Monday, March 19, 2012

The Key

It looks just like an ordinary necklace: not too shiny, kinda small, nothing that really draws anyone's attention in.  Nonetheless, this necklace is very special to me, not for the glitz and the glamour, but for what it represents.

On my twelfth birthday, my dad asked if he could take me out on a date, which he did from time to time.  I jumped at the chance for one-on-one time, since I am one of four children and sometimes it is hard to compete for the spotlight.  I got dressed up in my church clothes, hopped into my dad's Crown Victoria, and headed to the local Chili's.  I do not remember much about dinner but I am sure it was delightful.

Once dinner was over, we got back in the car, and I was expecting dad to take me back home.  He got in and said, "I have to give you your birthday present."  He handed me a small box, wrapped with a little bow.  My heart beat with anticipation as I ripped off the paper.  Inside of the box was this necklace.  

He said, "Emilee, I am giving you this necklace as a symbol of our relationship.  This is the key to your heart, and right now, as you are my little girl, I am the keeper of this key.  You belong to me, and I love you very much.  You are not to give this love to any other boy until you are married.  Then and only then, will this key be his.  My intention as your father is to be the kind of man that you search for.  I want to be a good example of who I want you to pass this key on to.  I am not perfect and no man you find will be, but it is my job to love you the best that I can and show you the way you deserve to be treated.  Happy Birthday."

Well, naturally I could not speak an intelligible word from the knot in my throat and the tears streaming down my face, but we both knew no words were necessary.  As the years went by, I received several keys, mainly at sex talks in high school, where instead of passing out condoms, we picked out a key that was supposed to encourage us to remain abstinent.  But this key was different instead of scaring me with terrible stories of unplanned pregnancies, std's, and the consequences of unprotected sex, my father showed me love.  A pure love that led me to finding the man who was worthy of my heart.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

And Life is Colour and Warmth and Light

One thing that truly brings me joy is cooking.  I love everything about it: the tempting smells, the way flavors meld together, but I especially love making food look like you want to eat it.  I love beautiful things, and for some strange reason I feel like if I am eating beautiful food it must make me more beautiful...right?

I have caught myself getting excited over this changing in the weather, not just because it means we made it through another grueling Mississippi winter :) but it means that fresh homegrown tomatoes are on their way!  I couldn't quite wait for the tomatoes to get here, so I made a recipe to celebrate the changing of the seasons.  It is called Pasta Ponza, and I found it in my Giada at Home cookbook.  If you don't have a Giada De Laurentiis cookbook, I highly recommend picking one up or even finding some of her recipes online.  They are so easy and truly beautiful food your body wants you to eat.

First, you wash your two kinds of cherry tomatoes.  Look at how vibrant these colors are! Eek!  

Cut the tomatoes in half and place in a buttered 8x8 baking dish

Add the rinsed and drained capers, olive oil, salt, and pepper

It will look a little something like this

Next top it with 1/2 cup of Italian bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil to get that delicious, crispy crust.  Place the baking dish in a 375 degree oven for 35 minutes.

While the tomatoes are baking away, we can start on our pasta.  Put it in boiling water for about 9 minutes.

 Once the pasta is done, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water to incorporate the tomatoes into the pasta.

Strain the pasta and transfer it to a mixing bowl

Now it is time to retrieve your light, summery goodness from the oven

Pour your tomato mixture over the pasta, along with 1 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese and mix well

If your cheese has not melted in very well, here is where you add some of your reserved cooking liquid to meld the two together.  I transferred the pasta to another dish so it would look a little nicer for my sweet in laws that were coming for dinner.

Chop 1/4 cup of fresh flat leaf parsley... I know, it is a little more than 1/4 a cup, but I am thinking of making a parsley pesto later with some walnuts and Parmesan.  One thing I have learned from being recently married is the cooking never stops, so if you can get a head start on another dish you are a lucky lady.

Garnish your dish with some more Pecorino Romano cheese and voila!

Ta Da!  The finished product

But wait!

 If your significant other is anything like mine, a meal is just not a meal without meat.  As Wendy would say, "Where's the beef?"  

 So I sauteed up some of his deer sausage that we recently got back from his latest kill this winter.  I just put this as a side, but you better believe me, he mixed this right on in with his pasta.

And I paired it with some crusty, rosemary lemon bread that I had made earlier this week.  It was one beautiful and delicious meal I just had to share.

Pasta Ponza
2 cups of red cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups of yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup of capers, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp olive oil plus more for drizzling
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of pepper
1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
1 lb of ziti
1 1/4 cups of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter an 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish and set it aside.

Combine the tomatoes, capers, olive oil, salt, and pepper in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the top with the breadcrumbs and drizzle olive oil over the top.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden.  Let cool for 5 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and put your ziti in.  Let it cook for 9 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.  Put the pasta in a large mixing bowl, spoon the tomato mixture over the top.  Add 1 cup of cheese and toss well.  Thin out the sauce with some of the reserved water if needed.  Season the dish with salt and pepper and garnish with the rest of the cheese and parsley.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Beginnings

Like I said in my about me page, I am a southern girl, raised on southern principles.  I feel like the south is an enigma to the rest of the country.  It is just another world down here, and people cannot understand how we could think certain things we believe are normal.  I have one resounding phrase that pops in my mind to explain this: because my Momma told me so.

When it comes to family dynamics in the south, the mother is the very center of every equation.  "Mom, when is dinner going to be ready?" "Mom, will you iron my shirt?" "Mom, where are my keys?"  I know this sounds slightly archaic, but mom is the first person you go to if you do not know yourself.  She is the problem solver, the peace keeper, and in my family, the little engine that could.

This is my sweet mother helping me get ready on my wedding day.  In any wedding there are bumps in the road, but I never saw them phase her.  She had a solution for everything!  I thought we had made it through the wedding disaster free until it came to the thank you notes.  Now, I am not sure how it is in other parts of the country, but in the south, it is unspeakable if you do not get all of your thank you notes out within one year from your wedding date.  Or horror of all horrors, do not write them at all.  One week I decided I just needed to do them.  I do not like to brag much (wink wink), but I am good at writing thank you notes.  I mean so good that people saved the one I wrote them to show their daughters what a real thank you note looks like.  I was churning out these notes like crazy, and by the end of the week I had written my remaining notes.  I think the final count was about 175 personalized notes.  Whew!  I breathed a sigh of relief and slipped them in the mailbox.

THREE WEEKS LATER when I had not heard anything about my superb letters, I began inquiring about them.  No one had received theirs yet.  I had this knot forming in the pit of my stomach.  I called our apartment manager to see how often the mail got picked up.  I called the post office our mail man delivered to.  Nothing.  Now my dear husband decides to step in.  We walk down to where we deposit our mail and there are two boxes: one large box that says "Mail Disposal" and one teeny tiny slot with the postal service eagle next to it.  My husband says, "Wait!  What box did you put it in?"  And then it hit me... I threw away 175 stamped, addressed, and personalized letters.  

It was too much for me to process.  I sank to the curb in utter defeat.  Suddenly our mailman appears and discovers our situation.  To make matters worse, he proceeds to laugh at me and what has occurred.  By this point, my husband can see the tears welling up, and he scrapes me up off the concrete and gets me home.  As I lie on our living room floor with the tears streaming, he knows exactly what to do.  He calls my mommy.

Of course she is outraged for me.  "Who has a stinkin' trashbox by a mailbox!  That is just ridiculous!  Don't you worry about a thing.  We are going to get this taken care of.  People are just going to understand.  Do you hear me?  They are going to understand.  We are just going to call everyone.  It is going to be alright."
This all to say, one of my simple things that I find joy in, is my wonderful mother.  The reason I bring her up in this first blog is that I have realized over this past year that she has so much wisdom to share.  Some of these pearls of wisdom may sound ancient, but in a world that is constantly looking for the next new thing, it is refreshing to hear old truths that never die.