MY NEW LIFE: Three Years Later

Since July 10, 2018, grief has become my constant companion.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since my husband died.

Some days it feels like yesterday that I was plunged into navigating a new life daily without my lover, my confidante, my best friend, a great bonus dad, a cherished Baba (grandfather) and so much more.

Some days it feels like years since I last saw his handsome face that is forever tattooed in my memory. Thank God for memories.

I’m still a work in progress, but in the past three years I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how to take some of the pieces of my shattered life and glue them back together to form a new life. The hardest part of all that is doing it without my husband—the one person who could’ve helped me through this heartache.

I’ve learned how to accept widow brain, which is a real thing, a breathing, living thing. It gives you grief-induced anemia when you can’t figure out how to spell a simple word or the name of a store you frequent often. Thank God for Google.

I’ve learned how to pull out all my self-sufficient skills—thank God for YouTube instructional videos.

I’ve become even more independent, and in doing so have learned that my own company is quite enjoyable—thank God for my passion for reading, writing, decorating, and painting.

I’ve also learned that hard days can feel like they will never end and that though time moves forward for others, for me it feels stagnant or stuck, especially on specific days or months. June and July are two of the most challenging months for me to navigate. June was the month we lived in hospice, and July is the month he died.

This year I wanted to commemorate the anniversary of his death in a way that would help me, and my family get through the day, and at the same time honour my husband’s legacy of strength, love, and resilience.

I decided one way to do this was to create a memorial rock garden, utilizing my creativity in the hopes that it would help me plow through the flashbacks.

I spent all of June collecting, prepping, and painting the stones. Both of our grandsons also lovingly painted a few stones for this love-filled project.

This memorial rock garden project was both hard and easy to complete.

It was hard because it was another punch to the gut that he was in fact gone forever.

But, on the other hand, it was easy—even though I was up to my elbows in paint and there were quite a few do-overs. It was easy because I go to re-live a lot of our life together as portrayed through some of those memories through my rock painting.

Each brush stroke soothed my injured soul.

Memories of our long into the night conversations about how we would solve all the world’s problems. How we would at times talk about nonsensical stuff—the kind that only two lovers understand but others would find perplexing, and long talks about our future, our hopes, and dreams.

Memories of the laughter, the quiet times, and even the challenging times, and how through it all, we rode life’s roller coaster together, holding hands, and always attempting to stay positive and find humor in every situation.

The memory of one Good Friday when we were going for a long walk, and we saw a frantic older gentleman who asked us if we knew of a grocery store that was open as he forgot to buy fish for dinner. The man and his wife were distraught that they’d have no fish for Good Friday. Grocery stores were all closed.

David told the man to wait with me, and when he returned, he was holding a big cloth bag, which looked oddly familiar to me. He handed the man the bag that contained a selection of frozen fish and told him to enjoy dinner with his wife. When the man tried to pay us for it, David declined. I asked him where did he find an open store? He told me he went home and emptied out all the fish we had in our freezer.

The memory of David’s incredible sweet tooth popped up. He was working in our basement with my brother when my brother came running up the stairs, laughing and telling me what David had done. David had found some of my homemade cookies in the freezer—in a container labeled eggplant because they were for an upcoming event. He had obviously figured out my hide the homemade goodies strategy. He had taken two of the cookies out, placed them on a paper towel on the dryer, started the dryer, and proceeded to warm them up a bit so he could eat them.

The memory of David playing mini-stick hockey for hours with our eldest grandson from the time our grandson started crawling. Those two had an incredible bond, and their conversations were not only comical but so heartwarming.

One day, as we were driving with our grandson, who loved to talk about anything and everything, and David told him, “You got your jibber-jabber from Nana.”

Our grandson responded, “And I got my laughing from you, Baba, because when we’re together, we laugh a lot.”

It is these memories and many more that help in sustaining me and keeping me upright.

The memory of watching the Euro cup soccer games as I cheered for my mother country (Italy) and he cheered for his (England). We placed a friendly and sexy wager on the outcome. We were both winners either way.

The memory of David’s love for animals. He would save a spider’s life by capturing it and throwing it outside, and while he was in Virginia for training sessions for his work, the deer were so friendly they would walk up to him without fear. He also loved turtles and collected them in wood, ceramics, glass. Like David himself, turtles have a laid-back attitude, and they love water.

The memory of David collecting an acorn from our cottage thirty years ago, and when we moved into our new new home, we planted the acorn into our garden. David loved to grow things from seed, and he especially loved trees. Oak and maple were his favourites, and sunflowers were his favourite garden flowers.

The tree has grown over the last thirty years and remains as strong as our love.

I created a second, smaller rock garden under this oak tree, and I hope his spirit can see it and feel the love that went into it.

Memories of a spiritually strong and compassionate man who always had witty comebacks and a clever sense of humor. David was generous and possessed a kind soul who always walked the walk of treating others the way he would like to be treated.

Now that I have faced another year without my love, I will keep on working through each day, reinventing my routines, my life, my person while still cherishing who I was when my husband was here on earth.

Grieving is challenging work, and there is no expiration date, and every year it will continue to be difficult to circumvent the flashbacks of those days in hospice, and the night I held him in my arms for the last time.

People often say that it’s time to move on, only there is no such thing as moving on because the memories I hold so tightly inside my heart and soul are gifts and not things to be moved. My husband is still my forever love. There is no moving on from that.

There is moving forward one moment at a time and traveling this new life with new experiences while always holding on to the memories and the love.

And when I stumble and feel overwhelmed, I will give myself the same grace I would give a loved one who stumbles.

Forever in our hearts. A man who was is cherished by all who knew him. A loving, wonderful soul, who embodied the full meaning of life, love, friendship, integrity, and kindness.

My darling, I loved you on earth for your whole life, I’ll miss you for the rest of my life.

Italian Flavour Bomb

Italian food is love in every bite, comprised of fresh ingredients created into simplistic delicious dishes.


The tastiest Italian meals are not fussy or fancy. They are created with passion while sipping a glass of wine in a kitchen filled with the acoustics of Nona’s wooden spoon, pot-stirring, and music.

As with most of the Italian recipes I post, the following recipe (Rappini con Pasta) is another forgiving one where you can either follow the recipe exactly or feel free to adjust it to suit your taste buds.

This year I added a new vegetable to grow in my garden–Rapini (also known as Broccoli Rabe), and grow it did. I was excited to pick the first harvest and treated myself to one of my childhood comfort dishes: RAPINI CON PASTA.

Rapini from my garden

Rapini is a versatile green and can be sautéed, steamed, or baked and it will take whatever you throw at it, and shine every time.

It has a mild and distinctive bitterness which pairs well with mild or hot spices. If the bitterness (which I happen to love) is not in your taste bud wheelhouse you can tone it down by simply drizzling the green with freshly squeezed lemon juice. This eliminates all bitterness and makes the rapini sweeter.

The whole plant can be eaten; the leaves, stocks, and flowers.

Rapini con Pasta

Ingredients:

1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (more as needed)
1/2 TBSP unsalted butter
6 cloves roasted garlic (if using raw garlic, slice them and use 4 cloves)
1.5 to 2 lbs. Rapini, trimmed and washed
1 lb. Linguini or Spaghetti (fresh or dry, your choice)
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
Freshly grated Romano cheese (you can also use Parmesan)
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes, or to taste


Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt.

Heat up a large skillet over medium-low heat, and add olive oil, then add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from heat and set skillet aside.

Add rapini to boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove the rapini and put it in a colander and rinse with cold water right away, drain well and chop into bite size pieces.

Return pot of water (that the rapini was cooked in) back to the stove on high heat and bring to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions, less 2 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, add a bit more oil to the skillet and turn heat on medium-low.

Add rapini and toss well to coat it with garlic and oil, add the lemon rinds, and add salt a little at time, and sprinkle with red pepper flakes, tasting to adjust the seasoning, keep the skillet on low heat,

Once pasta is cooked, drain it then toss into the skillet.

Add butter to the hot pasta, and toss pasta and rapini together, letting it all cook for about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and serve with freshly grated Romano (or Parmesan or both if you’d like).

This dish also pairs extremely well with Italian sausage.

Buon Appetito


Another flavour bomb thriving in my garden–Basil.

For my quick and easy basil recipe, please click here.

Basil



Italian for dinner – CHICKEN CACCIATORE

Chicken cacciatore is a classic Italian comfort dish.

As with most Italian dishes, each family has its own version of sauce, pasta dishes, and desserts that are passed down from generation to generation.

As the recipe is passed down, some family members (meaning me), and at times (meaning me, most of the time) the family member will tweak and put their own spin on the dish.

This is my version for a succulent Cacciatore that will fill your house with warm, comforting aromas.

INGREDIENTS:

2 small carrots, sliced
1 celery rib, chopped
1 Vidalia onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces tomato paste
6 chicken thighs, bone-in, and skin
¼ cup all-purpose flour
10 plum tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and roast in oven, until done
3 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
5 cloves garlic, roasted and squeezed out
½ cup red wine (wine you would drink yourself, not cooking wine)
salt to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Slice, dice, and chop, carrots, celery, onion, pepper, set aside.

In a Dutch oven (or large skillet) heat olive oil on medium high.
Season the chicken thighs with salt, and lightly coat each thigh with flour.
Brown chicken in the pan; 3 to 4 minutes each side (until chicken is browned).
Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Add; onion, carrots, celery, pepper to the skillet, scraping the chicken juices from the pan, and cook for 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, roasted garlic, chicken and wine to the vegetables in the pot, and stir to combine.
Set heat on low and let simmer until chicken is cooked through to an internal temperature of 165F.
Stir occasionally, and taste so you can adjust the salt and pepper flakes.

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SUBSTITUTIONS:
You can use chicken legs instead of thighs. Chicken breast won’t work as well, as dark meat works best for this dish. You can choose to use skinless thighs or legs.
Any sweet onion will work if you don’t have Vidalia.
You can substitute use red, orange or yellow bell pepper
If you don’t want to roast your own plum tomatoes, you can use 1 large can of plum tomatoes
You can use chicken broth instead of wine


Buon appetito

Widowhood–Navigating the emotional minefield on Valentine’s Day

After my beloved husband died in 2018, I knew that the days ahead, navigating through this new life I never wanted, would be challenging.

Inevitably I encountered emotional landmines, especially during the holidays, riding a roller coaster of triggered anxiety and depression. Even something simple as grocery shopping and spotting a carton of orange sherbet—his favourite dessert—swallowed me whole with a fresh wave of grief.

Now that the bright lights of Christmas and New Year’s are behind us, a new landmine blasts at every turn complete with hearts, flowers, chocolates and advertisements for dinner for two–and when you’re suffering heartache as a widow or widower on Valentine’s Day, they seem to pop up everywhere.

My husband and I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day with a lot of fanfare, as he was a “here’s-a-gift-for-no-reason” type of guy, however, we did mark the day in our own way.

He’d kick off the morning by serving me tea and toast, using peanut butter to draw a heart on the toast, and I would give him a bowl of Smarties (he loved his sweets).

I’d give him a card—the kind we used to give as kids at school–of course, there wasn’t anything childlike in the naughty note I’d written inside the card (well, I am a romance author after all).

He’d give me a card—the traditional “for all occasions card.”

Twenty-years ago, my husband gave me a card for my birthday–the card looked oddly familiar, and then when I opened the card I knew why it looked familiar. He had given me that card on our anniversary with a sticky note inside with his endearment—here it was again for my birthday, with a different note inside.

It was a running joke that I treasured all these years, as he said it saved him from never forgetting a card for any occasion, he’d just recycle the card and just change the sticky note to suit the occasion.

As I said earlier, he loved giving gifts for no reason, and about six months after he died, I finally went through a few of his things in his man cave area, and discovered a binder filled with vintage Beatles cards.

I figured out that he had been collecting them to surprise me with them at some point, but with chemotherapy and in his weakened state, he hadn’t spend much downtime in his man cave, and I am guessing he forgot about that binder with all that was going on.

It was a bittersweet moment, and I remember having to spend a day in bed after finding the cards—the heart ache was so intense. I then shook myself out of my despair and with tears in my eyes, felt joy for his thoughtfulness. I forced myself to go to MICHAEL’s and purchased a frame. Some of the cards hang in my office where I can enjoy them.

This Valentine’s Day I will make toast and use peanut butter to draw a heart on it; I will hold the for-every-occasion-card close to my heart; I will look out into the garden and take in the tall oak tree, and remember the day twenty-eight-years ago when we planted the acorn together on the first day we moved into our home.

I will open the treasure trove of memories my husband left me from the beautiful life he lovingly gifted me every single day of our marriage, remember his deep love, his smile, his wit, his great sense of humour, and how passionate he was about our family, and although it will be another heart-wrenching reminder of all that I’ve lost, I will force myself to smile through the tears and continue to be grateful for the everlasting love we share.

As I do every night, I will close my eyes, remember his soft kisses and say, “I’ll see you on the other side of the stars, my love.”

When you buy too much Greek Yogurt. . .

The other day, while performing my weekly clean-out-the-fridge task, I noticed I still had two full cartons of Greek Yogurt which I hadn’t opened and they were about to expire.

Instead of devouring the yogurt with the addition of Nutella (which by the way tastes like chocolate pudding) I decided to put my own spin on the two-ingredient bagel recipe which I could then freeze for future breakfasts, lunches or snacks.

Lemon-Sesame-Yogurt Bagels

INGREDIENTS:

2 TBSP chia seeds
2 TBSP flax seeds
4 TBSP water
Lemon rind (of 1 lemon)
2 Cups Plain Greek Yogurt (make sure it’s Greek & NOT “Greek style”)
2 Cups Flour
1 TBS Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
Sesame Seeds (optional: everything bagel seasoning mix, or poppy seeds)
1 Egg, lightly beaten for the egg wash

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375F and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper, and lightly spray it with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, add chia seeds, flax seeds, and water. Stir and let them sit for about 20 minutes so that the seeds can soak up the water.

In a large bowl, whisk together: flour, baking powder and salt, until well blended.

In a separate bowl, add: Greek Yogurt and lemon rind, stir well.

Add the chia seeds and Flax seeds mixture into the Greek Yogurt,
stir well to combine.

Using a spatula, add the yogurt mixture to the flour. Stir well, until
everything is incorporated. The dough will be sticky and shaggy.

With floured hands, divide the dough into eight pieces, roll each piece into a ball, and place on baking sheet.

Insert your thumb in the middle of each dough ball, to make a bagel hole.

Brush each bagel with egg wash.

Sprinkle each bagel with sesame seeds (or poppy seeds, or seasoning, your choice)

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet, and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, increase temperature to 450 F

Return the baking sheet to oven and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes (until the tops of the bagels have browned).

Remove from oven and place on cooling rack

Bagels can be eaten warm out of the oven (delicious with your favourite jam—mine is Bonne Mamma apricot and pear).

You can store bagel in a well-sealed container in the fridge for a few days, or freeze them by wrapping them individually, once thawed, cut and toast.

The Chocolate Moon

Ask any grandparent and they will tell you that becoming a grandparent makes even a curmudgeon giddy with joy. I am the proud nana of two beautiful boys (eleven and four years old), and they are the highlight of my day and life.

The joys of nana-life include: rocking it out, playing Fortnite, mini-stick hockey, holding dance parties in the living-room, helping out with homework, and writing stories.

Introducing the newest author in the family; four-year-old, Henri, his debut novel is called: THE CHOCOLATE MOON.

He wrote this book (dictated to me and I typed it, and also served as his editor) in December and I had it printed it up, and gave it to family members.

I am sharing his book with you, and because the subject (chocolate) is so dear to my heart, I am including a scrumptious chocolate sauce recipe at the end of this post—you can even pour it on the moon. 🙂

Chapter One
The Dinosaur and the LadyBug

THERE ONCE WAS a dinosaur named Henrisaurus who lived in a big, purple rock.

Henrisaurus lived in the purple rock with a Ladybug named Star.

Star liked to eat oranges and crunchy carrots.

Henrisaurus loved to eat people, but not Nana’s.

Star told Henrisaurus that eating people was not a nice thing to do, so Henrisaurus stopped eating people.

From that day on, Henrisaurus ate chocolate, Italian cookies, chips, and jujubes.

Henrisaurus loved those so much that he did not miss eating people.

Chapter Two
The Gorilla

One day, Henrisaurus and Star went to the Dinosaur Store and they bought a big moon.

They put the moon in a box to carry it home.

On the way home from the Dinosaur Store they ran into a gorilla who was carrying a big bag.

“What is your name, big gorilla?” said Henrisaurus.

The Gorilla pounded his chest and growled loud. “My name is Skeleton, and I am strong.”

Henri said, “I think you need clothes.”

Skeleton growled again and said, “You should be scared of me.”

Henri shook his head. “I’m not.”

The Gorilla growled again and jumped up and down, pounding his chest.

“Star,” said Henrisaurus. “I think Skeleton would look good in a chocolate suit and shoes. Let’s take him home and dip him in chocolate.”

“That’s a good idea,” Star said.

The Gorilla ran away fast because he was scared of Henrisaurus.

The Gorilla dropped his bag and lots of oranges and carrots fell out.

Henrisaurus picked up two oranges, and three carrots, and gave them to Star.

Then they went home with their new goodies and the moon.

Chapter Three
Home for Lunch

At home, Henrisaurus and Star played with their friends, Microwave, Plant, Red, Isabelle, Pear and Apple.

Then it was time for lunch, so Henrisaurus took the moon he bought at the Dinosaur Store and dipped it in a big pot of melted chocolate.

Henrisaurus shared the chocolate moon with Star and all his friends.

It was yummy.

“What should we buy tomorrow, Henrisaurus?” said Star.

Henrisaurus said, “Let’s buy the sun. It will be good dipped in chocolate.”

They all laughed and clapped their hands.

After eating the yummy chocolate moon, and playing, they were tired, so they sat on a purple couch, and Nanasaurus put the TV on so they could watch Christmas movies and rest.

They talked about tomorrow and how they were going to go back to the Dinosaur store, and then play all together again

-The End –



MEET THE AUTHOR




Simple Homemade Chocolate Sauce

This easy to make (you can get the kids to help you out as well) chocolate sauce can be poured over; fruit, cake, cookies, ice-cream, yogurt, and even the moon, because when it comes to chocolate, the possibilities are endless.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (250 ml) water
½ cup milk (for extra richness and decadence you can use cream)
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
8 ounces of high-quality chocolate for the best flavor and texture–bittersweet or semisweet– finely chopped

Directions:

Turn stove top to medium heat.

In a saucepan, whisk together: water, milk, sugar, and cocoa powder.

Keep whisking until the mixture comes to a boil.

Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate, stirring until chocolate is all melted.

Put aside for 1 ½ to 2 hours, this will allow the sauce to thicken.

To serve warm, heat on low for a few minutes, or can be served at room temperature, just stir before drizzling.

Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days in a tightly covered container, and rewarmed before serving.

Enjoy!