Archives for January 2018

Italian Lemon Cookies

I grew up just north of Boston, close to incredible Italian bakeries.  If you couldn’t find something where we lived,  you could be in Boston in 30 minutes, go to the North End and find almost anything.  I have to confess, I took it for granted.  I know, I know.  How could I take something like that for granted? I guess I just thought they were everywhere.  If you live in an area of the country where there are authentic Italian bakeries, first don’t take it for granted and second, please have an anginetti cookie for me!

When we moved to a city north of the Atlanta, 17 years ago I couldn’t find a single free standing bakery in a 10 mile radius.   I looked.  When I asked friends where they would go to buy nice pastries or a special dessert the answer was always Publix or Kroger.  The grocery store?   Yeah. Uh… that’s not the answer I was hoping for.  (Thank Goodness there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in the next town.  No DD, no bakeries, as a Bostonian, I can’t even…;)

Fast forward to this weekend. I was going through some old recipe cards my mom had given me over the years, and I had totally forgotten about one from an elderly Italian woman who lived across the street when I was growing up – Mrs. DeBurro.  It was for her lemon cookies.  My mom loved them.  I was so excited I decided to make them right away and figured I’d drop some off for mom.   I had to run to the store for the lemon extract, but other than that I couldn’t believe how simple they were.  They only thing that made it a little difficult were words like “a pinch of salt” and “some confectionary sugar”.  She passed away a long time ago, so, without any way to clarify, I’d just have to see how it went.

I made the cookies according to her recipe (only with a little more flour because she said to add flour so the dough wasn’t too sticky).  I was so excited when they came out of the oven. I broke one open, let it cool for 30 seconds, and popped it into my mouth.  And….not exactly what I expected.  It tasted more like a little warm lemon bread than a cookie. (Important Note:  If you’ve made it this far, you need to read to the end of this post…because as John Lennon said…”Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay.  Then it’s not the end.”)

At this point I was really craving the Italian lemon cookie I had in my mind.  So, of course,  I went on Pinterest.   I was convinced Mrs. D  must have just left out an ingredient!  If I could figure out what it was I could make them again and add it.

I came across a few recipes that looked similar.   One was made by Proud Italian Cook and used butter instead of oil like Mrs. D.  (Here is a link to the Proud Italian Cook’s recipe.) But that was the big difference.  Maybe I just needed to make a whole new cookie.  I decided to try the Proud Italian Cook’s recipe as I was really looking for an authentic Italian cookie.  So, back to the grocery store I went for more flour, butter and lemon extract.   A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon;)

The second recipe came together pretty quickly as well.  (If you decide to make it, definitely take the time to cool the butter and then put it in your stand mixer, with the paddle attachment for about 6-8 minutes and you will see the butter and sugar start getting really creamy!  I thought a few minutes in nothing was going to happen, but it does.)

While the second lemon cookies were baking I figured I’d at least frost the first cookies as directed with “some confectionary sugar, a little milk and a little lemon extract”.  (I promise, word for word, those were the directions. You’ll see.)  I had to finish them -OCD;)  I dipped the two dozen cookies I had made into the glaze and set them aside to dry.  (I didn’t finish baking all the dough at that point. They easily made two dozen more cookies.) Then, I finished baking the Proud Italian Cook’s cookies and then put her frosting together – very specific measurements – confectionary sugar and limoncello.  Very nice.

At this point my husband came in the kitchen, and just stood there, staring at all the cookies I had made, with a look that pretty much said, have you gone completely crazy?  So, I told him the short version.  First ones – not what I expected.  Second ones – I think better.  I told him he was welcome to try them and let me know what he thought.

So, he tried the first ones, and he said, “what’s wrong with them?”  Huh?  “What do you mean?  Don’t they taste like lemon bread?”   “No.  They taste like cookies…just softer. ”   So, I picked one up and bit into it  (I am definitely going to gain weight blogging. LOL!)   At that point, several hours out of the oven, completely cooled,  with a nice glaze soaked in…he was right!  They were really good!  No way!   In fact, they reminded me of the cookies from the bakery!  Way to go Mrs. DeBurro!  I’m so sorry I ever doubted you!

So, now I have two lemon cookie recipes! And I will definitely visit The Proud Italian Cook again – just followed her on Pinterest;)  Below is the recipe Mrs. DeBurro used for so many years.   Just don’t add too much extra flour… frost them well… and let them cool for a few hours before you try them.

Buon Appetito!

 

Mrs. DeBurro's Italian Lemon Cookies
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Cookies
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4 dozen
Ingredients
  • FOR COOKIES...
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 Tablespoons Oil
  • 1 Cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • a pinch of salt (I used ¼ teaspoon salt)
  • 4 Cups of flour
  • FOR FROSTING...(See my notes below)
  • Confectionary Sugar
  • Milk
  • Dash of lemon extract
Instructions
  1. In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs, oil and sugar together. Add the milk, vanilla and lemon extract.
  2. In another large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt until well combined.
  3. Gradually add the flour to the egg mixture until the dough is firm, but not sticky
  4. Roll small pieces of dough into walnut sized balls and place on a greased cookie sheet (I used parchment paper)
  5. Bake at 375 for approximately 10 minutes. Until bottoms are light brown.
  6. For frosting - mix some confectionary sugar and some milk with a dash of lemon extract. Brush cookies with glaze. It will have a smooth glaze over the whole cookie (I used 2 cups of confectionary sugar, 4 TBSP of milk and ½ teaspoon of lemon extract - beat ingredients together with a whisk until smooth and then dip the cookies and put on a cookie rack to dry.) You can dip twice or just make the glaze thicker if you like more frosting.
  7. NOTE: Cover cookies loosely as they will stay wet if you cover completely with Saran Wrap. They tastes even better day 2!!

 

Kate Wittschen Encaustic Art

Kate Wittschen Encaustic Art

Kate Wittschen
Coastal Balance, 2017
Encaustic on panel
12 inches X 12 inches

What Are Your Mom Superpowers?

If you’re a mom, what are your superpowers?

Well, you’re a mom.  So, that’s pretty powerful.  I mean – you created human life -not bad for a start;)

I think most mothers underestimate their personal power and influence – what I like to call our superpowers.  Even those of us with college degrees and professional experience sometimes wonder if we really know anything at all – after changing diapers, shuttling kids to activities, and putting everyone’s needs before our own.  Hmmmm… maybe we don’t underestimate ourselves. Maybe we’re just too exhausted to think about it!

Often, our desire to influence events outside our own home returns as we start advocating for a child in public school, as we’re trying to help resolve an issue for our neighborhood (or when our brain finally feels rested because we’ve finally gotten a few nights of sleep in a row).

In my previous life I was a marketing manager in a telecommunications firm. It was a very large and geographically dispersed organization with multi-page org charts and countless dotted line reporting structures.  As an individual, I felt making a real impact to the company’s bottom line was difficult.

Then I became a mom.

I believe being a mom is the most influential job I’ve ever had – or may ever have.   On a daily basis, I’m helping to mold members of a future generation.  Hello…superpower;)   My family and our community are my priorities, in that order.  My politics are not solely defined by any political party I belong to, or influenced by the news or social media.  If I hear something intriguing, I research it.  I try my best not to make a lot of snap judgements.  And sometimes I change my mind based on a new experience or new information.  My ego is not so big that I can’t admit when I’ve been wrong.   I’m primarily concerned about the generation of children we’re raising.  I want to make sure they have a good moral compass, they’re well educated and productive, and will one day lead the next generation.  I also want our elected leaders and officials to be worthy of representing them until they can represent themselves.

I’m writing about this today because there’s a lot going on around me, around all of us.  Not just on the national level, but on the local level and in our own neighborhoods.  I think we all need to take a little of the emotion out of everything and speak intelligently and respectfully with one another.  I think we all need to ratchet down the level of anxiety in order to be better listeners.  I think we need to commit to staying in the fight, as long as it takes, until we understand one another’s positions and can work together toward a mutually agreed upon solution.  I’m getting tired of people saying it’s their way or no way, and adults, acting like children in a sandbox, saying they are taking their ball and going home.  As Americans I know we have a whole lot more that brings us together than should divide us.  My grandmother taught me that.

(Ok.  So, at some point you have to hear this story to understand me.  So, it might as well be now.)

My grandmother’s parents came to the United States from Ireland in the late 1800’s.  So, you would think if you asked her what nationality she was she would have said “Irish”.  Right?  Wrong;)

I remember clearly, when anyone asked her she would say “I’m American”.  If they pressed her and said, “Yeah, I know you’re American, but your also Irish, right?”  She would say, “I’m American first.”  She passed that perspective on to us.  I’m not sure what’s happened to patriotism in the public realm, but I would certainly like to hear that more people feel this way.  We’re not really Italian, Irish, Mexican, Chinese, etc.  Like Grandma said, “We are Americans first.”   I agree that we should value our heritage, but not at the expense of our own country. (More about Grandma another time.)

Back to our superpowers.  Many moms spend countless hours volunteering in our schools, on sports teams (also lots of dads here), in our churches, the list goes on.  Don’t kid yourself, it is all important.  Without volunteers many activities in our communities would simply have to be shut down.  But, if I had a nickel for every time I heard a mom say, “I’m just a volunteer” over the last 20 years,  I’d be rich;)  What do you mean just a volunteer?  You are there because they need you.  In fact the work you’re doing, even though you may not be getting paid, often can’t happen without you.  You are valuable.  Please take the word just out of your vocabulary.

I would like to encourage more moms to realize how important they are and get more involved in the larger community when and if they can find the time.  Keeping an eye on our local school boards, local city and town council meetings and even Home Owners Associations (HOA).

Moms, you are valuable and insightful and you care about our families and our communities.  It honestly doesn’t get any better than that.

To hold an office, you may have to meet an age requirement, or you may not.   I think you should probably consider having a college degree, but if you have 10 years of work experience, you can probably do most of the same things a college graduate can do.   Just because someone has a degree in engineering, education or gender studies, doesn’t make them more qualified than you to be a school board member, a city council member or an HOA president.

I would also like to encourage more moms to ask candidates running for local or state office to come and meet with them.  Host a coffee with neighbors and friends.  Share your concerns about your family and your community and find a candidate who shares those concerns.  Don’t focus on partisanship.  Honestly vote for the most qualified candidate.   It could be a woman or a man.  They could be black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.

As citizens we have the right to vote.  But it was not always that way.  There were others who earned us that privilege. Please don’t forget that.  Black men were given the right to vote in 1870 (via the passage of the 15th Amendment to the US constitution).  No woman, black or white, was allowed to vote until 50 years later, in 1920(by the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US constitution).  Our vote is our voice.   I believe our voices are extremely valuable and we should them whenever the opportunity arises.

And you can do more than vote.  Walk door to door for a candidate.  Talk with people in your neighborhood and share your views with folks you volunteer with.  Distribute flyers.  Talk with your friends, your child’s teachers, parents at sporting events and encourage them to become involved.  I believe when more people get involved, even if we have different opinions, we are better off.

I recently worked on a campaign to elect the first female mayor for the city of Roswell, Georgia.  She is now  The Honorable Mayor Lori Henry (photo below).  It was a difficult campaign – but she was tireless.  Some of us only played a small role, walking door to door, emailing and calling people.  But it takes a lot of people, volunteers, playing small roles, to elect any candidate.  It was important to me to elect someone who would listen to all of the people who live in our city.  So, I contributed what I could – my mom superpowers:)

There is an election every year somewhere.  I encourage you to talk to candidates, decide who you want to represent you and play a role, no matter how small you think it is.  I encourage you to consider running for office – school board, city council, congress?  If you win, great!  Represent your constituents well.  If you lose, great! Now you have experience.  Decide what you want to do with it.   The US Census in 2016 estimated that women make up 50.8 % of the US population.  We can be very powerful, but only if we use our voices.

Moms, your kids are watching.  And they will realize that using their voices are important if they see you doing it.  You have personal power and influence.  You are bringing up the future leaders of the next generation.

Below (while not one of my most photogenic moments) are some of the incredible moms I volunteer with.  We hosted an event to meet candidates running for for School Superintendent for the State of Georgia.  Richard Woods (Center) attended and spoke with us.  In addition to moms, about 25 teachers attended.  Spoiler alert – he won;)

 

How will you use your superpowers today?

Time for Change…

 

A quote was dogging me for months last spring.  I know you’ve heard it,  “The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. – Socrates”  Over and over it appeared.  I felt like it was everywhere.

At the time I’d been volunteering for years with parents and teachers, trying to improve our large urban school district.  Unfortunately, anyone involved with public education today knows that means spending a lot of time in a “negative space”,  often speaking at school board meetings, and to politicians, who look at their computers while you’re talking, and pay more attention to parliamentary procedure than to the students and parents they represent.  It can be aggravating and disheartening – but students are important to me.  So I kept working.   And the quote kept appearing.  By October of last year it really had my attention.  I  committed it to memory.

I started to wonder if it was some kind of sign.  Maybe it was encouraging me to build something new in education? But what?  We had tried so many things in the past six years.   It was always one step forward, two steps back.  Ugh!  I call it the dance of educational frustration.

Then, a few chance meetings.  The first last summer with an artist on a trip to New England, and another, the following month, with a freelance writer while discussing an article. The positivity and excitement I felt during those discussions were so refreshing!  I started to wonder if it really might be time for me to make a change.  Maybe I needed to stop working in education?  But I had put in so much time and effort.  Part of me didn’t want to stop while another part was eager to work with such optimistic people in an encouraging space.

I can only imagine what I was feeling at this point was something akin to what it feels like to be in an abusive relationship.  I wasn’t happy.  I was tired of banging my head against a wall,  and yet I didn’t know how to quit.  I wanted it to work out.  In my case to make a positive difference in public schools in Georgia.  In my mind I think I knew it was time for change, and yet I kept showing up, hoping things would improve, knowing full well they wouldn’t.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to have felt that way.

Leaving started making sense to me, but I didn’t want to let people down.  I spoke to a few close friends about how I was feeling.  All the while that silly quote was bouncing around in my head.  How could I possibly focus on building something new and positive and when I was spending all my time trying to get school board members, who refused to listen?  I think at one point I actually said out loud, “OK. Talk universe. I’m listening.”

In my personal life my mother has been living with Parkinson’s Disease for the last 19 years. It has been a difficult and emotional journey.  Those of you who are helping to take care of parents who are ill while bringing up your own children (the sandwich generation)  know it can be stressful, especially when you don’t have siblings around to help share the burden. (I have to say here my husband and my kids have been amazing and patient and helpful.  I am very blessed.)

I have sadly, and sometimes angrily, watched my mother’s health deteriorate in more recent years.  Due to this, living a positive and creative life has taken on more importance for me.  I know life is short and precious. My mother, who is now  in a wheel chair,  often says I rush around too much. “You’re so busy! Just slow down!”  But, because of my experience with her disease I feel a sense of urgency about life.  I need to do things now, because someday, hopefully a long time from now, I may not be able to.

So during this time of raising my children, volunteering in education and helping take care of my mother I’ve spent any free time  I had working on creative projects.  Being creative has always been the way I recharge my batteries and renew my spirit.  It somehow allows me to think through even complex problems and come up with new solutions.  Maybe it’s just getting away from the actual dilemma and turning my analytical brain off for a bit.   I had always loved the ability to think outside the box and create something new.  And then it hit me… like a lightening bolt.  “The secret to change is to spend all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”  I had been building something new every time I had a spare moment.  In those moments I always felt positive and uplifted and I often wished I had more time to spend on it.  Ok, universe I hear you.  But, what was I supposed to DO with this knowledge?  Was this a path I was supposed to take?  And if so, how?

So I started by connecting with other creative women and asking questions and I’ve discovered that women are truly born creators.  For goodness sake we have the ability to bring human life into the world;)   Whether it’s having children, creating a home or pursuing a career -making something new is a part of who we are.  It’s in our DNA.  I think we all have it whether we believe it or not.  And there are countless ways to express it.  The creative moms I’ve met are filled with an energy and positivity that is catching and encouraging.  I never felt that dealing with school systems and governmental bureaucracy.

As I embrace this new path I’ve realized that being creative somehow feels like breathing to me.  I’ve found that some creative endeavors have been easy while others have absolutely taxed me.  I think the feelings we have are a kind of emotional roadmap.  Maybe it’s our soul, or some kind of divine spark,  trying to lead us in the right direction.  I know others feel the same way.  While I’ve moved on from some things I’ve tried,  I’ve become even more passionate about others, and I feel encouraged to dive deeper.  At the center of everything I have felt drawn to over the years has been the  manipulation of color and texture and making something new that didn’t exist before.

Being creative is a passion for me.   Even if I go a few days or a week without putting a brush to paper or wax to a board,  I find myself thinking about an idea, making a sketch, or noting some colors or patterns I’d like to try together.  These days I’m spending a lot more time on it.   I primarily work in encaustic and watercolor right now, although I still like to play with acrylic on canvas from time to time, and I’ve committed to making at least one quilt a year;) I’m sure there are other mediums I haven’t yet discovered that I will try at some future point.  (Ceramics maybe?)  I just know that somehow I’m on the right path.  I no longer feel negative and frustrated.  I look forward to getting up early in the morning, even on the weekends, making coffee and seeing what my day holds!  What I am spending my time on feels right. It makes me happy and I hope I will remain healthy enough to do it for a long time.

So, this year I not only hear Socrates words, I am embracing them.  I will “spend my energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” and see where it takes me.   It’s a totally new venture for me, and I’m equally nervous and excited to explore it.  I’m committed to being creative every day  – whether that means creating a piece of encaustic art, or watercolor, making greeting cards for my mother to sign to keep in touch with friends,  creating a new cookie recipe, building a headboard, or blogging about this creative life.  I’m going to focus positive energy on building it.   I hope this will allow me to connect with more women who are finding themselves on a new path.  Maybe we can encourage each other to build something new.

Below is a photograph of an encaustic piece I’m currently experimenting on with several types of ink.  I’ll let you know how it comes out in a future post;)

I wish you good health and creative thoughts!

XO

Kate

Kate Wittschen Encaustic Art

Kate Wittschen Encaustic Art

Kate Wittschen
Nautical Sphere #1, 2017
Encaustic on panel
8 inches X 8 inches

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