When I was growing up I had two Italian Aunt Anns. One was my Dad’s little sister; she lived  in upstate New York with her kids and my Uncle Vince, and she sent beautiful presents for my birthday, like a pair of jade earrings I rarely wore but still cherish. She is still alive,  and going strong, approaching her late 80’s. She winters in Florida every year. The other “Aunt” Ann, was out west in Sacramento where we lived. We weren’t blood relatives, but my Uncle Danny’s family had grown up around the block from my Dad’s in Utica, so finding each other in Sacramento was like a family reunion. We always referred to them as Aunt and Uncle and their two girls as our cousins. In fact their oldest was also named Maria. When we were altogether our names suddenly became “Maria Theresa” and “Maria Judith” so that Moms could yell accurately to the right Maria.

So when I was perusing the reads from Weekend Reading a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but click on this piece in Food 52 about YouTube sensation Clara Cannuccuiari. The last years of her life (in her 90s!) her grandson Christopher convinced her to allow him to film her in her own kitchen making her recipes and telling stories of her life during the depression. The pasta with peas recipe here is inspired by the video embedded in the article, although I couldn’t stop there. I pond hopped from video to video in the course of 48 hours or so until I’d watched every single one. But I came back to pasta with peas, which I wanted to see if I could adapt to be salt and oil free.

Right off the bat I’m going to tell you that any Italian Auntie or Grandma would think me insane for leaving these key ingredients in simple Italian cooking out. I wondered myself how I could get the same consistency and comparable flavor without them–and using gluten free pasta to boot–but I decided it was worth a try.

I followed Clara’s instructions, with a few key innovations that wouldn’t have been accessible in her depression era home, like using frozen instead of canned peas. I love to keep them bright green so I added them at the last minute, once the whole thing was off the heat.

Instead of the oil, I sauteed the onion and potato in a little sore boughtsalt free veggie broth, added after tossing the onion around a bit in the warm pot. I used green onions the first time because that was all I had, and I liked it so much that I used them again the next time in combination with a little bit of yellow onion. I halved the recipe in the video, I’d say, by eye-balling–one unpeeled yellow potato that was half the size of the peeled russet she used in the video, and half a package of brown rice pasta. I added fennel and Utica red pepper flakes to the onion and potato and instead of water to cook the pasta in, I used about 3-4 cups of leftover cooking water from boiling yellow and sweet potatoes and broccoli which had been seasoned with cumin and garlic powder. I threw a whole crushed garlic clove in with the pasta.(I was inspired by how Clara had done this in her tomato sauce recipe–her mother’s “secret,” she claimed, was the whole garlic clove. I kept the heat on the burner until the brown rice pasta was cooked, and then I took it off the heat, added the peas, and covered it for a few minutes.

(Side notes: in case you’re wondering how I eye-ball, I’d say it comes with my Italian genes. And in case you’re wondering how in the world I ended up with Utica grind red pepper flakes on the Oregon Coast, when my Dad died several years ago, my Aunt Ann came out to the funeral. Apparently, honoring a long standing Italian tradition of coming to visit bearing food, she had packed several containers of the Utica grind pepper in her suitcase and handed them out to my cousin Roxanne and my sister. I was in attendance long distance thanks to my son’s pioneering use of his iphone at the time, and so was not gifted my jar of this magical stuff until my sister made a long road trip up to share Thanksgiving with us. She’s since supplied us all at Christmas time, and just this Spring I made my first phone order and talked directly to the grand daughter of the founder. You can do the same if you like right here. You might also be able to find it on Amazon, but it’s more fun to call the family business and talk to the grand daughter.)

The result was amazing. I was surprised at how flavorful it was. Like Clara, who thought it needed “a little something”–one of my favorite scenes in the video–which she remedies by adding a little prepared pasta sauce–I had prepared to add a little tomato sauce and some leftover mashed up winter squash to the bowl I dumped my serving of pasta in. This was a nice addition but honestly, it was completely delicious without it–the kind of delicious that made my eyes widen in surprise when I tasted a “plain” spoonful of it out of the pot.

Since Clara recommends romano grated cheese as a topping, I decided to get a little silly and creative with a vegan grated topping of my own. I treated myself to a tiny bit of grated cashew instead, a lovely touch I learned from Straight Up Food. I don’t have a rotary grater, but I do happen to have a nutmeg grater–and I discovered the round shape of the cashew fits snugly over the rounded shape of the nutmeg grater–and so I can grate just one cashew over my serving of pasta which adds a touch of no oil richness.

cashew on nutmeg grater photo by Maria Theresa Maggi

I paired my pasta and peas with some red cabbage and purple tree collards cooked in broth and garlic. It was an ambrosial lunch I’m already looking forward to.

Like Clara, I did not measure. I eyeballed what I thought half of what she made might look like. I also fretted that the brown rice pasta would not behave as the wheat pasta in the video did, but as long as I kept the heat on until it softened, I was absolutely amazed at how it soaked up the broth and did not sit in a soupy mixture, something I was worried would happen. It looked like it may not do that when I took it off the heat, added the peas, and put the lid on the pot for a few minutes, but when I lifted the lid it was all coated with a nice thick liquid.

Clara’s charm and no-nonsense directness brought me back to every Italian Aunt or cousin or grandma I’ve watched and learned from. It was so comforting and delightful to listen to her stories and in them hear the echo of my own relatives, and to laugh with her when she gets stuck on the word “picturesque”–and then again when she makes the pronouncement that Italians don’t bake, they COOK–although, in another video, she proceeds to make these incredibly labor intensive Sicilian fig cookies for the holidays, which I believe may be a prototype for Susan’s fat free and vegan version Skinny Figgy Bars.

If you haven’t already, give Clara’s videos a watch. She left us a wonderful legacy not only of her family, but of all families. As I marveled at how in the world she can dice up an onion without putting it on the cutting board, with hand motions that put me in mind of how my own Italian father, may he rest in peace, sat at the table patiently cutting up fruit into a bowl in the very same manner, I was also profoundly moved to hear her say in another video that the reason she was so good at that (by this time she was answering questions from an adoring audience) is that they did not have things like cutting boards in their kitchen when she was growing up.

My parents, too, now gone, grew up during the depression, though they were a bit younger than Clara. In these uncertain times, it was comforting to watch every bit of footage of her careful and familiar movements around the kitchen along with the familiar Italian American cadence of her voice, spiced with her memories about getting through hard times and living a long, dedicated, and loving life. Besides like being wrapped in a warm blanket away from the crazy news cycle, it reminded me that many many people, both in this country and the world over, have lived through hard times, and made it work. They thrived even. They overcame. And that gives me hope that we will too, with lessons and inspiration from the past. I stand with a long line of people who loved justice and fought for fairness and equal rights. I lengthen that arc. And to keep me going in that direction, I make a bowl of pasta and peas, in honor of Clara’s life, my family’s lives, and the lives of those who struggled to make ends meet and be seen as worthy human beings when they came or were brought to this country, and I know it’s good food for the current lap of that same journey. Thank you, Clara.  You live on in the hearts of so very many. And so do your recipes.

Maria (moonwatcher)

{ 10 comments }

"The Red Planet," chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

“The Red Planet,” chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

I’m not a person who is easy to anger. On the way to anger, I’m likely to get distracted or fascinated by focusing on how to solve the situation that’s leading me down the road to an outburst, or even more likely, I might have an outburst in private and then laugh at myself, and within that laughter, I find a solution. This also often happens in the presence of someone I’m explaining a dilemma to—a customer service rep over the phone, the bank teller, you name it. The laughing is usually a signal we’ve discovered common ground and a resolution is on its way.

But sometimes the tangle is so tangled that I know I am not explaining it clearly enough, and I know the tangle is still pointing into the direction of dissolution or conflict. Sometimes I get tired and tearful when the way through doesn’t present itself readily.

When it becomes clear that practices or policies that are unfair are making the tangle, that’s when I get angry. That usually takes the form of hyper focus on the steps of the unfairness, and finding a different situation where the unfair practices are not in evidence.

In the past week, I’ve been in a situation that started a few months ago, and involved all these reactions.

Mars gives us a singularity of focus. Think of the “will” of Spring time, which is ruled by the sign Aries, and its companion planet, Mars. There is no stopping the snow melting, the chick pecking out of the shell, the song of the male bird to attract the female—other than the desired result.

In us, it can also be a force of hyper focus that eludes whether that focus is misplaced and yet relentless. I think of a story my son’s dad told about himself as a child determined to get a wooden jigsaw puzzle piece into the spot he thought it should go in—with a hammer.

When Mars pushes us to move forward, express anger, win the race or the attention of a person we feel attracted to, we are usually, like teenagers, singularly possessed by that feeling. It’s a lot like watching Cotton take off after a sea gull on the beach. He can’t stop until he can stop—even when he’s trying to circle back to me he’s going SO fast that he has to pass me and loop back as he slows himself down to comply.

When Mars is retrograde that speed fueled by hyper focus gets turned on its ear. Our race to the finish line is thwarted. Our singularity of focus may crumble. The time it takes to accomplish anything particular may seem to stretch into infinity.

Similarly, the maturity of our choices about what to focus on may take a hit as well. We may not know where to place our focus, or get caught up into something that doesn’t deserve it.

_____

A long time ago I went to a wonderful astrological event called Planet Camp. It was an amazing gathering of astrological practitioners from all over the country at a retreat center, camping or staying in cabins on site and creating grass roots workshops in the outdoors. One of those was experiential astrology. We literally quickly made a chart for the moment and the place and watched what was happening in our environment. I was so delighted with this, that it trained me to include in the readings I would come to give my clients in the future to do what I called “making some metaphorical popcorn” and remembering to “watch the show” around you and in your life as you enter into any important individual and/or collective transit.

Just last Saturday I was riding down to the Farmer’s Market in Newport with a lovely neighbor who invited me to come along. She has had good astrological readings over the years and so we were discussing what that was like for her and I raised the topic of Mars being retrograde. When we got to the market and were looking for a parking space, we had a perfect object lesson in those Mars retrograde dynamics. “Oh, here’s the parking lot,” she said, turning in, only to discover we were going the wrong way in a narrow setting. No cars were heading toward us at that very moment so she said, I’ll just swing around into this space.” As we were doing that seemingly successfully, we rounded into the space only to discover there was a woman crouching down next to the hub of the wheel on the car to our left, apparently trying to get cell phone reception and/or have a hidden conversation. So we stopped mid-turn, as she finished her conversation. My friend said, in her place at the driver’s seat something like “oh shoot—I guess we’ll have to wait for her right here”—meaning positioned half in the space and half stuck out in the narrow single lane going the wrong way. Meanwhile, I was noting that in the car in the space to our right, a man was sitting, waiting to pull out himself, but of course we were in the way. The woman finished her conversation, got up, and said, “I’m sorry about that,” and my friend said “oops, I guess she heard me,” noticing her window was open and so her voice had probably carried out of it. We all smiled at each other apologetically. We swung into the space finally, and then the guy to the right could pull out. Or maybe he was simply waiting to get out of his own car. I forget. Either one was necessary in order for me to be able to open the back seat door and let Cotton jump out. There was a little bit of “am I in here straight enough?” and maybe some waiting to adjust the angle while other cars drove by or were waiting for what they thought might be an opening spot.

But eventually we were all out of the car safely and on our way to the market.

“That, “ I said to my friend, “was an excellent experiential example of Mars retrofrade.” And we both laughed.

Some folks who follow the terrain of Mercury retrograde (which is also coming up to join Mars in retrograde motion on July 26, just in time for the lunar eclipse conjunct Mars retrograde) might say “isn’t this something that would happen when Mercury, not Mars is retrograde? What’s the difference?”

Both Mercury and Mars are personal planets and we feel their apparently retrograde motion in similar yet distinct ways. The emphasis on Mars in this interlude I just described is that it has to do with our desires, our desire to get a parking space, to swing into it going the “wrong” direction so we can “get” to the market “faster,” only to have that thwarted by the woman crouching down at the wheel well of the neighboring car. If Mars were going forward and in certain aspects, it might have been much more likely that she would have yelped in surprise or yelled at us, or cursed us for scaring her, or possibly threatening her safety, even though we didn’t know she was there. We might have been coming from the “right” direction as well. And she might even have been pacing in the empty space, unaware she was holding up parking. But with Mars retrograde, she was hiding herself and she was sheepish and apologetic about it when discovered.

I experienced this reversal of emotional direction later on in the week when trying to resolve a seemingly insurmountable tangle about how to get prescription food and medicine renewed by my vet so I can buy it online instead of having to get a ride to go get it every month. I had been trying to address the needed updates for months off and on, and was kind of at my wit’s end, my voice getting a bit teary as I had tried to explain the situation yet again to what seemed like “warring” parties involved. I even thought that maybe I would have to find yet another “new” vet, though I didn’t want to do that, since my Silkens really like this one. But the arrangements just weren’t getting ironed out. When things get like that I sometimes just yell at my guardian angels and whoever else guides me to “HELP!!” I had even gone so far as to ask a neighbor about their vet and look them up on the internet.

And then I had my Mars retrograde epiphany. It started with a concession, which is not usual Martian territory. I decided to cancel the online order for the medication, and arrange to go buy it at the vet office when I would have a ride already in that direction to get the dogs’ nails trimmed. That, I told myself, would take the seeming battle of wills down a notch, and I would have time to sort it all out in the next month.

At that moment I knew that making this concession was the way to resolve the impasse instead of taking my righteous indignation to a new vet to see if she’d meet my logistical needs, deserving though they were, after months of trying to resolve the confusion that had gathered on several different related fronts. I knew I was tapping into the ”flow” of Mars retrograde. The grace, if you will, was in conceding, not ramming my agenda forward. And then all fell into place.

When I called the vet’s office yet again to say I’d be in to pick up this medication, I got the receptionist from heaven, who knew and understood my situation and asked specifically for me to find out the information from the online provider the vet’s office would need to fax a prescription in to them, while she obtained permission from my vet to do it that way. We were both successful, and now everything will be set up as I need in the coming months. And we get to keep the vet the boys are used to now.

So Mars retrograde may not be the time to push forward a desire into the brand new or unknown by instinct. It might be better to sit with that desire, that anger, and ask how to best address it. It isn’t the time our desires themselves flow in a straight line. They may be gentle, more curvy, more tentative, or seek multiple inlets to percolate, rather than outlets of expression or outbursts.

I like to think the utter craziness we’re seeing on a collective scale, which is indeed dangerous and scary, can also be worked with by finding the key thing to allow, to concede, to submit to, so more truthful and courageous and loving justice can begin to renew itself. It isn’t going to come instantly, or in a straight line. And it likely won’t arrive by tit for tat either. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand about these treacherous conditions. I’m not giving up, either, even though I may be stepping back and looking before I leap. I’m going to support every positive effort to promote healthy democracy, compassion and human connection I can. I’m going to give myself to those things, keep doing that. I honestly don’t know if that’s the answer to everything, but it seems like the answer to everything for me.

In the meantime Mars retrograde and Mercury retrograde with it for the next few weeks (along with the lunar eclipse and the planet Uranus in ssquare to it all), I’m guessing will continue to dreg up communications about sexual misconduct, and perhaps even the use of it to gaslight us with distraction from the betrayals of Helsinki, the upcoming election and more. It is, above all, a revolutionary time, and we may well be surprised over and over by what that coughs up.

In the mindful midst of all of it, I’m going to tune in deep to myself and keep writing my postcards to voters. Even the postcards I selected because they give me enough room to hand write on are devoid of my artist ego, my enjoyment of “I made this and I am sending it to you to love.” The humble practical choice that best suits my handwriting challenges is working its magic on a more quiet level. But the magic is there, despite the fact that my printer’s not working right and I haven’t solved that problem yet so I can’t (yet) print my own postcards even if I did design one.

It just isn’t about that. Instead, it’s about handwriting the message I composed with the help of the points from the organization I’m writing for, and reflecting on the part of the country I’m writing to, what it looks like on the lanes and the roads and streets I send to, the houses the apartments, and most of all the people who will take them out of their mailboxes and read my sincere thoughts about how to promote a healthier democracy, and that I really do think their votes matter. I have a quiet heart connection, not an ego connection, to all those people I write to who I will never meet in person, who only know that I think their vote counts and I care about it enough to write and tell them so. The cynical might say it’s cheezy, it doesn’t matter, it won’t make a difference, that we’re already screwed. But I know it’s worth a shot. And knowing that is a Mars retrograde gift at its finest.

Maria (moonwatcher)

{ 4 comments }

Compulsion and Instinct

July 13, 2018

The other day a dear neighbor stopped by on her way to the beach with her dog. We had waved at each other through my window and she came up my drive to the door, smiling and saying, “How are you today, Honey?” and “I need a Maria hug!”  She also said that she would […]

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Magical Meet Ups

July 1, 2018

I have taken to telling myself that walking around my neighborhood and down onto the beach has become the equivalent of going to the Moscow Food Co-op back when I lived in Northern Idaho. From the beginning there’s been no denying that it’s pointless to be in a hurry while taking a walk down to […]

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Butterfly Efffects

June 18, 2018

Perhaps this may seem a little far fetched to some, but if you’re willing to read along and think outside the box a little, I ask you to give this a try with me. I’m going to say right up front that this does not replace conventional action items like writing to Congress and donating […]

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Close Encounters

June 14, 2018

    I have not meant for so much time to go by before writing a new post. It turns out the slow process of rereading all my blog posts, making an index and taking notes and trying to “grok” the arc of what I’ve written makes it hard to jump out of that and […]

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A Spoon Full of Sugar

May 16, 2018

  This drawing is a public service announcement to myself. For many months now, as I wrote about in My Favorite Weird Oatmeal, I have drizzled molasses on top of my morning oatmeal. At first it was just a half teaspoon, but as time went on it became what would fit in a teaspoon like […]

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Courting The Impossible

April 25, 2018

About a month ago now, it was raining and storming at the coast. The ocean had gone wild again, stripping the beach of sand and exposing bedrock. But before this time of storms, the ocean was calm, almost a mirror of the sky, unbroken save for where it hits the shore. The beach was wide […]

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Children and Other Living Things

March 14, 2018

It’s a lovely almost Spring day here today at the coast. The dogs and I spent some time out in front of our house. I pulled out dead crocosmia leaves and clipped alder shoots; they took a nap in the sun. After a while I joined them, sitting down on a log that marks the […]

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A Straight Flush: The Sequel

March 9, 2018

I am reporting in here to announce the jerry rigged toilet flapper has been replaced–by me. I want to thank everyone who commented on “A Straight Flush,” and encouraged me I could do it. There are two qualities that made my success possible: disobedience and patience. First off, I had to make a decision to […]

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