Tuesday, December 25, 2012

White Christmas

Who knew that our Christmas would be white after all! We don't get much snow in this parts of the country, but this year we had a Christmas wish come true: it started to snow in the mid-afternoon and snowed until all ground was covered with a white blanket. Beautiful!

The following picture was taken 24 hours earlier, on Christmas Eve:

The Teenager enjoying the sun on Christmas Eve ...

There is something romantic, magical, idyllic about the white Christmas...

Friend's house

It is the best time to share a cake with family and friends. 
Thank you all for coming into my life and filing my heart with joy. 

See you,

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Waiting for Santa...

"Embrace spirituality.

Regardless of your religious (or non-religious) preference, 

there is much more to this world than the things we see. 
Embrace spirituality this holiday season by championing love, hope, forgiveness, and grace. Rather than losing yourself in the hustle and bustle, find intentionality in remembering the heart of Christmas and celebrating the soul of everything good."

See you,

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ravioli "Love Letters"

Ravioli "Love Letters"

When I bought a ravioli maker, a new addition to my little kitchen, I had to put it to test right away. I made a dough, and went to pick up the teenager from school. When we came home, his first question was: "What are you going to do? Not the ravioli on a week day?!" See, the reason he was surprisingly confused was that we usually make ravioli on weekends, when we all gather around the table, tell stories, while filling the dough and shaping it into something resembling a traditional ravioli.
"Don't worry", I told the teenager. "I will make it myself, quick. Look what I've got!", and I proudly  pulled the new ravioli maker out of a cupboard. 
"If you say so", was his still suspicious reaction, and he went to do his homework (I think that's what he did. I hope). 

The dough after 30 minutes resting looks silky and is smooth to touch.

I prepared everything on my little kitchen table, and rolled the dough. Everything went so smooth: the dough had time to rest and was elastic, easy to roll, just perfect. A first layer of pastry went on the ravioliera, then each hole was filled with a filling, covered then with another layer of dough. I haven't spent even five minutes, and I already had 12 raviolis. Almost. How little did I know!

Too much filling... but I realized it a little later...

When I started to roll the pin over the top to press and cut ravioli, I understood that I am in a little trouble there: apparently, I put too much filling in each hole. As I was pressing, I also was pushing the filling into another hole and all over the sides of the dough. I stopped, and called the teenager. Skipping the  details of our conversation, which was quite fun, we cut each ravioli out of the press with the knife, and finished it by hands. They looked quite different from the one's pictured on the box, but edible. 

Not perfect yet...

The next batch came out better, and by the third batch I figured out how much filling I had to put in each hole to make ravioli worth picture taking. 

And here they are!

When the dinner was served, the husband came out of the office, smiling and holding a letter in his hands, a letter, that I wrote to him just a few days ago, just because it's a holiday season and I was all romantic and sentimental to put a few words on a piece of paper. And then it just hit me as I was looking at the letter and those rectangular shaped ravioli: they looked alike! A Love Letters Ravioli! 

Ravioli "Love Letters"


For the dough:

  • 3 cups semolina flour
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup water (I always use a little more water for filled pasta)


  • 1 lb (500 gram) ground pork
  • 1 lb (500 gram) ground beef
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dry dill (optional)

Combine all the ingredients and make a nice silky dough. I use stand mixer for the mixing task, then I knead the dough for about 7-10 minutes. Then I always let the dough rest wrapped in plastic film for 30 minutes.
Then give the dough another knead, and start working. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, shape it into a fist size balls, and cover to prevent from drying. Work with one cut at the time: roll it into a thin sheet size of the form, place on a raviolera, fill each hole with filling just a little bellow the edge of the hole. Cover it with another layer of rolled dough, and press with the rolling pin. Overturn the tray to remove the ravioli. Keep a small bowl with flour on your workplace to dust the table/board, rolling pin, and form.

At this stage ravioli can be frozen, or cooked in a big pot of  5 liters (about 5-6 q) of rapidly boiling salted water (1 Tablespoon kosher or sea salt)
Now, there are as many opinions about how long to boil raviolis as there are ravioli makers, or eaters. Because this raviolis have raw meat filling in it, I make sure it's done by cutting one raviolo after about 3-4 minutes of boiling. We don't like our pasta overcooked, and as soon as filling is done, usually the pasta is also done. Although it does depend on how thick was the dough rolled, and on the size of ravioli. 


* If  semolina flour is not available, use all purpose flour. Using the semolina flour is our preference. 
* You can make raviolis with any filling you wish. You can also pre-cook your meat filing by sauteing all ingredients in the skillet. The above filling is one of my men's favorite. We grind our own meat, and  finish grinding with the onions, which gives a lot of flavor to the meat. Any other meat or meat combination can be used. Just experiment what you like the best. 
* You don't have to have ravioli maker, you can perfectly shape ravioli by hands.
* How thin to roll the dough for ravioli? Again, there are numerous opinions, or tastes, I shell say. Paper thin is a classic, but we like a bit more pasta in our ravioli, so I roll it about 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick.
* How many ravioli to cook at one time? I cook 12-15 large size or up to 25 very small ravioli, dropping 3-4 at a time. 
* Sauce or not to sauce ravioli? It is very personal, really. In our family everyone has their own way of eating ravioli: the teenager likes it with red sauce; the husband likes it either with no sauce or a little starchy water it was boiling in with butter and parsley; I can have it with a white sauce or just plain with a little pecorino romano cheese and herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil on top; our daughter likes it with a white sauce. 

Ravioli "Love Letters"

Experiment to find a simple pleasure in making your own ravioli... :)

See you,

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Feel Good Post: 12.12.12

Today I wish you all to feel good and to celebrate The World Day of Interconnectedness. It's a day to be together with your family, friends,  and be in harmony with yourself.

Today we had a lovely walk with my friend Lisa and her Mom

Tall grass along the sidewalk

A friendly holiday decorations...

Pine tree...

and cherry tree in bloom, today! 

Isn't this snowman cute?!

We run so our goals in life will continue to get bigger instead of our belly
 Bill Kirby)

HoHoHo! It is the season!
A few family photos... 

Our son, a.k.a. teenager

Teenager after soccer (for the rest of the world football)  practice 12.12.12

Our daughter
Daughter: self portrait 12.12.12 via iPhone

Us 12.12.12 (ignore the look)
Thanks to the Internet and phones, our family connected today...

Back to Feel Good photos...

"Did I miss something? tell me, tell me!"

"I don't eat fish, how many times do I have to tell you?"

"Any gifts for me? No? Oh, you better hurry!"

"You may think I am sleeping, but I am watching you.
And yes, I am very comfortable..."
"I am coming down, wait, wait!
Yes, I washed leaked my paws. What's for dinner?"
"Didn't I tell you I don't like fish? Oh, they are not my dinner? Whew..."

"What's then?"

Holiday greetings

As we were walking, I lifted my head: high up in the sky there was a little dot... with zoom in it became this picture. It made me smile. 
We are indeed interconnected on this Planet... And it feels good! :)

See you,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Wake Up!" Polenta Muffins

If you are like me, intimidated by all things  baking, this simple, quick and easy recipe would turn you into a baking addict (to a degree).
Making this muffins is very easy, just a few basic ingredients mixed together. And how quick? Before you know it a 12 beautiful muffins come out of the  oven and put a happy smile on everyone's face in your home, including you, on any given morning, or evening, if you like... 
Not convinced? Well, it takes longer to brush your teeth than to mix a batch of this muffins. I timed... :)

"Wake Up!" Polenta Muffins

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup fine polenta
  • 1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons/60 gram), melted
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (or 2-3 tablespoons if you like it sweet)
  • 1 tablespoon minced cayenne pepper (or 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper)

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C) and prepare a muffin pan. 

Melt the butter, take off the heat and add olive oil. Set aside.

Whisk together all dry ingredients, except baking soda.

Mix together buttermilk and baking soda, add it to the butter and oil, and mix well.

Add butter mix to the bowl with dry ingredients, and stir to form a batter. Do not overmix! 

Pour the batter into the muffin pan, and bake around 18-20 minutes, turning the pan 180 degrees half way through the baking. 

Muffins are ready when a wooden stick (toothpick, small skewer, etc.), inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out dry.


I tested this recipe many times with different proportion of polenta and flour, and ratio 1:1 works the best: not too dry from the corn, and not too heavy from the flour.
I also tested different fats, including lard (my favorite), but because good lard is hard to find (I made my own lard to use in this muffins), and store bought has so many additives, I did not include it in this recipe. However, if you come across good lard, that has only one ingredient listed, which is... yes, lard, I encourage you to try it. You can use 60 grams butter and 60 grams lard, or just lard. The result is "melt-in-your-mouth" muffins. 
What's in the name? Why "Wake Up!"? That is easy: the amount of spicy cayenne, added to the batter would wake up any sleepy head in the morning. I use fresh minced cayenne pepper, with gives a nice kick with every bite, and brings you to a reality from your dreams... :)

See you,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Something to Think About...

Let me elaborate the whole story behind my journey to Seattle and back. As you know, on a lovely morning of October 18th we left this little town because I had a job lined up for me in Seattle. It was decided that the teenager and I would go there, settle down (to a degree), and in eight months the husband would join us. It sounded as a perfect plan, but on that morning I didn't feel any excitement.  Something was squeezing my chest real hard, and no deep breath would relieve it. 
I blamed the tiredness from  packing, yard sale, all emotional things that came with moving. However, four days of driving through a beautiful terrain of South, West, and Pacific Northwest did not make it easier. 

Upon our arrival to Seattle I was smiling, hugging and happy to see my daughter, our friends, the city that is our home away from home. But that squeezing in my chest never went away. 
From the road I called my friend Lisa, and pour in her ear all my feelings, that I was afraid to share with anybody else. Once she said to listen not only to my mind, but to my heart too. Easier said than done as my heart was a mess during my trip, and load of mixed emotions filled it. Which one should I listen to?

My first day at work was Wednesday. It wasn't a new-new job for me: two years ago I worked there, and I loved what I was doing, and I loved people I worked with. I was lucky to get back not only to the same office, but same team and same boss, who is one of the best bosses I've ever had. 
So that Wednesday morning, after completing an usual HR routine, I went to a mandatory training off sight. I was welcomed by smiles and hugs,  but despite happy emotions I was ready to cry. To be polite I forced my lips into slight smile, even though my eyes could show some horror in it. What I saw in that room was scary to me: almost all my coworkers behind their smiles had a great deal of tiredness in their eyes and signs of exhaustion on their faces.
When I came to the office, the usual semi-introduction took place: getting my cubic, assignments,  transferring cases, and more smiles and hugs from co-workers. When I walked through the office I was struck by a thought: what I see now was me two years back, and soon it would be me with tired eyes and exhaustion on my face. "Am I ready for that? And do I really want to do it?" - were two thoughts that came trough my mind for a split of the second, shamefully erased by  words: "responsibility", "must", and etc.

That night, when I came to my daughter's apartment, I cried. I cried so hard that my kids got scared and called my husband. They said to him that they've never seen me crying like this. I think, they never seen me crying at all.  After long, weeping (on my end) talk to my husband, I had a not too long, weeping again (and again on my end), talk to my kids. It was clear for them (not for me yet), that I don't like the job anymore, hence I should't do it. My daughter said that they want their mother (me in this case) to be happy. Then teenager added: "there's nothing wrong to change your mind. It is much worse to get stuck with something that makes you unhappy, and  depressed". (Oh dear, when did my kids grew up?!) At this  moment I stopped crying and  stretched my lips into some form of smile. Then they both added: "Make up your mind, just don't cry. Whatever you decide to do, we'll support you."

That night wasn't easy, thoughts kept me awake, and a tear or two wet my pillow now and then. What was the right thing to do? Was it to listen to my heart (for the first time in my life), or to be a responsible person as I always was and to do it because I must?
The moment I sent an e-mail to my boss, I felt as a huge weight a size of a mountain fell off my shoulders and the squeezing in my chest disappeared as someone pooled a cork and  relieved all the pressure. I heard people describing such moments, but never before experienced one myself. It was the moment when the inner peace and calmness replaced the racing in panic thought "what if..." 

Taking that job was a rational and financially comforting decision to make, but it didn't fit my emotional "bill" anymore. My heart doesn't care much about the money or luxury, but it does care about my family's well-being, a doze of happiness now and then, my personal development, that I put on hold by making only rational and logical decisions all those years. 
I have no regrets for changing my mind whatsoever; every mile of that journey was taking me through the transforming experience. It feels as my mind and heart have synchronized, and now it flow in the same direction... 
Don't get me wrong, our life is not an even and paved road: we have our challenges, road bumps, detours. Nevertheless, as Marilyn Monroe said: "keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life's a beautiful thing and there's so much to smile about.” 

See you,

P.S. I have no formal (or informal, for that matter) education in English (click here and here to read more). If you see a mistake that bothers you, please,  send me a friendly note to my e-mail (tomatomarina@gmail.com)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Panini: Mozzarella Caprese, and Other Things...

Panini Mozzarella Caprese

There's nothing better for me than a warm cheesy panini on a December cool/cold hot day. Yes, you have it right: we have an area's record high temperatures for December: today it was over 80F (27C). I made kale chips last night, having oven on  for just 10 minutes, and we wanted to turn AC at night! 

Panini: Sauteed Eggplants 

Don't hate me, but the weather is just gorgeous. Not for cooking though. In the kitchen I have to make something really quick, panini quick. I've been making sandwiches every day with different ingredients. I love it all, however my all time favorite is Mozzarella Caprese. I can't just have enough of it. 

Ingredients for Mozzarella Caprese

NOTE: If you remember, a little over a month ago we (me and the teenager) were moving to Seattle. Yes, we did. But the job didn't work out for me, and we came back to Arkansas for the remaining seven months before my husband graduates from his medical residency. More on "why?" and "What happened?" I'll post some other time, when I am ready. The whole experience was extraordinary yet a bit tiring. We I drove over five thousand (5,230) miles, plus all the stress and decision making involved kept me pre-occupied for some time. 
We still moved to another apartment from our big townhouse. I miss my big kitchen...

Panini: Grilled Portobello Mushroom and Eggplant
with Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano cheeses with kale salad

Next seven months are our transitional time: the husband is looking for a job, getting his state license, teenager is working on his college application. 
Many things are going on at the same time, which fills our time from 6:30 AM to 10PM, and making the time to fly: I realized that I haven't posted in a week! 
Bare with me, and if you don't hear from me for too long, send me a note.:) 
I still have some photos and a few note worthy places to share from that road trip...


See you,