What I Did During My Fall Vacation

On the Road

I’m back from what was, for the most part, another wonderful visit with my Zia. We cooked, we talked, we talked about cooking, and, as one might expect, I’ve a few recipes to share in the weeks to come.

First, having located the surprisingly illusive 1 lb. octopus, I revisited the recipe posted a couple of weeks ago and prepared “Polipo in Umido“, Stewed Octopus. Although I won’t create a new post for the recipe, I’ve added the recipe to the end of this post and have added a link to the original post. I will not include the recipe for the bread I baked that afternoon simply because I evidently failed to bookmark the webpage’s address.

RIccetteOn another night, I reached into the box of Bartolini pastas that our ever-so-thoughtful friend, Lidia, had sent us, and prepared a Pasta alla Verdure, Pasta with Vegetables. It’s a delicious vegetarian dish — if you’re willing to overlook the guanciale that was rendered in the first step.

Since I’ll be unable to visit Zia for her birthday at the end of this month, I prepared a birthday dinner for the two of us. Our primo piatto was L’Uova da Ravioli, Egg-Filled Ravioli.  Our secondo was Osso Bucco, Braised Veal Shanks, while our dessert was a Pear Tarte Tartain. I do not plan on sharing the tart recipe for it wasn’t my finest hour. Knowing that a number of you had recently posted recipes, I attempted to find one of them but the 10 minute/post load time wore me out, so I sought help from the Almighty, the one and only Martha Stewart. Her recipe produced a tasty dessert but my “flip” was a matter of great disappointment and resulted in a presentation that was anything but “a good thing.” So, we took off our eyeglasses and enjoyed it immensely.

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One thing you may not know about my Zia is that she enjoys a bit of jam every now and Strawberry-Cranberry Jamagain. Well, recently, our good friend BAM, of Bam’s Kitchen fame, shared her recipe for Bammer’s Jammers. Made with cranberries, strawberries, and ginger, this quick jam is delicious. The mix of tart and sweet is a winning combination, if ever there was one, and Zia loved it. Be sure to check out her recipe and, while you’re there, have a look around BAM’s blog. Guaranteed, it will be time well-spent. And a big “Thank You!” to BAM for the recipe.

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Unfortunately, all was not good food and talk during my visit. While I was with Zia, we received word that my Dad’s remaining Brother, Uncle Leo, “Zio Leo”, passed away in a suburb of Detroit. Zia and I travelled to the wake later that week. You may recall that the Apple Cake recipe that I shared 2 weeks ago belonged to his Wife, my Aunt Mary, “Zia Mariolla”.  He was a kind, wonderful man, as was Dad’s other Brother, Uncle Dominic, “Zio Mingo”, who passed away just 5 weeks earlier in his home in San Marino. Both men will be missed terribly. May they rest in peace.

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I hope to resume posting recipes next week. I live in a two-flat and the back porches and stairwell needed repair and a fresh coat of paint. I soon learned that, though repairs could be performed, our building codes have changed recently. It would be best to replace it all now, rather than in a couple years. As I type, workers are removing the old structure, just beyond the wall behind me. Max, thankfully, is in doggy daycare for the day — but he’ll be here tomorrow. Admittedly, this is nowhere near the scope of the construction projects some of you have endured over the past few months. Even so, there are foundations to be dug, cement to be poured, and a structure to be built, with a couple of inspections along the way. Whether I post the Green Tomato Relish recipe next week will depend on how the re-build progresses and Max’s reaction to seeing workers in his yard.

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Stewed Octopus Recipe

(Polipo in Umido) 

Ingredients

  • 1 one pound (500 g) octopus
  • reserved blanching water
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 large can, 28 oz (800 g), whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1 small can, 14 oz (400 g) whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram (2 tsp fresh)
  • 3 to 4 oz dry white wine
  • fresh, crusty bread for serving

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Polipo in Umido

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Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan over med-high heat, bring to boil enough water to cover the trimmed octopus. Add the octopus and allow to simmer for 2 minutes after the pot returns to the boil. (Small octopi should boil for 1 minute. Larger should be allowed to boil closer to 2 minutes.) Remove the octopus and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and reserve. Reserve the blanching liquid, too. (See Notes) (Refer to Strangozzi post for further details on prepping the octopus.)
  2. Place the blanching liquid back into the sauce pan and, over med-high heat, reduce it by half.
  3. Over med-high heat, add olive oil in a medium sauce pan.
  4. Add red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper before sautéing until the onion is translucent and garlic fragrant — about 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, wine, and marjoram, stir to combine. Bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  6. After the sauce has thickened and darkened a bit — about 30 minutes — add the chopped octopus and reduced blanching liquid before continuing the simmer.
  7. Taste a piece of octopus after another 15 minutes to test for doneness and to check the seasoning. If necessary, continue to simmer another 5 minutes before tasting again.
  8. Serve immediately, accompanied with crusty bread. Alternately, some prefer to ladle the octopus over a slice of bread in the bottom of each bowl.
  9. Like all mildly flavored seafood dishes, grated cheese is not recommended for it will overpower the dish.

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Notes

As mentioned above, more complete instructions for cleaning and chopping the octopus may be found HERE, the only difference being the size of the chopped pieces of octopus. For an in umido preparation, we prefer the pieces to be from 1.5 to 2 inches (3.5 to 5 cm). That means the octopus you buy should be about 1 lb. in weight. Anything less will require a smaller chop and, in our estimation, won’t be as suitable for an in umido preparation.

The idea for reserving and reducing the blanching liquid came from a suggestion from our blogging buddy, Stefan. It worked like a charm, adding additional flavor to the sauce. Thanks, Stefan! You can find out what other good things Stefan has to offer by visiting his fantastic blog, Stefan’s Gourmet Blog.

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224 thoughts on “What I Did During My Fall Vacation

  1. So sorry about the loss of your relatives! It’s heartbreaking to think about all of the recipes and expertise — not to mention great stories — that are passing on with them. Good luck with your renovation. I hope Max is OK with it.

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    • Thank you so much. Both Uncles were great guys. The renovation continues. Max was in daycare again, so, he really has no idea of what tomorrow will bring and it’s not like I can have a talk with him. I think the first day will be his worst. After that, he’ll get a bit accustomed to it all — I hope and pray!

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      • You CAN have a talk with him. He won’t get it at first, but he might eventually. You never know with dogs! Mine has to be told when I’m going out of town or he pouts the whole time I’m gone. Seriously. I think they learn more words and concepts as they age. I’m not saying Max won’t bark but it couldn’t hurt to explain it to him!

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        • I do believe animals understand a variety of words. My parrot definitely understands quite a few, as well, as facial expressions and my “routine.” Max understands some but it takes repetition. Right now, he’s reacting to the noise and it changes as the job goes from one stage to another — i.e., demolition to digging to construction. I will say that he was better today. He barked for a while but then settled down — until they knocked on the door for something. All in all, we’re making progress. 🙂

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          • I bet Max will get it eventually. Either that, or you will have to farm him out to a friend’s house for the duration. My dog has a friend with a yard. He goes to her house during construction, and vice versa. Otherwise, he just enjoys barking too much.

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          • Today, he showed signs that he gets it. It started out rough but, within a while, he settled down and quit barking, except for an occasional yelp just to let every one know he was still here and not happy that they were there. By mid-afternoon, he was napping and he only barked again as they were packing up. I’d like to think he was saying goodbye but the reality is that they were making a new set of noises and he hadn’t grown accustomed to them yet. I do think the worst is behind us. Those jackhammers were awful!

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          • Not to worry. If there is one thing I never run out of, it’s treats for Max. Life is so much easier when there are treats in the house. 🙂

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          • Max has you well trained. 🙂 I hope your construction is done soon. My Mom’s house is having plumbing issues and it’s stressful with Thanksgiving in two days so I feel your pain.

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          • They’re making progress. I’ve resigned myself to having them around for a couple more weeks. Your poor Mom! Plumbing stuff can just go on and on. I hope they get it settled for her so she can relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. You. too. 🙂

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  2. Wonderful birthday dinner – the ravioli sound delicious. Thanks for including a map of Michigan. My detailed knowledge of US geography is limited…I could pinpoint Chicago’s location but I didn’t realise how Cleveland and Detroit were related. Very confusing to see London and Chatham on the map!

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    • Thanks, Roger, the ravioli were great but I won’t be making them this way for some time. I tried something different and there’s a reason why it’s not done. Judging by some comments made on my prior trips, I thought a map might come in handy for some. I’ve made the trek so many times over the years that sometime I think my car will make it on it’s own. If not, Max could take the wheel. 🙂

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  3. Sorry to hear of your Uncle’s passing, an event I am sure you had not envisioned as part of your visit.

    I had to laugh, though, at the pear tart – something about those pear tarts makes them difficult. The one that my friend tackled years ago for dessert as part of our quarterly dinner club is affectionately referred to as the “Burnt Pear Tart.” We “retired” that recipe.

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    • Thanks, Kat. Well, my tart didn’t burn. It just didn’t come out of the pan. By the time it did, the nicely arranged pears weren’t. It was a mess. I must admit, though, it was a delicious mess. 🙂

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  4. Pingback: This Recipe has Legs: Strangozzi Pasta with Octopus | from the Bartolini kitchens

  5. I shiver over the octopus John, haha! I’m too wimpy for certain foods but like you said, the rest is vegetarian and sounds delicious! Sounds like you had a wonderful visit and I sure hope your home gets fixed up quickly. I’m sure that’s no fun with all the construction noise! Can’t wait to see the recipes you share up and coming.

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    • Thanks, Brandi! They estimates for completion started at 1 week, before the contract was signed, to 2 weeks after the signing. I’m prepared for 3 weeks. We just completed — I hope! — the jackhammer phase. If they pour the concrete tomorrow, it should be pretty quiet for a few days while we wait for the first inspection. All bets are off after that inspector leaves. 🙂

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  6. quando se ne vanno parti importanti della famiglia sembrano spezzarsi le radici del nostro albero della vita, ma poi ti accorgi che non è così perché sono profonde le radici nella tua anima

    la ricetta è certo squisita, aspetto le altre prossime
    un saluto

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    • Thank you for your sympathy. Your analogy is so very true. Thank you, as well, for the compliments on my recipe. I wish I could speak and write Italian like I understand and read it. I lost that ability many years ago. What we do not use, we lose, I’m afraid.

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  7. John, I am so sorry to hear of your uncles passing. I am pleased though you were with Zia and able to travel with her to the wake.
    Good luck with the repairs and tell Max from me he can bark as much as he likes at strangers in his garden.
    I am salivating at the though of the octopus stew -think I shall have to head into the kitchen and find something to eat.
    Have a fabulous day John.
    🙂 Mandy xo

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    • Thank you, Mandy. It was fortunate that I was already in Michigan when my Uncle was taken. I only hope that the next time I see that part of my family, it’s for a much more joyous occasion. They are some truly wonderful people.
      Max has been in daycare for the work that’s been done. That all changes tomorrow. I’ve no idea how it will go but he and I will be going for walks — long walks. I’m glad you liked the octopus. Finding the right size octopus turned a good dish into a spectacular one. We both enjoyed that meal! 🙂

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    • Thank you so much. You’re right. When cooked right, octopus is wonderful. If over-cooked, it is terrible. I really do enjoy these visits back home. Too bad the next one will not come until next Spring, once the snow melts.

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  8. So sorry to hear your sad news. It is difficult to feel a family shrink around you – I’m down to my last uncle, myself. Still, it is wonderful to have you back, and I hope we get good news about Max and the construction. I’ve never seen back porches like that — they are really neat!

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    • Thanks for your sympathies. Uncle Leo was the last of our Uncles and he was such a great guy with a beautiful family.
      Porches like mine are relatively common here, though many have large decks attached. My yard is so small that to build a deck attached to each porch would take up far too much room. As for Max, well, he’s not going to like this at all but I’m sure he’ll adjust. I’ve been able to keep him away for the past few days but no more. Tomorrow will be his first test. 🙂

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  9. Oh John, I’m so sorry for you and Zia. It’s tough when we lose loved ones, especially as we see the family get smaller…such a sense of loss. I’m glad you and Zia still have each other. Bless you both and may all your loved ones who have passed away Rest in Peace.
    I’m so pleased that you did manage to get some time with Zia and that you could be with her for celebrate the highs and lows of the last few weeks. And now you have building work (ooh I feel for you!) and still you manage to give us a beautiful recipe. Hope Max survives the trauma of people working in HIS yard. Our pups get very indignant in England when a seagull or a cat has the gall to enter ours…oops, theirs!

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    • Thank you so much, Tanya. This certainly wasn’t the visit I had planned and it’s sobering to realize members of my generation are becoming my family’s elders. We were all just in school, or so it seems!
      The replacement of my porches is nothing compared to what you and Big Man have been doing. Right now it’s the noise of the jackhammers — which I hope are gone now. Max has been kept away but that ends tomorrow. He barks at birds in the yard. Workers may prove too much for him. We’ll see but I envision some very long walks. 🙂

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  10. The cycle of life is a reminder to us all that each and every day of our life is special. Glad to hear that the octopus was successfully dispatched! I’m still bearing the mental scars of a renovation that was completed 3 years ago so I hope everything goes smoothly for you and that Max copes with the noisy intrusions.

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    • You are so right. Life is too short to idle it away. I must admit that the octopus came out wonderfully, I’m so glad I went looking for a “larger model.” It really did pay off. Your renovation was very probably much more involved that mine is going to be — barring any unforeseen problems. Once they get the foundations poured and inspected, the actual build will be relatively straight-forward. It’s the upset to our routines that will prove to be the biggest hassle. We have to use the neighbors’ yards to gain access to the alley if we need to take out the trash or get to our cars in the garage. As long as the weather stays nice, even that is not a problem. Fingers crossed that it all goes as smoothly as Ive been assured.

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    • Thanks, MD, for your condolences and compliments. If you do make this octopus, make sure it’s not much smaller than, say, 400 grams, though 500 would be perfect. Both Zia and I were very pleased at how much better it was compared to the smaller octopi I prepared weeks ago. I joked with her that I just might bring one with me every time I visit. 🙂

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  11. Going through the pains of construction will be worth it I am sure for a safer environment. Hope it does not turn out to be too stressful for you and Max.
    Sounds like you had a great time with Zia. I give my condolences for the loss of your uncles.

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    • Thanks, Colline for your condolences and well-wishes for the construction. Day 3 went pretty well. Hopefully, the concrete will be poured tomorrow and the inspection will take place next week. After that, it’s the re-build. Even though my back yard is off limits, it’s far better than having an indoor remodel performed. I applaud people who go through that. I’d find it unbearable.

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  12. Welcome back, we’ve missed you, John.
    I am sorry to hear the sad news of your dear uncles passing. What a loss.

    Your special birthday dinner shared with your Zia sounds lovely. Loved your line about removing your glasses.

    Will check out the jam recipe and good luck with all that work going on. You’ll be glad when it is completed but I am sure the disruption and hassle is rough.

    Thanks for all your good comments on the blog. It isn’t the same without you.
    Xxoo

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    • Thanks, Ruth, for the expression of sympathy. It was a loss to my family and he’ll be missed by us all.
      It was a great dinner but that tart was an ugly mess. I reconstructed one part of it for the photo. It sure was tasty though. In the long run, that’s really all that matters.
      You’ll like the jam. It’s very easy to make and there’s no canning involved. As for the porches, yo’ve got it right. It’s the disruption that’s the problem. It is, after all, outdoors making it far less of a hassle than, say, a kitchen remodel. The biggest problem will be getting Max to settle down. He’s been kept away for 3 days but that’s ended and, from tomorrow on, he’ll be here for it all. This will be new for us all. 🙂
      I so enjoy your photos, Ruth, and for the opportunity to see your Grandkids grow up. Thank you for sharing them with us all. That is one beautiful family.

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  13. Hi John Love the sound of your holiday notwithstanding the sad news. You must explain what a two flat is. Is it literally a dwelling on the ground floor and a dwelling on the first floor? Will you post a photo of the finished look? BTW Are they your roses in the foreground?

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    • Hello, Glenda, and thank you. Yes, that’s right. A two-flat has a ground floor and another atop it. Each floor is a separate housing unit. A three-flat has another floor, too. I live on the ground level and a very nice family lives above me.

      Yes, once the new porch is installed, I’ll post a pic of it. When I saw the rose blossom (Queen Elizabeth) in the foreground, I knew you would notice it. The cold has taken its toll on the poor thing. We are going into a cold spell where the temps will not be above freezing until Monday. I doubt whether that bloom will open properly. Time will tell … 🙂

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  14. Welcome back. Happy birthday to Zia, what a lovely birthday dinner you prepared for her, Osso Bucco is one of my favorite Italian dishes. And, your octopus stew, looks mouth watering delicious.
    So sorry to learn of the loss of your uncle, good that you were able to take Zia to Detroit for a final good by.
    Smooth sailing with your renovation, hope the weather cooperates and the job gets done as planned and on schedule. Poor Max, assure him that the strangers will gone soon.

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    • Thank you so much, Norma, for the condolences.. We had a nice birthday dinner and I’ll be sure to pass along your birthday wishes, if she hasn’t read them already. The contractors took the weekend off, giving my ear drums a much needed rest. They — Max and the contractors — will be back at it tomorrow, at 7:00 am sharp. I think my head ache will return sometime around 8:00 am. 🙂

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  15. Very sorry to hear about the passing of your relatives… it is the yin and yang of life, unfortunately, the good and the bad keep coming, and we must surf through it all, smiling, crying, and moving on…

    Glad you are back… really missed your posts…

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    • Thank you, Sally. You’re so right. Beings that we are, we really do need the bad so that we can fully appreciate the good. It’s great to be home — jackhammers, barking dog, and all. 🙂

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  16. Buonasera John and Welcome home! I am sorry to hear about your losses and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this difficult time. I am delighted to hear that you and Zia enjoyed my jam and thank you for the mention and your sweet and kind words. You certainly have made your rounds there in Michigan and so glad you had a chance to visit with Zia and share food and talk about food, you might even consider talking about food while you are eating that is really good too and I have been known to do that as well from time to time. Zia’s Polipo in Umido looks amazing. I think the hand torn tomatoes really do make the difference. I am sure it was so tender and delicious. I hope that your renovations and repairs go swiftly. Take Care, BAM

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    • Buongiorno BAM! Thank you for the condolences and prayers. It’s been a tough month. Your jam was a big hit. I’m going to make more for gifts at Thanksgiving. Actually, we do talk about food while we’re eating, usually how this or that dish might be improved next time, or, better still, some long forgotten memory that the dish has brought to mind. I’m a big fan of texture in my tomato sauces and will usually opt for hand-torn tomatoes. In a “stew” like this, it makes a big difference. Tomorrow, I think they will pour the concrete. Then it will be a matter of getting the City here to inspect them. WIth the Thanksgiving holiday this week, I’m not expecting to see the inspector until next week. Just so long as it is done before the first snowfall, I’ll be happy. Have a great week, BAM!

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  17. Oh John, I am do sorry to hear of your losses, our heartfelt condolences to you and Zia. How nice that you wee able to take Zia to the wake in Detroit. Our friends in Yorkville had to drive to Detroit to resolve a passport issue and it’s not a short trip — 5 hours each way!
    I’m very glad you had a great time talking and cooking, the octopus sounds wonderful; sadly I’m the only one who adores octopus Sobieski won’t be cooking it anytime soon. I can hardly wait to see the egg ravioli, I wonder if it was inspired by the one that inspired me on Celi’s blog.
    I’m surprised that your porch is not grandfathered but then again, safety first. Hope it turns out better than expected. Did you have any issues with the high winds and tornado warnings on Sunday? We were in Yorkville visiting our dear friends for a benchmark birthday and it was dark, windy and very scary but fortunately nothing major unlike Washington, Illinois. So sad the devastation.

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    • Thank you both, Eva, for the condolences.Our trip was but 2 and a half hours each way. It’s a snap during the Summer months but, this time of year, I don’t like it at all. You never know whether snow or ice will be a factor and deer are an ever-present danger. It’s such a nice drive in the Summer months. Such a contrast this time of year.
      The octopus was so much better this time around. We both thoroughly enjoyed. Size does matter! Sarah — remember her? — made the ravioli last year and I had planned to make them for Zia in September. As you’ll see in the post, I was unable to get an ingredient. I did see both of your posts, however, and they did give e the courage to press on. They did surprise Zia. These are not the Bartolini ravioli of old, that’s for sure.
      The porch is not at all unsafe. A couple minor repairs and a coat of paint and it would be good to go. Even so, whether I do it now, or when I sell this place, should I so decide, it must be replaced. It won’t pass inspection for the sale otherwise. It was plenty dark last Sunday and very windy. It rained enough to swamp our back yards but, as far as I know, no basements in this area flooded and no tornados touched down in or near the City. The devastation SE of us was just terrible! How miraculous that only 6 were killed! Let’s hope that’s the last tornado to hit that area for a very long time to come. Those people have paid their dues.

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  18. John, I’m sorry to hear of the passing of these two beloved family members. I don’t think we are ever fully prepared no matter the age of our loved one. May they both rest peacefully and you and Zia are in my prayers this week.
    Happy birthday to your Zia and what an amazing looking octopus stew. With Christmas approaching, it reminds me of our family gathering on Christmas Eve and one of my elderly Aunts preparing three pasta sauces, one made with squid (which she painstakingly cleaned and prepared). The Aunts are all gone now, however, the memories of those special dinners linger on…beautiful ladies and lovely meals!
    Best of luck with your renovation. Oh, I know the pain as others have noted. There is something exciting about seeing the finished project though, so I hope all will run as close to on-time as possible.
    Thanks for a fantastic post to enjoy with my morning coffee!
    Allison

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    • Thank you so much, Allison. It’s strange to see that my generation is becoming the Elders of the family. Sure, it was going to happen but It kind of snuck up on me.
      This octopus turned out very well, just like back in the day. I got a real sense of accomplishment from that dinner. My family does man calamari in umido, very much like this octopus recipe. I’ll be sure to blog the recipe in the coming months. We, too, had special meals on Christmas Eve. What wonderful times!
      The workers were gone all weekend. The relative peace and quiet were too good to describe. They return tomorrow and Max is sure to don his “Super Guard Dog” manner once again. I need noise canceling headphones. 🙂

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  19. Gosh, what a visit and return. I can only think that Zia must have been comforted to have you with her on receiving such sad news. Then on your return the upheaval of the building work. Dogs get unsettled which in turn make you unsettled. Hope the work gets done quickly so that you can both settle back to normal service. It also shows how important your family recipes are and your work in keeping them alive.

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    • Thanks, Maria, for your kind words of understanding. It has been a very “special” couple of weeks. We’ve a holiday this week and that means the planned inspection by the City will probably be delayed. The entire project may take a week more than planned. I really don’t mind that much, so, long as it doesn’t snow in the meantime. That would really complicate matters.
      You’re right, too, about getting these recipes recorded. I have to reach out to my other Aunts and see if they’d like to contribute. They’ll soon learn what Zia already knows. It’s very rewarding to see one’s recipes prepared by people from all around the world. 🙂

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  20. Sorry for your loss. Your vacation essay gets an A (I can’t help it, my past career). Something I’ve noticed – well I noticed a long time ago but just now mentioning it – Spanish and Italian for Aunt and Uncle are just one letter apart. Tio/Zio Tia/Zia

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    • Thanks, Teri. I can’t help but slip into grammar school mode when I start to recount a vacation’s details. Every September for 8 years, that was the year’s first assignment, in one form or another. Spanish and Italian are very similar, of that I’m sure. I know enough of each to butcher them both. 🙂

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  21. What an unexpected turn of events, John, I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. Not one but two brothers and beloved uncles in such a short span of time must be so difficult. I imagine there is a big celebration in heaven right now as they are all together. What a big project you’ve got going on, all the better for Max once it’s finished. Will you be doing much the same design or changing things up a bit? You’ll have to have a spring celebration out on your new deck once it’s done and the weather is warmer. I love the look of your octopus dish, the size made all the difference in your photos. Alas, the discovery of such a sea creature here in our landlocked prairies would be a rarity! I will admire from a distance! Glad to have you back! Hugs to Max!

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    • Thanks, Barb, for your sympathies and kind thoughts. The reunion of Dad and his 2 brothers is one that I would have loved to see. 🙂
      The rebuild isn’t as bad as many others have had to deal with, This is, after all, outdoors. I don’t know what I would do with an indoor job, Max being …well … Max. As it is, I’ve got too very loud weeks ahead. After that, peace will be restored and I imagine my liquor bill will drop considerably. 🙂
      The back yards in this part of Chicago are quite small. The back porch and stairwell have a small footprint and the replacement will mirror the old almost exactly. I’ve a deck that runs along the back wall of the building with tables and chairs. There really isn’t a need for additional deck space for each floor.
      If you’re serious about finding octopus, try a good Italian or Greek market. If anywhere will have them, those two are your best bet. Just how common are Italian or Greek markets in The Prairies? 🙂

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  22. Oh John, I truly am sorry for your loss. I know what family means to you and I share in your sadness. Condolianze a te e la Zia!

    So glad Zia got to enjoy some Bartolini pasta. And in my book, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, just as long as it tastes heavenly. And I’m sure your Pear Tarte Tatin was exactly that, heavenly! Although from that little peak of pie you’ve shown us, it looks quite pretty indeed. I’ll have to share your Polipo in Umido with my brother… I leave all the fish and seafood cooking to him, seeing as the individuals I live with are so finicky! 😉 Welcome back John!

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    • Grazie mille, Lidia. It was a tough couple of weeks.
      Yes, Zia did enjoy the pasta. Like me, she was a bit amaze to see the family name on a bag of pasta. That little section of the pie was the only portion that was presentable — and eve that was heavily manipulated. It was as if I’d superglued the pears to the pan. Caramel was everywhere! You’re right, though, It did taste good. 🙂
      I’d be eager to hear what your Brother thinks of the recipe. I have to be honest, though, Zia and I are probably the only 2 to prepare and eat polipo. None of my generation will go near it. Finicky is right!

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  23. Welcome back! So sorry to hear of your loss- especially coming so quickly on top of the last one. Glad you had some quality time with your Zia though.
    I can’t ever seem to make the tarte tatin thing happen properly- I’ve pretty much given up trying- so kudos for the effort. I will be trying the jam you suggest- cranberries, strawberries and ginger sound like a perfect combination!

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    • Thanks for the condolences. I’ve yet to have a perfect tarte tatin but this was the worst. Isn’t that always the case? You’ve a special dinner planned and the darn thing sticks to the pan like it was super glued! I love a dish that gives contrasting flavors. This jam is one of those dishes. I can’t wait to try it on ice cream, like a previous commenter suggested.

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  24. My condolences on your recent losses. Once again, beautiful food & beautiful stories. The stewed octopus looks heavenly…brings back memories of dining on the Ligurian Sea. Ahh, now you have brought on an intense feeling of melancholy 😉

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    • Thank you very much, Nancy. I know those feelings of melancholy. I sometimes run into them when a recipe triggers some long forgotten memory. I have to remind myself that I should be happy that I’ve had those experiences in the first place. Not many people do. 🙂

      Like

  25. Glad to see you back, John. You’ve been missed. You went back to visit with your Zia at just the right time when you could be with her and take her to your uncle’s wake; I am sure your support was such a good thing for your Zia. I send my sympathies to you both.
    What a wonderful birthday dinner you shared! Osso Bucco is among my favorite dishes.
    Give Max a scratch behind the ears for me and tell him he’s in charge of protecting you.

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    • Thanks, Angeline. I think Zia and I comforted each other. My Uncle was such a great guy. So sorry to see him go.
      Yes, that birthday dinner, even with the faulty tarte tatin, was something else. We both enjoyed it. As for Max, no need to tell him. Lately, he’s becoming much more protective of me and “his” home. It took over 5 years but the puppy has finally – and I do stress the finally – become a dog. 🙂

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  26. I also was interested to see the scope of the project under way. There is quite a bit of work involved in the stairs and decks up that wall. At least the demolition stage is done, I am wondering how Max is being today, maybe he will get used to the noise and be good.. c

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    • I’ll post more photos as the work progresses. All they done since tearing it done is to haul it away and dig holes for the poles’ foundations. They’re each 3 feet deep and at least 2 feet square. The workers left, thinking the inspector would be coming. He didn’t, so, they’re going to take pictures of the holes and fill them with concrete. When the inspector comes, he can see the pics and inspect the cement work. I hope the contractor is right about this or they’re going to be digging out a whole lot of fresh concrete. Max has had the weekend to recuperate. We’ll see how things go tomorrow. I don’t think he’s going to like seeing a cement truck out in “his” alley. I do think you’re right, though. He’ll eventually adjust to the noise and settle down — or I’ll sedate him. 🙂

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  27. So sorry to hear about your uncle! What a downer, although in a way it was nice you were with your Zia so the two of you could travel together to attend the wake. Fun to see the updated octopus recipe – I’m always changing my recipes around, rarely making them the same way twice. Good luck with all the construction! What a job. Anyway, glad that you’ had a swell vacation and are back. Looking forward to some good eats.

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    • Thanks, John. That certainly wasn’t the visit back home I’d imagined. Life has a way of interfering with the best laid plans.
      I have to admit, this version was so much better than the others. If I cannot get an octopus in the size I want, I just won’t but it. This one pounder made all the difference in the world. Writing this blog has forced me to be much more cognizant of what goes into each dish. i never really paid that much attention to amounts. Now, though, I have to and when I forget, I end up making the dish again a few days later just to get the amounts recorded. Oh, how we bloggers suffer! 🙂

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  29. Well that was a long drive! See where S. Bend is? That’s about when I’d be ready to jump out of the car.
    I’m so sorry to hear of Uncle Leo’s passing but it was nice of you to be able to drive Zia to the wake. I’m afraid that almost all of the ‘elders’ on both sides of our family have passed away and found it interesting that on John’s maternal side of the family 5 passed away within 4 months of each other.
    I’m so glad that the aquarium had that 1 lb. octopus & I’m sure you can replace the one you took with a smaller, younger version who will be happy in the aquarium.
    I’m betting Max is happy to be in daycare during construction. This has been so stressful for Lola – new smells & people almost every day. Today is crazy because the electricians are here & they have a line tester that makes the same beeping noise as her underground fence just before she gets a shock. Lots of drool on my floors. You’re smart to get the job done right with those porches. There were some things we could have cut corners on here but frankly, it’s not worth it in the long run & if we were to ever sell the house I wouldn’t want to deal with it them. I’ve got every worker imaginable here & I’m making use of all of them to add on any small jobs that I haven’t been able to get someone out to do.

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    • Thanks, Diane, for the condolences. It appears that we’re in the same boat, suddenly becoming the Elders of our respective families. How did this happen? Just yesterday I was graduating.
      I have made that drive so many times over the past 30+ years that I can pretty much recite all of the stops and bumps along the way. I think Max and Lucy can pretty much do the same.
      Max isn’t taking this in stride. He misses going into the yard. When we leave for a walk, he immediately heads for the walk to the back and I have to pull him away. He barks constantly at the workers but I haven’t figured out it he’s protecting me or trying to make new friends. I don’t think I’ll risk it and find out. I cannot imagine what he’d be like if they were working indoors. I give your Lola credit. Such a good dog!
      I’ve had a number of issues come up that went from minor repair work to major expense, just to keep up with the changing building codes. A few years back, an unexplained blown fuse led to a rewiring of both kitchens and the building’s fuseboxes. Now, that was fun! Still, you’re right. If you don’t get it done now, you’ll have to do it in order to sell the place. That’s not how I want to do things.

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      • Max has to be stressed out. You’re not letting him do his job of protecting the house. Yes, Lola’s barking was a major headache. She’d be fine once the workers settled in but if they had to go in & out, she’d need to re-bark them. But I got great advice from my neighbor across the street who just sold – potential buyers kept saying the kitchen looked “dated”. It can make or break a sale, especially if you’ve got new homes going up all around you with designer kitchens. Since we had every possible tradesman here at one point or another I made sure to add in any small jobs while I had them. It’s impossible to get them out to a small job – like we had a broken outside faucet. Nobody’s going to come out for that so all you do is grab the plumber’s keys & wallet while he’s here installing sinks and ask for favors.

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        • Yes, Max is stressed but he’s better today. He’s actually asleep right now and saws and drills are going on the other side of the wall, about 10 feet from he lies. Of course, when they knock on the door, he goes berserk again bur at least he calms down eventually. Last week that wasn’t the case at all.
          You’re right, too, about the “dated look.” I know of people who go nuts updating their property before it’s put up for sale. I understand why they do it but just wonder why not do it earlier so that they could enjoy it rather than do it for others.
          Here, we have Angie’s List. It’s a referral list for contractors and repairman. You can search for the type of professional you need, read other member reviews, and decide which to choose. Though that’s reason enough to join, they also offer almost daily specials, like an electrician for 2 hours for $90.00, or, a painter for the day for $XX, or, a plumber for 4 hours for $XX. It’s a good resource for getting those odd jobs done when you’ve no idea who to call. I hope the service is available in your area so you can check them out. I’ve hired an electrician and that’s where I found the contractors for the current rebuild.

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          • We do have Angie’s list here but it’s still relatively new and they don’t have quite the database that some areas do. I’ve held off joining them for a little bit but it’s good to get a recommendation from someone who’s actually a member. I like the idea of the specials which is sort of like Groupon. Thanks John.

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    • Thanks yo very much. It is sad, you know. I’ve so many wonderful memories of them all. How fortunate we are to have known such good people.
      That trip isn’t so bad. It’s only about 400 miles. I’d have a tough time if it was much longer than that. I get restless driving for extended periods.
      Not to worry. As I’m sure you’re aware, I’ve subscribed to your new sight.

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    • Thank you,Celia. My Uncles were 80 and 81. Funny, with each passing year, that seems younger and younger. We did benefit from our time in the kitchen and ate like royalty. Thankfully, the rebuild is all outdoors. The mess stays there and Max stays inside. Never the twain shall meet. Never. 🙂

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  31. Your words are always so special and I am sure that by being with your Zia you were able to give her much comfort. And my condolences to you. Life never stops and my father says the worst thing about owning a home is that the work never stops on it. Life goes on, John and you have a beautiful way of living it.

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    • Thank you, Abbe. This is such a nice comment to leave and a really do appreciate it. Life does go one, though it’s a little easier to take at times. It seems like I’m always playing catch-up with this building and changing codes. With a little luck, this will be the last of it for a good while. I need a break. 🙂

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  32. Love it….if it doesn’t look photo appealing, just don’t wear glasses. I can so relate. Sorry to hear of the losses. It was good you were close by. Good luck on that deck reconstruction. I’m sure it’ll be awesome once completed.

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    • Thanks, Ingrid. Unfortunately, even with our glasses off, that tarte tatin looked bad. Thank heavens it tasted so good. I, too, was glad to be back home when my Uncle left us. It was nice to be with family. The reconstruction is progressing but, honestly, it could be so much worse. I think a kitchen remodel would drive me insane.

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  33. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your uncle, John. The quick jam you suggest here sounds delightful, and the stewed octopus was a wake-up call for me! Cool. Good luck with the renos, to you and Max!

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    • Thank you for the condolences and well-wishes. If you can find octopus, I highly suggest giving this a try. It put a smile on both of our, Zia’s and mine, faces. I’ll be bring more octopi to Michigan, that’s for sure. The “renos” are moving along, We’re doing fine, if a little inconvenienced. It could be so much worse. We’re lucky, actually.

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  34. Hi, John –
    I am so sorry to hear about both of your uncles’ passings. My very sincerest condolences. You and your family are in my warmest thoughts.
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful recipe, as well as passing along the jam recipe. I am glad to hear that Zia will be able to enjoy homemade jam. Isn’t it lovely all winter on fresh bread?
    Good luck with your home projects – I hope that Max is understanding! We look forward to your relish recipe, of course.
    Best wishes,
    Shanna

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    • Thank you, Shanna, for offering your condolences. You’re very kind.
      Both recipes are wonderful, though I think the octopus may have a few legs to many for some. 😉 That jam, though, is really special. I love the mix of tart and sweet — and on a slice of buttered bread? Fantastic!
      Max? Understanding? Ha! There are people in his yard and he doesn’t like it. This, too, shall pass. Have a great week, Shanna.

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  35. Thanks so much for the shout out! Great to hear you liked the use of polpo cooking liquid. I really like your polpo in umido recipe and will definitely give it (or something similar) a try. Also great to hear you had another great time with Zia, and sorry to hear about your uncle. I had no idea that visiting Zia means a 7 hour drive for you — for what I am used to that is a very long drive. I am looking forward to the other posts about what you and Zia got up to 🙂 I’ve done egg yolk ravioli once, but that was before I started blogging.

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    • Thanks, Stefan, for your condolences. Using the blanching liquid really did improve the sauce. I wish we knew why it wasn’t included back in the day.
      I’m glad I posted that map for it seems to have helped a number of people. 7 hours seems long but, to be honest, I’ve made the trek so many times that I don’t think much about it. I do know, though, that i cannot go much longer than that in one leg. I get too restless to drive 10 or 12 hours in a day. As for the ravioli, as you’ll see in the post, these aren’t the normal egg yolk ravioli — and I doubt I’ll make these again. 😉

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  36. I’m very sorry to hear about your uncles. I hope you are OK? What a sad and traumatic thing to happen.
    The octopus dish looks delicious 🙂 I rarely have octopus here as no-one else likes it, but those few occasions I’ve just quick fried it, so stewing it in this gorgeous rich tomato sauce looks simply wonderful!

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    • Thank you so much for your sympathy and concern. My Uncle had been ill but I did not expect this. I feel for my Aunt and cousins. It will be a rough holiday season this year for them.
      I’ve only had octopus this way or in a salad. I bet it must be great after a quick fry. I need to try that method some time. As for others not “appreciating” octopus. Zia and I are the only ones in this part of the family that enjoy it. No one else will touch it. 🙂

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  37. John, I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your two uncles – I can’t imagine what a tough period this has been for you, Zia and your family. I found it difficult to click ‘like’ on this post, despite there being a number of wonderful, happy moments amongst your visit as well. Cooking can be such good therapy for the soul, at times such as these… Margot

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    • Thank you, Margot. Cooking has always been therapeutic for me. If I’ve got a problem, I’ll get out the pasta equipment and get busy. If it’s a big problem, I’ll make ravioli. Why pasta? If I had gone to the gym like most men do, by now I could be Mr Universe — or Governor of California. 🙂

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  38. Dear John, My deepest condolences for you loss.
    It is wonderful that you were able to spend some time with Zia.
    Best of luck for your renovations and looking forward to when you are ready to entertain us with your recipes. 😀 Fae.

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    • Thank you, Fae, for your heartfelt sympathies. I was very glad to have been home when we received word. It was best for all of us. The renovations are continuing. I’ll have a better idea of what to expect after Monday. The “Boss” is supposed to come and give me a status. He’s been ill and unable to be here at all since the job started. Fingers crossed. 🙂

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  39. My prayers are with you and your family over your lost. Glad to see you were with your Zia to make and share memories. Thanks for sharing recipes of others in your blog. Looking forward to seeing many more of your own.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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  40. Sorry to hear of your losses. It was good that you were there to take your Zia to the funeral.

    I had a double take on seeing your two photos of the disappearing back staircase; all I could think of at first was the storm damage in your state. Glad to know it was just some renos!

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    • Thank you. It was fortunate for us both that I was with her in Michigan last week.
      We had a nasty storm front move through here but nothing, thankfully, like what the poor people southeast of us encountered. Besides, that porch was sturdy. It would have taken a “direct hit” for it to have come down in a storm. But, as you say, “glad it was just some renos.” 🙂

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  41. Welcome home of course! I am so glad you were with your Zia when the sad news came thru’ regarding your uncle – that would have been the secoind loss for her in such a short time. At least she had your shoulder to lean on and would not have been able to go to Detroit otherwise. The good and the bad: life! Thank you for the Michigan map ~ for some reason I always thought she would live at the ‘top’ end rather than across the state. Hope the horror weather did not impinge on your trip home! And thanks for the octopus recipe: different to mine, so will have great fun comparing recipes!! Renovations: let’s not talk about such – one day they will be done! But Max may have to go to daycare a few more days?

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    • Thanks, Eha. I fear there may be a misunderstanding. These Uncles were my Dad’s Brothers. Zia was my Mom’s Sister. My late Uncles were not the Brothers of Zia. This does not mean she wasn’t close with both, In fact, my Zio Mingo lived with her and Uncle when he first arrived from Italy.
      I’m glad you fond the map informative. many others did, too. I should have known better but I’ve made the trip so many times and I forget that people outside of this area may not have any idea of where I’m going. “What? You don’t know where The Thumb is?” 🙂
      The renovations will get done soon enough and Max will adjust. I cannot afford to send him to daycare every day and he doesn’t have any money saved. My car was in the mechanic’s last week. Now that it’s back, once the workers start, he and I can “hit the road” for a couple hours. I’d rather chauffeur him around than listen to him bark all day. 🙂

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      • My bad John ~ I have read your family story and simply got the relationships crossed! Sorry and still so sad for all! And Max looks such a responsible guy – how come there is nought in the Canine Bank for ‘I must get outta here’ emergencies 😀 !! [And at a quarter to two in the morning I, at least, can be found in bed embracing my pillow 🙂 !]

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        • Not to worry, Eha. I’ve introduced quite a cast of characters and it’s not easy remembering who’s related to whom. Max spent all the money in his Canine Bank account on a skeleton that he bought online. He thought his dreams had come true, until it arrived and he learned it was meant to be used in the classroom and was inedible, even for a dog. Of course we’re stuck with it and now I really do have a skeleton hanging in my closet. 🙂
          (I know that was pretty bad but all the noise is making me crazy.)

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          • Actually pretty good Milord ~ you have made me laugh on a busy day! We have tree loppers in this community this week and the chainsaws + seeing perfectly beautiful and healthy trees being taken down has made me reach for that glass of vino after lunch I did not really need ) ! Methinks Max and the rest of us have learned about skeletons and their cost 🙂 !

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          • You’ve just reminded me. Yesterday I noticed a small red tag on the tree in front of my property. I fear it’s to be removed, though no one has said or written me anything about it. I need to call the Forestry Service to see what they’ve planned. If that tree is to be removed, I want another in its place and will gladly plant one myself. Thanks for jump starting my ever-so-faulty short-term memory. 🙂

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  42. When I read the title of your post in my email this morning, I had to laugh because it reminded me of the many first day at school writing assignments I had to do, “What I did on my——— vacation (holiday, in my case)”
    I was very sorry to hear about the loss of your uncle.
    Looks like you had a good time besides the bit of sad news, but I guess that is life and we learn to accept loss.
    I also see that lots of good food was made and consumed. Can’t wait to see the up coming posts and recipes. I hope your Zia is well, I am sure she is missing you though.
    Welcome back.

    Nazneen

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    • Thanks, Nazneen. There’s never a good time for such bad news but we were fortunate that I was in Michigan when I was.
      I cannot help but think of those writing assignments when I blog about my visits home. I did it once before and they tend to bring a smile to any who share that experience. Yes, we ate very well during this visit and those recipes are getting written. Zia is well and will be spending a great deal of her time with each of her sons over the next couple months. I swear, Nazneen, she’s more active than I am. She’s incredible!

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  43. I am so sorry to hear of the losses of your family members for you and Zia. Never easy but so close is both difficult to cope with but also comforting to think they are together.
    I’m also glad you included a map, the direct Chicago-Michigan trip is way long than ours to TA, let alone with the detours you did. You’ll need a rest to reover from your holiday.
    I loved the early birthday dinner, very special and memorable through to Zia’s birthday.
    That you posted pics of your 2 flat, was great, it’s always interesting to see where other people live, it seems very American – very Chicago? to me, maybe from something I’ve seen on TV or a movie. Better to get the work done before winter.
    I hope all is well with you, and with Max 🙂

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    • Thanks, EllaDee. It was a shock that both Uncles passed so s=close together. You’re right, though, the thought of Dad reuniting with his 2 Brothers brings a smile every time.
      I’ve made that trip so many times over the past 30+ years that I forget that others may not have any knowledge of the area. To be honest, the worst part of the trip is packing and unpacking the car. You’d be amazed how much “stuff” I need for the dog & parrot. I can sympathize with parents trying to travel with an infant and toddler.
      Two-flats are common here, as they are in many cities east of the Mississippi. They have them out west but just not as many. Much of my neighborhood consists of two-flats with an occasional 3-flat. For some reason, many of the side-street intersections have 6-flats on 3 of the corners and a single family home on the 4th. Odd isn’t it? My project is really quite small. It’s basically 2 small porches, a stairwell, and a landing in-between. Some places have decks that extend across the back of the building. My yard is so small that decks like that would overwhelm the place. I installed a ground level deck that keeps open what little space I’ve got. Winter arrived this weekend. Our temps never got over freezing. I just want them to be finished before the snow hits. I fear for the workers climbing ladders when there’s snow flying. Hopefully, we won’t have that to worry about. 🙂

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  44. Sorry for the loss of your Uncle, John. 😦
    I’m with Zia, I love my jam! I remember seeing Bammers Jammers and pinned it in hopes of making it soon. I agree – it looks so good!
    I would love to find some octopus around here, Of course I would only buy it if it were already dressed. 🙂 But I sure would love some. You octopus dish sounds dish and I can truly taste the octopus in the sauce. Great recipe!

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    • Thanks, MJ.
      Zia has a bit of a sweet tooth. She’s not one for candies and such but she does like jam or honey on her toast in the morning or maybe a bit of jam on bread for dessert. Bammers Jammers was perfect for her, though liked it, too. I cannot wait to try some on ice cream, like an earlier commenter suggested.
      Believe me, MJ, dressing an octopus isn’t a big deal, so long as it’s about a pound in size. I might balk at one of the 4 or 5 pounders but there’s nothing to these littler ones. Honestly. Still, if you’ve got a good fishmonger, he should be willing to dress them for you. I hope you do find one. You’re in for a treat. 🙂

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  45. John, my condolences to you and Zia.
    I am so glad to have you back on the blogosphere! It’s been quite around here without you. I do love a good octopus dish and yours certainly looks most inviting.
    I’m glad your getting your porch and stairwell repaired before something serious happened!

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    • Thanks, Lisa, for your condolences and gracious comment. If you’re a fan of octopus, I bet you’ll love this “stew”. Zia and I both enjoyed it so much that I don’t think I should visit her without at least one in the cooler.
      There really was no danger leaving the porch the way it was. Yes, it needed some light repair and a paint job but that’s all. It doesn’t meet current codes, though. Why pay for a repair when, eventually, the porch must be replaced? Might as well put the repair money into the funds used to replace it.

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  46. I’m so sorry John, to hear about your uncles. That’s two in five weeks? That’s very unfortunate. What a great loss. I’m also sorry to hear you won’t be able to see Zia for her birthday but you sure did bless her with a great meal. You’re not alone in having kitchen nightmares. Here at Hotly Spiced they happen all too often. I remember Bammers Jammers and thought it looked like a great jam – great to see you have reproduced it xx

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    • Thanks, Charlie. It’s been a tough month. They were the last of my Uncles, though all of my Aunts are still with us, thankfully.
      Yes, we did eat well that afternoon, though that was one ugly tart. Next time I stick with something a little less fancy with a proven track record. That is one great jam that BAM came up with. I’m making more for holiday gifts.

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  49. Let me add my condolences to those already expressed, John. We all know how important your family is to you, and it is such a loss as the older generation leaves us. I am glad you were with Zia and the two of you could travel to the wake together. I’m sure you had many wonderful conversations. And now as we head into holidays you have what looks to be a pretty major construction job. I hope it goes smoothly and swiftly! Be sure to give us an “after” photo. Zia’s birthday dinner sounds like a jewel to me! I’m suspecting Martha’s dessert was probably more successful than you are giving yourself credit for! 🙂

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    • Thank you so much, Debra. My family will be touched by everyone’s thoughtful comments. Funny how my generation is becoming the family’s elders. We’re too young — at least in my head we are. In the mirror, not so much.
      The construction isn’t as bad as one might think. Thankfully it is all outdoors, though taking out the garbage is like running an obstacle course. That, too, is about to change and we’ll have to use a neighbor’s walk to get to the back. Of course, this is all too much for Max. Workers in HIS yard? They’re even in the dog run! How dare they! Maybe they’ll go away if he barks long and hard enough. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks, I’m afraid.
      Debra, that tarte was plenty ugly. I had to basically reconstruct that little section so that I could take the photo. The rest looked nothing at all like it, not in the slightest. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Giovanna. It was a bittersweet type of visit, though I’m glad I was there. Zia and I had a good time together and, save the tart, her birthday dinner was a success. As for the work, it’s progressing and Max is coming to terms with it. He hasn’t barked for about 15 minutes now. Now that’s progress!

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  50. I’m so sorry to hear about your uncles, especially the one associated with the apple cake. It’s always tough to lose people, never mind in such a short space of time.

    Just wanted to say – something I always enjoy about your photos is they always make me believe I can smell the food. I don’t know what it is, but I swear I can smell that sauce simmering in my kitchen right now.

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    • Thanks, Ruth. This was a tough month, to be sure, but I imagine Dad and all of my Uncles, together somewhere, having one heckuva good time.
      Thanks for being so kind regarding my photos. I don’t consider myself a photographer, nor to I have one’s “eye”. For every shot that I post, there’s at least 20 rejects in a file on my Mac. I cannot tell you how many cold meals I’ve eaten because I couldn’t get THE shot. Poor Zia. She”s so supportive. When I’m with her, she will wait patiently for me to finish shooting before she touches her meal, no matter how I plead for her to start dinner. A few times, I’ve taken a few shots and then recreated the dish once I got home. I just couldn’t watch her sit there waiting to eat. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Maureen. I like the idea of this blog inspiring you to call your family. That’s one of the nicest things anyone has written for me. Yes, Max does enjoy peering out at them from time to time. That one window is going to need a good washing when this all done. 🙂

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    • The renovation is progressing, noisily, but no part of that octopus ever made it to Max’s bowl. Zia and I liked it too much to share with any person, let alone our Best Friend.

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  51. So sorry to hear about the loss of you Uncle. I’ve just been catching up with all you have been cooking while I was away for a month…lots of deliciousness. Hopefully your construction project goes well and is finished in a speedy fashion.

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    • Thanks, April. The current stairs weren’t unsafe — they passed prior inspections. Now, though, because of some recent accidents. the building codes are far more stringent. Why pay for minor repairs, knowing that one day I’ll have to replace the structure? Better to use that repair money to help pay for the rebuild and be done with it once and for all. And in about 2 weeks, it will be all done. 🙂

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  52. John, sincere condolences for your losses.
    Also, best wishes for your construction work.
    Your menus for Zia sound delicious: I have not had osso buco in quite a long time, but love the dish – so seasonal and good, especially if served with a side of polenta! 🙂

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    • Thank you, Stafano, for your condolences and well wishes.
      The construction work is progressing and my dog is finally accepting things. I, too, love osso buco but veal is so expensive. If it’s not a special occasion, I’ll use beef shanks and be very happy with the dish. My Zia and I serve polenta with many roasts and stewed dishes. We both love it! 🙂

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      • You are so right: this is striking difference between the US and Italy – here veal is so awfully expensive in contrast to Italy. Granted, beef is great, but there should also be a place for veal on our tables! 😉
        Happy Thanksgiving, John 🙂

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  53. John, I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of your uncles.
    That octopus sounds amazingly rich and beautiful. Love that you and Zia cooked, talked, and talked about cooking. Sounds like my kind of holiday.
    You needn’t worry about the presentation of your Martha Stewart dessert. I consider her to be the Queen, but was recently in shock at the sight of her own food photos (google ‘Martha Stewart hideous twitter photos’ and you will be amazed).
    Good luck with your home renovations – that stairway looks positively scary! Off to check out Bammer’s Jammers now (how could I not, with that excellent title).

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    • Thank you so much, Saskia.
      My! I did Google her and that was a mighty ugly wedge salad. I’ll keep trying that dessert until I get it right, I just need to get past the pies of Turkey Day first. 🙂
      In retrospect, I should have posted the pic of that porch freshly painted. It looked far better. Rest assured, it wasn’t in any way a danger. WIth the building codes having changed, I saw no reason to “waste” money painting a porch that would eventually need to be replaced. Better to put that money into getting a new porch — one that never needs painting! 🙂

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  54. This is such a beautiful post John. So real, honest, heartwarming and sad at the same time. Like our other friends, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your uncles. The older that I get, the more aware I am of the fragility of life and the importance of maintaining family connections. I’m glad that you got to spend some quality time with Zia, making some incredible food and chatting for hours. I love the look of that gorgeous tomato sauce, so rich and fragrant. And that missing stairwell? Argh!

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    • Thank you so much, Laura, for your sympathy and kind words of understanding
      That octopus was fantastic and, as for the stairwell, the new one is already starting to take shape. It’s got a good way to go but the beginnings are there. 🙂

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  55. I am so sorry for your losses John, and I would suspect that makes spending time with Zia so much more precious. The recipes sound delicious and I’ll have to make that octopus stew!

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    • Thanks, Dave, and you’re right. Makes me realize how fortunate we are. It was the size of the octopus that made a big difference in this preparation and the one of a few weeks ago — and I found it at Caputo’s! Now I know to check for a larger one whenever I shop there. I’m sure having one — or two — in my freezer will come in handy. 🙂

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  56. Sounds as though you have quite an eventful life these days John. So nice you are able to take a trip and spend time with Zia. Best to you with the rebuilding of your back stairs and more importantly…I am sorry for the loss of your uncles. …how do you ever answer ALL the comments on your blog? 🙂

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    • It has been quite a month, I will say that. And I haven’t even mentioned my car. Don’t ask. 🙂 One generation is making way for another and I’m glad I was in Michigan when we got word of Uncle’s passing. Although I wish the situation was far different, I did have the opportunity to see members of my family that I’ve not seen for decades. The new stairwells are just beginning to rise. They’re a long way from completed but it’s a start, at least. As for the blog, I’m in a transition right now. I’ve had too much going on around here to devote as much time to the blog — and I’ve fallen far behind. I need to cut back. I just need to figure out how. 🙂

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  57. John, sorry for your loss. Hopefully amid the sadness you will have remembrances of happier times.

    In regards to the recipe, you must be psychic. Our fishmonger has been stocking local, fresh octopus for the last couple weeks. Now I know what to do with it. I bet that tomato sauce smells amazing.

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    • Hello, Cam. I hope all’s well with you. It’s been a while. Are you posting again? If you are, I need to check out why I’m not being notified.
      Thanks for your sympathies. Uncle Leo was really a wonderful man and a great Uncle.
      This is a great dish, Cam, and I’m really glad we resurrected the recipe. It won’t be another 50 years before we make it again, no doubt about it! 🙂

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      • I’ve been doing well, thanks! Got a new road bike and have been trying to increase my endurance so I can do some 100+ mile organized/gran fondos rides next year. I have been posting sporadically (bad blogger!) but I have been having fun in the interim ^_^

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  58. Hi, John. Sorry to hear about the passing of your Uncle. The loss of loved ones is inevitable but unwelcome. Glad you were with your Tia when the news came and you could accompany her to the wake. The meal sounded fabulous even though the tartan didn’t come out of the pan as intended. I hate that when it happens. 🙂 The octopus looked wonderful and I do love octopus. I very much relate to the “minor” renovation. We renovated the house when I purchased it in 2004 – I didn’t move into the house for 6 months after I purchased it. Since then, it seems like it has been through constant “minor” renovations. We are in the process of one of them now although your porch and stairwell are much more complicated than our electrical re-wiring and re-arranging, moving and purchasing of furniture. I’m sure Max will be perplexed when he first sees it but as long as he is with you all will be good with the world. I’m looking forward to your pickled tomato relish (chow-chow) recipe. I dearly love pickled tomato relish. It goes with all sorts of foods. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Richard, for your condolences. It was quite a month for my family and I am glad to have been with family for part of it.
      I can laugh about that tart now but it wasn’t at all funny at the time. At least it tasted great. I don’t care what the “experts” say about presentation. In the end, it’s all about taste in my book.
      Although the rebuild looks big, it really isn’t much more than an inconvenience. Everything is outdoors and there will be no indoor mess to clean up. My life and those of the people above me won’t be affected — until we need to get to the garage or take out the trash. That’s where the inconvenience comes into play. Max, though he loves all of these walks, missed being off-leash in his yard. And though he protested greatly at seeing the workers each and every time last week, today he began to adjust and this afternoon was more quiet. If this continues, things will be so much better around here for the rest of the rebuild. Fingers crossed.

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    • Thank you. This is one of the old recipes I’m glad we resurrected. It’s both good and a real blast from the past for us. Finding a couple good fishmongers was a great stroke of luck.

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  59. So sorry about your loss of your uncles, CJ. It’s wonderful that you can spend so much time with your Zia who is obviously a very special part of your life.

    I had BAM’s Bammer’s Jammer bookmarked and finally made it yesterday. Do you know how good it is on ice cream!?

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    • Thank you, Kathleen, and you’re right. I’m quite lucky to be able to spend as much time with Zia as I do. I’ve not tried the jam with ice cream but I surely will now. What a great idea you have there! Did you mention it to BAM?

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  60. John, sorry your trip was both bitter and sweet. Attrition in families is the curse of being blessed with them, isn’t it?

    Bam and her jam. Like you she has wonderful posts and recipes.

    Thank you, btw, for sharing some of mine on your Pinterest pages. People respond well on Pinterest I find. Probably better than WordPress as I don’t spend enough time tending my garden here. I need to improve on that down the road.

    The first time I had calamari was in an old Italian restaurant in SF. It was ordered for me and came in a white garlicy sauce and looked like noodles. I commented, out loud, naturally, that I loved the sauce but the noodles were a bit tough. Didn’t understand why everybody laughed. Ah well, I’ve made peace with it since then.

    Glad you’re back! Susie

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    • Thanks, Susie. Bitter and sweet is a good way of describing that visit. Still, I was glad I was there when we got word.
      I need to better organize my Pinterest boards. They’re getting unwieldy because a couple are getting huge. I, also, nee, to do something about my blogging. I am soo far behind and the odds of catching up are growing slimmer by the day. I need to change my practices or I’ll be sitting here all day every day. I’ll figure it out.
      Love you line that yo’ve made peace with it. Too funny. My first octopus experience was in NYC. I was about 20 and ordered an octopus salad. All was well until I saw a piece in my dish that was nothing but a large sucker. I was so put off I had to ask the waiter to remove the plate. I’ve cooked octopus twice for this blog and, you’ll note, both times I used relatively small octopi. I’m still leery of looking into my plate and witnessing the return of the big sucker. 🙂

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  61. I am so sorry for your loss and for your family’s loss, John, and hate that your time with Zia was marked by sadness. Two uncles so close together, that is really rough. I’m glad you were with Zia when you learned about your Uncle Leo, so that you could support each other. And then to come back and deal with a bit of an unexpected renovation…you’ve had a lot on your plate besides your wonderful dishes. I do hope they finish up in record time and that you and Max can be comfortably back to normal soon. Also hope you have Happy Thanksgiving, John!

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    • Thank you so much, Betsy, for your condolences and understanding, It has been quite a month and I wasn’t expecting Uncle Leo’s passing. I am glad, though, that I was in Michigan and with Zia at the time. We’re good company for each other.
      I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. This renovation was scheduled. In fact, I delayed the start so that I could see Zia one last time for the year. It was unexpected in that i originally thought I could have some minor — and I do mean minor — repair work done and a coat of paint applied. Once I learned the porch would have to be torn down sooner or later, I thought it best to go ahead and get it done now. That was in August and it took a while to get the plans drawn and building permits granted. it’s no after, really. It will be done soon and there will be another home improvement off of the never-ending list. Max and my lives will be back to normal, such as it is. 😉

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  62. you have a very full plate, John! Thanks for taking your readers along for the ride. Always a good one. Though, sorry for your loss. Appreciate you continuing to offer your words, photos, and recipes. Makes the world just that much smaller. (in a good way 🙂 )

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    • Thanks, Liz, for your sympathies and thoughful compliments. Yes, it’s been an active month around here — and I didn’t even mention my car. Things are about to slow down, though, just in time for the holidays. Bring ’em on!

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  63. I’m sorry for your loss, John. No doubt you were grateful to be with Zia when you heard the news and that you could accompany her to the wake.
    The birthday dinner you prepared for Zia was a fine celebration — Osso Bucco is always a winner. I get what you’re saying about the pear tart … sometimes we just close our eyes and follow our taste buds. 😉

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    • Thank you, Judy, Yes, I was glad to be home when we learned of Uncle’s passing. Yes, it was a great dinner and you’re so right about the tarte. It’s funny now but I wasn’t laughing when the thing wouldn’t drop out of the pan. Thank goodness it was as tasty as it was.

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  64. May your Uncles rest in peace John…..they sound like wonderful people, just like you. Your warm feelings for them shows up through the words you wrote…..

    Happy Birthday to Zia 🙂 I hope she has a lovely one.

    I hope your renovations go well. How is Max taking it?

    The stewed octopus sounds delicious!

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    • Thanks, Minnie, for you sympathies and kind words.
      Zia will be with her eldest son and his family for this birthday. There’ll be some of her grandkids and great grandkids in attendance. I’m sure they’ll provide her with a great time.
      The renovations are progressing and Max was a bit calmer today. He even napped this afternoon. I did, too, in the relative quiet. Now, that was nice!
      This time around, the octopus was so much better than when we made it last time with the pasta. I know I’ll be bringing octopi with me to Michigan far more frequently.

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  65. Ciao amico John and my sincere condoleances, RIP… I do believe that all the people we’ve loved and who have loved us continue to be present in our hearts, inspite of their physical absence, since “LOVE never dies…” Remember all the pleasant moments and precious time you spent together… buona notte, friendly thoughts and hugs, Mélanie

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  66. Truly sorry to hear of your uncles’ passing, John. And good luck with the renovations. So much going on! Hopefully, you and Max will be able to relax and enjoy a fun and happy Thanksgiving.

    I looked at the octopus sauce and thought …mmm, that looks pretty good. This despite knowing I was looking at octopus! The osso buco, on the other hand, looks so…so…handsome. Can food be handsome? 🙂

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    • Thank you for offering your condolences. It has been quite a month, that’s for sure. I bet if you smelled that sauce, you’d eat it, octopus and all. It really was that good. I’m so glad we resurrected that recipe! And handsome or not, osso buco is one tasty dish. I’m glad you enjoyed both.

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  67. John, I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your two uncles, so close together. Although we all know this is an inevitable part of life, each loss brings shock and sorrow. May you find solace in your memories of your uncles, both of whom sound like fine men. One way I cope when someone close to me passes away is to reflect on their life and the lessons it has taught me, and try to use those in my own life. I’m glad you were with Zia when the news came; I’m sure you were a great comfort to each other.

    Hats off to you for undertaking a construction project on your home. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who’s always preferred to move rather than renovate! It was interesting to see the photos of your home, and I’m looking forward to the final ‘after’ shot, as I’m sure you are.

    Thanks for sharing all your vacation dishes (love the advice to eat with your glasses off when something doesn’t present all that well – won’t work for me though, as I need mine for distance 😊). That cranberry, strawberry and ginger jam has caught my attention. One more recipe to check out!

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    • Thank you so much, Mar, for the expression of sympathy and understanding. With Mom & Dad both gone now and my living 400 miles away, I don’t see Dad’s family as much as I once did. It’s a shame because they are such wonderful people.
      I didn’t have much choice with the rebuild. The porch had to come down at some point because the codes have changed. Why repair it only to pay for the rebuild later? The money that would have been used to repair it went to help pay for the rebuild. Now that I see the new one — almost competed — I am so thankful I got it done now. Why do something for the next owners? We all can enjoy this now.
      I do hope you check out that jam. It’s really good and someone commented that it can be used as an ice cream topping. Yum!

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    • Thanks, Conor. It’s not been a good month, that’s for sure. It’s odd to think that my generation is becoming my family’s elders. How could this be? Time really does fly.

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  68. I’m sorry about your uncle’s passing, John. It appears that when I commented on this post last week it never posted, Anna distracting me at that very moment might have had something to do with it. I wish you and your family well and plan to make your Aunt Mary’s apple cake in memoriam of uncle Leo.

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      • Anna and I made Aunt Mary’s cake today! It was so easy to put together and very moist and delicious. I had to use pears, though, as I didn’t have enough apples on hand but it came out fabulous nonetheless. Please thank your aunt Mary for the recipe!

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        • That’s great news, Lara. It is such an easy cake to assemble and I like your idea of using pears. I’m going to try it, too. Thanks for the idea and for coming back to let me know that you tried and enjoyed the cake.

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  69. John, I’ve fallen so far behind and missed learning of your losses until now. I’m so terribly sorry. To lose the old men in our families, the ones it seemed had always been, and would always be, feels a very poignant loss. Life takes on a different feel somehow when these old ones are gone. My heart goes out to you and Zia…
    I read on Tanya’s blog that your smoker might have precipitated the renovations to your porch. I’m taking a lesson from your playbook and staying the heck away from smoke. Best of luck with the project…it should be kind of fun, being on the OUTside and all.
    Being blind without my contacts and equipped with your good advice, I’m now ready to take on a tarte tartain without a care for what it looks like in the end!

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    • Thank you so much, Spree, for your expression of sympathy. All of my Uncles are gone now and the World seems different. I just didn’t expect to lose them both so quickly.
      I am so far behind with my blog and reading others that i don’t know if I’ll ever catch up again. No need to apologize to me, Spree.
      Yes, it was the smoker that damaged the floor of my porch. When I sought to have it repaired, i learnt that my porch was no longer within current building codes. Whether I fix it now or if and when I sell the building, it would have to come down. Might as well do it now and get it over with. Judging by what’s been done so far, this was the correct decision. I really do like how it’s turning out, even though it’s the same as the old one. The new one’s steps are a bit wider, the railing a bit higher and thicker, and the floorboards a bit thicker. It “feels” better.
      From my somewhat limited experience, if your tarte tartain tastes really good, no one will care if it looks a mess on the serving platter. Just serve it with a little ice cream, crème fraîche, or whipping cream to cover it and you’ll be fine. Take out the contacts, though, just to be safe. 🙂

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  70. Pingback: Stewed Octopus Recipe - Polipo in Umido | Cultu...

  71. John, first, I’m so sorry for the losses in your family. My thoughts will be with you all and may your uncles rest in peace. I am happy that you were able to enjoy most of the time with Zia and that you were able to celebrate her birthday – memories to be cherished I am sure! Good luck with your porch rebuild. Hopefully it will go smoothly. Thinking of you…

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    • Thanks, Kristy, for your condolences and caring sentiments. It was fortunate that I was in Michigan when we received word of Uncle Leo’s passing. Zia was assured of getting to the wake and we both had time to talk about things and to remember.
      The porch rebuild is going quite well and is almost completed. They’ve still a few odd jobs to do and an inspection to pass but it won’t be long now. Soon Max will be back patrolling “his” yard just as he always has. Let the Bad Guys — and Squirrel — beware!

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  72. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your two dear uncles, Leo and Dominic. May God rest both their souls in eternal peace. My condolences to Aunt Mary, on the loss of her dear husband. Life does get lonely and quiet with the loss a lifetime partner. I hope she will be able to cope?
    I am glad to hear your visit with Zia went on well with lots of talking and cooking and more talking about food.
    Thanks so much for sharing the stewed Octopus recipe. The sauce sounds rich and appetizing and coupled with fresh bread…I can imagine mopping all that goodness off of the plate with a chunk of fresh bread. What more can one want after such a luscious meal? I hope the repairs went on as per your expectation and Max was able to cope. Bear hugs to him. I wish you a wonderful week John, and thanks for being such a great gentleman. Best wishes!

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    • Thank you so much, Liz, for your expressions of sympathy and understanding. Both Aunts will have an adjustment to make and they’re fortunate to have such loving families to help and support them.
      It was a nice visit and we did cook up a storm! I’m so glad I revisited the octopus recipe. It was so much better this time around and we both really enjoyed it. I’ll be sure to bring another home with me next time.
      The rebuild is going quite well. They should be done and out of here on Thursday. Max was frantic initially but finally did calm down, eventually sleeping through much of the day. Still, it will be nice when they leave and I can get my yard ready for Winter ,which apparently will be arriving full-force on Thursday.

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  73. Dear John, first of all, my sincere condolences!
    I wish you all the best for your porch construction work, not easy!
    Enjoyed the post very much, John. It’s living life, sad and happy, lovely cooking and sonúnd sense of humour too.
    Best regards
    Dina

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    • Thank you, Dina, for your condolences and well-wishes. It’s been quite a month. At least Zia and I had some nice time together. The construction work has just finished and passed inspection. My World is approaching normal again. 🙂

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  74. I was trying to do some ‘catching up’ today and just found this post. I’m so sorry to hear that you lost not one but two uncles in close proximity…. It’s tough to lose our older loved ones because they’re the ones with all the wonderful memories. I think they should have cell phones in heaven so we could get in touch sometimes. So, how did the construction come along. It’s NOT fun. And it’s not cheap ! Tell me, what do you do for your ‘day job’? I used to teach preschool before we moved to Malta. My first job was working in the tobacco fields in Connecticut – tough work. I’ve been a waitress (in high school), a secretary (after my Associates in Arts), a real estate agent (for a very, very short time) and I’ve had several other types of jobs as well. One I really, really loved was as an unpaid intern at a children’s publishing firm in NYC when I was getting my undergrad degree in Eng. Lit.

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    • Thanks, Cecile, for expressing condolences. Cell phones to heaven. Now, wouldn’t that be something! The workers left yesterday and the inspection followed immediately. I expected a delay between the two but this inspection could not have happened more quickly. The new porch is really great and it will outlast me, no doubt. I’m disabled, Cecile, and haven’t worked for some time. Way, way back in high school, I was 1 of 2 freshmen selected to begin computer training classes. All throughout my career, I was somehow connected to computer technology, whether I was working in a bank or insurance company.

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      • I’m so glad that everything’s set with the new porch ! I don’t work (at least for any $$) anymore either – I might have told you before I haven’t ‘worked’ since we moved to Malta. That being said, you & I still ‘work’ – there’s always something to be done, isn’t there my friend? My husband started out majoring in Computer Tech. way, way, WAY back when computers were HUGE !! Quick thing – do you follow jjbegonia – she just posted an excellent recipe for Sticky Spaghett – it’s just cheese, garlic and spices (plus the pasta!)

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    • Thanks, Greg, I, too, was glad to be in Michigan when Uncle Leo passed.
      This rebuild looks and sounds much worse than it was. It was finished yesterday and the inspection took place right after. Max has his yard back and all is right in the World. 🙂
      I hope your “project” ends quickly, too. I don’t care for having so many strangers walking around.

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  75. Hello John! Sorry I missed this one before and I’m so very sorry to hear of the passing of your uncle. My condolences go out to you and your whole family.

    And that octopus looks divine! I thought you had to cook that much longer – no?

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    • Thanks, Mary Frances. I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a bit and hope you forgive my late reply.
      This is an unfortunate consequence of growing older and even though expected, it’s never easy and always sad. My family is doing well, thank you.
      This octopus was only a pound and didn’t require a long cooking time. From what I’ve been told, octopus, much like squid, are either cooked quickly or stewed for a long time. Anything in between will result in a rubbery texture. This dish was anything but chewy, I can happily report. 🙂

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