Au Revoir Holidays | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Last night, I closed the holiday season celebrating Epiphany day, which falls on Jan. 6.
Epiphany Day in my native Italy was the day when kids received their Christmas gift, note I said a gift in the singular form and received nothing for Christmas day. Christmas was only a religious celebration, a time to spend in holiness, reflecting on spirituality, with family cooking, laughing, loving and enjoying one another.

On the evening of Jan.5th, my parents told us kids to go to bed earlier than usual to allow the Befana (Epiphany) to come down through chimneys or other ways if there was no fireplace and leave one gift for each kid of the house. They also suggested leaving a little something to eat for the Befana. Flying on a broom from home to home, delivering gifts, made the old woman very tired, thus she needed to replenish her strength. A reminder of possibly receiving black charcoal at the Epiphany Day instead of a gift loomed over our head during the year, it kind of forced us to be good kids all the time. Black charcoal was only a chunk of sugar colored with black food coloring, but still, receiving it, was such an ordeal.

We went to bed early than usual, but we stayed awake listening for any noises indicating the Befana was in the house. In the morning, the food we left on the table for her was gone or half eaten and the gifts we found were exactly what we asked in the letter we wrote in December and gave to our parents to send to the Befana. It was so sweet, innocent and gratifying, because the Befana listened.

Until one day, I was eleven years old, I peeped through a keyhole and saw my parents arranging the gifts for us three kids in the usual place in the kitchen. The next day, we opened the gifts and of course we were very happy to receive just what we had asked. Then I told my father that I saw him and mom putting the gifts in place the night before. His answer was: “Oh yes?! Then you are too old to get gifts.” I never received one more gift at Epiphany Day, only some clothes for Christmas, a sweater, perhaps a pair of shoes, a skirt, but not all of them together, only one, until I was eighteen. Nothing else after that. I started working and gave them a gift instead.

The night of Jan. 6th was for a fun day for the adult too. They invited a bunch of friends with kids and together we took down all the chocolate decorations on the Christmas tree. It was another occasion to celebrate with food, a lot of love and laughter, or an excuse to organize the first party of the year. Kids plaid with their new toys.

Yesterday, as I do every year, I celebrated Epiphany Day my way, took down my Christmas decorations and cooked all bunch of food to share with a few friends. Reflecting on what really Christmas means these days, I don’t look forward to the holidays stress and spending. We should call the Christmas Season the “Stores’ Season” instead. In this part of the world, everything we do in the last three months of the year is about increasing stores sales, alleviating our bank account of a few thousand of dollars and stir ourselves crazy trying to enjoy the holidays in a frenzy way. People never receive gifts in their wish list, or receive useless gifts with no meaning, thus recycling the gifts received  for the next occasions, or the next Christmas is a thing to do, while some other people pay their Christmas debts all year around. This is not the way to enjoy Holy Day, only a backward way of doing things!
During the holidays enjoy spending time with people you love and care about as long as they last, share food and fun with them.  That’s the best gift.

I can officially say Au Revoir to the holidays. No resolutions for me, only continuing living life in colors and doing the best I can for others and me. I hope you have a splendid 2014. Ciao,
Valentina
http://www.valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2014 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

ValOperaStampValentina Cirasola has been in business as an interior designer since 1990 improving people’s life by changing their spaces. Often people describe her as “the colorist” for a reason. She lives in a colorful world, wrote a book on colors ©RED-A Voyage Into Colors and loves to color her clients’ environments by creating the unusual. Her deep interest in food led her as an autodidact in the studies of food in history, natural remedies, nutrition and well-being, then finally she wrote two books on Italian regional cuisine. Find Valentina’s three books on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

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The Art Of Dainties | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

This year for Christmas Eve I will have adults only at my table celebrating the passage into the new light, it will be one of the few times in my life I will not make a sit down dinner. I will prepare an array of fanciful small dainties to be served in various area of my great room.

Putting dainties together will be just like choosing colors and textures for dressing up. It is important to find the right balance of colors and flavors. Need not to have too much salty food, nor too much food of the same kind of textures, protein, vegetable, starches and sweets must be equally distributed and in between palate cleansers are a real treat to put all the taste buds back in place.

 

Caviar with a variety of crackers and breads will be the opening, accompanied by smoked salmon with capers and sparkling wines.
A large size tray of endive, raw celery and fennel will be a good match with cheeses and will be good to help digesting dairy products.
The highlight of my cheese tray will be the Tête de Moine and the Dubliner, which I recently discovered from one of my dearest friend.
Last summer I made sun-dried tomatoes in my garden, preserved in olive oil, capers, garlic and fennel seed. I will put them next to the cheeses, olives and Italian prosciutto, they are so good on crostini with one of my spreadable cheeses. (Photo Tête de Moine from: Wikimedia)

Tête de Moine

My Italian tradition calls for fried salted cod for Christmas Eve. It is one type of food that never makes it to the table, fried cod is absolutely good piping hot right out of the fryer.
As we say in Italian “cotto e mangiato” cooked and eaten at once; scorching of the palate and fingers are allowed. I own an Italian made fryer equipped with a charcoal filter and a turning tumble canister that makes fried food so light, clean and no fried food smell in the kitchen. I don’t eat fry food during the year, but  when I have people over is so fun to eat something different and allow myself to go out of my own strict rules. Besides, my friend will polish everything, I am lucky if I get to taste one or two pieces of fried cod.

Savarin MoldI will cook the rice with wild mushrooms in small individual Savarin molds (photo on the right), perfect to create the effect of a large ring when they are turned over in the plate. I will decorate the center hole with some arugula leaves. (From: https://www.fantes.com)

Mussels cooked in garlic, fennel and wine will be in a large bowl for a grand effect. Some of my friends have never eaten mussels this way, they will have a good opportunity to try some brassiere food.

 

 

I fancy stuffed grilled eggplants rolled in small packages hiding a surprise mixture of meat, spinach, beaten egg and a small spoon of Parmigiano as a binder. I am thinking, since I have the grill going, I will put on some asparagus and colored peppers too, my friends will not mind.

Stuffed and Grilled Eggplants ©Valentina Cirasola

I will make the zabaione cream myself and my friend will watch. It seems as if many of them tonight will be in a cooking class involuntarily, but it will be much fun to cook together than preparing it all by myself.
I will conclude my food spread  with dried nuts, fresh fruit, panettone an Italian Christmas cake and more sparkling wines.

 

It will be simple home cooking and it will take the whole night.
Many of these recipes are in my books, some of my friends will have a taste for the first time, but many of them  are so happy to share my Puglia food with me again.
I am going to start the preparation and welcome everyone with a glass of prosecco.

The night is young and we need to reach midnight doing something fun, laughing, making jokes, telling stories and playing with food.  Some of my friends are not into cooking, they will have easy tasks, as I don’t want to risk a food mistake just tonight on Christmas Eve and some will pour all night.

I hope you are having fun too.

We will welcome the new light in the world and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Merry Christmas, peace in the world. Ciao,
Valentina

www.Valentinadesigns.com  

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

QueenValentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She especially loves to design all those rooms with a “make me feel good” tag attached, such as kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is a public speaker and a mentor. She is also the author of two Italian regional cuisine books, available here in this site on the Books page and on:
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

 

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