Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summer Woes, Summer Routine

Momma hears the happy jabbering "Ah, Summer is approaching and now we parents can relax and take it easy, no schedules, no homework, no nagging." No Way !

Momma Explains
Summer is a great time to refocus and refresh, it is also a time when we can let time slip away and be used inefficiently. First, Momma is a beach-a-holic. I love the beach, love the ocean and the sun. I spent many a summer on the beach for a good part of the day. My children went with me and we had fun. Summers should be fun, loads of fun. Summers should include activities that everyone will remember with joy. Summers also are a wonderful learning opportunity. Spending every day in idleness is not exactly fun, in fact it becomes BORING. Now, how many times have you heard your children say that they were bored about half way through the summer. Does that mean another job for you, do you need to organize a million different activities and outings? Absolutely not, but you should have some scheduled activities such as work book page time or reading time or even a " how things work" research agenda.
For the child still too young to have summer employment a short time each day or every other day spent reviewing and reinforcing curriculum subjects is a great way to keep your child at least on level with his grade knowledge. The human brain is most efficient when it is kept active. If the summer is spent without any brain stimulating activities then the adjustment back to the rigors of school is torturous. There are several wonderful catalogs available to meet your requirements. My two FAVORITE catalogs are Educators Publishing Service (www. and a popular cognitive series, The Critical Thinking Co. ( These both offer a multitude of workbooks, test preparation and reinforcement books as well as cognitive skill series. As much as the kids enjoy the lack of structure the summer affords, they often become easily bored especially when they are up early and looking to amuse themselves. You cannot spend 12 hours exposed to UV rays nor in front of the television. And, while I wish we could all afford t o spend the summer traveling to ancient Rome or Greece , we must live within the limits of our budget, jobs and schedules. Whether you are a working parent or remain home, it is a smart move to have some of these workbooks ordered from the mentioned catalogs to keep the children amused and sharp. My kids often bucked me as I introduced the workbooks but when they actually started to see the benefits or fun elements they initiated the workbook time themselves. I strongly urge parents to purchase a few books whether as prep books for SAT, HSPT, ACT, Terra Nova etc or just a series such as Red Herring( cognitive skills that play as a mystery game). Knowledge must be reinforced in most students, so why waste the entire summer in stagnancy, go on some trips, laze around a pool, play in the yard and make some time to exercise the mind as well as the body. Have a happy, safe and erudite summer!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sausage Ragu and Mollydooker

Momma was asked for a food and wine combination that was WOW worthy, with the wine being about $25.00. You think this cannot be done? Yes, it can !

Mollydooker 2007 Two Left Feet South Australia Red Wine, with a rating of 93 from Parker
Momma Explains
Great wine does not have to cost you a great price but it does have to deliver flavor and balance. Somehow Sarah and Sparky Marquis are able to do just that. I especially like their 2007 Two Left Feet with my sausage ragu, but be warned, there are decent alcohol levels in this wine so go easy on the red pepper flakes. I also am a big fan of their Boxer wine but I actually like that one with a slab of cheese, and just a good conversation. I call the Boxer, my thinking wine. Two Left Feet is my dining wine. The Boxer is a big mouthful of flavor and I prefer to enjoy it practically sans food. Two Left Feet is a great blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It makes a perfect foil for my sausage ragu poured over rigatoni cooked, how else, al dente.

Momma's Sausage Ragu
Cook 3 pounds of sweet Italian sausage in a pan covered 2/3 of the way with water. Pierce casing to allow some fat to escape. Cook until done and set aside. I even cook it in a roasting pan in the oven with the water covering it at about 350 for an hour.

This recipe also calls for pork as the starting braise. Place 4 boneless pork chops on a plate and sprinkle both sides with Kosher salt and pepper-to your taste. Pour some good extra virgin olive oil in a pan and heat the oil, then cook 4 boneless pork chops ( about 1/2 inch each) for about 4 minutes a side. Give it just enough time to sear in the flavor then remove the chops and set aside. In the pan add more olive oil if necessary and cook one small onion sliced thin. Sprinkle the onion with some salt to caramelize. When the onion has softened add 6 minced cloves of garlic, cook for a minute ( garlic burns easily and gets bitter), turn off heat. Now, get out your big sauce pan, I use a non stick 8 or 10 quart pot because this cooks so long it can easily burn.You will need to stir it often. Pour the onion and olive oil mixture in the large pot and add the pork chops and sausage, ( You can cut the sausage into chunks if you prefer, I do ) You will need four cans 28 oz. each of SAN MARZANO tomatoes....if you use anything other than San Marzano..Momma will not be happy. My family does not like chunky sauce so I blend the peeled tomatoes from the can in my blender, then I add them to the BIG pot. I fill one of the empty cans about 2/3 full of water and rinse out the other cans by pouring one into the other, then I add that rinse water to the sauce pot. Since this cooks a long time it will thicken and you may need to add a little water to keep it moveable. I add about 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. I also add fresh oregano leaves (or dried if that is what you have) and some basil leaves as well. The spices are very individualized so let the sauce cook for an hour before you taste it, then if you want to add more salt or pepper you may but the sausage and pork will continue to add flavor so be careful with the salt etc... This sauce should be cooked at low heat for about 3 hours , just so it simmers, you know that slow boil where the flavors radiate throughout the house. Stir occasionally and as you stir the pork should start to break into chunks about 2 hours into the cooking.
When you are ready to eat, follow package directions for cooking your pasta of choice (ALWAYS add salt to the water, a small palm-full). I use about one pound of Barilla Rigatoni. When the pasta finishes cooking- al dente , drain well and dump it into the pot of ragu sausage and mix together. Then call the family in, have a salad as a side and open that bottle of Two Left Feet. Remember red wine should NOT be served at room temperature, I will address temperature in another blog, just make sure you serve Two left Feet at about 60 degrees, 65 degrees at the warmest, even if that means popping it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving. Ah, I am hungry just writing about this.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Teenagers invent new clothes carousel

Teenagers and that even more confusing age group the "tweeners" have invented a new clothes carousel. What is a clothes carousel?

Momma Explains
Most families start out with an odd assortment of furniture, kindly donated from relatives or purchased at close out sales or thrift stores. Few couples have the ability to start out their marriage with a large excess of available funds. So if you are lucky enough to purchase a home then the matching furniture sets must wait. Eventually though you may be able to start acquiring your own look and the furniture that goes with your decorating style. Then you might even decide to purchase a lovely matching and coordinated bedroom set for your 10 year old. They are thrilled and carefully put all their wonderful possessions away in drawers, dressers and shelves. They even use that desk you stretched to buy to complete the perfect bedroom. Little did you know that furniture euphoria was so short lived. Within 2 years the clothes carousel has taken over their room. The dresser, the drawers, the shelves and desk all house empty space. The floor has become a living breathing entity of clothing. The clothing carousel is a careful arrangement of
  1. Clothes that just dropped off their bodies.
  2. Clothes that they considered putting on their bodies.
  3. Clothes they will never put on their bodies but have yet informed you no longer fit.
  4. Clothes that have been washed and placed by mom in the room in a basket( mom's are slow learners)
  5. Clothes with tags still attached waiting to be outgrown.
  6. Clothes that are wet because they dry better on the rug and cover the other laundry baskets that mom is still seeking.
  7. Clothes left there by a friend who has yet to remember to retrieve them but it is okay as your child has left clothing at their house so the laws of conservation of matter are still in effect.
  8. Clothes that were accidentally sent to the child's room which do not belong to them and therefore are now part of the dead laundry pile and will never see the owner again.
Surprisingly any teenager or tweener will know if you enter the carousel and disturb this precisely organized arrangement. Look on the bright side, come Spring, you can have a garage sale with the following sign " FOR SALE -Lovely matching bedroom set, hardly used, in excellent condition. Then you can use the profits to buy a rug cleaner!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Momma's Potatoes and Riesling

Momma was asked by a friend in the mid-west, " What is a good potato recipe to use as a side dish?"

Momma Explains : Although I
do not make many potato dishes, this is one of our favorites and a great side dish with grilled
ham steak and peaches. If you cannot find fresh peaches, try canned in lite syrup as a replacement. The entire meal is a quick fix and the Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Kabinett
( 2006 or 2007 ) is a perfect chilled accompaniment. If you will be grilling ham steaks, start with 3 fully cooked 1/2 inch thick steaks and brush with oil and some peach juice. Use some of the light syrup from the canned peaches. Then grill them for a short period of time on med/low just to warm them up and capture some grille flavor. If not grilled then start with a frying pan and about 4 tablespoons of butter, heat ham in butter on med and add some peach juice at the end of heating. Make a quick salad as a side and you can have this meal finished in record time. Keep the wine cold as it really helps to bring out the wine's natural fruit flavor. You will make the potatoes first as they will require the most time.

Momma's Potato Alfredo

Use small red potatoes, about 4 pounds for this recipe. Wash and peel off any blemishes but leave some of the skin on. Cover potatoes with salted water ( about 1 Teaspoon Kosher salt) and boil until fork tender. Drain water( but leave just a little in the pot) and return pot to stove on medium heat, add 1 pint heavy cream and 1 stick of butter, 3 minced garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon salt ( sea salt if available) , add pepper to taste, probably about 1/4 teaspoon. Chop fresh chives and add 2 tablespoons chives to pot, stirring gently but frequently to allow butter to melt and mix all ingredients. It does not need to boil but allow it to be well heated and all flavors mixed thoroughly. This does not take long. Once the mixture is heated, grill your steaks for a quick sear and toss your salad. Then put potatoes in large bowl and sprinkle some more chopped chives on top along with a cup of parmigiano shavings. ( I use a potato peeler and my family always adds more parmigiano because they love that flavor, they also add more salt and pepper but you need to match your taste.) Now pour out the Riesling and enjoy !
I purchased this from The Bottle Shop, I have included their coverage of this incredibly reasonable wine which is great with many summer dishes. I served this wine at a party and one of the guests was a German citizen, he was so thrilled to have this wine which he said was very popular in his country.

Michel Schneider Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Kabinett 2007


Price on 05/14/09: $11.99


Bottle Shop of Spring Lake Notes

One of our top selling fruity Rieslings. This is clean and refreshing with juicy yellow peach and apricot flavors. A perfect picnic, brunch or sushi wine.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I Will Not Let You Fail

It is the end of the school year and as many look forward to the free time over the summer, we may have to deal with poor grades, a struggling student, confused teenager or even an anxious bride. As parents, everyday is a challenge and an experience. So Momma offers the following blog to hopefully encourage and embrace that which we are called to accept as parents.

"I will not let you fail !" sounds like an impossible task when it comes to our children but Momma has a different interpretation of "LET" and what it means to us as a parent.

Momma Explains
: According to most dictionaries the word " let " means to allow, permit or to grant and while as parents we do not possess super human abilities despite what our children believe,( they still think I have supernatural hearing) , we are asked to do almost supernatural tasks. And so as parents, devoted parents, we put our child's needs before our own. We are called to instruct, correct, console and encourage. We are called to direct our children away from the things that will cause them to FAIL and toward the things they need to succeed physically, emotionally and spiritually. So by the bold statement " I will not let you fail" Momma means that I will not let you do things that cause you harm, I will not walk away from you when you make a mistake, I will support you when you succeed and will pick you up when you fall. I may not be able to prevent you from making poor choices or failing at something but I will not LET you stand alone. I will accept a discipline that you have earned but I will support you through the difficulty. I will take away the computer game if it keeps you from your homework obligations, I will be the ONLY parent who does not allow their child to go to the underage drinking party!
( I always respond to the statement " But you are the ONLY ONE who won't LET me" with my favorite rebuttal ," Good I LOVE being NUMBER ONE !) Letting our children do things that are irresponsible is letting them fail. Of course it is always harder to be tough on them than to LET them have their way. Directing them is not easy, discouraging poor choices is time consuming, bucking the popular opinion is daunting but FAILING is not an option. Loving them is so easy when they are babies because they rely on and trust in us for all decisions. It is not easy to convince our child that our decisions are in their best interest when they think otherwise. It takes much fortitude when we have to pick up the child who was suspended or stand next to them at a hearing or stay up trying to encourage them to finish some blasted project ( especially when we are missing the one and only TV show all week that we take the time to watch ) - That is what Momma means when she says, " I will not let you fail ." And do not be discouraged if you can't be perfect , I mean even God our Father had to get tough and throw his kids out...Naked...and not even a meatball sandwich to take with them. However, Our Father stayed with them when they erred, corrected them, encouraged them and finally sent His Only Son to suffer and die to " Let" them Not Fail. You can remain steadfast and even when tired and down you can still press on, and your children will always know that despite all trials, in great times and scary ones, they have a foundation to stand on, one that keeps saying, I love you and
" I will not let you fail."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Graduation Party Menu Ideas

Momma received a question from a family member who is having a high school graduation party soon.
" What do I serve, how do I plan this menu since it is an open house and what wine should I buy? Am I expected to have a party that serves the best?"

Momma Explains: First, your party responsibility is not that you need to have a party that serves the BEST but a party that serves the GUEST !
  1. Look at your attendees, most graduation parties really run a wide range of ages. You want the 2 year old and the 92 year old to be comfortable and well fed. You should plan a menu that can be placed on warming trays, sterno units or electric roasters. The food needs to be kept moist and appetizing over a fairly long period of time. Momma suggests some of her favorite large party menu ideas. I always make too much food, otherwise I could not send all my relatives home with goodies. Some people give out party favors, Momma sends you home with snackings!
Menu Ideas

  • Italian meatballs in red sauce or gravy as my South Philly guys call it.
  • Sausage and onions with fried red and green peppers
  • A crock pot of hot dogs..don't laugh ..remember the 2 year old and the 92 year old, both can eat that. Having it in a steaming water bath is perfect. Loads of toppings make a hot dog bar and the teenagers can be as creative as they wish. Get several bags of hot dog rolls.
  • Platters of Italian antipasto or just an American cold meat and cheese platter* note *-You should make up several small platters and take them out periodically as they are diminished. Have small rolls available for finger sandwiches.
  • Trays of easy finger fruit such as strawberries and red and green grapes. Just rinse and spread out over a platter.
  • A large green salad with a simple dressing. Leave extra pre-washed lettuce in bags in the refrigerator and extra dressing available too. Just refill the salad bowl as needed.
  • A pasta dish such as extra cheesy baked ziti or tortellini Alfredo. Both can sit for awhile without totally offending al dente sensibilities.
  • Desserts should be easy to pick up such as small brownies and cookies. You can always have a graduation cake as well.
  • A huge box of squeeze ice pops...remember the two year old, remember the teenagers..they like them and make wonderful ice packs when the two year old takes a spill while mom and dad are trying to gulp down food or drink.
  • As far as beverages, you will need alcoholic and non alcoholic. Try water, ice tea and lemonade or soda if you wish for the non-alcoholic.
  • Alcoholic beverages can be more challenging. A punch made with orange juice, sherbet and prosecco (An Italian sparkling type wine that can be far more reasonably priced than champagne) makes an Italian version of the mimosa and is awesome over ice. Wine is my beverage of choice, always, so I really want you to pay attention. If you do not know what wine to buy DO NOT just walk into the grocery store and grab some bottles. You need to go to a wine store and ask the personnel, " What are your highest rated wines at bargain prices?" There are several wine rating magazines etc. that have smart buys and bargain buys and the wine stores should have a few. Keep your wine choice simple. This is not a dinner party, try a medium bodied red such as Panarroz Jumilla Red and a simple white such as Cantus Sauvignon Blanc. These are inexpensive wines that give great value. However, your best resource is your wine merchant and of course your own taste preferences.
  • I will normally have a recipe along with a wine suggestion but for this post I will only include my antipasto recipe, if you need other recipes for my recommendations go to the Food Network site and get the recipes from the Italian chefs, or use a reliable Italian cookbook or site. When you cook an ethnic cuisine, use that ethnic source. Thinking you can go outside for those recipes has resulted in aberrations such as cottage cheese being used in place of ricotta which for Momma is gastronomical torture.

I buy good quality meats at the best prices. Check your local paper for their specials.
Place cleaned Romaine lettuce leaves on a tray. Follow with layers of hard and Genoa salamis, sopressato, capicola, prosciutti, mozzarella, provolone (use the sliced version for this if you wish), peel and quarter hard boiled eggs then add mixed olives, roasted peppers drizzled in extra virgin olive oil, pepperoncini peppers, and artichoke hearts. I also place out some good dipping olive oil and crusty bread slices. There are guests who make their entire meal out of my antipasto, but who cares, I want my guests to eat what they like. Now, normally I would have a Chianti or nice Sicilian wine with this but they can be a bit pricier, although there has been a string of great Italian wines at great prices lately. ( Sipavola Rosso Di Sicilia 2006 or Salice Salentino La Corte 2006 as pictured above) But if you can't find ones in your general budget, maybe you keep a few bottles on the side for your "special" guests.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Momma gets a Gift

Having programmers as offspring has its benefits, this is my Mother's Day Gift from my son. So now the whole Internet gets to have Momma Explain !

As an avid cook and wine aficionado I have been enjoying wine and food for quite a long time but only recently really put the time and research into using both my food recipes and wine knowledge together so as to harmonize during our meals. Being of Italian descent, you must understand that the meal is the family unifier and good food and wine complete the experience and enhance the joy.

I will be bringing my latest wine finds (Oh, I am a bargain shopper with high expectations!), along with the recipes I find best compliment that dish.

Thursdays will be my mercurial summaries of my vast brood, extended family and experiences. Sometimes filled with humor, sarcasm and pathos, but it will be what Momma knows and explains.