Have a Bossy Italian Christmas {Fig Cookie Recipe!}

Hey everyone, and a MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all. Can you tell how much my daughter LOVES Santa Claus? It may not seem like it, but this is a MAJOR improvement over last year.

It's been a little while, and I wanted to give you all a little update, along with a killer cookie recipe! We are all doing well in my home, and have been taking things a bit slower this school year. The focus has been on self and family, and I guess you could say we've been hunkering down.

You know what I noticed? I was so busy last year. Too busy. In fact, I was using busy to run from the hush that happens when you slow down and feel your emotions. A lot of us do that dull out the pain, but you know what also happens (besides it doesn't freaking work?) You dull out the joy too. And if it's one thing I LOVE it's JOY!

I have been taking my time to experience some real moments of inner quiet and joy, and it's got me back to the simple things in life that I relish. LIKE COOKING! I know...I haven't posted a recipe in a hot minute. But that doesn't mean I haven't been in my kitchen. I have! In fact, for Christmas Eve, my mom and I made ravioli together, 210 of those hand filled and rolled little suckers!



I am already drooling thinking about eating them...and if you're interested, you can find my posted ravioli recipes HERE and HERE. This time around, we filled our ravioli with meat and mushrooms. I always think of grandma when I make them because it was the last meal I ever made her, and a sweet shared memory for my mom and me.

I have also been baking a gosh-darn storm of cookies! Since sharing is caring, I wanted to share with you all a recipe for my family's fig cookies, called Cucidatis. My Uncle David is the cookie master in our family, but I am also becoming a good baker. I took the base of his recipe and tweaked it for my own purposes. I hope you enjoy it!


Fig Cookies "Cucidati" 

You will need:

Dough:
1 cup shortening 
1 1/2 cups sugar 
3 eggs 
Dash of salt
4 cups all purpose flour 
3.5 teaspoons baking powder 
1 tablespoon vanilla 
1/2 cup milk (or almond milk) 

Filling: 
9 oz (or a "heavy" cup) of fig spread or preserves 
3/4 cup raisins 
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
3 teaspoons sugar 
water for blending 

Icing (optional) 
2 cups powdered sugar
two teaspoons of milk or water (until you reach desired consistency) 
Sprinkles 

Method

In a mixer, cream sugar and shortening together. Add eggs, vanilla, and salt. Add the baking powder and then half the flour, slowly, so you don't throw flour around your entire living space. Mix in the remaining flour by hand. Add the milk in and continue to mix by hand. If you find the dough unworkable, or too dry, add splashes of milk until it gets there. Place your prepared dough in the refrigerator to chill at least a couple of hours, but up to overnight. 

For filling: Using a food processor, add all of your filling ingredients (except water). Blend. Add water as needed to reach a nice consistency that is somewhat like jam. 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. 

**I would like to note that there are any number of ways to fill your cookies. My mom remembers them as triangles, but frankly, our triangle ones came out looking loopy. I like them to look more like filled pockets. If you can't make sense of my directions for filling, just wing it!**

Prepare your cookies by dividing up your dough into four equal portions. Starting with the first portion, you are going to want to roll out the dough into a basic rectangle, making the dough thin. Place a line of fig filling in the center and then for over the dough to cover the filling. To cut the cookies, measure them one inch and then cut and place them on an uncreased cookie sheet. I think a pizza cutter or a dough scraper work perfectly for this! (Repeat with the remaining dough.) 

Bake in your preheated oven for about 15 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack. 

Once cooled, you can ice them, if desired, and top with sprinkles. Also notable, these cookies freeze really well!!! 

A Little Bit Raped

I was on a walk with a friend a few years ago and we were talking about our respective experiences with sexual assault. This is not an uncommon thing for women to do, I have learned, as we grow and try to process the way we feel about men, ourselves, sexuality, and raising children. The topic turned to recovery from sexual assault, and we began joking a bit to lighten the mood....

"I mean, you can't live in a wounded place," she said. 
"Yes." I agreed...we would all be so depressed all the time. 
I shrugged and said, "Besides, who hasn't been a little bit raped?" 

As crass as it may seem, the current "ME TOO" movement on social media clearly demonstrates that, in fact, most women have been "a little bit raped" and then some. After seeing everyone posting on Facebook, I was reluctant to post it because shame dies hard. I thought about all the people who might be surprised, or who might judge me. What if someone looks at me differently? 

But over the weekend, I attended Margaret Cho's "Fresh off the Bloat" tour, where she has a few jokes about rape and sexual assault. She kind of stops within the show and says that people say you can't joke about rape, but she disagrees. Because if it helps someone else who is out there, who maybe hasn't come to the place where they can tell anyone what has happened to them, then it's worth it to make that joke. I agree with her, and so I posted my "me too." 

Afterward, I cried a little. Because even after all the years that have passed and the healing I have done, admitting that even a strong, mostly self assured person like me has been the victim of sexual assault is hard. And I've had A LOT of therapy. But the stronger voice in me rang out because the bottom line is IT'S NOT MY FAULT. 

There is also something I wanted to say in the context of motherhood and childbirth that I wish that ANYONE would have told me before I had a child. If you've been the victim of any sort of sexual abuse, rape, or assault, then your likelihood of being re-traumatized by the birth experience is higher than other women. Women who suffer birth trauma (or feel traumatized by the experience of birth from this perspective) have higher instances of postpartum depression and anxiety. I wish very much that this was more talked about within the birth community because clearly, the statistics warrant the discussions. 

If you fall into this category, please seriously consider having a discussion with your doctor/midwife/ hospital/support staff so that they can give you the care, respect, and the communication that you need while you are giving birth. I didn't know that I needed to do that and I feel that as a result, I ended up with a wicked case of postpartum anxiety that I couldn't understand. And this is the bit where I think society misses the boat...

When something happens to a woman and her body without her consent, it doesn't just happen that one time. It creates a situation where she is more likely to be abused again, re-traumatized through circumstances, and her psychological health may suffer throughout her lifetime. I know that there are many women out there who haven't reported what happened to them, who haven't talked about it, and who function in a scared place. I want you to know it's okay to come out, and to come to a place where you realize that whatever has happened to you was NOT your fault. 

#MeToo 

Eat Down: 18 Days So Far!

This morning I decided to count on the calendar how many days our eat down had been, and I was astonished to count 18 days! It's been a great 18 days. Last night, my husband and I were saying how great of an eat down this has been. We've saved money, and time and we've been eating a lot of seasonal veggies.

Some points that have certainly helped our cause-- our own chicken eggs (we are getting almost 11 eggs per day now), and our garden. Lots of tomatoes have kept me in tomato sandwiches, tomato salads, and some great pasta dishes!

Some updates....we ran out of creamer last week, and I thought that was going to be the end of the eat down. BUT, instead, I tried making my own creamer out of coconut milk. For the record, it wasn't creamy enough for my taste. So when I went to my mom's house, I begged her out of her own creamer. Hahah. So we've been mixing that my homemade coconut creamer and that's been getting us by.

Today we may be hitting critical mass as we are down to two pieces of bread left and plan on hitting the beach tomorrow. I have no clue how we'll make sandwiches without bread! I had looked up some sandwich bread recipes and that looked promising until I tried to locate my bread pans, and couldn't find ANY of them. How does that even happen? Not sure how this will play out.

As for our list of dinners I made: we've improved a little. I made some changes, and I tried to keep up by writing them down and continuing to check them off. I think tonight I'm going to make the fried cod, but without the okra because we ate that two nights ago with venison steaks. OH! And speaking of venison steaks, I threw together a terrific marinade recipe that is so simple:

Mix together in a bowl: 
two tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1 teaspoon mayo
two garlic cloves, minced
two tablespoons brown sugar
two tablespoons olive oil
a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

Pour the whole thing over your meat until you are ready to grill or fry. You will not be sorry. It's amazing, and we were exclaiming "YUM" the whole time we were eating!

Pickling assorted cherry tomatoes!
It's pretty likely that by tomorrow or Monday, we will be hitting the grocery and the eat down will have officially ended. But what about this list I've been keeping of our meals? Well, I will save it and reference it to make different meals for the next cycle. Then I can look back on it for inspiration in a couple of rotations. It helps me from falling into a rut with our dinners. I'm looking forward to "eating down" again this month, and keeping this going.

I feel that the whole experience has gotten me back to basics, and honestly helped me clear my mind. As a busy mom who works from home and cooks nearly all our meals, I feel that our eat down engaged my husband more with cooking and meal planning. That has been really nice. My hubby and I even pickled some veggies together last week and that lead to us sitting around the kitchen island and just catching up with one another. It's also forced me to get creative in the kitchen like I've done in the past, and that's just been great for my soul (more on this in a future blog post.)

All in all, the great eat down of 2017 has been a tremendous gift. Not obvious, but perfect. What has been an unexpected gift in your life lately?

Eat Down, Day Nine: Ooopsie

Chicken eggs FTW
Right off the bat I feel like I have to get something off my chest....we cheated. I know, BUT, hear me out. We cheated to the tune of $4.07, but I swear to god, I have a good reason. My husband and I were both stricken with some sort of viral stomach thing. And we NEEDED chicken soup and crackers, like, desperately.

But now that we are both recovered and eating solid food again, the eat down is back on track. I am sorry to report that we are about to run out of creamer, which is my achilles heel. My husband says that us running out of creamer is my fault, which is true in two ways. The first is that I thought I bought creamer, like the half gallon size. Guess what? I didn't. The humanity.

The second way in which I am guilty is my consumption. I use SO much creamer. I like my coffee a nice shade of beige. I can't help it. I know it's gross, and I don't even care.

However, given the recent stomach virus shopping slip-up, I am vowed not to go back to the grocery and I'm going to *try* to make my own nondairy creamer out of coconut milk, vanilla, and sugar. I'll keep you posted on that. Besides the creamer, we've also run out of salad lettuce (tough I have a head of iceberg), which I am pretty bummed about because there is nothing like a good salad in summer. But we've got other in-season veggies to nosh on, so.... on ward.

A point of triumph in all this: entertaining on an eat down budget. I have to say, I didn't think of the implications when I made a big playdate with my daughter's school friends. Luckily, I made pasta salad, and our chicken eggs really came in hand for deviled eggs. Our friends brought the hot dogs, so  it all came together!

We've been literally eating everything in the house in the way of leftovers and whatever else we have, so I feel pretty accomplished already. We are just now breaking into the meat that I've bought at the store, which is pretty unbelievable. Tonight, since it's rainy and gloomy, I'm going to make oven-fried chicken. Basically the homemade version of Shake n' Bake.

What are your weekend plans? Making anything good? Are you participating alongside us in the eat down? 

Eat Down, Day Six: Hitting A Stride

We are almost a week in on our eat down, and it's going really well. There is something altogether liberating about not having to go to the grocery store amiright? We cheated a little over the weekend when we went out to celebrate a friend's birthday, but other than that we have only purchased food from our local farm stand,
barring our initial grocery shop.

Sunday night, I used the last of the mixed salad greens. So we are down to only romain lettuce. That means Cesar salads from here on out! Last night, we made a great dinner that I wanted to share with all of you: ground meat kabobs with grilled veggies. They have a  bit of a Middle Eastern influence, and they were so delicious! While putting ground meat on a kabob may not be the most obvious choice, it's totally wonderful. And you can grill it. YUM!

For my kabobs, I used ground venison, which is my go-to meat. But you can use whatever ground meat you like best from turkey to chicken or beef. Here's a fun fact: the dinner we had last night, with the exception of the rice we prepared and the onions in the tomato salad, was grown right here in Sussex County--even the herbs. This was truly a locally sourced meal!

You'll notice this recipe is rather "loose" and that's because I didn't take precise measurements on this one. But this is the sort of recipe that gives you a little play. Just use your judgement with the ingredients, and use what you have on hand--it's the "eat down" way! One final note, while you can totally make these and grill them, what I like to do is make them a couple of hours ahead and then let them sit in the fridge. I have found that they cling better to the kabob sticks this way.



Ground Meat Kabobs 
Time: 20 (ish) minutes | Makes: 5 kabobs | Difficulty: Easy 

You will need: 

1 pound ground meat (your choice) 
paprika (several dashes)
2 cloves garlic, minced 
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 
Fresh basil & parsley, chopped (I used several leaves of each) 
1 small egg 
salt & pepper, to taste

5 kabob skewers 

Method
Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Get in there with your hands and mix it well. 

Divide the meat into 5 even portions. One at a time, roll the portions into "hot dog" like shapes. Push the skewer through the meat, long ways. Repeat with each portion. I then like to pop mine in the fridge and let them rest until I am ready to cook them. 

Prepare your grill (or you can use a grill pan on the stove, on medium high heat.) Cook your kabobs about 15 minutes or until done, turning to cook evenly on all sides. 

I served mine with rice and in-seasons grilled veggies (eggplant, zucchini and squash). 

Eat Down, Day Three: Send Mushrooms

We are on day three of the eat down and I have already made a critical mistake...I didn't buy enough mushrooms. In my defense, when I went shopping for the eat down, I was recovering from the flu. So my mind was hazy. And frankly, when I bought the original mushrooms, which we ate last night, they weren't really on the list, so in a way I cheated. Well, I thought I cheated, but really I should have bought more.

To review...

We started night one with a beer can chicken. And then last night we had leftover chicken ramen bowls, which were awesome. Now, was it essential to put mushrooms in the ramen? Probably not. But they happen to be a favorite of my daughter's, so I did it. I did it, knowing full well that I would be making boeuf bourguignon sometime soon. Turned out, sooner than I thought, which was today.

So, last night my husband says, "Hey what's for dinner tomorrow?" The beauty of this system is that there is a big, wonderful list posted on the fridge of our meal options. So I said, "Pick! Your choice." I figured he would pick flatbread, which is what we generally have on Fridays...get it? "Flatbread Friday." But no. Bourgignon.

How this dish came to be on our menu at all (in the middle of the summer, no less!) is because our friends were over last week and left a bottle of wine. Now, in years past, I would have guzzled that wine like it was gatorade, but those days are, I am sorry to say, behind me. My digestive system, in a strange series of events, has turned on me... no wine. No dairy. Very little ability to process spicy food. Let's keep this between us, though, okay, I don't want the "Italian-American" police to come revoke my card.

Long story short: I can't drink the wine, but I can cook with it. This is one of my go-to recipes because it's terrific, and I ALWAYS have great cuts of venison to use in place of the beef. I practically always have all the ingredients on hand. All except--you guessed it--the mushrooms. My husband said, "Oh don't worry, I can go to the store and just buy some." Nope. Nope. That's not how this works. I told him, either a farm stand or beg someone to bring us mushrooms. Well, I guess we decided to reserve our begging to when our need was more dire....

So, as I type this, it's simmering away in my oven, smelling all kinds of crazy good, only without mushrooms. I added extra carrots, and lots and lots of pearl onions. I bought them in the frozen section, which I think has to be the best ever way to buy them because there is so little prep involved.

As for the rest of the eat down, well, I have to say that so far we are good shape. My mom brought me some wonton soup and a couple of other Chinese dishes, so this should help up our game. And tomorrow we are *kind of* cheating because we are going out to celebrate a friend's birthday. I would say we are poised, at this point, to make this thing extend well into August! 

The Great Eat Down of 2017

This summer has been flying faster than a bald eagle hopped up on 'Merican spirit. I mean, seriously, breakneck speed. And you know what that leaves? No room. No room for planning. It's all been fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, go against with the flow, etc. I'm talking POOR EATING HABITS, people! I've eaten more hotdogs this summer than I would like to admit. Also: too many small grocery trips. Which, inevitably, leads to toooooooo much spending.

Now, with most of that stress in the rearview mirror, my husband and I have made the command decision to hit the breaks, slow down and initiate an eat down. What is an eat-down you ask? It's a term that comes to us from my mother's ex-boyfriend, Bob. He was always a thrifty kind of guy, and when he wanted to save a little extra he would say, "you know, an eat-down, where you eat down all the food in the house."

Now, because we have a child and are trying to REALLY stretch this sucker out, but also not starve her or make her eat things that are too super weird. So we are doing a planned eat down. It has steps.

Step 1)- MEAL PLAN 
Hell to the yes. The first thing to go when I am busy is my meal planning, but let me tell you something, meal planning FOR. THE. WIN. It saves money, time, and headaches. So I put together an epically long meal plan....14 meals, including two crockpot meals. Notice, the ones with the stars, which are vegetarian meals. We are trying to be a wee more meat conscious.

Step 2)- Grocery Shop with coupons and list. 
So with meal plan in hand, I went to the grocery and I shopped the list. It's hard not to buy impulsively, but it is a link in the chain of success with saving money. I had my coupons, I used them, and came in at just over $100. Then, for round two in shopping, I sent my husband to the BJ's Wholesale Club, and he finished it off with items like coffee, seltzer, and bulk bananas (because, toddlers.) We are all in for under $200. 

One important note here: we set aside an additional $20 for fresh produce. Less than half a mile down the road is East View Farms, a non-GMO farm that we love. And her stuff is VERY reasonably priced! So it will be our source of fresh, in-season vegetables during our eat-down to the tune of $20. 

Step 3)- Stick to the plan and then some... 
So we 14 planned meals, and then we will enter uncharted territory. But we are hoping to last at least 15 days without another store trip. I think maybe we can make it 20. This is the challenge. We want to save money, eat well, and stretch our creative minds to eat down all (or at least most) of the food in the house for as long as we can! 

You can play along with us at home! Follow our eat-down journey. We are starting tonight with beer can chicken, using my webber poetry roaster (on the grill!). Or maybe you have some advice/word of encouragement for us as we embark on this crazy journey? I'll keep you all updated on how we are doing. So here we go: LET THE EAT DOWN BEGIN!