Monday, November 10, 2014

This Legacy...

... Starts at 7:30pm.

(Said in the voice of Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls) Picture this: San Jose, 1938. A group of guys decide to meet in a basement on Mondays at 7:30pm.

What those guys would do, I can only imagine. As it turns out, one of those guys (also the resident of the house where that basement was located...), was Jimmy (Cheech) Lacitignola - my Grandpa (Gramps/Papa Jim). He met with 6 of his closest friends in that basement on 6th Street in downtown San Jose every Monday, with out fail, at 7:30pm.

Except when they didn't.... The United States entered WWII in 1941 and most of the 7 joined up and got shipped out. Those that stayed state-side would send over care packages. They all returned safely, and resumed their meetings. More guys were invited to join, and the club grew.

Soon it was official - they were members of the 7:30 Club. They organized dinner-dances where they'd take their wives/girlfriends out for a night on the town, they had BBQs in the summer, and Christmas parties in December. The Club (as we've always called it), began to thrive.

They struck up a deal with a firehouse on 8th street - The Club would meet in the room upstairs on Monday nights. When the firehouse was closing down, they would gather enough money to purchase the building, and convert it into the Club Room we know today. That building celebrated it's 100th anniversary last year - a big milestone for The Club.

Momma Lynn grew up in this club, quite literally, as did I and my sister, Colleen. In 1991, Papa Leonard would become a member of The Club, and join the ranks with Gramps, Uncle John, Uncle Art, and Cousin John.

Summers were my favorite time - for obvious reasons - but few so poignant as The Club's family BBQs at Alum Rock Park. These events were awesome for Little Lauren for many reasons, most notably: Alum Rock Park was far, like really far, which meant a lot of time riding in the car - something I loved. There was a huge playground where Colleen and I could swing for what seemed like hours before dinner, and there was always a raffle! Gramps would buy us tickets and we'd hope beyond all hope we'd win some money (Colleen won often, I wasn't so lucky).  Later, these BBQs would be moved to Lake Cunningham Park, which was equally as far, but I was older, so it just seemed like a pain to get there.

Fast forward: 2012, Papa Leonard would invited Frank to attend every guest dinner The Club had, and Frank would go to most of them. However, Frank is a part of his own Legacy: The Sons of Sicily of San Jose. Unfortunately, the SOS meets only once a month, on the first Monday. Which also happened to be the Dinner Night for The Club.

Eventually, The Club would change their Dinner Night to the 2nd Monday, and Frank would be able to join The Club while staying in the SOS.

Last night The Club had a Thanksgiving Celebration. It was so much fun, with Bingo, a raffle, delicious dinner, and lots of laughs. Now that Frank is a member of The Club, it feels as though my Legacy is even stronger. There are hundreds of photos on the walls on The Club Room, so many of them of Gramps,  I feel very close to him while I'm there.

We don't often get to choose our Legacy, and I feel so fortunate I am a part of this one...

I'd like to dedicate this post, and all others like it, to James (Jimmy) Lacitignola. We're all in this because of you, Gramps! Thanks for being so bored way back in 1938!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Busy Sunday, Heavy Eyes...

It's a case of the Mondays...

Welp, In this little posty, you'll get a few things: a recap of the weekend (which is why I've been absent for over a week), a few photos, and a recipe! Wow, you lucky dog!

But first, my favorite: HALLOWEEN!

This will be short and sweet: I was inspired to dress as a devil this Halloween. It was a first for me. I remember almost every costume - 50's girl, hobo, witch, prairie girl, hippie, water polo player, Poison Ivy, Medusa, female pimp, Jem, peacock, Bride of Frankenstein, white-trash mom, Ursula, etc.

In short, I was listening to Fiona Apple back in March and  hear "So what would an angel say? The devil wants to know...." And so, Friday night I donned horns, a make-shift red tutu, face paint, and a devilish grin. Success? I think so... You be the judge!

Next: Frank's Birthday!

My lovely husband turned 30 on October 16th. He was marginally freaked out about it. So I schemed with Momma Lynn & Janet to throw him a surprise party. It went off without a hitch on September 27th. He was seriously surprised (read: I wasn't sure if he was going to cry, pass out, or shit his pants), we had delicious food, an awesome football-themed dessert bar, lots of beer, and  I'm quite certain everyone had a great time.

Of course, I am forever in the running for the award of "Best. Wife. Ever!" So I also purchased 2 tickets to see the Forty-Niners take on the the St Louis Rams on November 2nd. I gave him said tickets on his actual birthday. Again, he was really surprised.

Well, yesterday was November 2nd. We attended the game and had a great time. We sat in fantastic seats, became high-five friends with the folks around us, and had a somber walk to the car after Kaepernick fumbled the quaterback sneak and lost the game. But I was having a great hair day, so I wasn't too upset.

Lastly: Yam, Apple & Onion hash (served with pork chops and stuffing)

Ok, so, it's fall. Like, for real. It's been getting colder and colder, and it even started raining - praise the Lord, California is in desperate need of rain! In any case, I've been wanting to try this concoction my brain came up with, so last week I went to the butcher at Safeway and told him how much I hate cooking pork chops because they're always tough and dry. He hand-picked 2 delicious chops for me and told me how to cook them: liberally salt and pepper both sides, dredge in plain flour, and brown in a butter/oil combo, about 5 minutes on each side. They were delicious!

But onto the yam, apple, and onion hash! I typically make a whiskey glazed yam & apple casserole for Thanksgiving/Christmas. So I took a page from that recipe, and made this. It was a success! Frank and I both really enjoyed this meal. I served it with Stove Top stuffing I happened to have in the pantry.

Yam, Apple & Onion hash

1 medium sweet onion, coarsely diced
1 large yam, peeled and cubed
2 cooking apples - I used Granny Smith
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter†
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup whiskey*

In a large, high-sided skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add yams and butter to pan and cook another 8 minutes, until yams are tender, stirring occasionally. Add apples, cinnamon, and honey to the pan. Cook over medium heat for another 3 minutes. De-glaze the pan with whiskey and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot.

*If you're not a drinker/don't have whiskey, use a sweet, clear soda, like ginger ale or sprite and use just 1 tsp honey. You'll get the same sweet when you de-glaze the pan with out the alcohol.

† And for those eating clean, watching starch, etc. this recipe is Whole30 compliant if you omit the butter (you can use ghee) and replace the whiskey with water or approved chicken broth.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Home-Cooked TV Dinner

When I was a kid, I loved eating microwave dinners. Mostly because they were kind of like a treat. Let me be clear: Momma Lynn was pretty much anti any prepared/ready-made/preservative-packed foods. So we ate good, quality foods. On rare occasions, mostly when we had a babysitter that wasn't our grandparents, we'd go to the store and pick out a microwave dinner. Of course I usually picked something like chicken nuggets with macaroni and cheese. Most often, the "kids" meals had a dessert, too. It was so awesome!

As an adult, I had a roommate that loved microwave dinners more than anyone should ever love anything. All too often my house smelled like microwaved meats. It was pretty gross. Eventually, we parted ways, but not before I swore I'd never eat Salisbury Steak, ever, in my whole life.

Well, that didn't happen. Lately I've been struggling with cooking dinners. I'm tired of eating the same 10 meals over and over. I had picked up some ground beef on Monday night, and needed to cook it or freeze it. So, I settled on Salisbury Steak for dinner last night. I did a bit of research to figure out the best way to season the meat - I mean, I figured it would be just like meat loaf. Until I got home, and found I had no ketchup, no Worcestershire sauce, no BBQ sauce. Well then, there goes that idea! Good thing I'm pretty much a professional! I used dehydrated onion, caldo de res (beef bullion from Knorr - I know it's in Spanish, you'll actually find it in the Hispanic foods aisle at the grocery store!), black pepper, and my go to thing for pretty much everything, creamed horseradish. Frank voted for mashed potatoes instead of rice, and I had a can of corn in the pantry. And I have to admit, the mashed potatoes I made last night were probably the best I've ever made. Voila! Dinner! Frank and I both remarked how good this meal was, and how much it was like a TV dinner, right down to the corn. Except that it was nothing like a TV dinner, because it was delicious and all home made :)

Salisbury Steak with Mashed Potatoes

Salisbury Steak
1 lb lean ground beef - I'm talking 93/7 at the fattiest
2 tbsp dehydrated onion flakes
1 tsp beef bullion powder
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup creamed horseradish
1 tsp olive oil
1tsp butter

1 small onion, thinly sliced/shaved
1 tsp butter
1 1/2 cup beef broth
2 tbsp horseradish
1 tsp corn starch

Place beef, onion, beef bullion, black pepper, and horseradish in a large mixing bowl. Knead with hands to combine. Form meat mixture into 3-4 oval-shaped patties. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Cook patties about 4 minutes on each side. Once browned on both sides, remove to plate.

For gravy: Add onion and butter to skillet. Saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until onion is soft. Stir in about 1 1/4 cups hot beef broth and horseradish. Bring to simmer and dissolve cornstarch in remaining broth. Let thicken and stir into broth. Simmer about 2 minutes, then place beef patties back in skillet and let them warm, about 3 minutes. Serve with potatoes* (recipe below) and enjoy!

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

8-10 red potatoes, washed, peeled, and cut into chunks
2 tbsp chicken bullion powder or 4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk - don't use fat free - use at least 2%, I use whole milk for this
1/2 stick butter

Add potatoes to a large pot. Add enough water to cover, once pot it on stove, cook on high heat. Adding chicken bullion powder once water is warm. (if using pre-made broth, add broth first, then add enough water to cover potatoes). Stirring occasionally, cook until potatoes are tender enough to break about with a fork. Do not over cook.

Drain potatoes and return to pot. Mash potatoes using a potato masher. Add 1/2 the milk, and stir. Cut butter into small chunks and add to potatoes. Mash and stir until desired consistency is reached**. Add remaining milk and season with salt, as desired. Serve with gravy from Salisbury steak.

* If you're watching your carb intake, you can serve this with mashed cauliflower, or even yams. I am moderately watching my carbs, so I had just a small spoonful of potatoes.

**I like some chunks in my potatoes, so I use a potato masher. If you prefer no-lump potatoes, you can place your potatoes in a large bowl and use a hand mixer or an immersion blender. This is how Momma Lynn makes her potatoes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thankful Thursday: #Blessed

As I've said in the past, I get very nostalgic. One of my favorite places to get lost in thought is while driving late(ish) at night.

Last night, after Zumba*, I called Momma Lynn, as per usual. When we hung up, I turned the radio off, and got lost in thought. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I'd had one of the best streams-of-consciousness in recent memory.

It started with me thinking about a field trip to Emma Prusch Park in elementary school, where I tasted fresh butter for the first time. It ended with me thinking about all the awesome things I did while I lived in Los Angeles, and how I'm pretty fortunate to have a good, loving family.

Most importantly, during my stream last night, I thought about my husband. Today, he turns 30. He has his moments, moments of: annoyance, greatness, love, caring, loyalty, awesomeness, ridiculousness, grace, strength, irritability, weakness, fascination, and hope. But most of all, his greatest moments are the ones where all that matters is that our family is strong and surviving.

I don't use #hashtags in any facet of social media - save for Instagram - in fact, I mostly use them sarcastically via text messages with a select group of people. There's been a specific one going around that I've actually used sarcastically a few times: #Blessed.

But for this portion of my life, I actually am #Hashtag #Blessed. #HappyBirthday #MyDove!

*I take a Zumba class at PRIMETIME Martial Arts on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is also where I take a class called Fighter Fitness on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I completed one of my 30 Before 30 tasks last night: Hold a plan for 60 seconds. Since I'm more than 5 months from turning 30, it's now been changed to 90 seconds...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big Trouble In The Biggest Little City

Oh Reno... Reno, Reno, Reno.

When I was a child, my grandpa would always announce: "Here comes trouble!" when my sister and I would walk into a room. Things didn't change as I grew up... But nevertheless, one of my favorite memories from childhood is from a trip to Reno with Gramps, Uncle Jim, Aunt Julie, my cousins, Josh & Joel, Uncle John, Momma Lynn, Papa Leonard, and Colleen. I spent a lot of time with my cousins in the arcade, and there was even a joke with a whoopie cushion I'm sure none of us will ever forget.

Frank and I find ourselves amongst the filthy wealth of Reno at least twice a year. This past weekend marked our third visit of 2014. We ventured north for the Great Italian Festival. Because we're obviously not Italian enough, we had to make it a family affair, with Momma Lynn, Papa Leonard, Frank's parents - Janet & Steve, Auntie Donna, Regina, Uncle John, and Liz.

We gambled, and drank, and ate, and drank, and gambled, and ate, and drank, and gambled. We were getting pretty full and pretty drunk until, finally, we WON! For the first time in our 5 year history of travelling to Reno together, we came home with more money than we arrived with, quite a bit more, in fact. We more than doubled what we had brought to gamble.

While I love slot machines, they are so fickle, I get irritated and lose quickly. I also love Black Jack, but it's easy to get some idiot who doesn't understand that you shouldn't Hit a 14 when the dealer is showing a 3...

So we've found a new love: Pai Gow poker. A pretty simple game (once you get the hang of it), where you can sit and play with $40 for a good 2 hours. Essentially, you have a main bet ($5 minimum), and then you have a bonus bet ($1 minimum). Frank and I used to play just $1 on the bonus. Until his first hand resulted in a royal flush, and he won $100 on the bonus.

So we gambled and our winnings went up a bit more, and a bit more. Then we got smart and started betting $5 on the bonus, and wouldn't you know it, little Miss Miss over here pulls 4 of-a-kind with a $5 bonus and wins $125.  All while Frank and I pulled straights (2 to 1), trips (three of-a-kind - 3 to 1), flushes (4 to 1), and full boats (full house - 5 to 1). All resulting in $10, $15, $20, and $25 wins, respectively.

Needless to say, our pockets were heavier, despite some shopping, lots of eating, and excessive amounts of alcohol. In fact, I was so over-served on Friday night/Saturday morning at 4:30 that I thought it was necessary for me to speak Spanish with my Pai Gow dealer, Jesus, whose name tag told me he was from Guadalajara, Mexico.

In any case, thanks for the love, Reno. I'm sure Frank and I will return before the year's over.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Recipe Thursday!

Good morning! Here's something you might not know about me: I work for a local radio station in San Jose. Here's something else you might not know: On Thursday mornings at 7:30 you can hear me talk about a recipe. We call it "Foodapedia".

It started about 18 months ago, because I would always have an answer to any food/restaurant related question. So I was given the opportunity to share my knowledge with our listeners, and it's really begun to flourish. Incidentally, I also post the recipe to, and to my Foodapedia Facebook page. And now, with the creation of Flours & Diamonds, I'll be posting here, too!

But rest assured, there will be plenty of other recipes on other days of the week, too, not just Thursdays.

Spaghetti Cacio E Pepe (Spaghetti with Cheese and Pepper)

1 lb good  spaghetti - we only use De Cecco in my house, it's a long story...
4 tbsp butter
2-4 tbsp fresh cracked pepper
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese or pecorino romano

In a large pot, boil water to cook pasta. When water is at a rolling boil, add pasta. While pasta is cooking, melt butter over low-medium heat in a large skillet. Once butter is melted add pepper and saute slowly for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit.

When pasta is tender, remove from water with tongs directly to skillet with butter and pepper. Add three ladle fulls of pasta water to the skillet. Turn the heat to medium and let it simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat, top with cheese, and mix with tongs.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Something Blue

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Second only to Christmas, and the 4th of July. But beyond everything else, it's Halloween. All October long, I get myself ready. Usually, I start scheming next year's costume around November 3. This year, though, I waited quite a while and didn't fully decide on my costume until the first part of September (though I had first considered it around March).

Apart from dressing up, I love decorating. Spider webs, black rose wreaths, tomb stones, hanging skeletons, giant spiders, purple lights. Ah! Here in California Halloween typically opens the door for colder weather, hearty soups, and my favorite grandma sweater. Hint: I love Autumn almost as much as I love summer.

Frank and I live in a small apartment, so I don't really get to decorate as much as I'd like, especially inside. Fortunately, my sister has a good-size house, so I get to offer her ideas and decorations for her annual party.

I wanted to take a minute to share with you my favorite, easy indoor Halloween decoration: cut out mice to place all over your baseboards and/or staircase.

I mean, how clever is this? Of course I found it during my brief obsession with Pinterest (I have to say I would still be obsessed if it had not been blocked on my office network). In any event, here's the link to the tutorial from Martha Stewart. While she says to cut out the template and trace them on black construction paper, my recommendation is to actually print on the black paper. I promise, it makes it so much easier.

So why is this post called something blue? Well, my favorite, sharpest sewing scissors are a pair of blue Fiskars that I bought when I was taking a 3D print making class in school. And they are the only scissors I reach for when I'm crafting like this.

Happy October, Happy Fall, and almost Happy Halloween! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Something Old

First, let me thank you for visiting. I mean, really, truly, Thank you. I can't even tell you how many times I've attempted to write a blog. Whether it started as a weight loss, recipe, or general ridiculousness blog, I've started them all. And now, well, now, I'm hoping, like really hoping, like, fingers and toes crossed, pinkie promise, cross my heart and hope to die, promising that this one is going to stick.

Honestly, I even like the description of this blog the best out of all the others I've ever created. I like it because it's real. I can't tell you how often I wake up to song lyrics in my head, or wrack my brain for a recipe, or think of a witty comeback right. on. time. Ah! Success!

I describe my brain as a filing cabinet, because, well, it is. Except that unlike a real filing cabinet, I have several drawers open at once. And by several, I mean, like, 89 separate drawers. And no, they don't all close when I try to fall asleep, or focus on something for any length of time. Which might be why I've had such a difficult time keeping a blog going before.

In any case, let's get this show on the road. Something old...

I have an old soul. Well, at least I'm pretty sure I do. I savor the simpler things in life, and get nostalgic and choked up about things from the past: Sunday morning restaurant breakfasts with my family, picking up my mom for errands/shopping on Saturday mornings, just like we used to pick up her mom on Saturday mornings, reminiscing about freeze-tag and playing "Photo Drive-Up" with my sister and our neighbors.

This past Saturday I had breakfast with my family, including: Momma Lynn and Papa Leonard, my sister Colleen, Frank, Auntie Donna, Uncle John, and his girlfriend Liz. As the food was served, I started buttering my pancake when Momma Lynn caught my attention. I looked at Uncle John's plate, and I was instantly 8 years old, watching my grandpa butter his pancake, gingerly placing his over-easy eggs on top, and pouring syrup over the whole thing. Then, maybe, after he'd broken all the yolk and swirled it all around with the syrup, he'd add a healthy spoonful of apricot jam.

Uncle John repeated these steps exactly, save for the jam. I announced, rather loudly (which shouldn't shock you), "Ladies and gentleman, Jimmy Lacitignola has joined us for breakfast, everyone!" We all looked at his plate and laughed. I didn't even think much about this until several hours later when I was driving home, and honestly, I almost cried.

Maybe I felt choked-up because the last time I watched my grandpa eat his pancake like that was over 11 years ago, maybe I just missed Uncle John while he was away, or maybe it was because I hope, beyond all hope, that one day my kids will watch my dad do something ridiculous - which is pretty much everything he does - and laugh/freak out/get grossed out about it. And then, when my dad is gone, I'll sit at the breakfast table with them, and they'll remember him, and laugh.

Incidentally, if you're looking a great, homey breakfast place near Willow Glen, but not in WG, check out Café San Jose (my family calls it San Jose Café) and have some breakfast. I especially love the pancakes...