Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving Antipasto

Growing up Italian, one part of the fabric of my life which I assumed that everyone else knew about was antipasto, "food served before the pasta." What I knew as antipasto, most Americans refer to as appetizers. But the food that was served before a festive meal at my relatives' homes seldom resembled canapes or stuffed mushrooms, nor was it simply chips and pretzels. I look back on the ritual now and realize that the antipasto course taught me how to serve a feast that didn't revolve around starches and sugars, and how to keep kids from being excessively "sugared up" during holidays.

At my mother's home on Thanksgiving Day, eating begins at noon and continues into the night. During the morning, someone (usually my tireless Aunt Pam) spends a few hours cutting up every conceivable kind of raw vegetable and arranging them on a silver platter: zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, celery, bok choy, squash, broccoli, cauliflower. Then at noon the antipasto course is set out: the fresh vegetables (and dip) take center stage, surrounded by other simple finger foods. There's a tray of pickles and preserves: artichoke hearts, pickled cucumbers, peppers, and our family favorite, black olives. Usually several kinds of cheeses and breads or crackers accompany the spread, as well as fruit like grapes or pomagranate. Not to mention seafood: shrimp, mussels, or steamed clams might make a brief appearance on the table before being devoured. Aside from the rush for the seafood, the pace of the course is leisurely. Adults gather round the table and talk and eat: children take handfuls of cucumbers or olives on their rush through the room en route to other places. And the ceremonial touch is our beloved beverage, Asti: Italian sparkling wine, which has heralded virtually every event of importance in my life. The adults offer one another toasts over the antipasto: in thanksgiving for health, for marriages, for new babies, for family, for all the blessings of our lives.

The antipasto goes on for several hours. No wonder most of us put slivers of turkey and dabs of mashed potatoes on our plates by the time we actually sit down for the official Thanksgiving dinner! (Although, I've noted, antipasto seldom keeps us from dessert!)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Favorite Things: Simple Patchwork Quilts

I quilt, but not elaborately. For some reason, given today's frenetic lifestyle and the perennial lack of time to do most good and worthy things, I can't ever see myself attempting one of those elaborate quilt patterns where you spend hours cutting up shapes and then more hours sewing them back together. I love how they look, but not enough to actually try to make one. It just doesn't make sense for me, on some fundamental level. (Please understand I have no philosophical objection to anyone else doing it, though!)

But quilts made of simple squares make sense to me: because I do still occasionally sew, and I know what it's like to find a small amount of material and to sit and drink in its beauty, and long for enough of it to cover an entire bed. Hence, when you have a large amount of small bits of beloved material, sewing them into a quilt large enough to cover your bed makes all the sense in the world.

I made this quilt of favorite bits from an upholstery shop (blessings upon its memory: the owners, now retired, used to give me and my friends bags of designer scraps -- for free. Our husbands blessed them when they retired!) alternating with denim from my husband's old jeans. So that quilt holds memories of both my husband and this wonderful old store. The center square is a plum purple velour which I adore (there is a matching pillow on the bed), and the cross (I always put a cross in the center) is composed of a tapestry fabric made of peacock fan-shaped designs in wine, blue, purple, and white. Teal blues and a purple and wine patterns make up the outer corners of the central design.

I love my quilts to be heavy and non-fluffy: my first quilts were made with army blankets inside them, and this one is backed with a woven cotton blanket dyed purple. The years took its toll on this quilt, and the already-frayed denim frayed further. It was actually pretty sad-looking for a while.

Then, after my son Joshua died, a good friend who was a quilter came to me and asked me what she could do. I asked her to repair my quilt, and she did. So I am indebted to her for the border of navy blue checked and brown squares along the edges, some of which you can see in this photo. The quilt is now prettier and more durable than it was when it was new.

That is the other reason I love quilts: it's so natural for ones' friends to become a part of them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wanted: Joshua Bears

Before it gets closer to Christmas, I wanted to post this special request:

Last year for Christmas, we collected teddy bears for our Christmas tree in memory of our son Joshua who died. Joshua's family nickname was "Teddy Bear" and so we decided that for Christmas, we would decorate our tree with quality teddy bears. We gave some of them as gifts to any children who visited us during Christmas. And after Christmas, we donated them to a good cause: I gave them to a disaster-relief nurse who is taking them to expectant mothers in Africa. This year, I am looking into making a donation of the bears to our local hospital and emergency services.

So I am searching for medium or smaller-size brown or beige teddy bears (please no white or pastel or colored! These are "boy" bears :) ), either new or good-as-new (they can definitely be "played with" and "handled" but they probably shouldn't be in such bad condition that a thrift store would refuse to sell them), that we can use to decorate our tree and then pass on to a good cause after the holiday season. If you have any bears you'd like to pass on to me, you can mail them to me at:

Regina Doman - Bears for Joshua

P. O. Box 949

Front Royal, VA 22630

If you need a street address for UPS, email me at regina@reginadoman.com and I'll send you one.)

Oh, and if you know of or are involved in a good cause that could use a stash of donated teddy bears (I put fresh fabric ribbon bows on them for donating), please let me know, as I'm looking for this year's charity.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Second-Generation Rennovators

We had an interesting All Saint's Day, starting when I came upstairs and found broken drop-ceiling tiles on our girls' room floor. "Um, Mom... could we take down our ceiling?" my daughters asked. Apparently it had been bothering them as much as it has been bothering us. Drop ceilings can be very nice in their own way, but they certainly can look out of place in a farmhouse bedroom. So my husband and I said yes. And after I made them cover their furniture with bedsheets, the girls went to town

I had to help them, of course, but with the help of a hammer and claw, it only took about two hours, including piling all the tiles in the garage and putting the twisted metal frames into the truck to go to the metal recycling factory and vaccumming the room. And now the ceiling looks like this:

Ascetically, it doesn't look great, though I feel at last like there's "breathing room" in their little bedroom, whose ceiling always felt cramped to me. But a few sheets of 12' drywall (we have a stack in our garage right now: we are drywalling the addition) and a visit from our electrician to reroute the wire on the ceiling light will do wonders. We warned the girls before they started wrecking that they might have to live with the results of the demolition for a while: but that didn't dissuade them. Which lets me know that, much as I worry about passing on our values to our children, we don't need to worry about their not inheriting our Rennovating drive. :)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Baby Birthday Treats

When a baby has a birthday in our family, there's certain things I like to do to celebrate. While I'm not a "no-sugar" mom, I definitely am interested in limiting my two-year-old's intake of celebratory sucrose, just so that the day after birthday day is not a sick day. :) And while I love presents as much as the next birthday person, it never seems right to burden a baby with big presents on a birthday.

So here's roughly what I do for a toddler birthday, particularly one where there is no party outside of a family party: I buy balloons. One big mylar balloon for a one-year old, or two balloons for a two-year-old. The balloons aren't decoration: they're presents. If you don't know what I mean, watch a baby with a balloon sometime and you'll understand that these fascinating items are actually transient, disposable toys that give delight for a day or two, then vanish, just like a birthday.

Another great birthday treat is croissants: I bought my toddler a box of fresh ones this morning and christened them "birthday bread." Cheddar cheese, clementine oranges, and bananas finished off our birthday brunch, together with a bottle of Turkey Hill Peach Tea. (We were on the run this morning: normally it would be a berry tea from Celestial Seasonings, warmed up!)

After dinner, our baby is receiving two pairs of new shoes (which she loves) from her godmothers, and some assorted "presents" her brothers and sisters have found and wrapped up for her. And of course we'll have a birthday cake. By that time, I won't mind giving her sugar. :)