Throwback Thursday

Cesarina and I Meet Each Other (Recipes from our 1st meal)

Roberto and I spent our first months getting to know each other on Yahoo, where we met in 1996. He knew I was going to be moving to San Francisco soon, so we emailed each other. We didn’t exchange phone numbers until after I lived in San Francisco. Once we started dating each other exclusively we would do 3D puzzles. The whole time we worked on the puzzles we would just talk to one another about our aspirations.

When we were working on the Notre Dame puzzle he ask me if I would like to meet his parents. I had no idea that they lived right across the street. Since I rode my bike from my house in San Francisco to the BART station, then rode BART to Oakland, then rode my bike to his house…I could not meet anyone that day.

He hated driving in San Francisco, but was willing to pick me up for a date to meet his parents. I was nervous about meeting his parents especially since he was an only child. Now, I knew they lived across the street, I was imagining what they saw out their huge picture window. What kind of bike clothes did I show up in at his house? How many times did I have horrid helmet hair just outside his house. Why did I often come to Oakland?

The time had arrived…Roberto opened the big black wrought iron gate for me, and I took a deep breath in before climbing the terra cotta steps that was flanked with lions presenting a family crest in front of them.
This beautiful happy lady with lucile ball red hair opens the door. She had a pretty dress on, but covering it was a festive red apron. She had just had her hair done, and it looked like every hair was frozen in perfect place. You must be the secret my son is keeping. Were the first words she said to me, I just had no words that would come out of my mouth. She grabbed me, and took me into the family room, our arms linked at the elbow. This is my husband, Giuseppe, Hello, I said, a little taken a back by her forcefulness.
She then led everyone to a set table. Blue and white dishes, with gleaming silver ware. I told her how lovely her house was, and she ask me if I thought she had a maid. I never had anyone ask me if I thought they had a maid. I felt like I better say the right thing. “Your house looks beautiful” She asked me again, Do you think I have a maid? I answered I don’t know, it looks very clean. She proudly told me that she cleaned every inch of the house by herself.

She asked me if I cleaned my own house, I said yes, I clean it on Saturday. She then proceeded to tell me that I needed to get on a real schedule for my house work. Mondays are for laundry, Tuesday is ironing day, Wednesday is for shopping and errands, Thursday is for cleaning the house, and Friday is for having your hair and nails done. It was a Friday, she had just had her hair and nails done. Saturday is the day that you need to spend with your family and so is Sunday.

I told her that I usually go to Mass on Sunday. She then proceeded to tell me how a nun told her that she had a special dispensation for attending Mass. I was starting to feel a little over whelmed. Giuseppe sat at the head of the table, and snickered. I felt as though he understood my non verbal cues.

It was cold all that week, and this evening was no exception. She poured me some water, and then brought in soup for all each of us. She then told me not to fill up on this course, since it was the first one. She said, “Since you are an American, you probably don’t understand that there are more than one course for a dinner.” I responded “Not all Americans believe there is one course to a dinner.” I would learn later that she did not like that response. I was suppose to just be quiet. Here is the recipe to the delicious first course that night.

Vegetable Soup

What are you going to need?

11/2 cups of chick peas (or beans you prefer)                                  6 cloves of garlic/chop 3

1 red onion chopped                                                                                into small pieces.

1 leek/ chop bottom part/                                                      One celery stalk/ cleaned and chopped

4 large carrots chopped                                                           Fresh shredded parmesan cheese

12 large potatoes

Like I said before, one of the most valuable lessons that Cesarina taught me was to make due with what you have, change your recipes, experiment with them.

If you are going to use fresh beans you will have to soak them overnight, if you are using can beans, you are going to rinse the beans clean. I use the can beans. If you are using dried beans that have soaked overnight, you will need to rinse them, and add enough fresh water to cover them. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, and cook them on low. It will take about an hour or until they are tender.

In a large stock pot, you are going to drizzle some olive oil on the bottom of the pot, and then add in the onions and leeks. Stir them around until they are golden brown, add the garlic, celery, and  carrots, and keep stirring. You will want to tumble them around to pick up the flavor of the onions and leeks. Add 7 cups of water, and then add the potatoes. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot for about an hour. Check the potatoes to see if they are tender. Add another cup or two of water, it depends on how thick you like your soup. I like it thicker.

Now, you are going to add your beans. If you like some whole beans you are going to use the broth with about half of the beans in a blender to puree them. You could also use all the beans to puree. Sometimes, I even puree all the soup with a blender wand. The beauty is there is no wrong way. It really depends on your mood.

So, after you have taken half of the beans out, add them to the soup. The pureed half with the broth you are going to add too. Allow the flavors to mingle together in the pot. About 15 to 20 minutes.

Allow each of the guests to determine how much grated parmesan cheese they would like on the top of their soup.

Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Olive Oil and Basil

What will you need?

5 garilc cloves  1/3 cup of olive oil    dash of salt and pepper, and a dash of oregano   1/2 pound of plumb tomatoes about 5 large basil leaves Combine these into a broad bowl that you are going to serve your pasta.

Skin the tomatoes, and chop them fine, chop the garlic in small pieces. Clean the leaves of the basil and rip it into small pieces. Add the olive oil, and salt and pepper and oregano.

If you are using box pasta, you don’t want to “throw your pasta down” until everyone has arrived. Toss the pasta in the bowl, and serve to your guests while it is hot.

Baked Halibut with Green beans and Garlic

What will you need?

4 Halibut Steaks       Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper       oregano and sage

Preheat the oven to 400

Brush olive oil over your halibut steaks, while they are on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Add a pinch of oregano and sage to each of them. Place them in the oven until they are white. Which will take about 10 to 12 minutes.

Green Beans   2 or 3 cloves of garlic sliced thin.

You can even make these the day before. Cesarina usually served her green beans cold.

Cook your green beans…I steam mine.

Add the sliced garlic, cover them, and put them in the fridge.

Fruit Tart 

What will you need?

1/2 cup of sugar              1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder         2 large eggs

1 3/4 cup of all purpose flour    Grated zest of one lemon         1 and 1/2 sticks of butter (softened)

1 pound of strawberries, 1/4 lb of raspberries, and 1/4 lb of blackberries 2 tablespoons of honey

Add all the dry ingredients into a bowl, then add the butter and egg.

Preheat the oven to 375

butter and flour (or use olive oil then flour) a tart pan or pie pan.

Use a rolling pin to flatten out the dough, if is warm out, you may want to harden the dough by adding it to the fridge for 15 minutes.

Always sprinkle some flour before you start flattened your dough. It will stick to your surface. Once it is flattened and rolled to the desired thickness, place it in the pan.

While the tart shell is baking, it will take about 20 to 25 minutes, clean your berries.

Cut the strawberries into small pieces, and add the raspberries and blackberries. Add the honey, then stir the honey love the berries.

Once the tart has come out of the oven and cooled, add the berries in the shell.

It is so delicious, and any fruit added to the pastry is yummy!

Therapy Thursday, Throwback Thursday

Cesarina IV

After coming to America, Cesarina and Giuseppe were married. The two of them started out living in an apartment in Oakland, California. Cesarina had loftier ambitions than living in an apartment. They were fortunate enough to live in an apartment building that had many other Italian born people as occupants.

One day, an opportunity that they couldn’t pass up presented itself. Some friends of theirs that cleaned banks were going to Italy, and asked if they would like to take their places. Cesarina and Giuseppe filled in, but the bank managers liked them so much better. Cesarina and Giuseppe started a business of their own, cleaning many of the banks in Oakland at night.

They saved their money, and they found a home in the Rockridge district of Oakland, California. Soon after they signed the note to buy a house, Cesarina was pregnant.  Cesarina, had much to do, the house was ugly, and it had fleas. She could not believe this was the America that dreamed about before moving from Italy. She couldn’t believe that Americans lived in such filthy conditions. There were many nights that she cried herself asleep with the words running through her head…”California is the end of the world.” How could she change this “America” that seemed more like a nightmare?

Giuseppe spoke English, but Cesarina did not yet speak English. She continued to work along with Giuseppe, until she was in labor. She was pulling a floor waxer when her water broke. So many well wishes from America and Italy.

She was beginning to feel a sense of pride again, her house, was becoming her home. She made her own curtains, and scrubbed her own floors. The words of Maria never left her. She was determined to make her own way in America. She was determined to live an American dream. Maria told her “Once you become wealthy, do some cleaning yourself. It not only allows you to appreciate what you have, and how far you have come, but allows your brain to solve problems.”

Even though she had only given birth a few months earlier, she was ready to take Roberto with her everywhere and anywhere she had to go. Roberto was packed up with all the tools of the trade. He was put in his hi chair with wheels, and wheeled around the bank as they cleaned. As they saved, they looked at property. They would often walk around the neighborhoods where they wanted to buy homes. They did what they had to do to keep their dream alive.






As soon as Roberto was old enough to walk, he too was helping them clean. What ever he could do, he was polishing, emptying trash cans, and making sure he stayed out of trouble. When he would get tired, he would often crawl into a chair at a desk then fall to sleep. After everything was all done, they would carry him out of the banks then on to the next one.

The presidents would often want to meet the family, and Cesarina would invite them to dinner at her home. She was so proud to cook a nice hearty Italian meal for Americans. They would be astonished at how well she cooked, and how she kept her house. Here is a typical antipasti course she would prepare…

Her house would be bustling with activity and energy before a dinner party. I have a huge booklet of recipes we have made, and sometimes…I just watched. She would dawn her apron, and you better not get in her way. If she was taken photographs of guest, it better be before she “threw down” the pasta. Pasta doesn’t enter the water until all the guests have arrived. She was a dynamo, and wielded a wooden spoon, she would use it on anyone that got in her way.

Antipasti plates were put out with at least three different cheeses, salami, prosciutto, and coppa.


What are you going to need…

8 cloves of garlic.                                                     Salt and oregano

15 pieces of rustic thick crusted bread.             Corse ground pepper

EVOO.                           10 fresh plum tomatoes  10 fresh basil leaves
Heat a skillet or grill, while the grill is heating, peel your garlic and crush it. You want the juices of the garlic! Wash to tomatoes, and dice them. Was the basil, dry it, and rip it into small pieces. I like to add a little more garlic to the tomatoes and basil, add some salt and pepper to taste, with a pinch of oregano.

Add your bread to the heated skillet, and flip it after it is lightly browned. Take the crushed garlic, and smear it on the bread. Add your tomato mixture, and drizzle some EVOO over the top after all the pieces are added to the dish. There should be enough to be very generous with the toppings.

Sometimes to mix it up, you can also add some mozzarella cheese on the side that has the garlic, then add the tomato topping.

Fried Zucchini Flowers

Mmm, just writing this recipe makes my mouth water.

Sometimes Cesarina made these stuffed with mozzarella cheese, and sometimes plain. Either way, they are scrumptious!

If you don’t grow your own zucchini, you will have to buy them from the farmers market. The male blossoms are longer, so they are better to use. What do you need?

15 male zucchini blossoms. Salt and pepper (mozzarella cheese if you are going to stuff them)

11/4 cup of milk,

1 egg       1 cup of flour,           olive oil

Add the wet ingredients together, and gently add the flour a little bit at a time. Add the salt and pepper last, and just a pinch of each. Open the flower to remove the pistils, wash the inside and out. Dry with a towel. If your adding the cheese, do it now,

Heat your frying oil, before it smokes add the blossoms, once they are golden brown flip them over, and add them to a plate that has paper towels to absorb the extra oil.

By this time, all your guests will be talking about how lovely each item of food is, and they will be asking for the recipes of each one.

If you happen to make all three of these dishes, only add Mozzarella to one. It would be almost vulgar to have cheese on two of your antipasti dishes.

Soup were for winters, and salad in the summer… ( I will have to post some great meals from my book)

If there was one quote that I would have to choose as the most important that Cesarina taught me, make due with what you have. I used to say “We didn’t use that last time in the recipe.” She would tell me, there is no recipe that is on stone, just use what you have! I never had a bad meal at her house, well except cow brains…that is another story. UGH!

They finally had enough money to move up the hill in Rockridge, and she moved into her dream house. She started renting her little house that she was her first home. The family started buying more property because of the philosophy of her father…Just as the tree roots in the soil, so should we. Invest in real estate. Roberto invested with his parents. They owned several properties together. She was living the American dream! She took her son to Italy every summer, and he attended private schools. He was becoming an investor too.

Next time…Cesarina and I meet each other.

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)