates an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

If your ratio is higher than 0.8, you may be at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and possibly even breast cancer. Going from fat to toned and defined can help improve your waist/hip ratio and improve your over all health.

Diet, aerobic exercise, and strength training are all fundamental and necessary components to help burn the excess fat. Believe it or not one of the best ways to keep track of your progress is to use an old-fashioned tape measurer or the mirror in your bedroom.

But of course there are other body-fat measuring devices, such as the calipers and electronic testers that are available in many gyms, to chart your fat-burning progress.

I tell my clients that it's not worth checking unless they're simply interested.

The normal body fat range for a woman is 22 to 28 percent. But most measuring devices are not accurate enough to tell you if you've really changed, so it can be frustrating to check it after a few weeks or months. It's better just to look in the mirror - if it looks like fat then it probably is fat.

Is your weight increasing your risk for health problems?

To find out, don't just step onto the scale in your bathroom. Instead measure your waist and hips and use the following formula to determine your waist/hip ratio.

1. Measure your waist at its slimmest point.
2. Measure your hips at the widest point.
3. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement:

(waist in inches) ÷ (hips in inches) = (waist/hip ratio)

Marci Lall is a Weight Loss and Body Sculpting Specialist for women. Visit his website at to get his FREE special report "How to Get Maximum Weight Loss & Fitness Results in Minimum Time".

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Surviving Disneyland in August

I survived Disneyland in August with four children and my mother. The princesses sparkle, the pirates swashbuckle, but I am the Queen, and I reign on high in Anaheim, even with existential questions bearing down on me like the sun on my shoulders.
As I waited in line for the Finding Nemo ride I asked myself, "Am I crazy?" The temperature gauge on the stroller read 127 degrees. The baby hadn't napped and it was approaching 2 p.m. The attendants told us the wait was about 2 hours. "No, you're not crazy," I heard a voice, sounding a whole lot like Clark Griswold, "You're just getting started."
This is true. How many illogical things am I going to do for my kids? I can think of many I've done so far, steaming in the hot California sun like a lobster waiting to see fictitious clownfish being just one of them. Things like...
Adding another volunteer duty to our crazy busy life because no one else would coach the soccer team - making a u-turn and driving by the doggie being walked because the youngest child didn't get to see it (even though we're late for school) - weeping hysterically while cropping photos on Snapfish - returning to the site of the drive-thru fifteen minutes away because they forgot the Kids Meal toy - checking on thekids sleeping five times during the night after I dared to watch the national news - stitching up the hole in a raggedy t-shirt for the tenth time because it's my son's "favorite"...
I am going to do many illogical things before my kids become parents and take their own kids to Disneyland. Love in itself is entirely illogical, but one of the funnest rides. Surviving Disneyland in August is like surviving parenting. Here's what I mean...
You'll be subjected to a lot of other parenting styles and may even question your own. You'll get close to other parents you otherwise never would have known. You'll have to wait longer than expected, sometimes sooner than you thought, for gratification. Height measurements will differ, and change in the blink of an eye. Eat when you can. Come (or go, depending on how you see it) prepared. Pay attention, they get away fast. Keep an open mind and good attitude. Plan ahead. There are villains and heroes abound. Mom and Dad are the King and Queen, like it or not.
And is it worth it, to embark on the ultimate adventure and go to Disneyland in August? Is it worth it to lay your heart on the line and bring children into this world when you don't know how it will turn out?
For this Queen, the answer is yes. It really is the place where dreams come true.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Melatonin and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland, which is located at the base of the brain. Melatonin is naturally found, in small amounts, in grains, fruits, vegetables, and some meats. In the brain, it is manufactured by the amino acid tryptophan (which also makes serotonin-the antidepressant neurotransmitter). Melatonin plays a central role in the natural sleeping/waking cycle. The production of melatonin is directly influenced by exposure to light. Normally, its level rises in the mid to late evening (as the light fades), causing lethargy, and declines in the morning (with the appearance of light), giving a natural wake-up call.

Irregularity in melatonin production can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more popularly known as winter depression. It happens usually during the shorter winter days when the earlier arrival of evening triggers an earlier (or sometimes later) production of melatonin in the body. Symptoms associated with SAD include:

Craving for Carbohydrates

To cope with the SAD symptoms, patients are advised to have one to two hours of exposure to bright, ultraviolet light, available at various stores. During the winter months, SAD patients should use these lights daily in the early evening. On the other hand, patients suffering from insomnia should avoid bright lights, about 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. In addition, they may choose to supplement their melatonin level by nutritional means. Following foods naturally contain melatonin:

Sweet Corn

Foods that decrease melatonin level include: alcohol, caffeine (coffee, chocolate, and tea), tobacco, extra vitamin B12 sources.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Reading Vanessa's blog, I realize I am incredibly lucky. I admit, looking at Maria's mountainous view of Italy, I felt there were other places in the world I would rather live - but I can't imagine that now, living as close to the ocean in Southern California as I do. Some people wait their entire lives to taste, smell, hear and touch the ocean, for me it just means a 20 minute drive, extra towels and bathing suits to wash, and packing deviled eggs, chicken salad, and diet coke in a cooler.
I am lucky.
When there is so much trouble in the world that I can't stand to watch the news anymore (I have that option), and I can sit on a beach watching my children play apparently free of danger, I am lucky.
When I look inside my full pantry and my biggest decision is whether to use canned organic or fresh tomatoes for my pasta sauce, I am lucky.
When my husband kisses me good-bye and tells me he loves me before leaving to do his job complete with benefits, steady paycheck and flexible scheduling, I am lucky.
When I walk out my door in the morning and my biggest concern is surviving a cycling class, I am lucky.
I'm not being boastful, I'm blogging my daily prayer. Writing down what I say to myself in the quiet (few and far between) moments of the day.
And in those quiet times, sometimes I feel guilty more than lucky - but how does that help? Rather, as I've learned in my 30s to do, I pass on my good fortune - donations, of course, but a smile at a stranger, a kind word to someone who needs it (even when they don't deserve it).
I'm talking about being part of a conscious, higher, positive energy. I have to work for it sometimes. Given the horrors that exist in our world, it is difficult to imagine beauty that survives the ages and withstands the constant influx of chaos. Sometimes, it's tempting to imagine a world as small as myself. When those thoughts creep into my head, I know exactly what I need to do.
Pack up for the beach - that beautiful place that has existed since the beginning of time, and hasn't changed.
And when I get there, once again I realize, I am so lucky.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bring on the Beach

A few months ago my sister, mom, and I sat down and planned a trip to the beach. For most people this wouldn't be over-the-top exciting news, however for the three of us it most definitely was. When I was younger the beach was a place we retreated to almost every summer with my grandparents. For some reason, the summer family tradition came to an end, leaving the beach behind for my mother. Unbeknowst to her, it would be years before she would ever smell the ocean water, feel the hot sand between her toes, and gorge on seafood buffet's. My father is not a big fan of the ocean. No wait, he hates the ocean and everything that comes with it. I think there are probably a hundred places he would rather travel to. So being the submissive person that she is, my mom never made a big fuss over their summer trips. Though I think she enjoys visiting Elks County and the Gettysburg battlefield, she would much rather soak up the sun along side of the crashing waves. So you can imagine how excited she was to take a road trip with her daughters to spend a few days on the beach. She was like a kid at Christmas time! From spray on tans, new bathing suits, and practically a new wardrobe, she was ready to take this vacation head on. In the past few years, I have been to the beach quite a few times. I knew these couple of days with my mother and sister would be a much needed break from my hectic work schedule. But I didn't quite realize how much joy it would bring me to see her so happy. Her face lit up as we approached the ocean front and she carried that glow with her throughout the entire week. I was seeking relaxation and hopefully a tan but what I came away with was much greater. I caught a glimpse of my mother relaxed and peaceful. It was as if she was thinking, it's good to be back.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


There are nine muses in Greek mythology, daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne. Goddesses of memory, arts and sciences, they each have special domains.
I find them magical, alluring, as real as I want them to be, and evoke them often.
I'm a writer - somewhere, sometime, I was told this is what I was supposed to do.
But even before I began to write (early teens), I had seen a movie about nine beautiful women who go in between worlds (on rollerskates-which made perfect sense to me as a kid). It came out in 1980, and it had a very melodic soundtrack (think you know which movie? post a comment!).
And coincidentally I was given Bulfinch's Mythology for my fifth birthday. The 957 page book was already worn when I looked up the muses at age ten.
The muses, and their "domains" are...
Calliope/epic poetry
Erato/love poetry
Euterpe/lyric poetry
Polymnia/sacred poetry
Terpsichore/choral dance
....When I lose something in my house, I say the prayer to St. Francis. When we travel, I have my St. Christopher pendant with me. When I need answers, I call on Athena, but as I write, which is everyday, I call on Calliope, Clio and Euterpe. Calliope helps me put things in perspective, and helps me wrap it all together in a universal, circular ending. Clio humbles me by letting me see the past, showing me how minuscule, yet significant, I am in the divine scheme. And Euterpe helps me write, think, and speak poetic ways, she's my voice. Thalia visits me sometimes when I write about my husband, he provides comical opportunities to good to pass up.
I'm a writer, and I believe to write clearly and righteously I need to see clearly. But I'm human, I can't do this on my own. I need help...and I trust the ancients.
I trust in the Nine, no they didn't wear rollerskates, but they've inspired more than one poem, screenplay, song, dance, and book.
~Samantha Gianulis