September 13, 2014

My Great Aunt, in her 99th Year

I have a Great Aunt who will be turning 99 in the next few months.  Until recently, she lived in her home by herself, but was looked after by a caring nurse that came every day.  Earlier this summer, there was a fire in her home, it started in the kitchen, most likely the toaster oven.  Thankfully, an alarm system sent the fire department and she was pulled heroically out by a fireman.  Thank you, to all of you that help us in this brave way.

Her home, sadly, has become uninhabitable, and we needed to move her to an assisted living facility.  It is impressive, that at 98, she is able to live in simply assisted living, which is only for those that can function much more independently than in a nursing home.  The assisted living facility is nearby, and I have visited weekly with at least one of my children, bearing sugar cookies or chocolate cake.  She has always liked chocolate.

My mother, sister and I have spent a great deal of time cleaning and going through the house.  We are preserving family photos and mementos.  I'm afraid, though, that the amount we had to go through, has been greater than we expected and the task ended up being very arduous.  However, in order to be able to have pictures of one's Great Grandparents, it is very much worth the effort and also the respectful thing to do, not only toward my Great Aunt, but to my own children, who one day may like to see them.

Something interesting came about recently with regard to this particular branch of the family.  Over a dinner several months ago, we were casually informed that we are descended from James V of Scotland.  I had always been aware that our tartan from our Scottish ancestry was Royal Stewart, but my understanding and interest hadn't advanced any further.  Coincidentally, my Great Aunt married a Campbell.  The Campbell clan, unfortunately, sided with the British in 1746 and contributed to the defeat of the Scottish by the British.  As I went through the house, that made me wonder, if she and her husband had ever thought or spoken about that shared, but bitter history.  She thinks of herself as a patriotic American, she was a teacher of English and likes to read poetry in French.  We've honestly never spoken about her Scottish heritage.  But it does make me wonder.

I'm looking forward to visiting her and asking her more about her and our shared family and I feel fortunate to have her nearby, not only as a connection to my family's past, but as an opportunity to show my own children that it is part of our duty as family members to take care of and honor the older generations.  That it's important to take the time to preserve pictures, learn the names of the people staring back at us, learning how they tie us to where we came from.

September 5, 2014

Maine! (Again!)

Camden, Maine
As you might already know, I've been to Maine every summer of my life- it's part tradition and part connecting to our Dad's heritage, he's from a town on the mid-coast called Camden.  Since our Grandmother passed away, we've rented houses in various locations in town of varying sizes (pre-kids, one kid, two kids...)  There's something about the idyllic seaside town, slower pace, mornings with fog and afternoons with bright sunshine that just makes you forget about all the things that typically rattle around in your mind...  A few glasses of wine, some lobster and well executed haddock doesn't hurt either!  If you're headed up to the Camden / Rockport area at any point, here are some standouts that warrant a visit.

At an Acadian dinner in Thomaston, Maine

Shepherd's Pie in Rockport
Shepherd's Pie
At Shepherd's Pie, Rockport, Maine
I had tried twice in the previous year to go to this restaurant without success.  We hadn't had the forethought to make a reservation either time and by the time we got there, the wait and how hungry we were didn't work well together.  This time, we went twice!  At the end of our first meal, I think I said something like, 'this food is literally like crack to me, we really have to leave before they put anything else in front of me because I will eat it ALL."  Did I mention I am supposed to be training for a 10K?  Yeah, didn't happen any time I was near this place.  Both meals I had there, I got the bone in rib eye- it has these thinly sliced fried 'garlic chips' on top and when you mix one with the meat, the chimichuri on top, it is heavenly.  One person with us picked up the bone and gnawed on it.  I will not say who.  Also brought to our tables were the bok choy, the lettuce, fennel and shallot dressing salad (excellent), the chicken (BBQ preparation)- it had either been brined or marinated in yogurt it was incredibly tender, the shepherd's pie (of course!) and an amazing bottle of Italian red from their 'fancy reds' section of the wine list, it was all divine.  For dessert, chocolate pots de creme.  There is only one request I make of Shepherd's pie, and that is that it acquires some amaros for its after dinner drink list.  Some suggestions include Cardamaro and Amaro Nonino, both of which I love.  Other than that, perfection.  And, you probably need a reservation.

Some beautiful images from our meal at Shepherd's Pie:

The bone in rib eye at Shepherd's Pie

The shepherd's pie at Shepherd's Pie

The tender BBQ chicken at Shepherd's Pie

The chocolate pot de creme at Shepherd's Pie

Antiquing?  Decorating?  Visit Rockland Marketplace- an exceptional selection with terrific prices.
Rockland Marketplace
This place I also went to twice.  Because I could NOT get enough!  It's like they are giving the stuff away!  No, really, it is a terrific selection, it changes frequently, the prices are very fair and significantly lower than some other places I went.  If you are in the market for things to put on your walls, check it out.  If you want vintage cast iron pieces, check it out.  I myself am partial to vintage and antique silver and silver plate, I picked up a tremendously cool silent butler / crumb catcher that is silver plate and in good condition for 12 dollars.  Also, a framed print of wild duck hunting for a very reasonable price.  This place is great.  Thank you to the two wonderful ladies that run it!

In the area with little ones?  Check out the local library!
Camden, Maine Library
Lobster town, lobster dress.  At the Camden library
Not only do they have a children's playroom, complete with a train table, duplo legos, a row boat on wheels, a lighthouse that lights up with a big, green scooby-doo mystery style light, they also have (almost every single morning at 10 am) story hour.  This is NO ordinary story hour.  We attended a story hour devoted to Ninjas, which was not only read by a librarian wearing a ninja mask, it was followed by craft time where the kids could make any of three ninja crafts including their very own mask!  The next day, it was a tiny 'fair' complete with face painting, a bean bag toss, a kissing booth (manned by a cast of furry puppets), we even got cotton candy.  There is so much creativity and joy at this library, I cannot do it justice!  We were there almost every day.  Thank you, librarians!

There was also a civil war reenactment while we were there- the 20th Maine Company B were camped out on the library's lawn for several days.  A terrific learning tool for the kids!

Camden Harbor Cruises, be a lobsterman for an hour!
This one, I can't even believe exists, does your child want to be a lobsterman for an hour?  Drive the boat?  Pull up a trap and see the lobsters inside?  Look no further.
Camden Harbor Cruises
Go on the 9:30 1 hour cruise to get a reduced child rate- I think it was like $5 for kids.  They take you out in a refurbished lobster boat and you pull up a lobster trap!  The trap we pulled up had three lobsters in it.  They take them out, rubber band their claws and then the kids can touch them / pick them up gently if they want to.  Warning, they are a little slimy.  Then, they put them back in the ocean and in the open ocean, the kids drive the lobster boat!  It's crazy.

Lobster craziness!  Camden Harbor Cruise

Sewing, Arts and Crafts Store in Belfast, Maine
Fiddlehead Artisan Supply
You might notice that I've written about this store before!  Honestly, this store is so exceptional that it should be written about every day!  The fabric selection, pattern brands, carefully curated book selection and different colored wool felt in this store is like candy!  You want it all!  I went THREE times in two weeks!!!!  The last trip was to buy pieces of different colored felt to make small stuffed 'ewoks' for the kids!  They got to choose their colors.  These were the colors chosen by our little girl:

Ewoks with felt from Fiddlehead in Belfast, Maine

They also have a brand of patterns that I am currently in love with- Citronelle.  Citronelle (Adult) patterns.  I purchased the Susanne adult dress pattern, and am currently hand-sewing it in a robin's egg blue cotton (also purchased at Fiddelhead) with visible coral pink hand stitching.  They also have a matching child's dress!  It is here:  Citronelle Susanne Child's dress and, are you ready to hear about the amazing fabric for this project?!!!  You know the art in the Very Hungry Caterpillar books by Eric Carle?  They have two different fabrics that use that art- one is the caterpillar itself (so cute!) and the other, which I bought to make the child's dress for our little girl, is the caterpillar's food from the book!  It is so unbelievably cute.  One of the best things about this particular pattern and dress is that you only need about 1 yard of fabric to make it.  Why not try it yourself?

Thank you for reading!

xo  Jessica at La Dolce Duchessa  

May 8, 2014

Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff (Estrogonofe de Frango)

Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff (Estrogonofe de Frango)
A few months ago, we were joined by a lovely woman from Brazil, who is our Au Pair.  It is incredibly helpful to have an additional person to help with the kids- especially when they both need to be somewhere at the same time!  In addition to making my life significantly better, she's shared with us one of her favorite home cooked meals.  At first, she described it to me as 'Stroganoff.'  If you're American (like us), you probably thought of a beef dish, with a lovely sauce that includes mushrooms, maybe sour cream, and of course, served over egg noodles.  Apparently that's not at all what Brazilians consider to be Stroganoff, for starters, it's made with chicken.  It's also served over rice, contains mustard, and the sauce is light orange.  Perhaps the only uniting feature is that they both contain mushrooms.  In any event, I'm so glad she shared it with us, we've had it twice now and it is warm and hearty and delicious.  The children both like it, too!  They call it simply 'Brazilian Chicken.'

Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff
Phase 1:
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves
canola or other vegetable oil
2.25-2.5 lb. chicken breast meat, I buy raw 'tenders' and then cut them smaller, it saves time
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cups white wine (I used Reisling)
1 Tbsp tomato paste (concentrated, from a tube)
1/3 cup tomato sauce
2 cups chicken stock

Phase 2:
10 oz. white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
olive oil
unsalted butter

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp flour

Add at the end:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp whole grain dijon mustard (Maille brand)
3-4 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley (flat leaf)

Adding Hawaiian red sea salt to chicken
Let's begin!  In a large pot or pan, heat about 2-3 Tbsp canola or other vegetable oil over medium high heat.  Prepare the chicken.  I like to buy chicken breast tenders and then just cut them into smaller 1-2" pieces, it saves a little time.  Place the chicken in a bowl and add the salt and pepper.  I add about half to two thirds the amount of pepper as salt.  So maybe a little over 1/2 a tsp of pepper.  Mix the chicken to evenly distribute.  Once the oil is shimmering a little, brown the chicken in batches.  If it's only turning white, not slightly browned, increase your heat.  You're only cooking the outside.  Once it's slightly browned, remove it from the pan and set aside, finish the remaining uncooked chicken in the same way.  Set it aside.

Browning chicken for Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff

Browned chicken for Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff

Chopped onion for Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff
In the same large pot or pan, heat an additional 1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil over medium or low to medium heat.  Add the onion, and brown for several minutes.  You don't want extreme caramelizing, but you want some.  When the onion is fairly far along, add the garlic, stirring frequently, so it doesn't burn.  If you're concerned about the heat, make it lower before you add the garlic.  Allow it to brown slightly for just a minute or two.

Add the wine.  If there are any brown bits on the pan, scrape them up and incorporate them into the sauce.  The wine will make them come up easily.  Simmer the wine until it's nearly gone.  Now, add the tomato paste, stir.  Add the chicken stock and tomato sauce, stir until it's well mixed.  Now, return the chicken meat, partially cover the pot or pan, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 35 minutes.

Wine added to onion and garlic for Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff

This is a good time to start your rice.  I use Goya brand Jasmine rice that takes 15 minutes to cook.  I heat 3 cups of water in a small Le Creuset dutch oven until it's boiling.  I add a Tbsp of canola oil, stir in 1 1/2 cups of rice, turn the heat to low, cover it, and simmer over low for 15 minutes.  When the 15 minutes is up, I let it sit, covered for an additional 5 minutes.  This helps it not be too soggy.

Browning mushrooms for Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff

Also while the chicken mixture is simmering, you're going to prepare the mushrooms.  It will take you nearly the whole time of the simmering to brown the mushrooms, so have them ready to go ahead of time.  Whole Foods sells prepackaged cleaned, sliced mushrooms.  In another pan, I use a medium sized skillet, heat even amounts of unsalted butter and olive oil.  About 1 Tbsp each.  When it's warm, about medium heat, add the mushrooms.  These have to be done in batches, too, you can't crowd them, they won't brown properly.  Turn the mushrooms to brown each side, it will be a minute or two for each side, then set them aside.  As you work through the batches, add more olive oil and unsalted butter as needed.

In a small dish, work together the 3 Tbsp of unsalted butter (it helps if it is room temperature) and flour.  This is a technique to thicken our sauce.  It may be familiar to you from our chicken pot pie recipe.  We do something similar to get the nice sauce consistency.  Check it out here:  La Dolce Duchessa's Chicken Pot Pie

Unsalted butter and flour blended together to thicken sauce

When the timer reaches only 5 minutes left on the simmering chicken mixture, add the combined butter and flour, stir.  When the five minutes is up, turn off the heat.  Add the remaining ingredients, the cream, the whole grain dijon mustard, the mushrooms that you have already browned, and stir.  Add the parsley last.

Adding mustard to Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff

Stir to combine all the ingredients.  Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Serve over the rice.  Enjoy!

Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff (Estrogonofe de Frango)

April 11, 2014

Kung Pao Chicken with Cashews

Kung Pao Chicken with Cashews
Kung Pao Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese dishes, what about you?  I like that it is spicy, with those pieces of chili peppers actually in the dish, and the crunch of the peanuts is very satisfying.  While we don't have any peanut allergies, I thought it might be helpful to show the dish with another nut, cashews.  I'm also told by one of my very chic friends in Washington D.C. that cashews are apparently very hot right now!  Many chic hipsters that live in her apartment building are drinking cashew milk these days...  Hooray for the cashew, then!

If you've never made Chinese food yourself, I think you'll be pleased to see that it is not impossible, or incredibly complicated.  You'll find that there are many ingredients that are used often, these include soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger root, chili peppers, sichuan peppercorns (a variety of peppercorns that come from the province of Si Chuan, which means four rivers), cornstarch, and vinegar (if you're a BBQ maker, that should sound reasonable- vinegar is AWESOME, right?)  The cornstarch is used in two ways, one way is in marinades, which is part of why the pieces of meat in Chinese food seem to have a nice coating (although this isn't as thick a coating as some of the Chinese dishes you'll be familiar with), and it's used in the sauce, to give it a nice, thicker consistency.  With a little bit of prep work, which you can do ahead of time, I think you'll find this is easy and fast, cooking Chinese food is very quick, because it's done at a high heat.  So, this can be a wonderful weeknight solution for you and your family, or a weekend treat, because it is that good!  Enjoy!

Kung Pao Chicken with Cashews
2 to 2.5 lb. Chicken breast tenders (or skinless, boneless chicken breasts)

Chicken marinade:
4 tsp soy sauce (sometimes called shoyu)
3 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp sea salt (I like Hawaiian alaea red sea salt)

Other ingredients:
6 garlic cloves (mine were large so I used 5)
ginger root (eyeball the same amount once it is peeled)
7-10 green onions, roots and wilted green parts removed
8-16 Thai red chiles, dried
2 tsp sichuan peppercorns

2.25 tsp cornstarch
6 tsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp malt vinegar
3 tsp sesame oil
1.5 Tbsp water

3 handfuls of cashews

Kung Pao Chicken Marinade
The first thing I like to do is made the marinade for the chicken.  I combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken.  The salt and cornstarch won't dissolve right away by themselves, so using a whisk to make it smooth is helpful.  I like to use chicken breast tenders because they save me some time in cutting up the chicken, because they are already cut into strips for you.  What actually works pretty well is freezing the chicken breast tender packages, and then only slightly defrosting them before cutting them into pieces- firmer chicken is easier to cut.  The pieces of chicken should be bite sized, this is about no larger than 1" pieces.  Once you've cut your chicken pieces, put them in the bowl with the marinade and mix them together to cover all the chicken and coat it nicely.  Set it aside while you prepare your other ingredients.

Small Le Creuset dutch oven making rice
About this time, once the marinade is made and the chicken is already in there, I like to get my rice started.  I use Jasmine rice that takes 15 minutes to cook on the stove.  If you have a rice cooker and would like to use that, absolutely do, whatever you're comfortable with is terrific.  I don't have one, so I make it on top of the stove.  For about 4-6 people, I boil 3 cups of water, once it's boiling I add 1 1/2 cups of Jasmine white rice, and a little bit of canola oil (less than 1 Tbsp).  I stir it once, cover it, and reduce the heat to low.  I let it cook for 15 minutes and then I turn off the burner.  I use a small Le Creuset dutch oven with a lid for this.  The canola oil seems to be helpful in terms of preventing the rice from sticking to the bottom.

Let's get our other ingredients ready- I peel and chop the garlic- putting it through a press would make the pieces too small and they would burn.  The garlic I had had really, really large cloves, so I used only 5 instead of 6.  Chop is as finely as you can.

Chopped garlic for Kung Pao Chicken
Next, prepare your ginger root.  If you've never worked with fresh ginger root before, it's nothing to worry about.  All you need to know is that you peel it, discard the peel, and use the inside.  It has a fibers which make it a little more challenging to cut into small pieces, but they break down.  I just use a vegetable peeler for ginger root, although I do have an instrument called a ginger peeler- it is similar- but a vegetable peeler works just as well.  For the knobs and places you can't peel away, just cut them off with your knife, trying to save as much interior root as possible.

Peeling ginger root with a vegetable peeler

Ginger root chopped for Kung Pao Chicken

Next, we chop the scallions or green onions.  Get rid of any unsightly bits, remove the roots and the ends that are not too robust looking.  Chop coarsely (they do not have to be the same size as the garlic and ginger).

Scallions or Green Onions for Kung Pao Chicken

Now for the chili peppers.  These are the chiles I use for this dish.  They are Thai chiles that are dried.  They are small, red and fairly hot.  Depending on your sensitivity, you may want to wear gloves while you handle them.  I usually wear gloves when I work with chili peppers.  For a relatively mild version of this dish, use about 8, for a hotter version, use up to 16.  Take the chili peppers and cut them into pieces a little smaller than the scallions.  Remove some of the seeds, this will  make them less hot.  For a mild version of this dish, I used 8 chili peppers with 1/2 the seeds removed.  For a very hot version, use 16 peppers and keep all the seeds- you get the idea and know your own preferences, so you can adjust accordingly.

Dried Thai Chiles for Kung Pao Chicken

In a small bowl, combine the cut chiles and seeds with the whole sichuan peppercorns.  These will be cooked at the same time, so I put them in a container together.  Sichuan peppercorns have a lovely, distinct aroma.  I encourage you to find these and use them- you may also use them in another La Dolce Duchessa recipe:  Sichuan Beef with Carrots and Celery

Chopped dried chiles and sichuan peppercorns for Kung Pao Chicken

Finally, prepare the sauce- combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.  That goes in last.

Sauce for Kung Pao Chicken

I don't have a wok, but if you do, by all means use it!  I use a large Le Creuset dutch oven, the cast iron makes it heat evenly and stay very hot.  Heat about 2-3 Tbsp of canola oil (something with an ability to withstand high heat) over medium high heat.  Depending on your burner, you may need to go hotter or colder.  You don't want anything to burn, but you want it to cook pretty fast, and some browning is ok.  Once the oil is hot, add the chili peppers and sichuan peppercorns.

Chili peppers and sichuan peppercorns added to oil for Kung Pao Chicken
Stir, you don't want them to burn.  It should smell fragrant after about 30 seconds to a minute, after you see a little browning and it's fragrant, add the chicken, and any marinade that is still in the bowl.

Chicken added to chili peppers and sichuan peppercorns for Kung Pao Chicken

Stir it fairly frequently, you'll begin to see the chicken start to cook.  After about 2 minutes of constant stirring, add the garlic and ginger.

Garlic and ginger added to Kung Pao Chicken

Stir that as well for about 1-2 minutes.  You want the garlic and ginger to have a chance to cook a little.  After about 1-2 minutes, add the green onion or scallions.

Green onion added to Kung Pao Chicken

Keep stirring that for another minute, then add about 3 handfuls of cashews.  I just use the Costco cashews.  They are already salted, so if you want them to be less salty, rinse them off and drain them beforehand.  Just add them in and stir, these we like to keep nice and crunchy, so adding them at the end is great.

Cashews from Costco for Kung Pao Chicken

Cashews added to Kung Pao Chicken

Finally, add the sauce and stir and heat for about 1-2 additional minutes.  You want the sauce to have a chance to thicken a little from the heat.  You are finished!  Doesn't that look delicious?  Your rice should be ready at about the same time, enjoy your Kung Pao Chicken with Cashews over rice.

A note about kids and this dish- it can be spicy.  What I do when I make it is make a very small portion excluding the chili peppers and sichuan peppercorns.  But, everything else can go in.  That way, you don't have to make them a separate dinner and they're eating nearly what you're eating.  Both my children ate the less spicy version and enjoyed it, and one of them is a relatively picky eater.

Thank you so much for reading!

xo  Jessica at La Dolce Duchessa

February 19, 2014

Share a Kindle Account- Instant Book Club!

A few years ago, my mother and sister both got Kindles.  Reading has always been BIG in my family.  And to say it's big for my sister is truly an understatement.  Here's an excerpt from a recent conversation we had:

Me:  Hey, I've been reading a lot and it is honestly kind of addictive.  Like I can't stop reading and it makes me stay up too late.

Sister:  (laughing)  Hello, have you met me?  Mom and Dad could never get me to go to bed once I learned how to read!

Me:  Right- that's why I'm coming to you for advice, I've been staying up so late, reading this book that is so extremely depressing, but I don't want to stop reading it because I really, really want something good to happen.  It doesn't, by the way.  Don't read this one.

Sister:  I wish I knew what to tell you.

I never got a kindle, although both of them have them.  But, we realized that I could use my ipad just like a kindle, I just needed the kindle app on my ipad.  So, the three of us are all connected to the same kindle account, so we can buy a book once, and then all three of us can read it.  Here's how some conversations go-

Sister:  I just downloaded a series you are going to love to the kindle.  Read it so we can talk about it.  I'm on book two already.  Oh, PS, there's an except at the end from a related series, it spoils the end.  Don't read it.

Me:  On it.  (and then later that week)  Ok, what is up in book four?  I think this has jumped the shark.

Sister:  Sigh, yes.

The most amusing thing about this whole set up, is that it originally was started with my Dad buying the kindle for Mom connected to his Amazon account.  So, to maintain the same account together, when we buy things on Amazon, we do it through his account (we try to keep the downloads to a dull roar in the cost department).  But, you know how Amazon suggests things to you when you log in based on past purchases?  Well, the purchases of three women, who are not afraid to check out the latest Twilight-like series ends up giving him very interesting recommendations.  'So you liked the Hunger Games?  Try these!'  He's, as always, a good sport.

Thank you, Dad!

So get your friends and family together and start a virtual book club!  Happy reading!

Here are just a few of the titles we've enjoyed recently:

The White Queen and all of the books that follow in this series- this book in particular inspired some very interesting discussions between my sister and I on how Henry the 8's actions were potentially influenced by his paternal grandmother and the example of his parents' marriage, and also even how those ideas may have indirectly caused the church split (see, it's not all fluff in our minds)

The Descendants Outstanding, real, insightful

The New Mind of the South I'm not finished with this one yet, it's not a novel so it's slower reading, but I think it has some really good points

The Painter from Shanghai Vivid, interesting, honest

January 28, 2014

Porchetta Style Pork Loin with Polenta and Wild Arugula Salad with Clementine Dressing (Weeknight Dinner Success!)

Porchetta, polenta and wild arugula salad
This is an incredibly delicious (and achievable!) weeknight dinner.  It is also SO delicious, you won't want it just on weeknights- it is also something I'd feel completely comfortable serving company- the flavoring of the pork is wonderful, balanced nicely by the creamy polenta (made the same way you make grits) and the bitter spiciness of the wild arugula is well matched with the clementine vinaigrette.

This recipe uses a center cut pork loin, which is larger and has a little bit more fat than the pork tenderloin cut.  Pork tenderloins are about 3 inches in diameter and weigh probably up to 1 lb., but a center cut pork loin is about 6 inches in diameter and their weight can start in the 2+ lb. category, this particular center cut pork loin that I used was 2.4 lbs.

As a disclaimer, this is not 100% authentic porchetta.  Porchetta usually uses a very fatty outer layer, that becomes crispy (and delicious, ps).  While I am 100% in favor of authentic porchetta, I have come up with this alternative because a) not everyone has access to pork belly and b) while I am 100% in favor of authentic porchetta, I want to suggest a somewhat healthier alternative!

Porchetta Style Pork Loin
Serves 4-6 people
2 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp red pepper flakes (this is spicy, adjust down for your taste)
1 tsp dried 'rubbed sage'
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

2.4 lb. center cut pork loin
Pam grilling spray

You'll want to make your rub and apply it to the pork a few hours before you will roast it- 2-3 hours is sufficient- this is also what makes this nice and easy and do-ahead.  Let's make our rub!  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.  On a small baking sheet, place the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes.  Place in the oven for 4-5 minutes, careful not to burn.  They should start to give off a lovely roasted scent.  Combine with the remainder of the rub ingredients, and, using a mortar and pestle, or some approximation of that system, crush the rub.  This doesn't have to be exact, or completely thorough, just some crushing.  I used the pestle portion of a mortar and pestle but in a larger bowl to accommodate the amount of rub.

Porchetta before roasting
Apply the rub to the pork loin, on all exposed areas.  This is more of a sticking to it process than actual rubbing.  You just want as much of the rub to adhere to the outside as possible.  Now I spray a jelly roll style baking sheet (that just means a very shallow pan with 1/2 inch sides) with Pam grilling spray.  The Pam grilling spray is just high temperature cooking oil.  Canola would also be fine, but olive oil has too low a smoke point.  Just use some type of cooking oil that can withstand high heat.  I place the pork on the baking sheet and cover with foil and refrigerate until I am ready to roast it.  Easy, right?

Now it's getting close to dinner time, and I'm going to take the pork out of the refrigerator and allow it to come closer to room temperature before I roast it in the oven.  This is a good idea for most meat that you cook, it helps it cook more evenly.  While you're allowing the pork's temperature to rise, preheat your oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit.  The pork will take a total of 40-45 minutes in total to cook, so you can plan backwards from when you want to eat using that amount of time.  Allow an extra 5 minutes for the meat to rest before you cut it and serve it.  This is how to roast the meat:  first, roast it for 20 minutes at 300 degrees fahrenheit.  Then, increase the heat to 425 degrees fahrenheit and roast it for another 20-25 minutes- the internal temperature you want to achieve is 145 degrees fahrenheit.  Remove the pork from the baking sheet and place it on a cutting board or plate to rest for five minutes before you slice it into 1/2 inch slices.

Porchetta resting after roasting

While the pork is roasting, make your polenta and your salad.

Creamy Polenta
Serves 4-6 people
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup polenta (double check amount with your brand of polenta)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 pinches sea salt (I like red Hawaiian sea salt)

In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk and cream and medium high heat, stirring occasionally.  You want it to just start boiling.  Once it is hot enough, add the polenta, turn the heat down to medium low and stir with a whisk.  The polenta I use cooks very quickly, so yours will depend on your polenta.  Keep stirring while it cooks.  Once the liquid has been absorbed and it has a nice porridge consistency, add the unsalted butter and salt, stir until incorporated.  Turn off heat and cover until ready to serve.

Let's also get our lovely salad ready!

Wild Arugula Salad with Clementine Dressing
Serves 4-6 people
4 cups (not tightly packed) wild arugula leaves
pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 clementine's juice (freshly squeezed)
high quality olive oil

Wild arugula with clementine dressing
In a wide bowl, place the clean arugula (use either pre washed or wash and dry thoroughly in a salad spinner) and top with a pinch of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and 2 parts olive oil to 1 part clementine juice.  Toss and serve!

I hope you enjoy this dinner as much as we did and that it brings joy to your table!  Our family loved it, we had it on a weeknight, but I love it so much I might plan a dinner party around it...  Maybe you'd like to as well?!

Thank you for reading, I am truly humbled by your support and enthusiasm, thank you.



January 24, 2014

The Value of a Medical Second Opinion

I've had a problem, for about a year now, that I was beginning to think was unsolvable.  It started about a year ago, maybe a little longer than a year ago, on my right leg, I started to get some red patches.  At first it was only on the outside of my right lower leg, red, dry patches.  They didn't look very nice, so I just tried to moisturize the area more and I wore pants to cover it up.  I started to notice, though, that I also was getting dry, red patches on my torso and my hands.  I was still nursing my daughter at the time and I just chalked it up to being dehydrated.  This went on for about 2 months, me, ignoring it partially because I was sleep deprived and completely overwhelmed by having two children, one of them a new baby, and partially because I'd never had any significant skin problems before.

Finally, I went to see a doctor.  I went to a dermatologist and he diagnosed me with eczema.  Since I was still nursing, the prescription he gave me was safe, and, he had explained, wasn't as strong a dose as what he might have recommended if I wasn't nursing.  I diligently followed the directions, it was a topical cream that I was only allowed to use for two weeks at a time.  The areas on my torso and my hands improved in mere days and after about the first week of use on those areas, they never bothered me again.  My leg, however, was a decidedly different story.  I continued the cream for maybe 2 or 3 2 week sessions, and while I used it, it seemed to have a diminishing effect on the red areas, as soon as I stopped the cream, the areas on my leg would come right back.  I went back to the doctor a second time, and he changed the prescription to something still safe while nursing, but slightly stronger.  The same results- partial improvement while using, and then when I had to stop per the directions, it would come right back and in fact seemed to be getting worse when it came back.  A few more months went by.  I stopped nursing.  I went back, thinking now that I wasn't nursing, I could get the 'good stuff' and my problem would be solved.  Well, I got the 'good stuff,' so to speak, and the same thing happened, I would use it as directed for the 2 weeks, and then when I had to stop, the red patches would come back, and this time, they were spreading and becoming more raised, itchy, and uncomfortable.

This has spanned a winter, spring, summer, fall and now another winter.  I spent the majority of the spring and summer wearing pants and hiding my leg.  Anytime I bought any new clothes in the past year, every item I purchased worked around my no longer presentable leg.  I signed my daughter up for swimming classes and I was only willing to take her to swimming class if my leg was not looking too terrible.  She has missed more swim classes than I would like, simply because of my leg.

Fast forward to this past December- a friend of mine (poor thing) came down with shingles.  So painful, I've had three friends now (all relatively young, I might add), get shingles.  She was raving about a dermatologist she had seen, who she said diagnosed her in literally seconds.  I took the doctor's information and set about getting an appointment, but, I have to be honest.  My leg issue had gone on for so long I had honestly given up.  I had resigned myself to wearing pants and opaque tights for the foreseeable future.

I saw this new doctor yesterday- and guess what?  My leg isn't eczema.  It's psoriasis- and- the treatment the original doctor had prescribed had in fact made the whole condition worse.  This doctor patiently explained that I had most likely had this emergence because I had recently had a baby (having a baby is similar to having a suppressed immune system) and the type of treatment the original doctor had prescribed, the two weeks on, two weeks off, had in fact triggered the situation to be worse- kind of like cold turkey making the symptoms worse.  The pattern, that had emerged on my leg, which now spanned the top of my foot, the side of my lower leg, the back of my knee and all the way up the back of my thigh, was now red, raised and incredibly itchy.  She explained that the pattern followed a specific nerve and that is why it had formed that way.

The interesting news is that the first doctor was actually correct about the areas on my hands and torso, those had in fact been eczema, which went away very easily with his treatment.  The leg, however, had not been eczema.  I feel incredibly hopeful about my leg for the first time in a long time.  I look forward to taking my daughter to swimming and not feeling self conscious about my leg.  I look forward to wearing shorts and skirts in the spring and not worrying if my hosiery is opaque enough!

If you have any situation that is bothering you, or a serious situation that is complicated, it might be worth your time to get a second opinion.  I hope this has been helpful!

Thank you for reading,


November 30, 2013

My Grandmother's Stuffing (and in Praise of a Realistic Thanksgiving)

La Dolce Duchessa's Thanksgiving

What does that subtitle mean?  In praise of a realistic Thanksgiving?  It means that before the meal even started, a bottle of red wine was spilled on the white linen table cloth.  It was because my husband was desperately trying to feed mashed potatoes to the starving almost 19 month old- and some of the wine landed in the mashed potato serving bowl- he said, 'It's on the outside, though, so if we just serve the potatoes from the center, that shouldn't be an issue...'  Then, my son's mango juice cup's lid (one of the only varieties of fruit juice he will consume, but hey, we like mango) went flying and out sploshed the mango juice onto the table cloth in a different area, to which I responded 'hey, now it's a party!'  because, really, what else are you going to say?  Then I spilled red wine on the bottom of my wine glass- 'oh hey, you've ruined the tablecloth!' came the shouts- you know what?  No big deal.  Any of it.  Because my little family was together, happy and healthy, and we even had my wonderful Mom visiting to make her signature stuffing (which is really her Mom's recipe).  So, a roaring success!  Even if the pictures say otherwise!

American Gothic tribute- and our red wine covered table!

Don't sweat the small stuff.  See the big picture.  Enjoy what can be enjoyed- affirm what can be affirmed!  Yes, I love things done well, and elegant food and beautiful tables.  But, that can't be every day.  It just can't.  And that is just fine.  Really.

My Grandmother's stuffing
What does Thanksgiving mean to you?  For me, it always meant stuffing.  Partially because I was a picky eater and for a while, stuffing was the only thing served on Thanksgiving that I liked.  Let me be more specific, I only liked my Mom's stuffing.  Which, was really her Mom's stuffing.  Her Mom, who I haven't talked to you about much before, was from Ireland.  She was very mischievous- I remember clearly when we were visiting her, she secretly placed a five dollar bill in my hand when no one else was looking, and whispered to me not to tell anyone.  I must have been 7 years old, and I thought this was so exciting- and I'm sure no one cared that she gave it to me- her making it our secret made it special.  When she came to visit us at our house, she'd braid my long hair before I went to bed at night, which made it beautifully wavy in the morning.  She was the kind of person who could have fun in a paper bag.  I have always truly envied those people- I've had several friends like that- and I think sometimes my children are like that- it's a quality that is really wonderful, happy wherever you are.  She has passed away now.  When she got older and was in a nursing home, my Mom and I would visit her.  Once, we'd taken her out to eat, and we'd invited a young man that worked at the nursing home.  There was some question about what 'dish' was being considered, and my Grandmother joked that the young man was eyeing one of the beautiful waitresses as his 'dish.'  She was that kind of prankster all the time.  I was in high school during this time, and glitter nail polish was a big part of my life, and I remember bringing glitter nail polish and painting her nails (and her friends in the nursing home, too).  Did I mention she won the nursing home beauty pageant?  And her acceptance speech began, 'I'd like to thank all the little people,' with a royal wave.  I think I'm starting to see where my irreverent streak comes from...  And for that matter my children...

Plain old white sandwich bread is best for stuffing
This stuffing is very simple- but deviations from its simplicity make it worse- take it from me- for years I tried to elevate it by using what I considered to be superior bread, freshly baked, toasted in the oven, hand cut- a complete waste of time.  That all yielded stuffing that was far too crusty.  What you need is some nice, plain white sandwich bread.  And don't cut it.  Tear it into pieces on the couch while watching TV.  If that's good enough for two generations ahead of me, it is good enough for me, too.  And, don't use this horrible new fangled stuff that is poultry seasoning that is salt free (unless it is Bell's).  What!!  No.  It is Thanksgiving.  Embrace the salt!  (We very much embraced the salt this Thanksgiving- instead of turkey, we had a salt crusted roasted chicken and it was soooooooooooooo good...)

Grandma's Thanksgiving Stuffing
(enough for 6-8 people, or 4 people plus leftovers)
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 bunches celery, chopped
1 to 1 1/4 loaves white sandwich bread, a few days old, torn into pieces
2 sticks unsalted butter
poultry seasoning (although salt free, we like Bell's) Bell's Turkey Seasoning
chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Beginning your stuffing with butter and onion
You may prepare your onion, celery and tear your bread ahead of time.  You may even make this the day before and then heat it in the oven in a deep casserole pan.  This stuffing works with you!  Let's begin!  Start melting one of the sticks of butter in a wide skillet (or whatever you want to use to cook the onion and celery).  The wider the surface, the faster this will go.  Once the butter is almost melted, add the onion and cook over low to medium heat.  Once translucent, add the celery.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and celery are softened.  You don't want browning, or caramelizing.  That's not what we're going for here.  We're going for cooked, not raw, but still recognizable.  Begin to add a little poultry seasoning.  And, the second stick of butter.

You'll need a large stock pot for the next phase of cooking.  Once the onion and celery are sufficiently softened in the melted butter, transfer to the stock pot.  Continue to heat over low to medium heat, and begin to add the bread pieces.  You'll want to do it a little at a time, and mix, so the butter gets absorbed into the bread.  Begin to add some chicken broth (we used about 2 to 2 1/2 cups for this amount of stuffing, but this will vary based on your bread, so you'll need to eyeball this).  And, some more poultry seasoning.  The adding of the poultry seasoning is to your taste, so continue to taste as you go along.  Remember, white bread is pretty tasteless, so be bold, you want your stuffing to be able to stand on its own.  Keep mixing the bread in, and once you've added in all the bread, see where you are in terms of moistness and flavor.  You don't want it to be too wet, if it is, add more bread, or too dry, if it is, add more chicken broth.  Taste it, and season with salt and pepper.

Before you are ready to put it on the table, spoon it into a deep casserole dish and let it heat and dry out a little in the oven at about 200-225.  Cover loosely with foil- not tight- because you want some drying.  Especially the top, so you can have a nice mix of firm and soft in the final stuffing.

Once its firm and dry enough on top to your liking, remove from the oven and serve.  You may serve it in the warm casserole pan or spoon it into another serving dish, trying to keep the dry portions on the top.  Enjoy!

La Dolce Duchessa's Apple Pie

We also enjoyed a lovely apple pie, for the recipe, click here: La Dolce Duchessa's Apple Pie, why not whip one up for Christmas dinner?  Or a lovely raspberry pie? La Dolce Duchessa's Raspberry Pie

To clean the table cloth, which is a white linen tablecloth, I put it into the washing machine with OxiClean powder and used a hot cycle.  I stopped the machine at the soak step and left it overnight.  I finished the cycle the next morning, and it came out, no problem.  I didn't have to treat the individual stains at all.  Wasn't that easy?  OxiClean

October 27, 2013

EB Strong's Restaurant in Burlington, Vermont and Holding on to a Youthful Appearance

Wagyu burger at EB Strong's, Burlington, VT
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend the weekend in Burlington, Vermont, with some very sweet girlfriends.  I have a few friends who attended the University of Vermont (UVM) and they graciously invited me to tag along for homecoming weekend.  It was, actually, the first time I would every be away from my children, basically since I had the first one almost four years ago.  I would say it was time, wouldn’t you? 

I flew in late Friday night- but not too late to enjoy 90’s night at one of the downtown clubs.  It was ironically attended by people born as recently as 1992, but who am I to stand in the way of music appreciation?  There are some serious classics from the 90’s  (i.e. California Love).  On to Saturday brunch- Leunig’s Bistro & Café on Church Street in Burlington’s downtown area is delightful and delicious, truly.  Visit their website: Leunig's Bistro, Burlington, VT

If you’re able to sit in the tented sidewalk area, there is very nice people watching.  Although we enjoyed the brunch menu and a bellini or bloody mary or two- the local Vermont cheese selection on the menu was very, very tempting.  As you may already know, Vermont has many wonderful locally crafted cheeses.  There’s a lot going on really right in Vermont in the food department!

The inspiration for this post was the exceptional dinner we enjoyed at EB Strong’s Prime Steakhouse, also on Church Street in downtown Burlington.  It apparently took the space of a Japanese restaurant that used to be there- something we learned when a few friends wandered in looking for sushi.  This meal was a truly memorable one- from the salad, to the entrée, to the lovely wine.  And our service was very good. 

Let’s talk about the salad- we shared the wedge salad, which had, are you sitting down?  Candied bacon lardons.  And they were candied with, are you still sitting down?  Maple syrup.  Enough said.  There was a local Vermont blue cheese (Boucher Farm) and the lettuce was incredibly fresh and high quality.  We were already incredibly impressed. 

Illahe 2011 Pinot Noir at EB Strong's
The wine was a recommendation from our waitress- I really enjoy wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, you might remember that I have several friends from the Portland / Eugene area, here’s a post from a few years ago about a visit there: Expanding the Mommy and Homekeeping Repertoire in Portland, OR  I told our waitress that I really enjoyed wines from that area and what my budget was (about $40) and she recommended an Illahe 2011 Pinot Noir.  Not only was their wine list extensive, it had a very good range of price points (there were at least two in every category close to $40).  This wine was so delicious.  I can’t do it justice- it is a very, very special wine.

For our entrées, we had the Wagyu burger.  Yes, seriously.  It had a local cheddar, fried pickles (yes!!) a bacon aoli and truffle fries.  It was recommended medium, and I might, if I ever have the opportunity to go back there get it closer to medium well, just because it’s a thick, generous burger, but it was fantastic.  With the Illahe Pinot Noir, perfection.  Get yourself to EB Strong’s!  EB Strong's, Burlington, VT

Although I had left my children at home, not all the people visiting for homecoming weekend did the same- in our hotel, with very thin walls I might add, an adorable, well meaning family was staying next door.  I would guess their little girl was 3 or 4.  Guess what musical instrument was included in their luggage for her to express her joy with?  A recorder.  So, every morning at 7:30 or so, we awoke to serenades from her recorder.  It was hard to be mad about it though, it was so incredibly cute.  And it made me miss my little mischief makers!

On to other matters- being in a college town with a tremendous amount of young people around makes you notice things…  Now, I am fairly happy with my appearance and enjoy looking presentable and nice, although, the goals have definitely changed since I have gotten a little older (mid to late 30’s), had two children, etc.  In my 20’s, the goals would be more ambitious?  They are currently to look ‘not gross.’  Or, ‘not embarrass my husband, children or friends in public situations.’  In any event- I took notice of my under eye area this weekend.  I noticed that is where a lot of my age shows- I have dark circles under my eyes.  I’m not upset about this- I have just noted it.  I am ok with being older than a college student.  It was interesting, actually, they seemed so happy and hopeful and looking forward to life- and not that I’m not, but there are things that have been settled and happened and my life moves forward with those- like a husband and children- and I don’t think about life in such an open ended way any more- like, ‘what will I be when I grow up’ kind of mind set.  Anyhow- they were darling and it was joyful to be near it.  We enjoyed an a cappella concert on campus on Saturday night- if you every have a chance to hear the UVM Top Cats, definitely do- they are hilarious and fun and great singers.  

Anyhow, if you’re looking at your under eye area, try (just from the drugstore) Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Concealer, it’s an under eye concealer that looks like a tiny microphone.  I’ve included a picture here to show you what a difference it makes- I put it only under the left eye in this picture- and you can tell the difference.  (It actually makes such a difference it makes my face look asymmetric!)  You can see the darkness under the right side very clearly, that is the side without the Instant Age Rewind.  So get yourself to the drugstore and put a little spring in your step and look super rested and younger!

Left side concealer, right under eye no product (see?!)

Thank you for reading!  xo