Una Bella Vita…

When I awoke this morning I was conscious of the fact that I was alone for the first time in over 15 years.  There was no sound of Cinder’s yawning, stretching and general head shaking to rouse me from sleep.  There was no pacing up and down the hallway, long toenails clicking away, making her morning routine sound like a tap dance.   My beautiful girl was gone.  The tears, which have been flowing freely since yesterday once again commenced.

The last year has been a roller coaster of ups and downs.  I thought last summer that Cinder had finally decided to leave me, but she’d hung on to see one more spring in Tuscany.  Next week makes four years living here.  And while it may be unusual for a Weimaraner to live to 15, I shouldn’t really be surprised.  All of my Italian neighbors seem to live well into their 90s, so it kind of makes sense that Cinder would get a couple extra years out of her retirement.  She was living with blurry vision from cataracts, had become almost completely deaf and her weakening back legs gave her a slope that resembled a German Shepherd.  And then there was the incontinence.  But she was still full of life.  And she still greeted me with amazement and delight each time I entered the house, even if I had only been gone ten minutes.  When telling my Italian friends yesterday that she had died, I used an expression that one of my friends here told me when her grandmother died: si è spenta.  Which basically means extinguished like a light or a flame.  And I think it’s an apt way of describing Cinder.  Because she really had been the essence of burning energy and light.

Our early years together were not easy.  We met in Miami where she’d been taken in by friends.  A rescue, she was an emaciated puppy, probably nine months old, all spindly legs and sporting that gaunt look famous among supermodels.  She was scared of everything, especially men.  I had more than one postman who looked on the verge of cardiac arrest when she would jump up on the screen barking.  She was full of energy and most of our walks were more like trots as I valiantly struggled to keep up with her.  She was quite horrible to my Labrador Miranda, always showing off her alpha status and making poor easy-going Miranda get off the couch or give up a toy.  It took a long time for us to establish a bond with Cinder because of this.  She moved in and definitely made her presence felt.  I haven’t had to set alarm since she entered my life.  If she was not up with the sun, she was up before it.

She went from Miami rescue, to city girl when we moved to New York.  She and Miranda, now best of friends, spent many happy years socializing in the dog park and learning how to pee curbside. She suffered the torture of me dressing her up for Halloween each year and she took on a maternal role with the other dogs that I used to walk and take care of.  Her royal bearing made many a puppy tow the line.  She loved the snow in New York and would bury her head in it like she used to do in the sands of the beaches of Miami.  We spent Sunday mornings walking off leash in wilds of Riverside Park.

And then Tuscany.   Some of my favorite reviews of At Least You’re in Tuscany have been by people who have called it a book about a girl and her dog.  I didn’t seek to include Cinder in the story as I wrote it.  It just happened naturally because she has been such a part of my life.  And I relied on her a lot especially in those first isolating moments of the first year here.  Cinder outlived boyfriends, some friendships, put up with my terrible PMS, and saw me through some of my toughest moments as well as my greatest joys.  She had a sense of comic timing and was really quite funny and expressive.   She was a cuddler even though she was big and even in the last months as her legs were getting worse, she would stand next to me, her big silky grey head on my leg as I worked on my computer.  She slept a lot in the last year.  Only the scent of roasting chicken or baking sugar cookies would rouse her immediately from her naps, which were getting longer and longer.

In the last two weeks or so I could see she was starting to really labor when walking.  Marinella once again was taking her out when I started back to work at Poliziano, and she too noted that our time was nearly up.  I resolved that when she couldn’t get up, we would say our goodbyes.  We had a beautiful afternoon together on Friday.  I took her little mat outside and we soaked up the strong Tuscan sunshine in our parking area.  We were both lizards, happily lazing and enjoying the gorgeous scents of spring.

And then Saturday morning she didn’t get me up.  I woke up anyway on schedule ready to take her out for a pee, my body now on a sleep cycle usually reserved for nursing mothers.  I heard her struggle from her bed and then saw that her legs had finally had enough.  She was shaking and breathing hard and I could tell she was scared.  I sat with her for hours, soothing her, this time resting my head on hers.  Marinella’s son Giacamo, who is our veterinarian, came to us in the late morning and we agreed that it was time to let her go.  I sat with her in my lap as she drifted off to sleep, thanking her for being such a wonderful companion for these many years and telling her it was okay to go.  Miranda was waiting for her.

So now I am here in my empty house keenly feeling her loss.  This is one chapter of my life I have been dreading to start…

One of Cinder's last pics

Cinder sunbathing while I studied for my sommelier course

New York…

Ist Christmas in NYC.  For someone reason I thought it would be cute to make the girls wear I Love New York t-shirts

1st Christmas in NYC. For some reason I thought it would be cute to make the girls wear I ♥ New York t-shirts.  They were troopers!

Our cozy apartment in the Big Apple

Our cozy apartment in the Big Apple

Cinder shows off her sexy side with feather boa...

Cinder shows off her sexy side with feather boa…

After a bath, it's best to roll in the disgusting dirt of the dog run.  Repeat until the clean smell is but a distant memory.

After a bath, it’s best to roll in the disgusting dirt of the dog run. Repeat until the clean smell is but a distant memory.

You can blame William Wegman for these next photos!!

But I don't wanna be a pirate!

But I don’t wanna be a pirate!

Super Friends!

Super Friends!

She's got nerve calling me a witch when she put me in a tutu.

She’s got nerve calling me a witch when she put me in a tutu.

Retirement in Tuscany…

First apartment in Tuscany

First apartment

Un bacio for Nan.  Our first friend from NYC to visit us in Tuscany

Un bacio for Nan. Our first friend from NYC to visit us

First snowfall that dumped almost two feet our first winter.

First snowfall that dumped almost two feet our first winter.

At Least You're in Tuscany... At Least You're in Tuscany...

Babysitting for a friend’s five children meant more costumes… At Least You’re in Tuscany… At Least You’re in Tuscany…

Addio…

A girl's best friend...

A girl’s best friend…

No Guts, No Glory!

Italy has changed me.  There was a time not so long ago when if I saw a piece of pork with a tinge of pink, I wouldn’t go near it.  And just ask my Dad how many Thanksgiving turkeys I denounced, when they arrived at the table, because I thought they were too juicy.  But now after almost four years of living here, I can happily munch a crostino con salsiccia e stracchino, basically sausage that is still pink after spending a brief time under the broiler.  What has happened to me? Did I undergo some intense therapy where I was forced to confront years of accumulated fears of trichinosis, salmonella, or E coli.  Nah, nothing so dramatic.  Instead, I have simply learned to enjoy local foods and to cook them in the traditional way they have always been prepared.  Mayonnaise with raw eggs?  Not a problem.  Carpaccio of beef?  Bring it on.

Then came Marinella’s announcement that our next recipe for our cooking lesson would be La Trippa.  Tripe.  I’ll admit, my old OCD self came roaring back urging me, “Easy tiger, let’s not go too native.”  When I mentioned to Marinella that it wasn’t a dish I was really comfortable with she replied, “Nonsense.  I am famous for my tripe, you will love it.”   Erm, ok.   In the end I agreed, but then hastened back to my house to find out a bit more about this trippa.

I’ll admit, I always thought that tripe involved the intestines of the cow, and in fact in some Spanish speaking countries, tripe does include the intestines.  But here in Italia, it’s just the stomach lining.  Whew!  For me the distinction was huge and I was able to get on board with what to many is a fabulous dish.  I made it first with Marinella and then again on my own to practice.

La Trippa di Marinella (Marinella made a huge batch, so for our purposes I cut it half… serves 4 people)

– 1 kilo of Tripe (around 2 pounds)  It will come already cleaned, but we cleaned it again with hot water and lemon.  When I did it on my own, I rinsed it two times.  You can buy the tripe already cut (which I did), or you can get the disgusting looking piece of stomach and cut it yourself into strips like Marinella did!

– 1 yellow onion

– 1 carrot

-1 celery stalk

-1 handful of parsley

-3 cloves of garlic

– small pieces of peperoncino (ATTENZIONE….  When I did the dish on my own I put way too much red pepper.  You can’t undo it once it’s in.  So I’d put one or two and then add more if it’s not spicy enough. )

– 5 whole cloves

– Medium can of peeled whole tomatoes that you have pureed.  (Marinella uses her food processor but I just did with a hand mixer.)

Chop the vegetables in a food processor  and then saute in heated olive oil.  Just eyeball the oil, should coat the bottom of your pot.  When the vegetables are softened…Marinella made me smell the aroma of when they were just right, but if you cook them until they are softened, you will be good to go.  Then add the cloves and the red pepper.

The next step is adding the tripe.  Slowly add to the vegetables and stir.  Add a generous amount of salt at this point and then you are a going to leave it partially covered on a low flame for almost two hours, basically until the water drains out of the tripe and then is reabsorbed.

After the two hours and the tripe has reabsorbed the water, you add the pureed tomato.  Then add enough hot water to cover.  Salt again.

You then let it cook slowly on a low flame for 4-5 hours.  You’ll know it’s done because you’ll see the oil rise to the top.

Now, I made of couple of mistakes, the first being the red pepper.  The second was that too compensate I added some more water so it took longer to cook it down.

So did I like it??  Marinella’s was obviously very tasty, but there is something about the consistency of the tripe that doesn’t work for me.  I like the sauce that it makes.  But I would not make it if I was cooking just for me.  That being said,  I did make it so that I could share the recipe with you guys.  Selfless, right?  And then I rounded up some friends to fare la cavia and try it.   I discovered that la trippa is not universally adored here either.  People either love it or leave it.

I brought my finished product to Marinella for a verdict, even though I knew it was too spicy.  “The perfume is perfect,” she told me.  “The taste is spot on…. except that it is troppo piccante!”  She told me to bring it to my guinea pig friends only if they loved spicy foods.  Granted one is a fire fighter so I thought he could probably handle it, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to serve a dish that wasn’t just right.  My poor friend, Marco, wasn’t so lucky.  I gave him some last night before the verdict and he agreed to try it spice and all!  No word from him today and one assumes he is in the emergency room with a burned palate!
On the plus side, the baguettes that I made to serve with la trippa are just lovely!

Making Tripe with Marinella

the washed tripe, ready for cooking...

the washed tripe, ready for cooking…

cooking the vegetables, and adding the spice.

cooking the vegetables, and adding the spice.

Here's what it looks like after the first 2 hour cooking time

Here’s what it looks like after the first 2 hour cooking time

after adding the tomatoes and water, this is what it will look like at the end of the 4 or 5 hours.

after adding the tomatoes and water, this is what it will look like at the end of the 4 or 5 hours.

Here's what mine looked like at the end, you can see it was a little too soupy.

Here’s what mine looked like at the end, you can see it was a little too soupy.

Marinella's trippa...

Marinella’s trippa…

Fatto a mano…

Now that we are in March, spring feels close enough to taste!  A few warm days last week had me hightailing it to my spot in the parking area with Cinder.  I replenished my vitamin D with some sunshine on my face as I dutifully read my sommelier course homework, while Cinder paced around, sniffing all the new intriguing odors that had accumulated over the winter.  I wish I had her nose for my course.  The reward for wading through 100 page chapters each week on viticoltura and enologia is that we get to taste four wines at the end of class and are learning how to correctly describe them.  My nose definitely needs more training because while I can usually identify red fruit or sometimes a rose, I am not one of the star pupils who eagerly calls out “plums,” “liquorice,” “sour cherries”, or my personal favorite “a hint of violet.”  WTF?  Are these people messing with me?  Only after the instructor tells us what we should be smelling, can I sometimes catch a whiff.

The good news is that soon I will be back at work at Poliziano and able to show off all my fancy new wine knowledge to loads of unsuspecting tourists.  In the meantime, I am writing, teaching English, and learning some Tuscan recipes.  Those of you who have been following my adventures know that my neighbor Marinella has been like a mom to me here.  Not only does she take care of Cinder when I am working, she is quick to chastise me if I go out with my hair wet, but then will later stop by with some of her homemade pasta and ragù.  She happily recites recipes for me when I need one, but what I really wanted was to see her in action in the kitchen.  Because so many people have been writing to tell me how much they enjoyed At Least You’re in Tuscany and wanting to know when the next installment is coming, I decided that I really wanted the next chapter of my life here to be about my “becoming Italian.”  And a big part of that includes cooking the local foods.  Marinella, who seemed quite pleased with her part in the first book, has eagerly embraced her role as teacher.  We started with ribollita which is my favorite Tuscan bean soup and then this week we moved on to pasta.  We spent an afternoon making pici and tagliatellea mano.  By Hand.  Or as my colleague Fabio at Poliziano continues to say even after I’ve corrected him twenty times, “by hands.”  As he reasonably pointed out, it’s better if you use two!

I made this tagliatelle recipe with Marinella on the weekend, and then this morning I did it on my own so I could  “fare practica” as Marinella said.  To practice.

Marinella’s Tagliatelle:

4 eggs (basically 1 egg per person is the rule) so this feeds 4

Salt, a little bit of olive oil

Flour (she used 00 and I did too) (she does it by sight, but it’s roughly about a cup of flour for every egg)

Mix eggs, salt, and oil in a bowl.  Add flour.  (If you are fancy and want to do the flour well and put your eggs inside and mix that way, feel free.  Marinella said she doesn’t enjoy the stress of the eggs escaping the flour so she does it in the bowl.)

Basically continue to add flour until it comes together to form a ball.  She does it by sight and I did too. When it is together, knead on floured board until it is pliable and no longer sticky.  Let rest 5 minutes.

Roll out the dough thinly on a large lightly floured surface.  The pastry board they use to roll out the pasta is called a spianatoia  and the rolling pin a matterello.  The rolling pin is really really long and allows you to drape the dough over the pin, while you are rolling it out.  This part of the process takes a a bit of time to get the dough really thin.  The dough is quite elastic and so is easy to move around as you work.  After you get it very thin, you need to let it dry.  I yelled to Marinella out my window to come over and check on my work and she was quite pleased and said it was the perfect thickness.  I could tell she was proud because she even gave me a hug and a kiss, which she doesn’t often do.  Usually you leave the sheet of pasta to dry for about a half an hour, but because it’s really humid today, I left it an hour.  (Make sure while it’s drying that if you have an inquisitive aging weimaraner you keep it out of their reach.)

The last step is to fold it and cut it.  I folded it in on itself twice and then doubled it over.  There are many ways to do this and you can watch online if you want to see some variations.  Then you cut it.  When Marinella cut it she cut the strips rather wide because that’s how her husband likes them and I followed her lead.  But really the wider variation is called pappardelle, not tagliatelle.  Same yumminess, different width!

So after you cut your pasta and unfold each piece, you can put them in a bit of flour to keep them from sticking.  Best to eat the same day (with a tasty ragù) or make into nests and pop in the freezer.  If you leave it in the fridge, it will become a clumpy mess as I discovered with the pici.

Cook in Boiling water for about 6 minutes.  Doesn’t take long and if you cut them thinner they will take even less time. I called my friend Valerio to be my guinea pig and he obligingly took some home to try.  I await the verdict, but I had it for lunch and it was pretty darn good.  I froze the rest.

Buon appetito!

This is my homemade vanilla that I started in December... basically the recipe is vodka with vanilla beans.  I made A LOT because I cannot find vanilla here! I just used it for the first time and it's great.

Since we’re talking about fatto a mano, this is my homemade vanilla that I started in December… basically the recipe is vodka with vanilla beans. I made A LOT because I cannot find vanilla extract here! It needs a bit more time but I  just used it and it’s great.

Marinella rolling out the dough for tagliatelle

Marinella rolling out the dough for tagliatelle

IMG_2639

It gets really big!

Cutting the pasta into strips...

Cutting the pasta into strips…

Tagliatelle!

Tagliatelle!

My attempt today on my own…

Preparing my "tools" -- My pastry board needed to be bleached first because of the mold in my kitchen.  The authentic Tuscan matterello was a gift from Marinella and is now one of my treasured possessions.

Preparing my “tools” — My pastry board needed to be cleaned with bleach due to a mold issue from where it had been stored in my kitchen. The authentic Tuscan matterello was a gift from Marinella and is now one of my treasured possessions.

So far so good...

So far so good…

Marinella taught me that if you wrap the dough around the pin and drag it toward you, it helps roll it out.  And is just looks cool!

Marinella taught me that if you wrap the dough around the pin and drag and press it toward you, it helps roll it out. And it also just looks cool!

Letting it dry after achieving desired thinness.

Letting it dry after achieving desired thinness.

My strips couldn't decide if they wanted to be tagliatelle or pappardelle.

My strips couldn’t decide if they wanted to be tagliatelle or pappardelle.

Looks good to me!!!

Looks good to me!!!

My friend Valerio who owns our local pet store agrees to give my pasta a try....No pressure!

My friend Valerio who owns our local pet store agrees to give my pasta a try….No pressure!

Tagliatelle with Marinella's ragù di capriolo and my friend Marco's wine.

Tagliatelle with Marinella’s ragù di capriolo and my friend Marco Barbi’s wine. Delish!!

A Study in Vino…

This morning, as a weak sunshine melts away the remaining bits of snow from yesterday’s brief snowfall, I find my spirits much improved.  And it’s about time!  The past month has been fairly miserable.  First the flu, then a hacking cough that still stubbornly refuses to leave completely.  My Italian friends are, of course, quite worried because if there is one thing they do well here, it’s illness.  I have been given advice on every home remedy concoction you can think of to help my cold.  The standard, and my personal favorite, is hot water, lemon juice and honey.  This morning as I went to buy more lemons, my fruit lady, Franca, pulled out some eucalyptus honey, saying it would do the trick.  I obligingly added it to the pile of blood oranges for juicing my spremuta.  We shared a conspiratorial laugh when I told her I liked to add a healthy shot of vin santo to my lemon, honey cure!  That’s just good sense.

Some of you know of my passion for wine and that my day job during the season is slinging said vino at the winery, Poliziano.  I have been wanting to do the Sommelier course for a while now.  First so I will be more knowledgeable on my tours of the cantina,  and also so that when I have to do tastings with professionals, which sometimes happens, that I don’t go into meltdown panic.  But really, any class where a major course component is drinking wine…well, you had me at vino!

Finally this winter FISAR is offering the course here in town.  Last week they gave the presentation and over forty people showed up which was way more than they anticipated apparently since they had only six applications.  Last night was our first lesson.  The Consortium of Vino Nobile in Piazza Grande has offered the space for our lessons but due to some scheduling snafu, someone forgot to turn on the heat.  Picture a centuries old, stone palazzo with a room that has been left unheated all winter.  We eagerly handed over our euros for the opportunity to sit huddled in our down jackets trying to concentrate on the overview being presented.  I chose a spot near the back, looking like a consumptive as I coughed delicately into my tissues.  Since I am still congested, I was quite fortunate that the only tasting we did last night was a toast with some prosecco at the end of class.  “The temperature of the room is perfect for spumante,” our teacher joked.  By that point, no one was laughing and we couldn’t feel our feet.

We all received course books and fancy bags with our tasting glasses, corkscrews, and other gear that will make us look professional as we embark on this adventure.  One of my colleagues at Poliziano is also doing the course and when they showed us the proper way to hold and open the bottle without moving it, we looked at each other and laughed.  Our methods to date have been much more haphazard!

But for me, the best part of last night was that I actually understood everything that the energetic instructor was saying.  I was so pleased I wanted to stand up and announce it to everyone.  The Americana understands!  Finally, after almost four years of living here, my comprehension is at a level that I can take a class in Italian.  Of course, there is also the little matter of the exam at the end but I’ll jump off that bridge when I come to it….

Salute!

The presentation of the Sommelier course.

The presentation of the F.I.S.A.R. Sommelier course.

Janet, forgetting that we are in Italy, insisted that we get to class 20 minutes early...

Janet, forgetting that we are in Italy, insisted that we get to class 20 minutes early…

They might make a professional out of me yet...

They might make a professional out of me yet…

La Befana….

Happy New Year!  Tanti Auguri.   I didn’t quite get my act together to post anything for the New Year, but since today is the last day of the holiday season in Italy, I think technically it still counts.  La Befana visited last night.  Well, not my house, but I have it on good authority that she was spotted on her broomstick.  The Italian tradition of the Befana is linked to the Epiphany and while there are various legends about her, the one I like best is that the Three Wise Men stopped at her house to ask for directions on their way to find the baby Jesus.  She was an exceptional housekeeper apparently.  There are other slightly darker variations on this theme but I like this one because it’s evidence that men did at one time stop for directions!  Anyway, La Befana visits the children on the eve of the Epiphany and leaves either coal or some little treat.  After this final day of celebrating, Christmas decorations will come down, grocery carts will be laden with healthy veggies as people cheerfully grumble that they are starting their dieta, and everyone will attempt to get back into work mode.

I got back into the swing of things this week.  Not at Poliziano– I won’t be back there until April (although I did work one day  New Year’s Eve weekend because Fabio had some bookings).  Instead, I have some new students coming on board, which is a help during these lean winter months.  So teaching English and my own writing are now occupying most of my time– a bit of a harsh transition after a December of watching holiday films nonstop, but it feels good to have the synapses firing again.  As much as I love the holidays, I also love the austerity of January where you can visit someone without having to weakly protest as they pull out all types of chocolates and treats to tempt you with a glass of wine or afternoon tea.

Today is sunny and crisp, so I am going to head out with the old girl and get a bit of a walk in.  Cinder, who has been sleeping nonstop, for some reason has become sprightly in these last few days, and this morning actually trotted down the street.  It’s like she knows its January and time to get the holiday kilos off.  Can’t argue with that!

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2013!!!

New Year's Eve at Charles and Peter's  house

New Year’s Eve at Charles and Peter’s house – Charles’s new oven was put through its paces with our huge turkey!

My gorgeous lemon meringue pie went into meltdown and by dessert I served a fluffly yellow soup that seemed very "Bridget Jones"

My gorgeous lemon meringue pie went into meltdown and by dessert I served a fluffy yellow soup that seemed very “Bridget Jones”

Italian friend, Vanda got into the spirit of the Christmas crackers and even wore her crown.  When we attempted these at Anna's house for Christmas Eve dinner one was set on fire by a candle!

Italian friend, Vanda, got into the spirit of the Christmas crackers and even wore her crown. When we attempted these at Anna’s house for Christmas Eve dinner one was set on fire by a candle!  It may be a while before this tradition takes hold here…

‘Tis the Season…

Despite a few snowflakes in the air and beautiful Christmas window displays in town, I was a little late getting into the holiday spirit this year.  But once I secured my little potted Christmas tree from a local nursery and adorned it with my memories of Christmases past, I began to feel festive.  Add to that a huge dose of sappy holiday movies and I have even been caught humming a few carols around town.  I have started the holiday baking, eight loaves of banana bread yesterday and a bunch of sugar cookies, but am now at a standstill because I am out of vanilla.  Friends Gill and Adrian brought me a supply during the summer, but I used the last drops yesterday.  Finding vanilla extract here is kind of like searching for Brigadoon–it rises out of the mists of the supermarket very very infrequently.  I am undertaking to make my own from a recipe that I have sussed out online, and it seems an easy enough project…but it takes about two months for the vanilla beans to work their magic.  Will keep you posted on that.  In the meantime, I need a quick solution…

Last Sunday Janet and I (but really mostly Janet) hosted a small holiday drinks party.  Janet was searching for a way to keep busy after Ken’s death and we both liked the idea of getting together with good friends to toast the holidays.  Drinks parties aren’t really done here so we weren’t sure if our Italian invitees would come, but come they did.  (Only a few of them were able to open my ecard invite, stymied by the english instructions to “click on the envelope” to read it.  Janet followed up with phone calls once we realized the problem.)

We had about 20 guests, a nice mix of expats and Italians and everyone seemed to enjoy the food and the company.  We made mostly finger foods that were more American and Australian than Italian and hoped that our Italian friends would try everything.  They did and raved about all of the bite-sized quiches, meatballs, crab cakes and sausage rolls.  I took a chance on making eggnog, which was a virtual unknown here, and that too was a big hit.  Spiked with a Scottish whiskey it was thick and creamy with a nice dash of nutmeg.  The only disconcerting thing was that the Italian egg yolks are so orange that you could see little specks in the drink.  I stirred it vigorously and jealously guarded the list of ingredients until everyone had tried it and liked it!

This week will bring more baking and then next week is Christmas.  I am spending my Christmas Eve with Anna’s family again at Polizano.  She has asked me to bring the onion dip that I made for the party.  It’s an Ina Garten recipe and is kind of reminiscent of the Lipton onion soup dip we used to roll out for Superbowl parties, but oh so much better!  Christmas Day will again be spent with Marinella’s family and I am already mentally preparing for the three hour feeding frenzy.  It’s an amazing lunch with tons of courses, all  wonderful.  Really looking forward to that!  Christmas evening will be spent with Cinder Winifred who is still hanging in there, although sleeping most of the day.  She did rouse herself for sugar cookie dough scraps the other day and cheerfully performed clean up duty.

I hope everyone has a safe and healthy holiday and that you are spending time with your loved ones.

Buon Natale!!! and Merry Christmas!!!!

My little Christmas tree...

My little Christmas tree…

My very first Italian Christmas tree from four years ago...it spends the off season in Marinella's garden

My very first Italian Christmas tree from four years ago…it spends the off season in Marinella’s garden

Sugar cookies for everyone...

Sugar cookies for everyone…

I was pretty proud of my crudité creation...

I was pretty proud of my crudité creation…

Desserts included Janet's famous mince pies

Desserts included Janet’s famous mince pies

IMG_2511

Hostess Janet with Anna who was a fan of the eggnog!

Andrea bravely sampling a crab cake... Si, polpa di granchio!

Andrea bravely sampling a crab cake… Si, polpa di granchio!