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Crazy For Cannolis

July 2, 2011 8 comments

After researching several recipes, I chose what I liked best from each and then threw in my own secret ingredient!

As a first generation AMERICAN with parents who emigrated from Germany and Ireland, I ate lots of sauerkraut and Irish soda bread as a kid. I suppose it’s only natural then, that as an adult, I would want to learn how to make Cannolis.

Let me connect the European dots for you. My best friend’s Dad was from Italy. Once a year he would take us to New York City to the San Gennaro Feast in the historic Little Italy. The smells alone were enough to make a young girl giddy. Her mom used to make mostacciolis during the week and her grandmother would nurse a sauce all-day-long on a Sunday. Mid-afternoon she’d come out of her kitchen, wipe her hands on her apron and wave us inside for a serving of spaghetti and sauce with Italian bread. Heaven.

I grew up loving and yearning for what was on the other side of the fence, Italian food.

My love for all foods Italian may also (in a twisted sort of way) have something to do with the fact that when I was very young, we rented a second-floor apartment in a house owned by an Italian family who had three boys: La John-o, La JoJ-o and La Carl-o. We were often invited down to their basement to share a meal that always included home-made pasta, bread and wine.

Go ahead, turn me on my side, coax a little girl inside, close the lid and roll away!

I have a very strong and clear memory of the two younger boys coaxing me into a wine barrel one day, closing the lid and rolling me around their front lawn, just for fun.The smell of wine inside the barrel was so pungent, it too resurfaces every time the memory does. In addition to the obvious trauma that would accompany such an event, I truly believe this is why I don’t like confined spaces. It was also probably the first time I ever got “tipsy”. I think I was five.

Back to making Cannolis.

This holiday weekend I’m spending a few days Upstate New York with my daughter. I always try to have a few activities in mind for my kids when we come here and ever since they could stand on a stool and hold a measuring cup, my children and I have been creating in the kitchen together. I love doing things with my kids and the kitchen is a wonderful, natural classroom that provides a great opportunity to bond, learn and teach. We’ve made everything from soups to nuts, — including pasta, cakes, cookies and this weekend, Cannolis!

The ingredients.

Just check out the visual above for a clear view of what you’ll need. I guess if I was Italian, I’d know where to buy fresh ricotta but I’m not, so I settled for Sorrento brand from the supermarket. I didn’t need the granulated sugar or farm fresh eggs but they seemed to complete the photo so I left them in. And yes, those are boxed (store-bought) Cannoli shells you see in my picture. They were the only ones my grocer carries. I’m Crazy for Cannolis that’s true but I also know, what I don’t know and what my limitations are! Making the shells from scratch was not an option, this time.

Here’s my I’m-Not-Italian But Here’s My Very Delicious Cannoli Filling Recipe:

2 lbs. ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cups confectionery sugar

1/4 cup half ‘n half

4 tsp. vanilla

1-2 tsp. cinnamon (more if you love cinnamon like us – more cinnamon will result in a darker filling complexion)

Semi-sweet chocolate morsels (enough to make you happy)

1-2 tbs. honey (my secret ingredient that’s no longer a secret)

Drain the ricotta of any excess moisture. Mix ricotta, confectionery sugar, half ‘n half, vanilla, cinnamon and honey together until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Chill and fill the shells using a pastry bag or small spoon shortly before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about a dozen Cannolis.

Yummy! Not bad for a first try.

It’s that easy! Have a safe and happy holiday and most of all, enjoy!

Photo Credit #1: ©Karen Szczuka Teich

Photo Credit #2: Google Images

Photo Credit #3: ©Karen Szczuka Teich

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Let Freedom Reign

May 29, 2011 5 comments

I’m a first generation American. My parents emigrated from Europe. At times, it was a little screwy growing up in our house. My parents were strict and unfamiliar with the school systems and how they worked. We never watched football or baseball although we often went to see Pele play soccer in his hay-day. They didn’t abide by American traditions. Santa came to our house after dinner, on the eve of December 24th. Hamburgers were made with large chunks of onion incorporated into the meat and the finished product was always draped in a homemade mustard sauce. There was no bun and ketchup just wasn’t allowed. Saurkraut was always a side dish.We went to more Oktober-fests than we did street fairs and instead of hot pants, my sister, brother and I had our very own pair of lederhosen. My parents came to this country to make a better life for themselves and they did.

It’s befitting then, that their son should grow up to serve in our Armed Forces. My brother spent over ten years in the Air Force. He lived in Germany, was deployed to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and served in the Gulf War. I will always be proud of his service to our country. To serve in the military is probably one of the most honorable professions any American could have for any amount of time and it is right that we should pay our respects in some way, to the millions of men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms, even if it’s just a private thought in between barbecues, picnics and reunions this Memorial Day.

The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.  ~ Thomas Jefferson

Freedom is such a big word. Used in just about any context, it packs a lot of weight and thought behind it. Whether it’s from a bad habit, an unfulfilling job or a relationship that has become too constrictive, people will seek liberation. The desire is innate. For America, defending it’s freedoms is paramount, it’s people will go to any lengths to preserve them.  And although we may not all agree on how to protect our precious freedoms, there’s no doubt, regardless of our politics, that our right to choose, to vote and to express ourselves are critical to the core of the foundation this nation was built upon. Our freedom is the most important attribute of this country, making it equally important I believe, to honor and thank the millions of men and women who actively continue to put themselves in harms way and devote their time to the cause of safe guarding the freedoms we enjoy. For me, it’s important that my children appreciate them as well. I try to be an example to that end. Whenever I see a person in uniform, I try to find an opportunity to say,

Thank you for your service.

It’s not much but it’s genuine and it’s a start. I’ve never been met with anything but a smile or a respectful nod when I’ve said that and I’ve never been sorry I’ve said it either. So, if it moves you, speak up and thank a service person the next time you see one.

Be safe and enjoy your Memorial Day!

Freaky Frieda and Her Wiener Dog, Heidi!

January 9, 2011 6 comments

This is a (true) story I’ve told my kids a hundred times. They never tire from it and always want to hear it again and again….

My dad had a red Volkswagen bus when we were kids. The kind with a sliding door on one side. Every summer for many years we would pack up the bus on a Friday night and make the 14-hour trek from New York to South Carolina for our family vacation. (Think Little Miss Sunshine without the dead body and you have us pegged.) My Dad is from Germany and had older friends, also from Germany, in Carolina who we visited. Frankly, we were less than thrilled to be going to see them but happy I suppose, to be going anywhere.

Powell and Frieda. Powell didn’t say a lot. He pretty much ignored us, unless of course he needed help shelling shrimp. Then he’d waive us over in the backyard and simply point to a bucket of hundreds of shrimps he and my Dad had caught the night before. There we’d  sit, shelling and de-veining shrimp for hours on end. A kid’s vacation dream. Frieda on the other hand was quite vociferous. Although she rarely spoke to us and when she did, it was in German, assuming we knew what she was saying. Her face was stern and wore a permanent frown. Her hair was black and shortly cropped. She had very pale skin which she highlighted with a deep red lipstick; a bit scary as I recall. She was rather stout and fond of wearing the same outfit every day; neatly ironed shorts with a button-up, sleeveless, white or yellow cotton blouse. This left the extra skin under her arms free to flap loosely in the wind whenever she got excited and raised her arms (which was often). We stayed at their house twice. After that, we rented. It was during our second visit that things came to a head and it was clear that Powell and Frieda’s tolerance for children was well, below sea level at best.

We rolled in on a hot Saturday afternoon in mid-July to what appeared to be a birthday party reception. There were decorations, hats and even party blowers nicely arranged on the kitchen table in their small, immaculate home. When we asked whose birthday it was, Frieda flapped her arms in the air and replied excitedly, Heidi‘s! The thing about this, is that my older sister’s name is Heidi and her birthday is July 15th but just what had changed we wondered from the previous year when they pretty much ignored us? Children have a keen sense about adults who don’t like them and quite frankly we were suspect. Rightfully, so.

What was different we soon found out, was Heidi. Not our Heidi but their Heidi. Heidi it turned out was their new baby; a four-legged dachshund doxie baby but their baby or at least Frieda’s baby, none the less. Heidi was a wiener dog. And it was her birthday they were celebrating. We were okay with that, after all, a party is a party and quite frankly, the wiener dog provided a little hope for us. Maybe this vacation wouldn’t be so bad after all. WRONG! Unfortunately, not only was there no cake and no ice-cream at this party, there was absolutely no blowing of the blowers either and the next few days set the stage for a resentment build up of epic proportions against Heidi

Heidi, Heidi, Heidi! Every other word out of Frieda’s mouth was about Heidi. “Look at Heidi. Where is Heidi? I wonder if Heidi is hungry?” Don’t play with, chase or scare Heidi. Don’t walk Heidi. Do not touch Heidi and for God sakes, don’t leave the door ajar or Heidi will run out of the house! As for Heidi, the spoiled little wiener dog, I swear she would start yelping like crazy if one of us even walked passed her, sending Frieda into a screaming, arm flapping, frenzy about how we were tormenting her poor, little Heidi. This domino-ed into my Dad yelling at us for upsetting Frieda, leaving us longing for the year before when Powell and Frieda just ignored us. By mid-week, we hated Heidi and Frieda even more. We were miserable and the only bright spot came when my parents announced we would be going to Myrtle Beach. Finally, some reprieve!

As cool as my dad’s VW bus was, it didn’t come with air conditioning and much to our dismay, Heidi the wiener dog was coming with us to Myrtle Beach. My dad and Powell sat up front. Mom and Frieda (with Heidi on her lap), in the middle seat, the human Heidi, myself and our younger brother, Peter were cramped together in the very back. Upon our departure, Frieda announced it was Heidi’s napping time and we were meant to be “quiet” while the dog slept for the hour’s ride. It was okay however, for Frieda to huff and puff and complain loudly about the heat for the first 30-minutes of our trip though and we watched the back of her head bob up and down wildly, while she waved her short stumpy fingers frantically in front of her face like a fan, sending sweat from her brow flying throughout the bus .

“Oh, mein Gott ist das so heiß!”

(Oh, my God it is so hot!) she repeated over and over again in German.

I’d say it was midway to Myrtle Beach when Frieda reached her boiling point– literally. Without warning she stopped waving and began to unbutton her yellow, sleeveless blouse. At first we weren’t sure what she was doing but once we saw her pass the garment up to Powell to hold, it was clear, the portly German woman in her late 50s who was sitting in front of us had just removed her blouse, completely! Seeing the thick white straps of her brazier alone, was enough to send us into an uncontrollable “snicker” as my mom would call it but when the now freaky Frieda turned around to see what all the ruckus was about, the reality of what she had done was just too much to hold in.  And now, there was all kinds of moist, milky-white skin flapping in the air in front of us as we came face to face with the largest bosoms squeezed into the biggest, white-est, lacy-est, cross your heart bra, any six, eight and ten-year kids had ever seen! Needless to say, the frontal view sent us gasping for air as we tried to contain the “snickering” which quickly turned into pure unadulterated laughter. Even mom who at first put the “sshhh” finger up to her lips behind Frieda’s back was now turning a crimson red, desperately trying not to bust a gut with her own laughter. Frieda didn’t see the humor or anything wrong with removing her blouse in the car on a hot summer’s day.

Honestly, this bra doesn't give the visual we were exposed to as youngsters justice but it's close and you get the idea.

We’d just about calmed ourselves down when Dad pulled into one of Myrtle Beach’s parking lots. With miles of beach before us, Dad snaked in and out of endless rows of cars to find a space. Maybe it was the heat of the moment or the heat itself, the need for air after all that belly hurting laughter or perhaps it was just a kid being a kid but for reasons we’ve never cared to discuss, the moment Dad pulled into a space and brought the car to a stop, my little brother jumped out of  his seat and opened the side door. What happened next is indelibly etched in my mind’s eye and I’m somehow able to replay the event in slow motion, moment by moment, which is truly a gift and leaves me forever grateful for it.

At the sound of the door sliding open, Heidi the wiener dog, bolted from freaky Frieda’s lap making the leap of her life for freedom and vanishing into the sea of cars, in the blink of an eye. Frieda, in absolute hysteria was next to take flight, leaving her blouse behind and frantically screaming “Heidi, come back! Heidi!” while chasing the yelping dog through row after row of cars. This buxom babe was bouncing all over the place in the parking lot, in her big, white, lacy, cross your heart bra for all to see! For just a moment, the three of us stood there by the open car door with wide eyes and dropped jaws, stunned by what we saw. Next went Powell, yelling in his thick German accent… “Vait! Frieda, stop! Come back! Vait! Vere are you going?” And finally, my Dad jumped out of his seat and ran after Powell who was running after Frieda, who was running after Heidi. Mom, (bless her) stayed back, unable to control herself as we all were by then, unable to control the howl of laughter that roared from the deepest, purest part of our happy souls.

Categories: Laughter, Life Tags: , , , ,
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