Merry Christmas Bliss

Candy Cane Fashion?

Candy Cane Fashion?

O Happy Day!

No. The house has not sold.  That would truthfully mean an ecstatic day.

What’s the deal then?  Of course:  It’s Christmas Day! And, once again, I’m lucky to spend it, with my sister and her family.

I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation to making the eleven-hour drive.  We did the same last Christmas and it turned out to be an unbearably sad and difficult visit.  Add to that, this is the first Christmas without  mother.  As difficult as life with her often was, I miss her presence on this Christmas Day.  I miss the phone call (Okay…me making the call to wish a Merry Christmas).  I miss the story of what’s cooking–or not cooking– on the stove.  I miss sharing the fact that I pulled out the hand-crank pasta machine for tortellini-making and I stuffed them with leek instead of meat.  Unbelievably, I miss mom’s tirade against Obama and his policies as well as her “…now be good girl or else I’ll give you a big bop on la tua testa.”  Yes, this is our first Christmas without this force of nature. There hasn’t been a day since she has passed that I haven’t thought about her.

With that in mind how on earth did it happen that on this Christmas we didn’t make tortellini?  It’s a first after many years! Perhaps it’s because we are still reeling.  Mom’s passing and the drama and heartache that has characterized the last five years or so has left a deep imprint on our lives.  We are exhausted from trying to make everything just right… for so many…from every angle, for so damned long.  Perhaps we simply need to take a pause….a step back…along with an impossibly long, healing breath as we reflect on the good, bad and ugly.  Then, and only then, can we truly move forward with a renewed gusto for life and all its wonderful possibilities.   Sis and I realize that the little traditions that mom inspired and required through the years will soon be extinguished if we don’t do our best to keep some of them alive now that she is gone.  Indeed, it is a necessary mission to pass along to young Alexandre-the-Greatest and…if she is willing…my daughter and her husband-to-be.

So, we make a promise to press on though perhaps, when necessary –as in tortellini-making–on a different timetable.   True,  this particular Christmas Eve was not about midnight mass, tortellini, fish for dinner, opening presents, or watching Lawrence Welk Christmas show re-runs–or Andrea Bocelli–on PBS.  Traditions cast aside, but certainly not forgotten, we mixed things up considerably this year.    Instead this holiday found us making jalapeño poppers wrapped in bacon and slathered with barbecue sauce. Bro-in-law happily toiled over a goose gumbo and sis prepared a pot of hearty chili.  Alexandre-the-greatest, five months from turning nine, the youngest chef among us, made trays of Christmas cookies… from scratch!   Opa Kurt had to have been smiling from above too.  He would have been tickled with delight over the gastronomic delights being made in my sister’s cozy kitchen.

With dogs and cats underfoot, we cooked, we drank, we toasted, we danced and we filled the kitchen with laughter over Amazon’s Alexa as we peppered her with a host of silly questions and requests.  We talked and sang, embraced and tickled.  Simply put, there was joy where there once was heart-wrenching melancholy.   Sis invited folks over for Christmas cheer and we filled our bellies with seconds and thirds of everything.  This all the while keeping our mother uppermost in our hearts; wishing things had been better…different…but above all, wishing she was healthy and still with for one more Christmas.

Oh what a merry day it is when spent in the arms of love and acceptance with family and friends.

It was a day of Merry Christmas bliss.  I sincerely hope yours was filled with comfort and joy too.




Popping into the New Year

I’m not sure I like how this year has started and I’ve got absolutely no one to blame but myself.  It started with New Years Eve.  Don’t get me wrong.  We thoroughly enjoyed an outing at our neighbors. They are terrific people and we truly had a blast, fireworks and all.   The hostess, Mrs. T., is half-Italian as well,  and though she hails from down south and I from the north, I knew we’d hit it off. Mrs. T. was born on a kitchen table (really) in a small town just outside of Bari, Italy, all the way down the Italian boot, literally at the top of its heel. So perhaps you can extrapolate just from that one bit of information that there was plenty of great food at her party. Suffice it to say that I rolled into bed at 2 a.m. New Years day with my belly rumbling mighty uncomfortably from eating too many pot-stickers, egg rolls, jalapeño poppers (yes…the very ones that I prepared), and an ample bowl of spaghetti and meatballs at midnight, just after toasting with prosecco and hugs and kisses all around. I’ll give myself credit that I was good about the sweets (I didn’t eat any) and pretty darned good about the alcohol; just two short-pour glasses of wine and one glass of prosecco-laced Limoncello, the latter of which I enjoyed immensely.

I’d like to think I am out of the woods with respect to overeating but unfortunately football season is not quite over (though to Rocket-man it may as well be since the Steelers lost a critical game last week).  The Super Bowl cannot get here soon enough!  Of course, we are on the heels of Valentines Day.  Then there’s Easter.  Oh for the love of God…..don’t get me started!

Anyhow…..I had to attend a football game party just the other day. Much as I loathe the game (and you know I do), I honestly do want to be sociable. It’s just that there will be so much food and alcohol and since I’m not into the game…and all the other folks fervently are into the game there’s really not much to do except, well….eat and drink. Socializing means something different to a bunch of football folks glued to a big-screen TV watching football; most of them simply cannot talk about anything other than football.  Moreover, they often cannot talk and watch the game at the same time (it’s more like yelling and watching the game at the same time.)  I did attempt conversation with one woman.  She was quiet nice but after three words it was all about football scores and statistics.  I want to talk about books, movies, life in general…even the price of tea in China, not football.  I know….I’m an alien-being from another planet to these football folks….and I’m proud of it!

So folks, this may be the year that I embark on a new journey: total knee replacement for both knees. To that end I must get myself into better shape before the surgery. I know that I cannot face this surgery with a lot of extra pounds. I would be almost no different from refusing to quit smoking before–and after— getting a pacemaker.  The knee doctor that I consulted with in Northern Virginia last month said I was in great shape both in terms of heart health and weight.  “You should see some of the people who come in here; you have nothing to worry about,” he said.  Still, he was forthright in emphasizing that weight management would be more important than ever after total knee replacement.

So, I’ve got to get better control of what I am putting into my body, but more importantly….how much.  I’m pretty good at eating healthy food, it’s quantity that I have the problem with.  It’s not going to be easy. That’s the conundrum; like any “addict,” it’s better to remove oneself from situations that will make one fall off the wagon. At the same time a person doesn’t want to ostracize themselves from social gatherings either.   I love food. Really. I LOVE Food. I’m half-Italian so it’s impossible to not love food. Some eat to live….Italians live to eat (and it’s not grass juices, kale and quinoa diets either).  However, with an aging metabolism (and being female to boot) it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep extra pounds off. I honestly try not to beat myself up too much about it. Even elite female athletes struggle with weight gain and changing body composition after menopause. Still, with all that is stacked against me, including wonky knees, I am determined.  I only need to lose a good 10 pounds. That’s seems entirely manageable, right?  Right.

So where was I? Ah yes…. back to food!

You wanted that jalapeño popper recipe, right? You’ve been clamoring for it in fact. (well…OK….in my head you are!). So let’s start the new year off with something other than black-eyed peas! Trust me, these poppers are O-M-G delicious and they aren’t the breaded and fried variety.  These poppers are wrapped in bacon!  Come on….who doesn’t like bacon?!  This recipe is pretty darn easy to put together although a bit time-consuming due to seeding those peppers.  And full disclosure: I happened upon this recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cookbook by Ree Drummond.  I have not seen her popular Food Network show; I don’t watch any cooking shows because I know what it would do to me!  You can peruse Ree Drummond’s award-winning website ( The Pioneer Woman)  but for me It’s enough to read through her cookbooks; they are extremely entertaining! She’s brilliant and funny. I loved reading her book Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. It’s quite the love story, chronicling her meeting and marrying her cowboy love “Marlboro Man.” Rumor has it that it’s going to be made into a movie. Anyhow, this recipe is my new favorite appetizer. No, it’s not Italian and it’s not even the healthiest of appetizers but I did make a couple healthier substitutions and it was still heavenly delicious.  So thank you Mrs. Drummond….these poppers are pure bliss and they’ve got me popping into the new year.  Let’s just make sure I don’t pop any seams as the year progresses!  That’s the plan anyway!


BBQ Poppers


18 fresh jalapeños
One 8-ounce package cream cheese (I used reduced fat cream cheese)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 green onion, sliced
18 slices thin bacon, cut into halves (I used 30% lower in sodium bacon)
Bottled barbecue sauce
Rubber gloves (or plastic bags) for working with jalapeños


Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.


Before handling those jalapeños, wear rubber gloves! Trust me on this!  Accidentally getting just a whisper of a jalapeño seed anywhere near your eyes or nose is like that pepper spray incident I suffered through some months back…only much worse).

1. Cut the jalapeños in half lengthwise. Try to keep the stems intact as they make the presentation all the more lovely.

See those seeds? HOT, HOT, HOT!

See those seeds? HOT, HOT, HOT!

2. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and light-colored membranes. Keep in mind that some like it hot…some not. The heat from this lovely pepper comes from the seeds and membranes. So if a little heat is what you’re after, leave a couple of seeds.

3. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and chopped green onion. Mix the ingredients together gently.

4. Stuff each hollowed jalapeño half with the cheese mixture.

5. Wrap bacon slices around each half, covering as much of the surface as you can.  Do not stretch the bacon too tightly around the jalapeño since the bacon will contract as it cooks.

Who doesn't like something wrapped in bacon!

Who doesn’t like something wrapped in bacon!

6. Brush the surface of the bacon with your favorite barbecue sauce. You can also use Chutney or apricot jelly…or, my idea, Raspberry Chipotle sauce.

7. Secure the jalapeños with toothpicks and pop them in the oven for one hour, or until the bacon is sizzling.

8. Serve hot or even at room temperature. Ree Drummond wasn’t wrong when she said “Watch them disappear within seconds.” She also added, “I’ve seriously caught guests stuffing these into their purses. Sometimes I have to call law enforcement.”

Naturally, experiment with different variations.  Per Ree Drummond: For a simpler version, omit the cheddar and green onion from the cream cheese. You can use Monterey Jack cheese instead of cheddar. Also, cut sliced peaches or pineapple into small bits and press them into the cream cheese before wrapping the jalapeños in bacon.


Buon Appetito and Happy New Year!