I quit my job and went to Italy

I haven’t blogged in a while.

I’ve been pre-occupied for most of 2014…with deciding how and when to quit my job.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.

But I did it…and I am free of the insurmountable amount of stress I was experiencing.

Six years ago I started to make plans to go to Italy.  Here’s the proof.

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Quitting my job and planning for Italy all happened in six weeks.

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Over the past year, I kept reading about fear, taking chances, freeing oneself from obstacles, being true to yourself, being closer to God, being more spiritual, and living the life you want. Reading the stories and tributes brought tears to my eyes. I knew I needed to make a change but felt stuck.

the cinque terre trail w/Bob

With the support of my dear husband, Bob, I was able to move forward.  My journey is told in what moved me in the pictures below.

Santa Maria Novella Church Florence

The beauty art and loving God.

the road less traveled

The trails.

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The pathways

stairs in Vernazza tower

The stairwells

doors in Vernazza

The doors

laundry in Volterra

The windows and clean laundry

bicycle in lucca

The ride

riding a bike in Lucca

The ride on cobblestone streets.

locks on the cinque terre trail

Locks of love.

view from Hotel Pasquale

The beauty of nature from my window.

If you are reading this and you’re stuck in your life: keep the faith, read, learn about yourself, pray, meditate, connect with colleagues and friends, and listen to life stories.

Keep Calm and Dream Big

Evolution of a blogger

I am responding to Virginia Views inquiring what is our evolution as bloggers.

Why did you start your blog?  

I started this blog after reaching age 50 years of age.  Reaching a half century of my life: childhood, school, college,  marriage, raising children, grad school, working, keeping a home; it’s all hard work: rewarding and exhausting. It’s a culmination and a relief. You exist. You made a life. You matter. You made a difference.

Is that still why you blog?

The passion comes and goes with this blog. I also have a food blog, writing and cooking my adventures in making recipes I’ve never attempted before. The material is a little easier to come by.

Has your site gone in a different direction than you’d planned?

Yes for both blogs. I try to complain less and reflect more in this blog. The writing waxes and wanes with inspriation.

The food blog is more an personal adventure than a group challenge . It is extremely difficult to get the cooking club members together due to family obligations, travel and schedules. But I keep plugging along.

Thanks Donna for your inspiration to write today.

We must remember to enjoy the ride. It’s all good.

Wyoming 7-16-11 #1

Memories are complicated

 

I started blogging to find normalcy amid painful transitions. I had turned fifty, finished menopause, was unhappy at work, and had angry and anxious teenagers turning into young adults.

Three years later, life has shifted again. My son is taking a job in another country, my daughter is beginning her last year of college, I’m three years older, and work is showing improved vital signs.

The anger and anxiety from my children is still there, just not experienced on a daily basis. Now it comes in spurts. Our son still carries sibling-rivalry resentment toward his sister. He is nice to her for one day then cocky and insulting to her at a family gathering. She burst out crying at his insensitivity.

I returned from visiting my elderly parents, ages 86 yrs. and 90 yrs. It has been another rough year for my mother. She has extreme anxiety and expresses her displeasure with her physical changes with a lot of crying and anger. Her coping skills have taken a toll on me and caused distress in my relationship with my father and siblings.

And then, Neil Armstrong died on Saturday. I had a flashback to my living room in the summer of 1969.  My oldest brother, who is still fascinated with space, closed all the curtains of our living room to take pictures of the moon landing from the television set. Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, what a good memory.

Then I remembered that in 1989, our son was a week shy of his first birthday, getting his first haircut. I was videotaping the event and on the TV in the background was a broadcast of the 20th anniversary of the moon landing.

I was cleaning out the shed yesterday, compiling things for my son to sort through before he leaves at the end of the week and I found this. I couldn’t believe it.

Man landing on the moon

I looked at the date: 9-7-1999. My son said he was in 5th grade when he did this project. He remarked that his good friends from grade school, have the actual newspaper headline, depicted above, framed in their home. It was a touching moment between my son and I, sharing a good memory. It lasted about one minute, before he got angry about something he thought I lost of his.

Thanks Neil Armstrong for your contribution to science, space and mankind. And thank you for bringing back fond memories, albeit brief, amid another one of life’s transitions.

 

The Circle of Life

It’s been nearly one year since our oldest son moved out after finishing college and made my husband and I official empty nesters. I had been so used to running around organizing other people’s lives for the past 24 years that I discovered that I didn’t have to do that anymore.  I heard someone say once that if you don’t know what to do, then don’t do anything. For me it has been a year of transitions and a lot of doing nothing.

At work, there has been chaos, and I chose not to get involved. Staff are leaving, transferring, and retiring. New young staff are being hired. They are old enough to be my children.

At home, my husband got a new job, our son announced he’d be moving to Australia by the end of the summer, and my daughter has a boyfriend.

So as my nest has emptied, I have watched other women fill their nests. I have crossed paths with more pregnant women this year than I can ever remember. I have purchased six copies of my standard baby gift, Your Child’s Health, a great reference book for parents. I have also crossed paths with pregnant birds.

This Canadian goose was in a median in a university parking lot. The poor dad goose was siting on the eggs and wouldn’t leave. Someone brought him a bowl of water. I ran out and brought back some tortillas for him to eat.

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At our neighborhood park there have been five Canadian Geese families that have taken over the pond.

So as to not feel left out, on my own back porch, a robin family made a nest one weekend when we were out of town.

The baby robins stick their heads up and all we can see are little beaks and necks.

Mama robin is very vigilant and busy hunting for food for the babies.

Nature took over and filled my nest again. I’ve had a perfect view of it all watching life unfold and still not doing anything…waiting for my next move.

Your huddled masses

As middle-class, middle-aged, suburban Caucasians, it is easy to get stuck in the same routine for work, play, and leisure. Drive in the same car everyday to work, shop at the same grocery and big box store, worship at the same location, and hang out at the local coffee stand.

We are a one car couple now and we are taking public transportation for work and to the airport. It’s not that big of deal, we’ve done it before, but it is different. My husband thinks everyone should step out of their comfort zone and take the bus in order to experience the world. People of every race, creed, color, ability, economic status and age; take the bus. It is non-judgemental because everyone is treated alike. To ride you must have a pass. That can be paid in cash, disabled or senior pass (reduced cost), monthly or yearly pass.

So I was thinking, how many places in this world are an equal playing field? Where people of all walks of life come together in one place with the same goal? So I here is my little ranking:

1. Public Transportation – The goal is to get somewhere whether it be by bus, subway, train, or light rail.

2. Hospital Emergency Room – The common goal is seeking medical care in an emergency. First one in line usually has chest pain.

3. Wal-Mart – The goal is to shop for inexpensive stuff.

4. Inner city or rural sanctuary of worship – All there to reflect on a Higher Being.

The Emma Lazarus poem, New Colossus (aka the Statue of Liberty poem), comes to mind at this time.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,”

Happy Two Hundred and Thirty Fifth Birthday America.

Where do you experience “the mass of humanity”, where people from all corners come together? Do you have a ranking?

The Fearless Cook is sick of Italian Chicken

 The fourth Italian Chicken dish I challenged myself to make is Chicken Cacciatore. It is a traditional, country-type Italian stew with cut-up chicken pieces, garlic, wine and leftover vegetables.
 
 
Take 6-8 bone-in chicken thighs with skins on and braise with olive oil in a Dutch oven on the stove top. After braising for 5 minutes on each side, set aside and remove the skin. Remove all but 1 TBSP of oil from the Dutch oven.
 
 
For the sauce, saute one minced onion, 1 tsp salt, 4 minced garlic and 6 oz of diced portabello mushrooms until soft.
 
 

Add 1/2 C chicken broth, 14 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 1/2 C dry red wine, 1 TBSP flour. After cooking over medium heat bring to a simmer and add 1 tsp thyme,  1 tsp ground sage, and the rind of parmesan cheese.

Add all the chicken pieces into the stew, then place in a 300 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked. Remove the parmesan rind before serving. Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces and serve with a side of  fettucini or egg noodles.

What did the Fearless Cook learn?

Lesson #1

I don’t like red wine with chicken. It made the chicken meat red and such an unappealing color. The Chicken Marsala – my first Italian Chicken- was a little better because the chicken didn’t soak in the wine and tomato sauce. I took six pictures of the finished product and they all looked slimy and odd. I saved your eyes from viewing it.

Lesson #2

 The sauce was excellent, tasting like Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon. It just didn’t go with the chicken. I wanted to eat that sauce with some beef. The recipe mentioned an alternative way to making the dish substituting white for red wine, white for portabello mushrooms and tarrogon for the thyme. Maybe I would’ve like it better with white wine, but I doubt it.

Lesson #3

I was so organized making this dish. I read the recipe in advance, prepped all the ingredients, and worked through each step smoothly. But I doubt if I’ll ever make this dish again.

Italian Chicken Finale

I have a little bit of pride completing this challenge.  I have plenty of tasks on my plate these days (pun intended), but I remained focused, despite the craziness swirling around me.  Ta dah!

Ranking the Italian Chickens

Most Favorite?  Chicken Piccata – I loved the lemon and capers. Easy and light dish.

Family Favorite? Chicken Parmesan – It was so popular I made it twice during this challenge.

Least Favorite? Chicken Cacciatore – Are you surprised?

The Fearless Cook makes…Chicken Parmesan

 
Chicken Parmesan
The third recipe in my Italian Chicken series challenge.
 
Chicken Parmesan is a popular American favorite of Italian dishes. Fried chicken with pasta? What’s not to like?
 
I’ve alway been scared of frying chicken. I used to look in amazement at my mother frying chicken. She was talented and had no fear. 
 
I’m also afraid of getting burned. I’ve had oatmeal dropped on my thighs at age 7 yrs. My father-in-law and mother-in-law had their arms burned from frying chicken at their home. It was a grease fire from the skillet onto the stove top. 
 
So when I approach frying I do so …..very….carefully.  Chicken Parmesan is all about the breaded chicken cutlets. The crispier the better.
 
There were seven steps: Prepping, dredging, dipping, breading, resting, frying and broiling.
 
Prepping.  The cutlets (boneless breasts or thighs) are pounded thin with a meat hammer. Then place tje cutlets in a sealed plastic bag with water and 1-2 tsp of salt, for at least 30 minutes. Then pat dry the cutlets with a paper towel.
 
Dredging. One cutlet at a time, dredge into flour, covering both sides. 
 
Dipping. Take the floured cutlet and dip into beaten eggs (two) with olive oil mixture, covering both sides.
 
Breading. The cutlet is now pressed into an Italian bread crumb mixture that has minced garlic and oregano. Pressing the moist cutlet carefully onto both sides until covered with crumbs.
 
Resting.  Place the cutlet on a wire rack and let it rest for 10 minutes setting the bread crumbs before frying. This was a pivotal step! I never knew how important this was to making a great finished product!
 
Frying.  Six tsp of olive oil into a non-stick skillet and heat oil is shimmering. Fry two cutlets at a time about 4-5 minutes on each side until crispy.  Remove from skillet wtih tongs and set aside on a warm plate. Before frying the last two cutlets remove the skillet from the burner and clean out the oil with paper towel. Repeat the process again for frying the final two cutlets.
 
Broiling. Place 2-3 TBSP of mozzarella cheese and 1 TBSP of parmesan cheese atop each fried cutlet. Place all four cutlets in a broiler pan and place under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned.
 
Serve atop spaghetti and a tomato-basil-garlic sauce.
 
So what did The Fearless Cook learn?
 
Lesson #1
The skillet got really hot with frying, so I had a lid ready to cover the popping oil when it freaked me out. I took it off the heat whenever I needed to turn the cutlets with a tongs.  AND I had to take the skillet away from the burner because the oil flew onto the burner and smoked it a few times.
 
Lesson #2
Frying is time consuming. The frying heated up the kitchen and the fear of frying heated me up. The entire process took about 90 minutes. Once the cutlets were done, the sauce and the pasta were ready to go and it went together quickly to serve.
 
This was such a fabulous meal I have made it twice already. The cutlets were oh so crispy. Better than Stouffers!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

An alternative to Easter ham – Italian Chicken Piccata

It’s spring and the weather is sunny one day and stormy the next. This is the last time before summer hits that we will feel comfortable heating up the kitchen and making an Italian meal.

Being that it is Easter this weekend I will focus on Chicken Piccata – the second Italian Chicken out of four that I have challenged myself to make. I had never made this dish but the ingredients are  just what we imagine spring to be, light and sunny. So if you are sick of ham or lamb and are looking for something EASY to make, try this dish.

What makes chicken piccata is the sauce. Lemon and capers; the tart and the salty. After my inaugural try, I was amazed at how easy it was to pull the dish together. 

This recipe came from The New Best Recipe (2004), the cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen. I searched the internet to check out other versions of Chicken Piccata. Some chefs breaded the breast cutlets but I thought it looked too heavy for a light lemony sauce.

If you read my last entry on Chicken Marsala, you will see that this recipe starts out similarly.

Chicken Piccata

You start with 4 chicken breasts. I am now in love with boneless chicken thighs because they are cheap and remain moist even after cooking. You could substitute the chicken breasts for thighs and get smaller portions. 

4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.
Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 
Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

The ingredients for the sauce are: 1 lemon, 1 TBSP oil, 1 minced shallot, 2 TBSP capers, 1 Cup chicken broth, 4 TBSP butter and optional ingredient 2 slices of pancetta sliced into thin strips.

 

Now in the pictures you can see my chopper/mincer. I only use this for nuts,onions or in this case, shallots, when I need them uniform and finely chopped. This is a light sauce so no one wants a chunky onion to bite into.

The recipe advises to cut the lemon pole to pole (that was a first for me to see it described that way), into 6-8 slices which I did in the picture above. The lemon slices go into the sauce and the other half of the lemon is juiced to add later. Mince the shallots and add to hot skillet with 1 TBSP oil then add the pancetta. Next time I make this recipe I’m going to cook the pancetta first and get it a little crispier and then add the shallots. The shallots become translucent very quickly.

 

Add the lemon slices and chicken broth and bring to a simmer for 4 minutes to reduce the liquid. Then add the remainder of the lemon juice and the capers, again simmering until the liquid becomes reduced, about 2 more minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and add the 4 TBSP of butter and swirl to melt. Place the chicken cutlet on serving plate and spoon the sauce atop as below.

Voila! Chicken Piccata.

I might just bring this to an Easter Brunch this Sunday. I will probably serve it on a bed a spaghetti with asparagus on the side. The spaghetti could be tossed with olive oil and parmesan cheese or maybe a basil pesto before placing the chicken atop. Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

Why I failed the Postaweek2011 challenge

I haven’t blogged a word in two weeks. I’m sure many of you are aghast. How could I?

I signed up for the Postaweek 2011 challenge. The gauntlet thrown down by WordPress to keep the fires of blogging going. I was true to my word. I posted faithfully for two and one half months. At one time, I even had three blog writings going at once. I was editing daily and readying them for posting when each week rolled around.

Then the remodeling took over my life. We had contractors working on our basement since mid-January. They just finished. I tried my best to protect the furniture and cushions with blankets and plastic. But the film that flies from wallboard finishing is like glue dust. It lands and sticks and doesn’t let go.

I did some traveling this past month and got away from the house. I was free from responsibilities and the debacle. Yippee!! I returned to the house-mess five days ago. Me, the dog, and the dust. I moved furniture, cleaned, washed, dusted, arranged, pounded, folded, sorted, and dried. My head was sifting through ideas of decorating. There was little time for anything else.

I feel no guilt, no shame; only relief. The mind is a cluttered land of information. Multi-tasking is overrated. Newsweek’s front cover last month revealed that we as a society can’t make decisions because of too much information. Technology has allowed us to discover a world of information yet we can’t decide what kind of jeans to buy. 

I made a conscious decision. My life was overwhelming and I couldn’t eek out a blog. I went on vacation, I read an entire book, and I cleaned my house. I returned to work today, well rested, and ready to write again.

Thoreau and Oliver, poets and writers, went to the woods for inspiration. Do we now go to our Smartphones, laptops, and blogging websites for inspiration? I choose to re-boot away from it all.

The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award

Thanks to Lauren from theveryhungrybookworm for passing the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award to The Patty Beat!  This award is special because every post is written with love– love for the written word and for the readers!

So, here’s how it works:

  1. Link back to the person who gave you the award.
  2. Share 4 of your guiltiest pleasures.
  3. Pass the award on to 6 other irresistibly sweet blogs.

My guilty pleasures:

  1. I love the movie As Good as it Gets with Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson. I own the movie but whenever it is on TV (like tonight) I stop everything I am doing to watch it.
  2. Smarties, Sour gummies and pretzel M & Ms.
  3. I like to sew and knit but I don’t have time to do either.
  4.  I like to sit in bed and watch taped Jeopardy episodes.

Six irresistibly sweet blogs:

  1. theveryhungrybookworm
  2. CollectiveDisclosure
  3. Lagniappe
  4. jannatwrites
  5. Art is the Handmaid of Human good
  6. Short Attention Span Fiction Congrats to these blogs! Go ahead and follow the three steps listed above to spread the love– but you don’t have to return to the favor to me. Choose new blogs to spotlight so that you can share the love!