COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I think of all the classes I have taught over the years the one’s that have been the most popular and the most well attended have been the ones that were themed on cooking ahead or bulk cooking. With school starting and everyone with busy schedules, it gets difficult sometimes to find time to prepare dinner and then get everyone around the dinner table to share a meal. But we all know that those precious times of sharing the family meal provides an avenue of communication that can’t be replaced. So for those of you having a difficult time scheduling the shopping, preparation and meals, I hope these next few weeks will help you find a way to spend that irreplaceable quality time with your family and not go through drive thru to do it.

The first step is to decide what you actually need to accomplish. Do you need help at breakfast, with lunch, with dinner, or with all of these. What does an average meal consist of for your family? A protein, a vegetable, a salad and a desert? What types of protein will your family eat? Most families have favorites. Whether it’s casseroles, BBQ, your favorite recipe that you’ve fixed a million times and they eat every last bite of it every time. Those are the recipes you want to pull out first, and start to build your menu around. From those base recipes, I will try to help you find some others that have been popular over the years and are family friendly.  In future blogs, we will talk about recipes that more palate specific to individual likes rather than across the board.

Then the next thing to work on is make a menu based on how many nights (days, lunch’s, breakfasts,) you will be trying to prepare food for. This is all going to have to be based on freezer space but also on how much time you realistically have to cook the items.  So plan accordingly. If you only have a small overhead freezer on your refrigerator, clean it out, get rid of the things you have in bags that are “surprise” leftovers, (yes, we all have them-the things we are sure we will remember what they are, and that we don’t need to label, and after a month get pushed to the back and forgotten, only to be discovered, and they become the “OH MY GOSH, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?” surprise leftovers. We are all guilty of it.

I am going to show you a sample 5 day menu. I say 5 days because most families have activities at least 2 nights, or just enjoy eating away from home a couple nights a week or will clean up leftovers.
Notice that there are numbers and notes after each main item, we will discuss this below.

 MONDAY –            CHICKEN TENDERS —–#1-Bread, freeze, but will not cook until dinner

                                   HASH BROWN CASSEROLE —–#2-Combine, will not cook until dinner

TUESDAY               BAR-B-QUE PORK SANDWICHES ——#3-Pressure cooker, crockpot or oven
                                  BAKED BEANS——#4-Partially prepare (onions) and finish at dinner
WEDNESDAY       SALISBURY STEAKS——#5-Stovetop
                                  MASHED POTATOES—–#6–Stovetop
THURSDAY           FISH FINGERS——#7-Bread, freeze, but will not cook until dinner
                                  BROCCOLI RICE CASSEROLE—–#8-Stovetop, oven at dinner

FRIDAY                   STUFFED SHELLS—–#9-Stovetop, finish in oven at dinner                                    
                                  BREAD STICKS—–#10-Prep.only, no cooking until dinner
BREAKFAST BURRITOS – #11-Stovetop— 
Let’s take a minute and look at the above menu.  Let’s assume starting from the top to the bottom these are numbered one through 10  and the Burritos are a stand alone but numbered  recipe 11.  One thing to try to accomplish when you plan a menu is taking advantage of more than one heat source, meaning something cooking on the  stove top, items that can be fixed partially and not cooked at all but are prepared so that you have a very quick preparation on the day you set aside for your cooking, and that you will  finish the item with minimal effort at the selected dinner time.  We need items that will be cooking in oven, items that can cook in the crockpot, items that can cook in the pressure cooker.  That way you can have more than one entrée being prepared at a time.
Look at which items take the longest to cook.  Which items have multiple steps, such as #9, the shells have to be par-boiled before
you can begin to stuff them.  The pot must be put on to boil the water, which will take some time.  Each recipe has steps, and by analyzing these steps, you can make the cooking day go much faster.  Each week for the next 5 weeks, I will put up a couple  recipes from the above menu and we will discuss how to prepare it, how to analyze it, what steps to take to execute the recipe in as short a length of time as possible.  Then on the last week, we will discuss how to put it all together, making a grocery list, and then hopefully you will have substituted some of the above with your favorite recipes, and you will be ready to spend a day in the kitchen that will give you many free nights in the future. You will have to convert them to the number of servings appropriate for your family.
Italian Style Breaded Chicken Tenderloins   #1
Serves 4
1# Chicken Tenderloins, rinsed, patted dry
2 Cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 Cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, fine ground
1 Cup Regular Flour
3 Eggs, beaten 3 tbsp. water
Other items you will need, parchment paper, baking sheet, freezer bags, plastic wrap, 4 shallow pans, 1 fork
Rinse and pat dry the chicken tenderloins.  If they have a tendon on one end, cut it off.  Combine the grated cheese and the flavored bread crumbs in one of the shallow pans (if you cannot find flavored bread crumbs, make your own by adding your favorite Italian Seasoning mix to plain bread crumbs).  Place the regular all purpose flour in one of the pans.  Crack the eggs and place them in one of the pans, then beat them with 3 tbsp. water.  Place the pans in a line with the all purpose flour closest to you, then egg wash, then bread crumb mix.  Then have a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper at the end.  Dip each chicken tender first in the flour, spanking any excess flour off with your hand, then into the egg,coating well, lift up and let it drain, then into the bread crumbs.  Press down to help the crumbs adhere to the chicken tenders.  Lay them out on the baking sheet, and continue until you are finished.  Cover lightly with a top layer of parchment.  Wrap all around with plastic wrap, and freeze overnight until firm.  Once firm, remove from baking sheet and carefully place in a plastic bag separating layers by parchment paper or put in a square container with a tight fitting lid, and also separate with layers of parchment paper.  Label.
Hash Brown Casserole  #2
Serves 4-6
Bake in preheated oven on 375 for 45 minutes, cover last 30
1 Package Frozen Shredded Hash Brown Potatoes
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 onion finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, fresh, washed, minced
5 3/8 oz. can Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/4 Cheddar Cheese, grated
1/2 Cup Sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
Topping: 3/4 corn flakes, 2 tbsp butter melted,  2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
non-stick spray
4×8 casserole dish
Mix hash browns, sour cream, 4 tbsp. melted butter, shredded cheddar cheese, minced parsley, soup and onions together.  Spray a 4×8 casserole dish with non-stick spray.  Pour mixture into casserole dish.
Melt remaining 2 tbsp. butter,  add cornflakes and remaining 2 tbsp parsley.  Mix well, remove from pan and cool.  Place topping in a plastic bag to cool.
Place plastic wrap directly on top of the casserole so no air can penetrate it.  Add bag of topping.  Cover with foil or a lid. Label.
Barbecue Pork or Beef  #3
Serves 4
Reheat oven or microwave on low heat cycle
2 Pounds Beef Chuck Roast or Pork Roast
Salt and pepper to taste.
Dry BBQ rub is desired.
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Onion, cubed
16 oz. Your favorite BarBQue Sauce
1 Pressure Cooker
or 1 Roaster and your oven
Trim the roast and cut into 4 inch cubes if using a pressure cooker.  If using a roaster, cut the meat into 2 inch cubes.    Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown he meat cubes, taking care not to crown the pan.  Do as many as your skillet will hold but leave ample room for the meat to fry.  If you over crowd it the meat will steam, not brown.  Remove the browned meat as you go and add them to the roaster or pressure cooker.  If using a roaster, preheat the oven to 300.  Add enough stock to come about half way up on the meat.  This will prevent the meat from drying out during cooking.  Add the cubed onion.  Lay a piece of parchment paper that has been cut to fit the inside diameter of the roaster right down on top of the meat.  Cover and bake in the oven until meat is very tender, about 60 minutes.  Check for tenderness.  Remove the meat and the onion (discard the onion) and from the stock at the end of the cooking time.  Put the stock on the stovetop, bring it to a boil, and reduce it down to about a 1/2 cup or less.  Shred the meat with two forks, cool.  Add the BBQ sauce to the reduced stock and cool.  Mix the stock and meat together. Containerize, placing plastic wrap directly down on the meat so there will be not air contact.  Label.
If you are using a pressure cooker, follow the manufacturers directions, mine on high pressure, will cook in about 20 minutes.  The process for reducing the stock is the same,  And from there on it is the same.
BAKED BEANS #4
Serves 4
Bake on 400 when serving until hot
2 16 oz. cans baked beans
1 Onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 sliced bacon, diced
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 cup your favorite Barbecue Sauce
1 tsp. yellow mustard
Add all ingredients together.  Place in container.  Cover with plastic wrap directly on the beans.  Then either place a lid on the beans, or cover with foil.  Label.
There are two of the five days to look at.  If you find recipes of yours for any of the five days and want to replace or change something, feel free to do so.  Next week we will finish the other three days recipes and then start working on the grocery list and the best way to tackle preparation of these this in one day.  In the mean time, if you are cooking something for an evening meal that you think will freeze well, why not make two.  Don’t completely cook it.  And be sure to add the layer of plastic wrap to help prevent freezer burn.  AND LABEL IT.
Talk to you next week.  Happy cooking.  By the way, had a wonderful lunch at Jasper’s Restaurant this week.  What a great host and Chef Jasper is.  He treated myself and my guest Francesca Scilla from Italy to a wonderful lunch.  He and his staff and food are simply the best.  If you haven’t treated yourself to Jasper’s yet you just don’t know what you are missing.

SUNDAY BREAKFAST. A HAPPY WAY TO START THE WEEK.

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I love to enjoy Sunday morning, just moving slow, reading the paper, making breakfast, enjoying the fact that I don’t have any other schedule than enjoying being with my sweetie and our cats. Hopefully the weather is nice and we can sit out on the deck and enjoy our coffee and eat our breakfast too.

The collaboration of deciding what to cook is usually determined by what is in the refrigerator. If one of us happens to purchase a special item that we want to fix, then that is the center of the meal. Otherwise, the star is what happens to thaw, be in the refrigerator already from a prior meal in the not too distant past, and whatever is on hand that lends itself to a quick saute’ and finish in the oven. This hash recipe was born out of exploration of my pantry and refrigerator. I often fix this, it is so tasty, and it can be changed to include/exclude what you want or have available. I always have white potatoes. I always have some type cheese, ham or some type sausage, (Italian usually, and it’s one of my favorites in this). Add to that any or all of the following—potato, meat, bell pepper, fresh spinach, cherry tomato, onion, garlic, shredded cheese, artichokes, mushrooms and avocado – add the avocado just before serving.

First thing to remember, get all your ingredients ready before you start to cook the hash, and when you dice the ingredients, cut them all the same size (except the onion and garlic). By cutting all of them the same size, they will be added by which ones need to cook the longest, such as the potato, and mushrooms. Then the bell pepper, meat, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, etc., and finally, top with the cheese at the end. Just before serving, top with avocado wedges. YUM YUM.

You can see from the pictures that I was really lucky and had both Italian Sausage and ham on Sunday. So the ham went in the potato hash, and I fried the Italian Sausage. I usually cook the Italian Sausage in a pan- just add a little water and cook until it is evaporated, then brown it and then check to make sure it is completely cooked through. Par boil the potatoes for a few minutes, really cuts the cooking time in the skillet, and you can do that while you get all the other ingredients ready for your hash.

The other delightful surprise on Sunday is to add almonds, pecans, pepitas, cranberries, and any other favorite nuts that you like to your pancakes when you mix them. What a tasty crunch that will make. You won’t believe how good that is.

Well school is starting, how about a few weeks of cooking ahead recipes and a few how to tips? Would that be something that would interest anyone? Let me know if you would like a few tips from Chef Norma. Be glad to make a few blogs on it.

YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO BELIEVE WHO WAS IN MY BIRD BATH

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I promised you last week I would show you the visitor we have been having under our bird feeder and now at our bird bath. I guess no one told this young lady that she is a little large to be sharing the drinking fountain with the rest of the little birds, so up she jumps, and there she stands until she is through drinking. I don’t live in the country. But there are days when I have to shake my head to be sure I am seeing correctly. It doesn’t seem to even bother her when my husband goes out to fill the feeders. She just wanders off a little into the tree line, waits for him to fill the feeders and spread extra sun flower seeds on the ground from the “magic” bucket. As soon as he gets no more than three feet towards the house she is back out of the trees and happily eating and scratching away.

For the second year a finch built a nest under our upper deck in the spring. The nest had two tiny eggs in it. I am amazed that they can get under the screening because it is pretty tightly screened to protect the deck above it from bugs. But momma managed it. She squeezes in between the wall and the screen frame. Well today I heard two birds just carrying on like something was really distressing them. I opened the door on the upper deck, went outside and could see two finch’s in the trees dancing around, flitting from branch to branch, onto the fence, off the fence back to the tree, onto the ground, darting under the pine tree. I was pretty sure the babies had left the nest beneath me. I would have loved to have peeked between the boards on the deck, but mother finch managed to tuck that nest into the only corner that isn’t visible looking down through the boards. I went downstairs and peeked out the door and there they were. Two little guys flitting back and forth frantically between the porch floor and the screen. Mom was trying to get them to squeeze through the same little opening she used and they just couldn’t figure it out. There is a ceiling fan (not running of course) right below them, and she flys up and sits on one of the blades and coaxes them and instructs them for all she’s worth. No luck. They aren’t budging. Last year she had 5 babies in the same spot. The screen sections are quite large and are on hinges so they can be dropped down and be cleaned in case something gets dropped through the floor cracks above. Last year the only way to get so many baby birds out was to lower one of the screens. But I didn’t want to scare these two little guys and I still had hope mom could PEEP them out. An hour later after watching them frantically run and flitter the length on the porch between the boards , I gave up and got the ladder. But rather than completely drop the screen down I was able to force one corner near the nest to hang down about 4 inches. It seemed safer to me and apparently mom was ok with it too. As soon as I went back into the house she was back on the fan blade talking to them again. I watched for a long time from a window in another room. One of the little guys went to the edge, looked down, backed up as if to say “That is a looong way down if my little wings and feathers don’t work” ..sat down. After what felt like an eternity to me, I gave up and went about my business.

I am happy to say though, when next I checked the little pilots had flown the nest and successfully landed I hope in the blue spruce tree.

It has amazed me at how much my eyes have seen, how much my ears hear, and most of all, how much my heart has been blessed now that I take time to look at the beauty God has given us. This world is so beautiful in so many simply things. I wish all people could free baby birds instead of fighting with their neighbors. Peace would be so wonderful for all the children of the world………….

I spent so much time with the birds today we had a wonderful salad for dinner with shrimp, sliced steak, egg, blueberries, peaches, carrots, cucumber and tomatoes. It was wonderful and just right.

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THE FIGHT OF THE BLUMBLE BLEES

I am still harvesting herbs, trying to think of a million ways to preserve them short of hanging them from the ceiling in every room in the house. I just hate to think of any of them going to waste. So I freeze them, make pesto out of them, give them to the unsuspecting neighbors. I am even making Herb Oil. It really is delightful, and we will get to that shortly.

BUT,,,,,, there seems to be this guard bee in the yard. I have no idea what kind of a creature it is, but it is BIG, REALLY BIG, and it does stand guard over parts of MY garden. He/she and I need to come to an agreement that it’s quite OK for me to carry on out there cutting whatever I need without having to dive back and forth worrying about this very large bee thing coming after me. Now I’m not timid by nature,, but I sure as heck am not stupid either. And this thing is BIG. And it doesn’t look like it is playing around. When I get too close to an area that it is circling, it really dives close to my head. It starts to come after me, stops, turns the other way (almost as if it is saying “scared ya didn’t I” or “do you really want to make me mad lady?” ) and then turns instantly, hover in midair, and comes right back. It is lightning fast. And on the return trip I give in and run like a sprinter back to the house. I would take a picture for you to appreciate, but he/she is much too quick and besides, I am not sure it wouldn’t come swooping down, take my camera and drop it on my head.

Now, back to herb oil. It is quite easy to make. It will last for several weeks. But there are safety measures you need to be aware of for making herb oil. Wash all you herbs well, and dry them one whole day hanging. The moisture must be gone. The reason for this is moisture in the herb oil can cause botulism. It cannot grow in the oil if the herbs are dry and the containers is dry. So be sure that you have a completely clean and dry container and dry herbs. Fill the container with herbs that you have bruised to help release some of their essential oils, and them fill the container with your choice of oil. You may choose to use extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, or another NON GMO oil. But choose an oil that is light in flavor so it won’t over power the herbs. Let them sit overnight up to a week in a cool dark place capped tightly. Check the flavor occasionally to see if it is as strong as you desire. Then strain the oil through a fine strainer with cheesecloth into a “dressy bottle” of your choice that is equally clean and dry. If you decide to put a piece of new herb in the bottle to dress the finished oil, that is fine, but make sure it is clean and dry before you add it. It will last about 2 weeks in the refrigerator that way.

The oil is so good drizzled over pasta, with a grind of sea salt, pepper and grated cheese. Imagine how good the rosemary oil is drizzled over lamb just off the grill. How about just added to red pepper flakes, garlic powder and a grated cheese, a little lemon juice, for a bread dipping oil. There are so many uses, it won’t last long.

Until next time, cook something you enjoy. Food is the path to happiness. Peace can be found over the table, feed your neighbor instead of making war.

Join me next time for a look at some other visitors to my yard. You won’t believe who has been in my bird feeder.

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BEING A GUEST SPEAKER

I was invited to teach a cooking class on a subject of my choice at “Natural Grocers” in Overland Park, Kansas and last Saturday was the day….and it was such a nice group of people. The facility was really nice too. There is a very large meeting space with a kitchen set up at one end. There is a sink, stove/oven combination, a refrigerator. Just about everything you could want. There is an overhead television so the stovetop is projected on a screen for the audience to see, and a microphone for the speaker to use. Neither of those were working, but then I have never needed help talking loudly, just ask any teacher I ever had in school. THAT was not a problem for me. So I just went au-natural’. When I say they had the necessary equipment I just mean they had a few pieces, but because it is a new store they were lacking in some kitchen utensils. So I ended up taking all of my own pots, pans, knives, measuring cups, measuring spoons, etc, etc, etc. But because I ended up taking all my own equipment, I decided to keep my menu GLUTEN FREE. And had I used their equipment, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. So my Sous Chef, Wanda Burke, who has been with me for almost 10 years, and believe me she is the best ever, and I set up our own mini-kitchen.

My theme was “TIPS AND TRICK TO HELP YOU COOK AHEAD” . MY recipe was a base recipe of Quinoa with roasted chicken breasts. A lot of people think Quinoa is a grain, but in actuality, it is a seed. It has been around for over 7,000 years. The main crops are grown in the South American countries of Ecuador, Peru, Chili and Argentina. But some is being grown in California and a few other western states in the last few years. The popularity of Quinoa has tripled in this country alone in the last 4 to 5 years. But the popularity has exploded worldwide. It has become so popular that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared 2013 the year of Quinoa. It has also tripled in price. Which has made it difficult to grow enough to export AND still keep enough to subsist on for the local farmers who grow it. And there is also the issue of clearing land to plant more crops that is better left un-cleared. But that is a different subject best left for another time.

There are many colors of quinoa. I tend to like the multi-colored because the red and brown seeds have a nutty, crunchy texture after they are cooked. The beige or off white seeds seem to become quite soft and to me seem mushy. I prefer the darker colors I guess because they don’t seem to lose their body even after reheating or sitting in a dressing of some kind.

Here is a basic recipe that can be changed to include any number of different herbs, spices, meats or vegetables and therefore it turns into a fresh salad, a warm side dish, a stand along main dish; if using all vegetable products and no meats, it is a great vegetarian meal, and it is gluten free by nature.

4 organic chicken breasts, dusted with a fine rice flour that has sea salt, pepper, a good amount of garlic powder, and all purpose seasoning added to it.
1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion diced
3 medium carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken stock plus 1 package chicken concentrate such as Better than Bouillon
1 15 oz. can Cannellini beans drained and rinsed or fresh soaked overnight and cooked 1 hour
1 cup frozen corn or fresh cut from the cob
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup fresh basil, julienne
3 tbsp thyme, fresh
2 springs fresh parsley
2 tbsp salt free all purpose seasoning

Rinse the Quinoa in a fine mesh drainer. Set aside

Heat the oil to medium heat. Coat the chicken breasts with the rice flour, spanking any extra off.
After a small pinch of flour sizzles in the pan, add the chicken breasts and brown in the oil. Do not turn the breasts until they are turning white around the edges. And resist the urge to move them in the pan as this will cause them to lose their golden brown coating if you move them before they are ready to naturally release themselves because they have developed a coating. Keep warm on a rack and set aside in the oven.

Drain all but 2 – 3 tablespoons of the oil from the pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery and saute until vegetables are beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook about 5 minutes, do not brown the vegetables. Add the chicken stock and slowly simmer, loosening the fond from the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Add the quinoa and all purpose seasoning. Cover and cook about 12 minutes. Set a timer and at 12 minutes check by taste for texture. Depending on the texture continue to cook as long as 10 more minutes. Add the corn, peas, fresh herbs and all purpose seasoning. Cook about another 5 minutes, long enough for the flavors to combine. Taste for salt and pepper. Correct if needed.

Mound a cup of quinoa on each plate. Place a sliced chicken breast across each mound, top with a sprinkle of extra parsley and serve.

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The best part of growing herbs is eating them

It has been a busy month since I last sat down to write a note. Just one thing right after another. But with all the interruptions the one constant has been my herb garden. It just keeps growing. My basil got so thick I had to cut it yesterday and decided to make a batch of pesto. I love pesto. It is so good on pasta, with chicken, veggies, a big handful of fresh grated cheese and a drizzle of bright pure first pressed olive oil. But it is also good mixed in a little mayo as a sandwich spread, great on a cold pasta salad, good to dress blanched green beans. If you run out of things to use it on it freezes beautifully. Just put it in a plastic bag and get all the air out of it, fold it over, and it will freeze really well.

 

You need– 3 cloves garlic, 1 cup parmesan cheese, 1/3 pine nuts toasted , washed and sorted basil about 2 cups, 1/2 olive oil and additional to cover top of pesto in container, salt and pepper to taste. All this is gently pulsed in a food processor and voila’ you have PESTO.

{One little note, if you can’t find Italian Pine nuts (versus ones imported from China) you can use almonds. The reason I mention this is there is some thought that there is a thing called “pine nut taint” that affects ones taste buds after consuming pine nuts sourced from China. You can do a search on it for further information and form your own opinion, but I personally try to stay with US sourced pine nuts or Italian sourced nuts. New Mexico is a source for the nuts also. They can be found. And believe me, if you have gotten the toxic taste, you won’t use them again.

Well, until next time, enjoy. If you have time, join me next Saturday at Natural Grocers, in Overland Park, Kansas. for a Cooking Class. Begins at 1pm. First come, first seated. Look forward to seeing you there. Check their web site for details-www.http/naturalgrocers.com

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Things that remind me of Italy

We went to dinner last week with friends, and visited a restaurant that served a dish that always makes me think of Italy. Both because my Italian friends here fix it a lot, but also because it is to be eaten almost everywhere in Italy. Fritto Misto Di Pesce. Of course, when one eats in Europe, the fish and the vegetables that are fried crispy are what is freshest at the market and what is caught that day.

I was absolutely thrilled to walk through the many markets and small stores in each town we visited in Italy. They don’t have large super markets like we do here in the United States. And Europeans don’t ship their food hundreds of miles in a green state, gas it, and then hope for the best as it lays on a store shelf for customers to purchase. They eat what is harvested in season, close to their towns. The markets are surrounded with tiny stores of all kinds, specializing in pasta, meats, breads, balsamic vinegars. Just about anything one could wish for. I absolutely wore my eyes and feet out. Of course my husband loved it because I didn’t have a kitchen, so I couldn’t buy one of everything in the market. But just to show him I could buy in bulk, I brought lots of goodies home (shipping is the way to go and the hotels are quite accommodating). We were right across the Grand Canal from the main market in Venice, so a short water taxi ride is all it took to take me straight to heaven so to speak, the Rialto market. And the fish market was right next to that. It was just heaven. I still can close my eyes and transport myself back there.

And the same thing I’d true the Florence. We stayed in a modest hotel very near the main market area in Florence. I could literally walk out my door, turn left, walk two blocks, turn left again, and there before my eyes was a market with everything I could need to have the most wonderful dinner, and it was all so fresh. And stores with all types of merchandise.

Our hotel room in Florence was on the 4th floor overlooking the street. We ate breakfast on the balcony. The buildings are beautiful and quite old and close together. There was a very old lady across the street in a window from us one morning. It was quite easy to see that she had just finished her breakfast and was leaning on her window ledge looking down at the street below. She must have eaten some type cereal, as her bowl appeared to have milk in it and she had a wooden spoon. (Maybe she was making her daily bread or pizza.)

It was quite common to see pigeons on window ledges or balconies (much to the annoyance of our hotel waitress who had a broom battle with three very sly and dodgy fellows near our breakfast table). Well, my neighbor looked up the street, she peered down the street, she very carefully checked below her window, and when she felt the coast was clear she stretched her very old arm out her window and dumped the contents of her bowl out to the birds below on the street. Of course I found that to be hilarious, especially since I wasn’t walking under her window when she hurled her breakfast out for the birds. I often wonder if she is still there, how she is doing and if she is still feeding the birds. Betcha she is……

I would love to go back to Italy. It was so magical. The way of life is slower, I think the people kinder to each other, the pace is not as frantic, people seem to be more interested in each other than in material things. Don’t get me wrong, there in nowhere where people look more beautiful or handsome, it’s just that Italians seem to take time to care for each other more, to take time to appreciate the things they have rather than to always be looking to something in the future that they haven’t achieved yet.

I will go back! That is a promise. And the next trip I will walk slower, sit on a curb and just breath in the air and watch life as it presents itself. I will stay in an apartment where I can cook, and I will take cooking lessons from a Nanna who carries a wooden spoon and feeds the birds.