Christmas to me is synonymous with homemade Italian cooking. Our tradition growing up was either to have homemade lasagna or homemade ravioli on Christmas day. My Grandma Cookie's lasagna recipe is to die for. As with all Italian cooking, every recipe is very specific to the town and family that makes it. My grandmother Guiseppina's lasagna takes two days at a minimum to make, with three days being more comfortable, hence the reason it is only made at Christmas. I have made it several times on my own, and everyone who has had it has never had anything as wonderful like it.
When I made the decision two years ago to go completely gluten-free and dairy-free for the sake of my health and fertility, I though my Italian traditions were dead. Last year, there was no Italian homemade lasagna or ravioli for Christmas. My SIL made Christmas dinner, but I brought lavish homemade appetizers as I missed my Christmas tradition of spending two days in the kitchen cooking. We stuffed ourselves so much with appetizers that we could have skipped the Christmas meal entirely!
A couple of months ago, my supervisor told me about a book signing her neighbor was having for her new book, The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook. I went to the author's house and got a demonstration on how to make gluten-free pasta. I think I had three helpings of homemade gluten-free fettucini, it was so good! Mary, her sister and I swapped stories of our families and their recipes, and they were remarkably similar. The pictures in Mary's cookbook of her Italian relatives cooking looked just like my relatives! I felt like I was at home.
Visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago was the perfect opportunity to try out these recipes. I packed all my odd arrangement of flours in my suitcase, hoping they wouldn't be confiscated by airport security. My Mom watched and told stories while my Dad and I played with the unfamiliar gluten-free dough. Surprisingly, my Dad had never made ravioli before, so he was learning as I was. We sat down to a dinner of our beginner's ravioli, and my Mom and Dad gave their "pretty-good" seal of approval, proving the experiment as a success! The menu for Christmas dinner was set.
As for dairy, the only cheese I allow myself to eat now is from sheep's milk. I discovered that sheep cheese is the oldest type of cheese in Italy and probably what my genetics are adapted to digesting the best. I grew up with big jars full of grated pecorino romano to season our Italian meals, so it works out pretty good for my traditional Italian recipes. I carted home 3 pounds of pecorino romano in my suitcase from Florida because it was so cheap there compared to here. The things I will do in the name of Italian cooking!
Christmas Eve morning found me searching for ravioli recipes on the internet. I wasn't quite satisfied with the recipe my Dad had given me and I needed an additional vegetable ravioli filling for the less carnivorous of our guests. I found a reference to this book, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, which isn't so much of a cookbook as a quest to find the authentic family ravioli recipe. By noon, I had a copy of the book and a newly bought ravioli pin in hand, which is shown in the picture above. The first roll of the ravioli pin and it's perfectly pressed squares of ravioli brought shouts of, "that's so cool!" from me, my stepson who was the designated pasta machine cranker, and Magic. To watch Laura Schenone, author of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, use a ravioli pin to make ravioli, click here to watch her YouTube video. I'm more partial to the gigantic round ravioli that fills you up after eating about four of them, but you eat double that because they are so good.
In my last post, my friend at Geeks in Rome suggested I order gluten-free pizza and skip the two day cooking extravaganza that is required of the traditional homemade Italian Christmas dinner. Christmas without Italian just isn't quite right to me, and no, store bought pizza will not do. Spending two days or more in the kitchen to make Christmas dinner for me is akin to salmon swimming upstream to spawn and geese flying south for the winter. It's a behavior that is deeply imprinted in my genes. I knew waking up Christmas day that I wasn't going to have time to change into my holiday attire, let alone put on makeup, but no one seemed to care. Once I started rolling out the steaming ravioli to the dinner table, it was all about the food. I also made the best meatballs and braciole in my life. Everyone had fun saying their new Italian word braciole, pronounced bra-zjole (like hole, but with a z as in Zsa Zsa Gabor), which is basically a meat roll stewed to perfect tenderness in the tomato sauce for two days.
The tradition of Italian holiday home cooking yanked me out of my holiday funk. During my two days of gastronomic olympics, I listened and sang to the Messiah so many times that I'm happy if I don't sing another Hallelujah chorus for another year! My back was so sore the day after Christmas from all the cleaning, cooking, rolling of dough, and cleaning dishes that I truly felt like I had been through some kind of athletic event! Many of my relatives have given up this tradition because it's too time consuming. Would I do it again? Heck yeah, it was worth it (but not for another year)!
And what Jewish-Italian-Christmas would not be complete without the traditional Hanukkah bush?
I think this is otherwise know as trauma. I was feeling all great and hopeful after our clairvoyant reading, until I talked with my SIL. I told her how we were going to try again, and she says, what if X happens again. I couldn't believe how insensitive she was. I spent the rest of the weekend crying and depressed. I didn't even want to go to the Messiah Sing-a-long, which I do every year around this time. I didn't feel like singing anything, let along Hallefuckinglujah.
In fact, I just feel like a part of me has died. I feel no joy in my heart. I didn't even do anything for Winter Solstice, one of my favorite holidays because there is no hype about it. I just didn't feel like celebrating the coming of light. I got in a fight with my stepson about him smoking pot in our backyard, which we have told him numerous times is not cool. I'm grumpy all around. I hate all the commercialism of Christmas. I hate all the buying and I hate how my stepsons are materialistic monsters. Magic and I agreed not to buy each other gifts this year. I am so grateful to cut down on the amount shopping this year. I hate what infertility treatments have done to me.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which means the two-day Italian Christmas cooking extravaganza begins. I somehow roped myself into cooking for 10 for Christmas. It's homemade ravioli this year, and yes, I'm doing it all gluten-free for all my Jewish friends and relatives! Now I just need to get to Whole Paycheck for their 36 hour Christmas Eve shopping spree. I can shop at 3am there if I want. Just what I wanted for Christmas. Bah humbug!!
I heard from a co-worker that one of my employees was worried about my car accident because she thought I was pregnant. This is not the only "fat" reminder I have gotten over the past couple of months. Another co-worker did flat out ask me if I was pregnant about a month ago. Even my chiropractor asked me last week if I had gained weight. Note to self - lose weight I gained after pregnancy loss. I gained about 8-10 pounds, which really shows on my thin frame. I was planning on starting a running program, but that all got nixed with the car accident. I have to get my back and neck healed first. It's amazing how much my body is holding on to this weight. At least I am not gaining anymore. Just please stop assuming I'm pregnant! I'm just fat.
Magic and I had our reading today with the spirit baby clairvoyant. He told us all kinds of wild stuff, but our direction was made clear. I will share the reading on my private blog in a future post.
Shortly after the reading, I got into a car accident. I think I'll be ok. My car is not. Luckily, my acupuncturist, who I now call "the Emerald Mountain", or Em for short because she has an amazing capacity for compassion, was able to get me in for a treatment.
I'm off to visit my folks, so I probably won't be checking in before I get back. Au voir!
This past weekend was very uplifting. After my self-indulgent wallowing last post, I thought I might return to more self-pity, but it was quite the contrary.
First, let me take a moment to glow in step-motherhood. Yes, you heard it right. I am so amazingly proud of my stepson who completed his first enlightenment training this weekend. He started meditating recently on his own. I wanted to encourage him, so I told him I would accompany him and a friend on a weekend enlightenment 101 training. These courageous seventeen year-olds braved their minds and sat on their butts all weekend. I felt the gap in our ages shorten greatly after this weekend.
Having done this training before, I qualified to staff the weekend, being a kind of enlightenment training gopher. Part of my gopher activities was to escort participants to interviews with a meditation instructor. I could not help but overhear comments of some of the interviews. I thought one woman said she was pregnant, and I thought "oh, no, pregnant-woman-magnet returns". However, I would later put my proverbial foot-in-mouth. Later in a discussion group, I looked at this woman and thought, "but she doesn't look pregnant". Shortly after I had that thought, she talked about how she had had an ideal pregnancy and had lost her daughter two days after her due date. One day she had a heartbeat, and the next day none. Her daughter's cord was wrapped around her neck. I felt so heartbroken for this woman, but she talked about it with such grace and acceptance. It had only been a few months. This weekend was helping her and her husband deal with their loss. She was so cheerful about it, embodying the teachings of the weekend. There is a lot to be cheerful about, even though there is loss, depression, and despair. I think it's part of our basic nature, cheerfulness, if we let it shine. Perhaps that is what I have been experiencing lately, that cheerfulness in spite of a devastating loss. I think I have been mistaken again. I thought it was because I was happy not having children. Maybe it's just because I am.
Typical, my mind is always trying to find an answer - like picking at a daisy - she wants children, she doesn't want children, she wants children... Again, I just have to resist letting my mind take over like a wild horse.
Tomorrow is a big day for me. I have told myself that I will not make anymore decisions until tomorrow. I have come to the conclusion that I will never come to a decision from my mind. I have been trying to engage my heart, but it's so much harder for me to listen to her wisdom. I have a hard time discerning what she is trying to tell me anymore. There is too much residual trauma for me to know what are my true feelings and what is a trauma reaction. I hope that tomorrow will bring some clarity and resolution. But maybe it will just bring more questions?
ICLW kicked my ass. I wasn't quite prepared for all the pregnancy announcements and joyous postings about babies. Nevertheless, I made some new friends who I will be stalking from now on, so I guess it was worth it!
In the meanwhile, I took my baby holding adventure on T-day and kid playing the rest of the weekend as good news. My niece even called me a "child magnet". Apparently I am the "pregnant woman magnet" as well. One of the formerly pregnant women came back to work this week, and I avoided all the hallway twitter. Yet the newest female co-worker who announced her pregnancy at a division staff meeting chose to sit next to me. I didn't even say boo about her announcement, so I'm not sure why she chose to sit next to the least chummy person in the room. I just go into avoidance mode/deer-in-the-headlights-mode/not-going-there-mode. As much as I appreciate my life as it is right now sans bebe, I still get that gut wrenching heartache when someone announces their pregnancy or gushes about their children. I'm all Zen one moment and devastated the next. Seriously, who am I kidding?