Fountain of Youth, Happiness Project, Therapy Thursday, Throwback Thursday


Really, the only word that comes to my mind when I look back at the incredible journey we have taken. We started off in a small house, with our small children.Paying bills Back then, we invested all our extra money into our property. We didn’t have money for vacations. Going to a park on Thursdays and the zoo on Friday was like a mini vacation. We would also go to museums around the SF Bay area, antique stores, and  exploring our neighborhood.

Lots and lots of cooking with the children…Cooking classes We made our own play dough, and for every letter of the alphabet we made a dish together for that week. The kids loved to cook, and later would go on to cooking camp. Our weekends were filled with wagon rides up the hills of Oakland…Wagon Along with lots of yard work…Small house Monterey Aquarium was one of the kids favorite places to go, so we visited as often as we could. The photo below, is one of my favorites of my mother in law with my son. He was a star in her eyes.

Even though we didn’t have much back then, we have always made the most of what we have had. We have been on a course to chase our dreams, and teach our children that anything is possible with hard work.

Logitech Exif JPEG
Logitech Exif JPEG
Therapy Thursday, Throwback Thursday

Cesarina V

After my first dinner at the house, I was not really convinced that I was her favorite person. I was ok with that fact. Soon after we met, it would be a while before I saw her again. Even though she lived right across the street from my husband, she was in Venice, Italy. She went to visit her friends that she had known for years. Roberto and I were still getting to know one another. We would talk and work on puzzles for days at a time. We would then take photos of the completed puzzle before we would take it apart piece by piece. Then, we would go shopping for our next 3D puzzle.

When Cesarina and Giuseppe returned from Italy, Roberto and I went to pick them up from the airport. They were happy to see us, and they never stopped talking as they put all the bags in the car. Caesarina had lots of gifts for us, and lots of photos that she wanted us to see that very night.

She wanted to know when was the earliest we could get together to have dinner again. Sunday was the next time we would have dinner. Roberto worked a regular work week, and I did too, at the museum. So, Sunday it was…

Cesarina had the house beautiful as usual. Her house was her own kingdom. She told me that after she and Giuseppe purchased their first house, they would walk to Rockridge and dream of having a house on the hill. The house she owned was her dream house. The house on the boulevard where palm trees lined the street was a dream come true. It was where she invited executives that she met at the banks while she was cleaning them. I mean…talk about the American Dream, and making it come true. Roberto and his parents worked to achieve the dream.


The dining room was ready for guests, with the plates all laid out, napkins ironed and folded. Glasses were spotless, and the silverware was shining in the sunlight piercing the nearby window.

Gnocchi with Pesto

When I met Cesarina, she was using the Emilia Brand Gnocchi. I have tried other, and they are not as good. When you cook gnocchi, there must be someone watching them. As soon as they start to float, they are done. As Cesarina use to say “they turn to bullets, if you walk away from them”. Which means they are going to hard and disgusting.

Cesarina taught me how to make pesto, and she told me she was the first person she knew that added pesto to gnocchi. When we would go to a restaurant that was serving gnocchi with pesto, she would remind us that she invented that dish.

Here is what you will need…

3 bunches of basil                     3 cloves of garlic         1 cup of olive oil

1/4 cup of pine nuts                 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese

You are going to want to pluck the leaves off the basil stems. Don’t include any flowers or the stems, just the leaves. I always had the kids help, as the room would fill with the perfume of the basil.

Boil some water in a large pot, add your leaves into the water, just for 30 seconds. This is going to keep your pesto looking green, if you skip this step your pesto is going to be black. In the meantime, add the garlic first to the food processor, and then add the pine nuts. Just as I have said before…my favorite thing about Cesarina was she wasn’t afraid of being adventurous. If you don’t have pine nuts, use walnuts. My children tell me that they can tell the difference between the walnuts and the pine nuts. It depends on what I have in the house. Add the olive oil, and finally drain the water really well from the leaves before you add the basil leaves. Add the cheese, and you may need a touch more oil. It should be a paste consistency. While the gnocchi are boiling, use some of the broth to add to the pesto in the bowl. If you have too much for your gnocchi, put it in ice cube tray and freeze it for another time. I usually use one ice cube serving per gnocchi box. We usually make three boxes.

Add your curves to the dish you are going to serve your gnocchi, and add some of the broth of the pasta to the cube, start stirring it so it is liquid, but not overly liquid. You want the pesto to stick to the gnocchi, and the taste of your pesto to enhance the gnocchi. A couple of ladles of broth to the pesto is usually enough.

Once at the table make sure you have plenty of fresh parmesan cheese to top the dish. Then allow conversation to flow at the table…

Ceasrina was funny, and she could tell some great stories. Some of them were embarrassing for some guests that were in attendance. I think everyone would hold their breath hoping that the story wasn’t about them each time she started a story. Honestly, everyone was fair game. The best thing about her was that she would also tell stories of her character too. When she was pissed, is when she did her best cleaning, but heaven forbid that she get a pair of sheers in her hands. The trees in the front yard didn’t have a chance. She told us about the various trees she had in her front yard, and how she trimmed them into nothing by the time she was done. We laughed and laughed, because we saw how one day there would be a beautiful tree in the yard… then suddenly it was hacked to just a stick. Then the stick would mysteriously disappear just as quickly as it was had appeared.


This little tree was one of the lucky trees that lasted a long time.


In every Italian kitchen there is rosemary growing just outside. It was one of the plants that Cesarina did not chop to the ground. Even her beautiful calla lilies did not survive her wrath.

Oven Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Chicken

What you will need…

A whole chicken      4 cloves of garlic, about 1/4 cup of olive oil

Salt,  fresh ground pepper corns, and two teaspoons of Oregano

3 sprigs of rosemary

Preheat your oven to 375

Wash your chicken, and  dry it with a paper towel.

Put two of the rosemary sprigs inside the cavity of the bird. Also add one teaspoon of  oregano, salt and pepper, and 3 of the garlic cloves.  Use half of your olive oil to massage on the bird, and the rest will go into your cooking pan. Take one of the garlic cloves and rub it on the skin of the chicken, then add salt pepper the oregano over the chicken. Cut your last sprig of rosemary and add it to each side of the pan.

It usually take about an hour, so check on it, and baste it with the juices of the chicken. Once the chicken is done, add it to your serving plate. You can use some of the residual pan juices of the bird.


From here on out we spent our Sunday over at the dream house of Cesarina. We had some great times, and some bad times like all families. She taught me how to manage property, and how to cook great Italian food. I will share some of our fun stories and some of her recipes that she taught me of the years. I hope you enjoy the stories I have to share with you about her life, and our lives together.

IMG_5912Here she is at the Mission in San Miguel, CA.

Happiness Project, Photography, Therapy Thursday, Throwback Thursday

Cesarina…the Woman behind the name III

While working at the Ferrari Villa, Cesarina meets her soon to be mother in law. One day while shopping at the village market in Carrara, Emillia approaches Cesarina. As she was smelling the fresh zucchini flowers Emillia asked Cesarina if she was related to Sophia Loren. She immediately had a grasp on the heart strings of Cesarina. 

Emilia told Cesarina she had a son that lived in America, and she was looking for the perfect italian girl for her son. Giuseppe and Cesarina started writing to each other, or actually….Cesarina wrote to Giuseppe. He kept every letter she wrote to him. He would call home, and they would be able to talk on the tele to each other.

He sent care packages to her, and his mother. Soon their long distance relationship was blooming. Cesarina became a part of his family,while he lived in San Francisco. She grew to love her new family, visiting them on her day off from the Villa. 


Guiseppe drove a delivery truck for an Italian florist. He knew all the shortcuts to reach destinations in a hurry. Even the banks liked it when he brought in fresh flowers for the day. Cesarin was excited and anxious about living in United States. She got to know the family and felt at ease with them, but it was a big step to travel at “the end of the earth” as California was called by so many of the people she knew.

Now, she had to tell the Ferrari family that she would no longer be with them. Maria was like the intellectual mom she yearned for all her life. It was heartbreaking for her to allow herself some happiness too. She had spent nearly 20 years with the Fearri family. She listened to the valuable advice Maria gave her, and saved her money. She had enough for a ticket to fly to California. 

All she had were photographs of him, and this was one of her favorites. Saying hello to her new life, meant she would have to say good bye to her beloved Italy, and her loved ones.

First she said good bye to her father. Her stern father that had her taking cows out to the field by the time she was seven. The man she sent most of her money to every time she was paid by the Ferarri family. The man that set her on this path.

Saying good bye to Maria. A woman that taught her about so much…how to clean house, keep house, cook, take care of clothes, distinguish good fabrics from the best fabrics. Living at the Ferrari Villa was like a college education, and finishing school all in one. Maria gave Cesarina a new world. When Cesarina told the Ferrari family she was leaving someone (I believe it was Stephanie) said “your going to America on a plane, but you will be back on a boat”. 

Next time…Cesarina takes on America 

Design, Fountain of Youth, Galleria, Genaolgy, Happiness Project, Therapy Thursday, Throwback Thursday

Cesarina…the Woman Behind the Name II

The next 18 years Cesarina would spend her time at the Villa of the Ferrari Family. She once told me the time she spent there was better than going to any college. It was a finishing school of sorts for her. By the time she was a teenager, she was sent to the Ferrari Family Villa. She started off as a maid, the one scrubbing the floors, and waxing the floors. After she would wax the floor, and sigh in relief of being finished for the day…Sergio would slide down the entire corridor, and ruin the fresh wax. She would then run after him, and catch him by the ear. Taking him to Maria, (his mother), where he would have to explain what he had done.

The villa was a big place, after coming from a one room stone house. Cesarina had her own quarters at the Villa. Soon, after all her hard work, Maria promoted her to the head Housekepper. She was very close to Maria, and even after Cesarina came to the United States the two of them regularly wrote long letters to each other.

Ferrari Villa

Maria was quoted often, even though the family had money, once a week Cesarina had to plan a meal that was not decadent. Sometimes, they even had a salad, with a boiled egg. Maria reminded Cesarina that being humble and never forgetting where one comes from is an education in itself.

Utilize what you have on hand. There is no need to go to the store constantly, if there is proper planning…everything has a substitute, so learn how to substitute one item for another.

Cabinets that are open should be as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Keep all the linens with colored bows for each member of the family.

Clean the house by starting with the ceiling, and then the tops of the furniture, and work your way down to the floor.

Always keep fresh flowers in the house.

Warm lemon water with a teaspoon of honey is a cure all for everything.

Always put things back where they were found.

The place should look better, upon leaving.

Grade of the Villa

When attending a crowded venue, know an escape route or don’t stop.

Save your money, save your money, save your money.

Buy one fine thing for yourself every now, and again, this makes the item more precious, and more worthwhile.

Bella figura…leave the house presentable, always look your best, and present yourself with dignity, grace and beauty.

When going to visit, go with something in your hands. My grandmother used to tell us…”if you are not knocking with your feet, you are doing something wrong.” Which means…Your hands should be full, your hostess worked hard to put something together for a visit. Pay some respect by showing her how much it is appreciated.

In the Garden

Cesarina in the garden.


A more personal photo of Cesarina.


Here she is having some fun in a Fiat 500.

The dogIn front of the Villa with the dog she loved. I know she loved the dog, someone wrote on the back that she loved the dog and the dog loved her. Once she lived in the United States, she did not want another animal. StephanieThis is Stephanie and Maria. Cesarina never called her “Maria” to me. She always called her “Senora Ferrari”, and I am guessing, that the flowers are pre wedding flowers. Is Maria trying to console Stephanie?

In the VillaInside the villa, in the foyer.

readingStephanie reading a book. Even though it looks rather staged, I love it!

Wedding Stephanie, is getting married. With all the stories that Cesarina told me, I never heard about Stephanie. These photos were taken in the early 60’s, and Ceasrina did not stay at the Ferrari Villa much longer.

StephanieHere is a photo of the two of them after Stephanie was married. Even though there are several years of letters from Maria, there are no letters from Stephanie. I will have to read the letters to find out what happened to her. Since they were close in age, maybe it was a little jealously between the two of them. Maria acted as a mother that taught her so much, it was her advice that stayed with Cesarina all those years. She was a constant in her life.

I will add more next week…

Therapy Thursday, Throwback Thursday

Ceasarina; The Woman Behind the Name

My mother in law was Cesarina. With a name like Cesarina, her father must have known in some, she was destin for bigger things in her life. 

  She came from a life of poverty.  She made a new life for herself in America. She was the oldest of seven children. She was born in 1935 in Drusco, Italy. It is a small town in the district of Parma, Italy.

Since she was the oldest, she was responsible for moving the cows. At an early age, about 7 years old, she had to hike out on the mountains by herself with the cows. She would always tell me how much she hated the smell of animals, and it was all due to moving the cows everyday of her young life.

She would get up early and milk the cows, bring the milk into the one room, stone house for her mother. Her mother would utilize the milk to make cheese. Her father spent time hunting, and Ceasarina had to set off with the cows. Making sure they stayed off the property of other people. Making sure that all of them were accounted for each day. She told me about one time when she lost a cow. She was sitting under a tree, daydreaming about a different life. A life far from the country life that she had known all her life. As she sat under the tree one of the cows gave birth to a calf, and disappeared. She frantically looked and looked for the cow. She stayed out past the time when her parents were expecting her, and did not look forward to going home to her her fathers anger.

Once she got home, she got a beating by her father. Life was much more harsh in those days, and the loss of a cow was a big deal. We can try to bring our 21st century judgement into the equation, but that is not going to change what has already transpired.

While she was young her view of Americans was an unpleasant one. She grew up in a small town where many of the plans of World War II unloaded their bombs. The children thought the Americans hated them. They would hide as the bombs were exploding around them. It was a tumultuous time for the world. The children of her village wondered what was it they had done to America to get them to hate this little town in Italy.

One good memory that she shared with me was when she predicted that a calf was going to be born to a cow that was very old. The men of the town thought it was impossible, but she knew in her heart that the cow was going to give birth. Once the calf was born, her father was proud of her, and this always brought a smile to her face. Knowing that there was a moment in her life that her dad appreciated having a smart girl.

Around the age of 13, she was old enough to help her family. She worked as a maid for the Ferrari family. This move to a Villa would turn out to be a turing point in her life. (more next week)