Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sourdough starter - "Pasta Madre" Part 1


I've been dreading writing this post because I already know it will be rather complicated to explain but my friend Alessandra who gave me this recipe convinced me last night on the phone that if I don't document my "Pasta Madre" I will end up regretting it in the end. So here it goes....

What is "Pasta Madre"? It is the naturally produced yeast that is used in making sourdough bread. The literal translation for Pasta Madre is Mother Dough. It is called this in Italy because genuine Pasta Madre (I will abbreviate PM from now on) is not sold in grocery stores. It is a natural yeast that must be made at home. It must be cared for and "refreshed" to keep it alive or else it will die. Yes I know I'm sounding a little crazy but I'm trying to make it easy to understand because when I first started reading about it, it seemed extremely complicated and I hardly understood anything about it.

Alessandra was so informative and made everything so easy to understand. She told me "Silvana, you have to act as though it is your child! That is the real reason it is called Mother Dough!" So there you have it. I have been raising my "child" for about 10 days now and I'm proud to say she is growing big and strong! :-) ...it's a she by the way...I named her too. You have to name your PM...it's a must! If you're interested her name is Maria :-)

Alessandra has had her PM for over 2 years! Can you believe that?! The longer you have it the stronger it gets and it makes the most delicious sourdough bread and baguettes you have ever tasted!

So where do we start? You only need three things:

1) 100 grams of Manitoba Flour: you must use a strong flour or Manitoba flour as it's called. You should not use regular all-purpose flour or else you will not achieve the right yeast growth.

2) 50 grams of room temperature water: notice that it is exactly half of the amount of flour you have used. Use bottled water if you can instead of tap water.

3) One tablespoon of honey: you need some form of glucose to activate the yeast and this is the preferred method of my friend. It's the easiest and the purest method. Some people even use raisins in place of honey but by using other activators, you run the risk of mold forming which you must then immediately throw out and start over. Using honey is the "cleaner" approach and it makes for a beautiful and robust PM.

That's all you need! Now mix the three ingredients together by hand and you should end up with a ball the size of a tennis ball. Place the ball in a tall glass container that you will then cover with plastic wrap. Put one hole on top of the plastic wrap with a toothpick and let it sit on your counter top for 24 hours. Never place it in the refrigerator. The PM must produce naturally-occurring lactobacilli and yeast. This starts the fermentation process and will cause your PM to grow in size and expand.

This was Day 1 for my PM
After the first 24 hours you won't see much of a difference. For the first 3 days actually you won't see much change in size but on the fourth day you start to see the magic taking place!
 
So after 24 hours, you must refresh your PM for the first time. You should refresh every 24 hours for 30 days. I know...I know... I thought the same thing. It's a long time. But it really only takes 10 minutes a day. I do it before going to bed at night and it really is not a hassle at all. As I said before, my PM has been growing for about 10 days now so you will see it larger and of a different consistency than it was the first time I refreshed it. Now I will show you step by step the refreshing process which was the most complicated part for me.
 
This is what you need for the refreshment:
 
1) 100 grams of Manitoba Flour
2) 100 grams of your PM
3) 50 grams of water

 
Remove the top layer of your PM and discard. With a spoon take 100 grams of your PM from the middle area which is the most active, weigh it on a scale and place in a bowl.

 
 
Weigh out 100 grams of Manitoba flour and place in the bowl with the PM.

 
Then weigh 50 grams of room temperature water and mix together kneading well by hand, you don't have to knead for very long. Like I said before the whole process takes me no more than 10 minutes. Knead until you have formed a ball.



 

If you find that it's still too sticky, go ahead and add a little more flour.

This is how the PM should look after it has been refreshed. It's now ready to rest.
Discard the rest of the PM that you had left over and wash the glass container with ONLY hot water and dry well with a paper towel. Never use soaps or other chemicals. Only hot water. The PM will be very sticky so what I do is let the glass container soak overnight in hot water and place my refreshed PM in another tall glass container. Cover with the same plastic wrap with the hole on top and place on the counter again. Let it sit and repeat the process after 24 hours.

 
Each day you will see it grow larger and larger. It truly is an amazing process...It's like magic as my friend says! Once the PM is ready to be used, after 30 days, you will keep it in a closed container in the refrigerator and you don't have to refresh it every day. It usually should get refreshed once a week. I can't wait to make my first sourdough bread! I'm excited to see how it will turn out.


 
This is what my sourdough looks like now. In about 2 weeks it should reach the top of the container and be completely active for my first bread :-)
If you want to try it, don't be intimidated. Just give it a go! You have nothing to lose...
Here are some pictures of typical sourdough bread to get you motivated. Hopefully mine will turn out this yummy!! We'll just have to wait and see.... 



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To be continued....

Update: Part 2 here


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Inspiration: My Secret Love for Blue & White


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I have a secret love for blue and white decor. I told you a little about my preferred decorating style when I showed you some pictures of my dining room area. I love my living/dining room. I think it's relaxing and elegant and cozy at the same time but I sometimes think about redoing it all with a traditional blue and white country style. Whenever I see a picture of a blue and white room my heart sinks. I just think it is the most beautiful color combination but I'm afraid that I might get sick of it to be honest. Karianne's living room from Thistlewood Farms started my obsession with blue and white. Isn't it just gorgeous?

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It's not an overkill of blue and white and it's such an elegant living space that I don't think I would tire of.
 
I also love the idea of blue and white in a master or guest bedroom. I think this room is very romantic and again it's subtle and not too much. I don't really like bold colors. I know a lot of people that like using bright pops of color in their home but I like a more neutral color palette.

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 This is more subtle than the previous bedroom. I prefer this one with the toile pattern.
Another thing that makes me absolutely smitten is blue and white china...ahhhh my heart! How stunning is this white kitchen with the beautiful blue and white dishes?! This just takes my breath away..I love this kitchen so much.

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 Then there is the fabric for the curtains and throws and pillows. So many beautiful prints to chose from....

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I also really secretly love toile :-)

Too much you think?
 
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I swoon over this bedroom but I could never ...... or could I? :-)
So there you have it...my not-so-secret love for blue and white!
 
I think I'll try it in my guest bedroom and see how it turns out. I'll keep you posted.
 
Do you have any secret home decor ideas you would like to try?



Monday, September 28, 2015

Sunday Sweets - Meringue

Yes, I know it's Monday but I was too exhausted to post my Sunday Sweet recipe yesterday so I'm posting it today. I had guests from out of town stay at my house Saturday and Sunday so I was a busy lady this past weekend cooking and cleaning and cooking....and eating. FYI - I started dieting today...let's see how long it'll last...

I chose to make Meringue's for dessert Saturday evening. If you have never had a Meringue you are missing out on a fluffy but at the same time crispy cloud of sweetness that puts a smile on my face just by looking at them!



There are different methods of making Meringue's that differ from country to country. The most popular are the French, Swiss and Italian Meringue's. I always use the French method because it is the easiest and uses the least number of ingredients.

You will also be happy to know that one Meringue has only 20 calories! Isn't that wonderful?? Unfortunately though, becasue of their delisciousness....it's pretty hard to stop at just one. #willpower

All you need to make about 50 meringue's is 120 grams of egg whites, 220 grams of powdered sugar, a few drops of fresh lemon juice, and sprinkles to decorate are optional.

 
 
I used this glittered sugar which I thought was really cute. They come in 4 colors (gold, silver, blue and pink) and they looked really cute on top of the Meringue's.

The first thing you want to do is make sure you have either a metal or glass bowl to beat the egg whites. This is a very easy recipe but there are a few secrets to get it perfect. The egg whites must be beaten in a clean and dry bowl. There should be no water or grease present whatsoever in the bowl and never beaten in a plastic bowl or else you will not reach the right consistancy and the eggs will not be firm enough.  Before beginning turn the oven on very low heat to about 175° farenheight or 80° celcius.  A mixer will definetly help the process and you won't have to mix by hand which can be a real pain in the tucus...


Add some powdered sugar to the egg whites then start mixing. Once the egg whites start fluffing up stop the mixer and add some more sugar. Do this slowly until you have added all of the powdered sugar necessary.

 
Once you have incorporated all the sugar add a few drops of fresh lemon juice. The lemon will give a nice shine to the egg whites and will also remove the typical smell produced by the egg.
 

Keep mixing until you see the egg white is firm and forms beautiful mountain peaks of  sugary sweetness!
 
 
You are now ready to GENTLY add the mixture to a pastry bag and pipe on a baking sheet with parchment paper.   


You don't have to space them very far apart because they won't grow at all. You are technically not even baking them but you are simply drying them out. Now you can decorate with sprinkles if you like.

 
Place them in the preheated oven but leave the oven door open slighty.
 
 
As I said before, the heat should be very low. Total time to cook is 2 hours. After one hour, I turn the tray around so the back part is in the front. The back part of the oven will be warmer so half way through cooking time make sure to switch sides or else the meringue's in the back will cook too much.


They are now done. They should be crispy on the outside and softer on the inside. Don't they just make you smile :-)



Have a wonderful week my friends!


Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Contemplations

First Contemplation: Mean people suck – and so do rude people!
 
This morning as I was driving to work I get a phone call from a coworker that was just so rude. No please, no thank you…just demanding. I understand that people can be stressed out and I’m the first one that knows everybody has life issues, but that doesn’t give you the right to not say please or thank you.
 
And when you see someone you know and they don’t say hi….ugh! Like, you don’t have to have a conversation with the person….just say hi. Is that so difficult to do? I just don’t understand it. I was raised in a family where manners were the most important thing. If I didn’t say please or thank you I wasn’t getting ANYTHING I asked for. I couldn’t leave the dinner table until I asked my parents “May I please be excused?”.  So whenever I meet a rude or arrogant person they just get under my skin so much!
 
To me one of the biggest insults someone could say to me is that I am rude. I always try to go out of my way to make people feel comfortable and appreciated when they’re around me…I just don’t understand why other people don’t do the same.
 
Don’t you hate it when you walk into a store and no one comes to help you? Now I usually like to look at things by myself when I’m shopping but sometimes when I need help and I ask the sales person and they start acting rude I usually just say never mind and leave.  Maybe they hate their job, I don’t know, but that attitude is not getting you anywhere that’s for sure!

This is my absolute favorite part of the movie.
          
Second Contemplation: Body Image

I have a very big problem with how the media portrays woman. I have always struggled with weight loss and eating healthy and counting calories and it’s just exhausting! I’m not in any way obese but somehow we never feel like we’re skinny enough, tall enough, pretty enough as so on.

And I’ve realized that it’s not how men see us at all! As with most Monday mornings, I’ll wake up look at myself in the mirror and say ok today I’m going to start dieting because I look fat and my other half starts saying here we go again…you are beautiful just the way you are….I don’t want a toothpick next to me….you don’t need to lose weight…blah blah blah but I just never believe it. Why you ask? Because every time I turn on the TV or flip through a Cosmopolitan or Vogue magazine I see these images of women that are over the top perfection and then I look at myself and think… “wow I’m a hot mess!”

I know that no one looks like that in real life…I know all of those images are photo shopped and that half those women have had something done to themselves but nonetheless, we still feel the need and desire to reach perfection. I get so frustrated when I see 15 year old girls dressed up in high heels with wayyyy too much makeup acting like America’s next top model. Enjoy your youth, there’s plenty of time to be a grown up. And it’s not their fault either…it’s the media.
 

This picture I think really portrays what I'm trying to say.

Women should feel fabulous no matter what size, shape or color. And men should be more sensitive to making their woman feel like the queen that she is. My favorite line in Sex and the City by Carrie is this:
 
"The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship is the one you have with yourself. And if you find the one that loves the you that you love...well that's just fabulous!"
 
 
Have a spectacular weekend!!
 
 
 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fall Decorations and Pumpkin Risotto

Today is officially Fall!! It's still a little too warm here for my liking but slowly the temperature has been getting cooler....very SLOWLY...

I started adding some fall decorations to my living room area and I love how just a few touches of autumn colors are able to create such a romantic and welcoming atmosphere. Here are a few pictures:

 
On my coffee table I originally had just the lavender in the vase but the other day I saw the most beautiful silk flowers with autumn colors and leaves at a craft store and I immediately put them in my cart and added them to the vase. I think they look beautiful together.  I didn't plan on adding them to the lavender but in the end I think they make the bouquet look fuller and richer. I'm loving the combination.

 
Then on my dining room table I added some fall leaves I already had to the candle holders that I bought from Marshall's when I was in the States. That is pretty much the extent of my decorating...I know, breathtaking right? :-)
 
Ok, ok I have something a little more interesting to share with you today than fake flowers...Continuing with the Fall theme, today I will give you my Pumpkin Risotto recipe which I looooove so much and cannot get enough of. This is also the first risotto recipe I share on the blog which is one of my favorite first course dishes to prepare. I surprised myself the first time I made it. When I prepare a new recipe for the first time, I get quite intimidated and never think it will turn out well for some reason. Sometimes it does others it doesn't. The bread I made for the first time was fantastic for example but then last night I tried to make a chocolate soufflé and it was a complete and total disaster...
 
Anyhoo, the first risotto I made turned out delicious. Each time after that was even better. There are some things I'm better at and others not so much. I am proud to say that my risotto's are the bomb!
 
Pumpkin Risotto:
 
Start by cutting about 2 cups of fresh pumpkin flesh into small cubes and in a separate pot bring 1 liter of water to a boil and add one organic vegetable bouillion cube. Some say to add 2 bouillion cubes to 1 liter but I prefer adding just one because I add salt and parmesan cheese later on in the recipe and this way I don't run the risk of the risotto being too salty. I also like to use organic bouillion cubes which I think makes a difference in the taste.
 

In a large pan or a wok, sauté one finely chopped shallot in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until translucent. Add the diced pumpkin and mix well making sure to coat the pumpkin with the olive oil and shallot.  After about 2-3 minutes simmer with a half a cup of dry white wine until reduced.


After the wine has evaporated, add about one cup of rice. One cup of uncooked rice will double when cooked so you get about 2 servings.
 


You want to stir in the rice and let it "toast" a bit in the pan - this will only take about 2 minutes but make sure you keep stirring. You want to start warming up the rice and get it ready for the hot broth you will be adding shortly. The key to a good risotto is to never leave it unattended. You need to keep stirring and stirring and stirring so that it doesn't stick to the bottom and so the rice cooks equally all around. It's a good arm workout as well! :-)
 
Begin adding 2 ladle's of hot broth and stir. Once you see the broth dry up add another ladle and continue adding one ladle at a time until the rice is almost cooked through. Do not let the rice cook too much or else you will have a soggy, sticky and gross risotto. Taste it. If you can bite through the grain of rice but still feel that it's firm, turn off the heat. Add about 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, a full teaspoon of butter and...you guessed it... stir. Taste it at this point and see if you need to add extra salt. Add some pepper and a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley.
 
 
 
Stir until everything is mixed well and serve.
 
 
Now you have yourself an amazing pumpkin risotto!! Buon appetito!
 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dealing with Anxiety

I have always suffered from anxiety. I think that it’s just a part of who I am. My mother tells me that when I was born I came into this world crying hysterically with a big red spot between my eyes. She was worried and thought that it might be a red birth mark smack dab in the middle of my forehead. The doctor who delivered me assured her that it would go away and that it was just “nerves”. Sure enough it went away but the “nervousness” stayed with me and is a part of me to this day.

Growing up I used to get so nervous when the first day of school came around. I wouldn’t sleep the whole night before and get sick to my stomach the following morning. I was nervous... About what you ask? About making friends, about being accepted, about getting good grades, about seeing the boy I liked in school, if the back pack I had was cool enough, etc. etc. I guess these are normal things that a girl worries about but I took it to the next level making myself sick over it.

College came around and things got a bit better. I was able to relax a bit and began smoking. I didn’t smoke a lot, maybe 10 cigarettes a day. In my mind that helped me cope with my anxiety. Today I know that wasn’t true at all. After college I moved to Italy and that’s when it all came to a head. I began working and took out a loan for my first car. I was so proud of myself because I was making my own money, I accomplished my goal of living in Italy. The job wasn’t the best one ever but then again I had never worked before so it was my first experience. One evening I got into a huge fight with my ex boyfriend and we ended it. I moved to Italy with the intent of marrying him but things didn’t go as planned. After moving here I found out he had someone else… Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I felt betrayed, I felt made a fool of.
The morning after the fight I felt like I needed to get a hold of myself. I’m not one to fall into depression. I’m a fighter, I’ve always been a fighter. I pick myself up and keep walking with my head up high! I went to work and sat at my desk like every other day. I noticed that I was yawning more than usual. "I don’t feel tired, why am I yawning so much?", I said to myself.  My hands were freezing cold even though it was a warm September day and the AC in the office wasn’t working. I look down at them and I see my nails turning blue. I gasp for air and find that I am not able to breathe. I start shaking and a colleague of mine notices that my chest is covered in red blotches.  I run outside to get some air and I continue to panic feeling as thought I was about to die...my boss calls a relative of mine to pick me up from the office. My mom was in Italy at the time fortunately and as soon as I get home I start crying uncontrollably and I just couldn’t stop. My mom, who also suffers from anxiety, gave me a klonopin she had in her purse and I fell asleep on the bed.
The next morning I went to my family doctor who prescribed Xanax. He told me that I had experienced an anxiety attack. I took Xanax three times a day in the beginning then twice a day, then once a day, then half a dose a day, then a fourth a dose and so on for months and months. I carried it in my purse for over a year. I was so afraid to have another panic attack and not have it with me.  For me that was the worse feeling in the world. I could feel it coming. My hands would start to shake, my breath would get short, my chest would get blotchy and I couldn’t think of anything more terrible. And it wasn’t for any apparent reason either. There was really nothing that would trigger it.
This was about 10 years ago. I have never had another panic attack since. I don’t smoke anymore and I don’t carry Xanax in my purse anymore. I still experience anxiety though every once in a while. Since then I have changed jobs and have met an amazing man that has helped me so much.  I have never been to a therapist. I’m not against therapy and I think that it can help many people. Maybe I will go someday, but I think it’s important to get to know yourself better and to understand how your body and mind works.
I have discovered that for me an anxiety attack is like a wave. When it comes, acknowledge it and let it do its thing. It will go away, you won’t die. The wave just has to pass. If you fight it, it gets worse and you lose control. Something else that helps me is breathing with my stomach and not with my chest. Lay down and put your hand on your stomach. Breathe so that your hand rises and falls as you breathe. If you notice, that's how babies breathe when they're sleeping... By concentrating on this type of breathing, my body immediately relaxes and I feel every muscle in my body ease up. When I breathe through my chest during an anxiety attack, it feels as though the air doesn’t reach my lungs and I get short of breath. I know it’s all in my head and that’s another thing that relieves my anxiety a bit, knowing that my mind controls it all.
My brother got married this past April. He married in the States so I flew over for the wedding. I was the Best Lady at his wedding and I was honored that he chose me. I’m not going to lie…. I was very stressed out prior to this trip. I was going to see my family that I hadn't seen in years, I had to take time off work, and seeing my baby brother all grown up made me realize how time flies and how much people and circumstances change as the years go by.
Before leaving I bought Bach’s Rescue Remedy drops and had those in my purse for the whole trip. I was scared to have another panic attack. They are homeopathic and not prescription medication at all and it was probably just a placebo effect but I needed to have something with me in case “the wave” was coming to get me. The wedding came and went. It was a very emotional trip for me but in the end I had a wonderful time and I got to spend time with the people I love the most and don’t get to see very often.  
I know that anxiety will always be a part of my life because it is a part of who I am.  The things that help me deal with anxiety:
1)      Prayer – praying is the number one thing that calms my nerves. I know God listens to me and He’s there holding my hand during all my hardships.
 
2)      Positivity - Surrounding myself with positive people that don’t bring me down but that are there to love me, listen to me and comfort me during difficult times.  No negative people in my life are allowed!!
 
3)      Pets – My pets are the love of my life (all the heart eye emojis). They are the best klonopin and xanax and psychologist all rolled into one crazy puppy and one goofy kitten (my two goldfish help too :-)). They have helped me sooooo much words cannot even express how important they are to me!
 
4)      Belly breathing – when I feel anxiety coming I make sure to breathe with my stomach and that immediately releases my tension.
 
5)      Knowledge – knowing what an anxiety attack is and studying how it works and what you can do to stop it (or at least diminish it) is very important. Seeing it as a wave that has to pass really helps put it in perspective and makes me realize that I won’t die from a panic attack….it will eventually pass.
 
6)      Cooking – For me cooking is a hobby that I enjoy very much. I never really used to like cooking until recently and have been experimenting a lot in the kitchen. Find something that keeps you busy. I am also a bit obsessed with DIY and I love painting, refurbishing and decorating my home. It keeps my mind occupied and helps distract me from moments in which I could be suffering anxiety. This blog is also something I started doing as a hobby to help me cope with anxiety.
 
7)      Wine. :-) No need to elaborate!
 
       During the course of my life I have encountered so many people that suffer anxiety attacks. I never realized how common of a thing it was. I always felt like I was the only one that had it and was different because of it. I know today that is not the case. I've met people that seem so pulled together. Important business men and woman who seem like they have it all...they have confided in me that they too at one point or another in their lives suffered from anxiety attacks.
My mother used to tell me when I was a little girl,
"Worrying is like a rocking chair, it keeps you occupied but it doesn't take you anywhere."
My brother and I at his wedding this past April. I love him so...