a content='IE=EmulateIE7' http-equiv='X-UA-Compatible'/> Roberta's Realities
"Don't be scared of your hunger. If you're scared of your hunger, you'll just be one more ninny like everyone else." - Olive Kitteridge - from the book 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout

About Me

Danbury, CT
I'm a full-time substitute teacher and coordinator of CMT's at a large middle school. Married for just about 26 years with two grown sons (both redheads)! I'm living life with courage! One son is a Central Connecticut State University graduate and has a degree in Journalism - he minored in Cinema Studies. My younger son is about to begin his sophomore year at The University of Hartford where he is a student of the Hartford Art School. We are owned by a smelly, old cat, a frenzied dachshund named Otis and a chinchilla!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Simple Pleasures!

My new sink fixtures!
I think if I were to more accurately title this post it would be 'Tap Water and the Knit Market Bag'.  Too wordy.  I've taken a break from blogging recently (a much needed one) but feel the need to put my toes back in the water again. This little attempt is about two very simple things that actually include...the kitchen sink. We had to replace our sink fixtures so my husband installed a new one himself!  Just as with the replacement of our hot water heater and the garbage disposal by my husband I had my doubts but these two recent successful attempts at plumbing did give me hope. It's just not normal in my world to have a husband attempt these complicated appliance installations. Around here a plumber is called and vast quantities of money changes hands.  It's just the way it is.  Or was.  I now have faith that my husband can handle maintaining the infrastructure of our home.  It's funny, isn't it?  We're so dependent upon modern conveniences like running water inside the home that when the possibility of losing that luxury confronts us we demand that it be fixed quickly and immediately.  And by a professional, please?  It got me thinking about life and what it was like for the men and women that went before us (in the not too distant past by the way) when indoor plumbing was new and a luxury that not too many could afford.  I'm re-reading 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith that was first published in 1943.  If you haven't read this book yet, you must.  It's about a little girl named Francie who is 11 when the story opens in 1912.  She lives in the tenements of New York and we are treated to an inside look at life of the poor from the view of an incredible little girl.  Here is a picture I found on Pinterest.com of a typical kitchen in New York around that time.  All it takes is a little perspective to make your own living situation just not look that bad!

And here is a picture of the sink fixtures in the box before my husband installed it.  I think the installation my husband did is pretty close to the way it's supposed to look!

My first knit Market Bag!
I also told you about the knitted market bag at the start of this post.  When I was visiting my local yarn store a few weeks ago I came across a sample of a market bag to take with you to a farmer's market.  I shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, and even shellfish at the Danbury Farmer's Market every Friday. I thought this would be perfect for my Friday excursions and would feed my knitting habit as well! It also was a super good excuse to buy some superb Egyptian cotton.  Before plastic shopping bags made their appearance (even the trendy ones we use today) women had to come up with creative ways to get their groceries home.  Some grocers provided boxes while other women had their children bring along their 'red wagon' to help!  Many women sewed and I'm sure knitted their own. Children were taught to knit as soon as they could hold those little sticks in their hands - as early as 3!! 

So the knitting of this market bag along with everything else I attempt to do by hand does connect me to the women that have gone before me in a way no history lesson, book or movie could.  Many admire my knitting and then say, "but I just don't have the patience or time".  Really?  You don't need patience to do any of the handcrafts.  The completing of the task provides the patience.  Many studies have shown that knitting (or any handcraft) provides the same mind benefit or flow that practicing Yoga does.  So, don't think I'm wasting my time.  At all.  

If you're feeling brave here's the link to the pattern for the market bag.  It's a free pattern so don't worry about copyright issues! Classic Elite Yarns

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The UConn Fight song and the 1939 World's Fair! What?!

I've given myself some time off from writing this month but wanted to end the month with a retro tribute to UConn that I knew would appeal to readers of this blog!  My husband and I both graduated from UConn and were thrilled to place our UConn flag outside our townhouse during March and early April as the men's and women's basketball teams both became NCAA basketball champions. Both of them...that's crazy! I was at work earlier this month when my husband sent me a link to a website and insisted that I write a post about the history of the UConn fight song.  It's played over and over during sporting events for the university but during March the entire nation hears it played by the UConn pep band during basketball season.  It has become recognizable to all college basketball fans as the UConn fight song and yet nobody ever sings the words or knows the history!  I found this great site on Wikipedia with a list of many, many college fight songs and links about their history.  Click on this link and look for your college!!  If you're a UConn alum you'll be interested in this archival site about the history of the UConn fight song and even some early recordings of the song.  Click on this link to listen to the first time the song was debuted on the radio and to read the original words.  And when was it written?!  1939!! That brings me to the retro food portion of this post...

The World's Fair occurred in New York City in 1939 and introduced our grandparents and great grandparents to food and food preparation ideas that seemed futuristic and out of this world!  Here is a link to a blog I located that has a great article all about food at the 1939 World's Fair. If you scroll down you'll see a short video with actual footage from the World's Fair!  It's worth a look.  There was a Heinz 57 pavilion (there really were 57 different varieties), a pavilion with 'kitchens of the future' (all electric) and so many different international restaurant pavilions that people could sample food from all over the world!  There truly was something to please everyone!  Below is a sample recipe for spaghetti from the 'Marco Polo' restaurant that was located in the Treasure Island exhibit.

Here's a look at a graphic for the Heinz 57 pavilion.

Please take a look at this foodtimeline.org description of foods during the 1930's.  There's a detailed section about the World's Fair.  As an aside, the new foods introduced during 1939 included Lay's Potato Chips, Dairy Queen ice cream and Cream of Wheat.  There's even a complete list of all of the Heinz 57 varieties!  Weird stuff...and below is an excellent You-Tube video with incredible color footage of the 1939 World's Fair.  It's only 7 minutes, take the time to watch it.  And don't forget, the UConn fight song was part of this grand desire to embrace the future.  They knew something big was coming! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hummus makes History in America!

This amazed me.  So much of my time is consumed with researching how the past in food history has shaped our current American life and never had I thought the present would carry such an important role.  I'm talking about hummus.  We eat it all the time.  Maybe it's an East coast or urban phenomenon but we love it.  Chick peas have been in my cupboard consistently since 1987 when I married my husband.  I don't remember them as a child and that's OK.  Many foods are culturally driven and we adapt to cultures of the families we marry into.  For me, chick peas were synonymous with an Italian soup called 'Pasta E Fagilio'.  I embraced it and loved the soup.  As a young bride I started keeping those beans in my cupboard on a regular basis.  Years later I realized that 'hummus' was made with 'Ceci' beans - also called 'garbanzo' beans - and was introduced to a new dip.  It was nutty and could have salsa and other spices mixed in with it.  This had a garlic undertone and could be served on pita bread or chips or with salsa.  It was filling and so wonderful...and yet...where did it come from?  Well, as you'll see if you click on this link, it originates from the Middle East.  Hummus didn't make an appearance in this country until approximately 1965.  Chick peas (garbanzos, ceci beans, whatever) were not widely available in the U.S. until then.  They currently are grown in America mostly in the Pacific northwest.  Read more about Hummus by clicking here!  Chick peas and their contribution to society can be learned about here!  These beans are nutrient rich and capable of sustaining societies through a variety of food droughts.

Here is how the present surprised me...normally I write about how the past has shaped our lives relative to food and how we prepare it.  It amazes me. However, this time I discovered that America is making food history!  Now.  Hummus has taken off as a snack food and appetizer in America.  Sabra and Tribe now manufacture a huge amount of hummus and Americans are buying it faster than they can make it.  Americans have realized that this is a market they need to capitalize on.  The solution?  Tobacco farming is down in the U.S.  Way down.  Tobacco farms are dying.  What to do?  Plow the tobacco down and replant chick peas!  All over America. It's a nutrient rich food that is incredibly healthy and we're buying!  It makes sense.  Who knew that America would embrace a Middle Eastern and European bean?  Back in the 30's and 40's the beans that were included in our recipes were green beans, Lima beans, wax beans and kidney beans.  The garbanzo bean was still enjoying it's residence on a continent far, far away waiting to make an economic impact in the U.S. in the 21st century.  

I bought two cans of chick peas today.  I have always had them in my cabinet. My kids grew up on them.  Hummus is one of their favorite snack foods/dips. The earliest recipe I could find in my collection was from my 'hippy' cookbook! I have one of the earliest 'Moosewood Cookbooks' and thought I would share a Hummus recipe with you.  Just remember...you need 'Tahini'.  No 'Tahini', no hummus.  That's just the way it is.  

Hummus from 'The Moose Wood Cookbook'  1977

Hummus is a chickpea pate of Middle-Eastern origins.  It is a spicy and rich spread, full of protein.  You can use it as a sandwich spread or an appetizer dip ( scoop it up with pieces of pocket bread and sticks of raw vegetables). You can also build an entire meal around a plateful hummus, vegetables and bread.  It's filling enough.  

1 and 1/2 cups raw chickpeas, soaked 1 and 1/2 hours and boiled until very soft (1 and 1/2 hours).  OR...buy canned beans!

3 medium cloves minced garlic
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
dash of tamari
juice from 2 medium lemons
3/4 cup Tahini 
1/4 cup (packed) finely minced parsley
lots of black pepper and dash of cayenne
1/4 cup scallions

Mash chickpeas to a thick paste, using a food mill or grinder, or a masher. Combine everything and chill thoroughly.  Taste to correct seasonings.  Some people like extra garlic, tamari or tahini.

Keep in mind that this recipe was written before food processors made their appearance!  

Here's a great idea for hummus that involves your Easter dinners.  Easy and creative!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Life's Messy Necessities!

I can't believe I've had such a long period of silence on my blog.  But, that's okay, sojourns into quietude can be refreshing.  So...this winter sucked.  I live in the North East and you would have to be some kind of intense recluse to not know what this winter was like for people all over the United States.  I don't think we fared any worse than most of the country.  It was an intensely miserable winter.  It's officially Spring but today we experienced what we hope was one last gasp of winter's sting.  Most of Connecticut had sleet, snow, and icy rain this morning which helped to make the morning commute on a Monday extra special.  So - without further ado, here's a little insight into what provided us with additional joy this winter.  It's a story about a hot water heater, a garbage disposal and a toilet all falling apart during one special week during this 'memorable winter'.

I noticed an issue with the hot water heater first.  The temperature started to drop ever so slightly and then I was treated to an especially cold shower.  As usual, my husband didn't have a clue.  He declared that he could 'fix it' (of course I insisted on a plumber) and didn't I know that he is an engineer.  I also got treated to a discussion of just how smart he is.  That was fun.  So down into the basement he goes and declares that he has reset the thermostat on the heater that had been tripped by a slow leak.  He determined that very shortly the hot water heater would indeed 'die' but that would give him time to fully research the purchase and installation of a new one.  Silly me.  I thought he was just going to do the research and then call a plumber.  No.  His plan was to remove the old hot water heater and install a new one himself.  I would be lying if I said I had faith in him.  I did not. That's why plumbers exist.  I wanted to call a plumber, have him arrive and fix the thing quickly.  Alas, this was not quick.  He found what he believed to be the 'perfect' hot water heater and was able to purchase it from a plumbing supply wholesaler.  Of course, first we had to locate one willing to sell to the general public and not a licensed plumber.  With our sons assistance the new hot water heater made it into the house and one Saturday in March after the arrival of connectors that came from California, the great hot water heater removal and installation took place.  I gave him 24 hours before my great vacation in an expensive hotel took place!  I did not believe this could be done but I was proven wrong!  By the end of the day we had hot water!! Within a week the old hot water tank was delivered to a recycling bin at our waste facility.  Our savings...almost $800.  Read more about the history of hot water heaters here!

The next fun event was the demise of our 'sink demon' or the garbage disposal as it is most commonly referred to!  I have had one for over 26 years and have grown used to it...no that's not true.  I have become dependent upon it.  But it turns out that's a good thing because they are considered now a 'green' item to have in your home and actually good for septic systems. Over 50% of homes in the U.S. now have garbage disposals in their sinks.  Once again, my husband insisted that he could replace this on his own.  He researched all sorts of disposals and declared that he had found the 'perfect' appliance.  This arrived via UPS and very shortly after the hot water heater was installed the disposal installation took place.  Again I felt that we would be without a sink and making a desperate call to a plumber and again I was proven wrong!  Our new disposal is so quiet and my husband declared that it could chew up bones of small animals.  I told him that wouldn't be necessary.  
This story wouldn't be complete without our toilet breaking.  This toilet is over 28 years old.  But no.  Why replace it if you can just fix the inner workings. Good as new.  Well...with the help of a You Tube video.  Of all our 'plumbing' issues this winter the toilet was the most important to be fixed correctly. Because the toilets just have to work in a house!!

All of this got me thinking about the lives of the women that went before us about 100 years ago and how they managed.  There certainly were hot water heater tanks in those days but not nearly as large or efficient as they are now.  Toilet facilities were in transition but moving in the right direction.  And garbage disposal was something we now refer to as 'composting'.  I envy the vegetable gardens of days gone by. They truly were sustenance to a household and even neighborhoods!  Those women truly were heroes to their families.  When I think about the histrionics I exhibited at the loss of these 'conveniences' for even a short time I'm sure I provided a bit of other worldly amusement to my ancestors watching from the other side.  I know this much is true.

Monday, February 3, 2014

'War Horse' the Play

Yesterday marked the first time since November that my husband and I were able to make the trek to The Bushnell Theater in Hartford.  It's just the way the Broadway series worked out this year!  We will be seeing another play in just 3 weeks.  I was worried about this selection in the series.  'War Horse' just didn't sound light and fun.  I had heard about it briefly from friends that had seen the movie and I knew it was going to be an emotional event!  The play was a historical representation of war horses that were used during World War I.  Read this Wikipedia link to learn more about the use of horses during warfare.  

On to the play.  As I predicted, it was a dark and emotional play and I was in tears before the first 15 minutes had transpired.  If you're an animal lover you can relate.  If you've read 'Marley and Me' or seen that movie you know what kind of emotion can be wrung out of you.  But this was worse.  Much worse.  I read a review online that praised the play but warned anyone attending to bring plenty of tissues.  So I did.  Good choice.  This does not have a magical, happy ending but the subject matter is serious and it's presented in a realistic way.  I would not recommend bringing young children to this play...unless they are unbelievably mature and capable of making it through several 'horse deaths'.  I mean they're puppets but the puppeteers do an amazing job of eliciting empathy for these pretend horses from the audience members! Here's a link to the Wikipedia site devoted to this Tony award winning play.

Below is a video montage from You-Tube that gives a fair representation of the tone of this magnificent play.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Whip It Yourself!

Who knew?  Today is National Whipped Cream Day! I thought it was important to explore how we abandoned a perfectly easy and quick homemade dessert confection for the stuff in the tub or the can.  I know you can see where I'm going with this.  Once again, our hunger for convenience born out of the resurgence of women in the workplace during the middle of the 20th century resulted in the creation of yet another convenience process food product. Cool Whip was introduced in 1967 and within 2 years became the largest and most profitable product of the Birds Eye division of General Foods. Click on this Wikipedia link to read about the history of this product!  Americans loved this stuff.  Of course, it lasted longer than the handmade version and we were inundated with recipes to use it with.  With women entering the workforce like never before but still desiring to provide their families with enticing desserts, well...this was magic. And the magic came in a tub or a can!  Reddi Wip had been around a while longer but the Cool Whip appearance caused our population in America to attack desserts with new found gusto!  And then we began to get fat...

Whipped Cream has never entered my house via the blue and white tub or the red, white and blue aerosol can.  It's easy to make if you want to have it and if you do make it, only make a small amount because it's not meant to last for weeks.  It's just not.

In my standard 'go to' reference book - 'The Food Lover's Companion' processed whipped cream in the tub is described as having a 'cooked flavor' because it's been heated briefly to temperatures exceeding 300 degrees to kill microorganisms that cause milk products to sour.  "It has a longer shelf life than regular cream, but it doesn't whip as well and it has a slight 'cooked' flavor."  They then describe 'pressurized whipped creams' as having no cream in them at all!  The aerosol product is actually sold as a 'dessert topping' and is made with hydrogenated vegetable oils and is not really whipped at all but expanded by the nitrous oxide contained in the can.  Truth.

Here is the recipe I use for whipped cream when we need it.  It doesn't keep so make what you need and feel good about discarding the rest after a day or so.  It's best to store this whipped cream in the coldest part of your fridge. And if you're worried about taste I can tell you that my two sons like this much better than the processed products - because it's better.

Whipped Cream Sauce

1 cup chilled whipping cream
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat whipping cream, sugar and vanilla in chilled bowl until stiff.  Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 2 hours.

Just a note...sometimes it looks appealing to take short cuts.  Don't.  Take the time to chill that bowl.  It makes a huge difference! Below is one of the first commercials for Cool Whip! I found this on You-Tube. It's super cool...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Quiet New Year's Eve 2013

Wow.  I can't believe it's the end of the year!  What is more amazing is that I stepped away from this blog for over two months.  I suppose it was bound to happen.  I guess I needed a brief break and a chance to rest from the constant feeding of the blog!  This blog has taken on a life of it's own and is an enormous amount of work. Being away from it for even the brief time I chose to 'rest the keyboard' showed me quite clearly that this blog has become a true priority for me.  I have so enjoyed sharing my heirloom recipes and what little knowledge I have gleaned about food history that I certainly can't imagine not sharing what the men and (mostly) women that went before us created for their families!

So...starting tomorrow I will again begin exploring some rather strange and bizarre recipes or food traditions from our not too distant past and trying to tie our current lives into the fibers of the women that are now gone but lurking in our memories.  Imagine how excited they would be about some of our modern conveniences and also how horrified they would be at how lazy we have become!

A personal note - while I was on my mini 'blog vacation' something momentous happened in our Rosa household. Our oldest son has moved into his own apartment!  It's been a very exciting few months and I can honestly say that both my husband and I are happy for our son.  He's happy and loving his new place and independence and quite honestly...it was time.  He's 24 with a full-time job at a major corporation in Danbury and writes part time for a sports blog!  He was lucky to have a friend go in on this 2 bedroom condominium in Danbury because rents here are anything but inexpensive. Their rent, without utilities, is $1,400 per month!  Crazy, right? What's even crazier is that in their effort to keep their electric bill down they are keeping the thermostat at 62 degrees!  I'll have to keep you posted on how long that lasts.  

I suppose I should provide an update on son #2!  Our youngest is a sophomore at the University of Hartford and pledged a fraternity this past semester.  In early December he was initiated (after 12 weeks of pledging) into the Theta Chi fraternity!  We're all very relieved.  That was a huge commitment for him and tiring as well.  

Both of our sons have plans for this evening but my husband and I are homebodies and are quite happy to stay in and watch the festivities on TV! We even have another jigsaw puzzle to work on.  And after tomorrow...more snow is on the way!  Below is a picture of the puzzle we just finished!  Don't worry, do you see the missing border piece in the upper left corner?  We found it!  It had fallen into one of my son's shoes.  The puzzle we'll be doing for New Year's day is all candy wrappers!  All the Christmas ornament pictures decorating this post were handmade by me over the years!