Monday, May 27, 2013

The Cooking School of Gram

You’re Never Too Young to Start Cooking

It may not have official accreditations. But it should.
It may not be nationally known. Perhaps we can change that.

I started cooking with Gram at six years old. One day, the summer between Kindergarten and first grade, I packed an overnight bag and my Charlie’s Angels lunchbox for an overnight stay with Gram. Like Luke traveling to study with Yoda, I returned home two weeks later.

That first two-week stay launched my culinary school of Gram learning. What could a six year-old and a 59 year-old have in common, you ask? Yoda’s like 800 years old, and I totally would’ve hung out with him, too.

I followed Gram around, well, everywhere, but mostly in the kitchen. That’s where Gram loved to be, and that’s where I loved to be with her. Thirty-five years ago she began to teach me her ways, her secrets, her methods, everything her mother and mother-in-law taught her. From special ways to twist Italian cookies, to seasoning sauce, tricks for homemade pasta, to pies and pot roast: she completed most lessons with, “that’s how we do.”

Gram loved her sweets and she loved to bake. Her Italian cookie towers became legendary, stories of them told near and far. Stacked over a foot high and wide, with Italian candy almonds nestled in between all those cookies, when it entered the room, I think it floated. On its own. It would have had that power. It Jedi’d itself. It was glorious.

The biggest VIP at any wedding, shower, or special event, everyone waited for Gram’s Italian cookie tower. Then, like a gun at the races, people shot off to fill every purse, napkin, or MacGyver’d makeshift doggie bag at the first sighting. I failed to secure one cookie at my own wedding. My fault, too busy chatting it up with guests. Only sad shards of cookie shrapnel remained when I finally got to them.
Gram and I at her 90th birthday/Carnivale, the Italian feast before Lent where we make and eat hundreds of homemade ravioli.
The first thing Gram taught me to make? God-given, glorious cookies. It’s probably why I developed a somewhat unhealthy attachment to them, a food blankey sort of love. There are worse vices, right? Who doesn’t love a cookie? Maybe someone soulless and wrong. In my family, cookie love is in our blood.

The first cookie I made with Gram: chocolate chip. What is better than a hot, gooey chocolate chip cookie? Not much.

But Gram upgraded me to the next cookie lesson right away, my favorite Italian cookie of all time: Tarralls. I have no clue if that is the real name or how you spell them. That’s how they show up in Gram’s old recipe box. They also are named “5 Egg Cookies” in there, so your guess is as good as mine.

As with most of Gram’s “recipes,” for the ones she even has, they pretty much consist of a list of ingredients. Instructions – you’re on your own. She assumes that if you’re making her food, you know how to cook. If you don’t, good luck. If anything, you may see a line that says, “make like a pie,” or “bake til done.” Hence the need to cook with Gram to learn her food. A never-ending learning that evolved over decades.

The secret to the Tarralls isn’t as much the mixing or the baking. Although Gram will be sure to tell you that if you screw those things up your cookies won’t come out right. It’s the twisting of the dough that keeps them soft, cake like. She first taught me how to do this sometime around 1980. I still make them today.

All Gram’s cooking lessons included more than a recipe and a demonstration. She let me do it. “You gotta get your hands in there, Angela.”

She showed me how the dough should feel, because ingredients, temperature, and environment may vary. You need to adjust accordingly based on how the food should taste, feel, look, react, and respond. “How’s a recipe gonna teach you that?” she’d furrow her eyebrows and ask.
Gram giving me a scrippele lesson, showing me how to pour and cook the crepe.

Without saying a word, just by watching her work, Gram taught me that a love and respect for the food, her joy, somehow made it better. Granted, my hypothesis has yet to make the science journals. Even still, I carry no doubt about the impact of it on Gram’s cooking. If anything, over the years, the importance of this lesson has grown larger. The energy you put into something is the energy you get out. Cooking School of Gram 101. A lifelong lesson that never tires and never gets old.

The passing of this cookie proved so monumental, many of my great-aunts circled around Gram’s long, wooden, kitchen table, watching this lesson take place. They looked so proud, a little Italian in training, who would pass on the family traditions.

Gram and my great-aunts treasured few things more than knowing that the younger generations would carry on their traditions. It kept their life’s work alive. I think it gave them purpose and comfort to know that “how we do” would nourish generations to come – if passed down. Not just the food, but the stories that go along with them. As my culinary Jedi skills grew, I realized that keeping “how we do” alive ran much deeper than the food.

“How We Do” Inspires “How I Do”

Set the DeLorean to 1995. I’m the model Italian granddaughter, learning “how we do,” from a young age, so I can pass on all Gram’s awesome food, our family traditions. (Angels singing on high. Look at me go.)

Along that road, I managed to gain 100 lbs and rack up a bunch of unexplained health issues. Too many chocolate chip cookies? I did consider them a food group at that point in my life.

After 296 doctor’s visits (not really, more like 20), food allergies figure four’d me into a complete diet transformation: no wheat, milk, eggs or sugar.

What Italian can’t eat bread, pasta, cheese, milk, and eggs? Tony Soprano would wack me on general principle. Could I argue with him? And crap, what would Gram say??

Looking for sympathy (totally stupid on my part), I got more of a “Gee Ricky, sorry your Mom blew up last night,” kind of response from Gram. With a confused, “puzzled up” look, she said something like:

“No pasta? Pasta’s good for you. Who can’t eat bread? There must be some kind of pasta and bread you can eat.”

I was busy throwing a “Danger, danger, Will Robinson,” tantrum, and Gram was already thinking about what pasta and bread I could eat.

I told her about the awful food, choking down non-dairy boxed milk, scoffing at dense baked goods, and turning my lip up at flavorless food touted as healthy. “Why does healthy food have to suck,” I complained. Gram said, “So make it better, Angela. You can cook.”

As always, Gram was right. Inspired, I started with food I knew. Gram’s food. Which happens to be the most awesome food. Ever. (I’ll throwdown with anyone who challenges it.)

I swapped wheat, dairy, eggs, and refined sugar for healthier ingredients. I made it my mission to recreate it, not just into food I could eat, but into food anyone would love it eat – food that’s just as good as Gram’s. In the meantime, I lost 100 lbs., and got my health back. Maybe I was onto something?

My confidence in my food comes from my foundation of “how we do” with Culinary Yoda. We cooked together from the time I was six until she passed in 2009. For years Gram and I sat at the table, tasted my recreations, and she gave me feedback. Honest feedback.

The Cooking School of Gram closed in 2009. I am so grateful for the 31 years I attended. Even though I’ve earned formal degrees, I can honestly say, no other education can match my time with Gram. I utilize what she taught me every day. Stuff like:

“Food doesn’t wait, Angela. You do. And it doesn’t rush to get anywhere. You’re on its timetable.”

“No one wants to eat ugly food.”

“Don’t serve food until it’s ready.”

“Make it taste good.”

“Don’t give anyone anything you don’t want to eat.”

“Get your hands in there.”

“Taste it.”

“Know how it should look.”

Just some of the things Gram passed to me. Now, I share it with others. “How we do” lives on Gram, even if some of the ingredients get transformed for a healthier today.

“How We Do” + “How I Do” = a Cookbook

I have hundreds of recreated recipes, many inspired by Gram’s original ones (some written down, some not so much). I’m compiling them into a cookbook, telling the story of how Gram’s food and cooking with her, inspired me to recreate the recipes. Delicious, dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan, and refined sugar-free food. Food just as good as Gram’s!

Years ago when I told Gram I planned to create healthier chocolate chip cookies she tilted her head, pursed her lips, looked a little doubtful, and said, “Ok, Ange, you let me taste them.”

Gram loved her sweets. And she didn’t like you messing with them. But I knew I could win her over. I just needed time to get the recipe right. Very supportive, Gram critiqued countless iterations over the years. Little did I know, however, that it would take 15 years until I was totally happy with this recipe, a year after Gram passed. I know she would love them. I hope you do, too.

Who says cookies without bad stuff in them don't rock? The gluten-free version tastes great, too!
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Sample Cookbook Recipe

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dairy-free, Vegan, Refined Sugar-free, Wheat-Alternative, Gluten-free Option


1/2 cup non-dairy butter substitute (I like Earth Balance Original)
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening (I like Spectrum or Earth Balance)
2/3 cup palm sugar
6 tbsp high quality light agave nectar
1/2 tsp molasses
1 ½ tbsp vanilla extract

2 1/3 cups spelt flour*
1 cup almond flour (I use Honeyville or JK brands, no blends)
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
1  1/3 cup dairy-free chocolate morsels

*For Gluten-free Variation:
Use 2 cups Carol's Dairy-free Gluten-Free, all purpose pastry flour in place of the spelt flour.


Ahead of Time:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Cream non-dairy butter substitute and non-hydrogenated shortening with a mixer on medium low to medium speed until fluffy. (30-60 seconds)

Add palm sugar, agave, molasses, and vanilla. Beat on medium low to medium speed until fluffy and all ingredients are well incorporated. (30-60 seconds)

Mix together dry ingredients. Fold them into batter until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate morsels.

Drop batter in tablespoon size balls on lined cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart (about 12 cookies per tray). You can use a tablespoon scoop to get a consistent size. Lightly press cookie down just slightly. Bake for 11-13 minutes or until golden brown and desired doneness.

Store in an airtight container. Makes 3 – 3 ½ dozen.

Copyright: Angela Marinelli, M.S., M.Ed., Nourishment Connection,, 2013.

ABOUT ANGELA: After 20 years as a Marketing professional in high tech, education, and owner of her own consulting firm, Angela Marinelli now owns A food blogger and health/cooking/food consultant, she creates dairy-free, wheat-free, vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free food that tastes like real food.

She’s earned masters degrees in nutrition and education, and is working towards an online culinary degree from Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy. She’s compiling a cookbook that will tell the story of cooking with Gram, learning about  food allergies, and recreating recipes for healthier, delicious food. Here’s to getting published!

Special thanks to @MissionRead for the opportunity to share this story about learning through food and cooking with Gram.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Food & Print...Perfect Together by Beth Panageotou

It’s summer EATING season!  Barbecues, picnics, school parties, al fresco dining at your favorite restaurant, charcoal, cocktails, sun tea, popsicles.  The feelings associated with food and warm weather are tangible.  This is definitely most evident at the local farmers markets.  Sights, sounds and smells of summer ‘food bonding’ to come!

It’s also summer READING season!  Regardless of age, the beach bags and reading lists are full of suggestions of adventure, love, suspense and…food!  As we begin the sensory season of summer, here are a few of my favorites that pair together the magical combination of print and food!  Feel free to eat (or drink) while reading! 

--> Literary works ranging from books about food to books including food
1.  The Billionaire’s Vinegar: Benjamin Wallace (2009)
2.  The Canterbury Tales: Chaucer
3.  Eat, Pray, Love: Elizabeth Gilbert (2007)
4.  Garlic and Sapphires: Ruth Reichl (2005)
5.  The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
6.  Julie and Julia: Julie Powell (2009)
7.  The Jungle: Upton Sinclair
8.  Kitchen Confidential: Anthony Bourdain (2000)
9.  Luncheon of the Boating Party: Susan Vreeland (2008)
10. The Man Who Ate Everything: Jeffrey Steingarten  (1997)
11. A Moveable Feast: Ernest Hemingway (1964)
12. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Michael Pollan (2007)
13. The Soul of a Chef: Michael Ruhlman (2001)
14. Seating Arrangements: Maggie Shipstead (2012)
15. The Vintage Caper: Peter Mayle (2010)

--> Get Cooking!
The Art of the Bar: Hollinger & Schwartz
Art of Living According to Joe Beef: Frederic Morin, David McMillan
Bouchon: Thomas Keller
How to Roast a Lamb: Michael Psilakis
I am almost always hungry: Lora Zarubin
Jamie’s Italy: Jamie Oliver
Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Julia Child
Momofuku: David Chang
Think Like a Chef: Tom Colicchio
Volt ink.: Bryan & Michael Voltaggio

ABOUT BETH: Beth Panageotou is the CEO and co-founder of Page’s Corner, Inc.
Beth has a BA from Mount Saint Mary’s University and has a background in public policy and education.  After working in Washington, DC, she taught high school social studies and developed her passion to incorporate multiple learning philosophies, learning styles and student-centered activities within the confines of both the traditional and extracurricular classroom setting.  This carried over to her personal life as Beth left teaching to care for her two wonderful daughters (ages 4 & 7).   Beth strongly believes in the need to stress literacy and creativity in the early stages of child development, as is reflected in the mission of Page’s Corner and the creation of the Mission Read campaign.
Follow Beth on Facebook | Twitter @epan11 @PagesCorner | Blog | Web | Pinterest
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Monday, May 13, 2013

Audio Books by Niki Barnes

I love audio books! I am addicted. I admit that I had to get past the feeling that I was cheating because I wasn’t actually physically reading the book. But now that the guilt is gone; I have embraced my love of audio books. And I also have to admit that I think some audio books are probably better than reading the book myself. I’m telling you now that if you listen to Jack Gantos read Dead End in Norvelt or Neil Gaiman read The Graveyard Book you will quickly see what I mean.

Audio books have kept me sane! True story. I have a 45 minute drive to work and it is more like an hour in the winter. There are only so many times I can listen to depressing news on NPR or “Call Me Maybe” on the radio. Audio books have saved me from my zombie like commute. And speaking of zombies….I think fourth grade boys would really enjoy the audio book I’m listening to right now entitled My Rotten Life: Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie by David Lubar. Audio books have also been a blessing for keeping up with the mountain of books I want to read. During the hectic school year, I can usually listen to an audio book quicker than I can read the physical copy of the book. And like I mentioned before, when you have a great reader it can also be more entertaining then reading the book yourself.
So how can you find great audio books to read? Look no further than Twitter! My Nerdy Book Club friends on Twitter are a great resource for great books to read and audio books are no exception.  I asked them to list some of their favorite audio books and I received an amazing list!
 Colby Sharp loves the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger. I agree 100% with this recommendation. I love them too!

Chris Roberts  favorites are The False Prince by Jennifer Neilson, Penny From Heaven by Jennifer Holm, Watsons Go to Birmingham, Bud, Not Buddy and The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Beth Shaum enjoys the audio books The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, The Diviners and Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Lorna Wheaton  recommends the 26 Fairmount Avenue series by Tomie DePaola which is read by the author. She also recommends Guys Read: Funny Business by Jon Scieszka.

Crystal Brunelle  adores Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (also one of my favorites), Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, The Book Thief by Mark Zusak, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwalter.

Jen Vincent  is a fan of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Book Thief by Mark Zusak and After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

 Stacy Ford  loves The Fudge series (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing) by Judy Blume and Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick.

My parents are also avid listeners of audio books. In fact, they are listening to the mammoth audio book that is A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. WOW!! Now that is a long audio book series! They recommend the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and The Orchid series by Stuart Woods.

I found it interesting that some of the audio books were mentioned more than once (Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Beauty Queens, The Book Thief and Harry Potter) and that many of the audio books listed by my friends are my favorites too. If you would love more audio book recommendations check out my Goodreads audio book shelf So what are you waiting for? Go visit your local library and give audio books a try! I know you will love them! Happy Reading!

Niki Barnes is a 2nd grade teacher in Michigan. Her secret inner book nerd was released when she was introduced to Twitter by Donalyn Miller. She is a proud (library) card carrying member of the Nerdy Book Club. She feels very blessed to share ideas and her love of books with so many amazing authors, teachers and librarians.

Niki's top 10 favorite books at this moment…


This piece was written by Niki Barnes 

exclusively for Mission Read.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

"I'll be the dragon..." by Laurel Snyder

When I think about Storytelling, I think about my best friend Susan, and the imaginary games we used to play, in an overgrown patch of tangled trees, behind Loyola College, in Baltimore, MD.  We were eight or nine.  We’d walk there from my house after school, slip back into this mess of vines and weeds, and lose ourselves completely. 

Beginning the game was the hard part.  Because we had to make the leap  from our “real” world into the story. We had to shed our tube socks and band-aids and patched jeans, and lopsided braids, and don glittering wings or bejeweled crowns or mermaid tails. 

We had to say the actual words that would make this transformation possible.  Something like, “You be the queen and I’ll be the fairy,” or “You be the witch, and I’ll be the lost girl.”  We had to establish the rules, set the scene, assign roles. 

Then we had to plunge into the story. We had to trust each other, and be willing to plunge.

But once we were there, on the other side, it was easy!  I was the fairy. I was the little girl.  Because children’s are natural storytellers.  They haven’t been ruined yet. They have this amazing gift, this ability to follow the wildest narratives. Their willing suspension of disbelief is vast.   They are more flexible than we adults can even fathom.

Susan and I would play for hours, acting out a meandering story that didn’t follow the rules of what I now call “narrative structure.”  “Flat” characters would come and go, “illogical” worlds would be built as needed, and then melt away.  Nothing was premeditated. Tragedy was allowed.   It was an amazing, wild, unsupervised story.

Now, looking back at that memory as an author, I wish I could still play that way.  My Storytelling skills feel cramped by comparison, stale.  I’ve learned too many rules to be so wild.  I’ve learned “what works” and “what doesn’t work.”  I have an audience now, and that changes things. 

I’m a mother now too, and I watch my boys do the same sort of playing.  I work hard to keep myself from ever intervening. Even as I watch them in the yard, “flying” off the jungle gym, or hitting each other with sticks in some thrilling “battle”.  The grownup in me wants to run out there, keep them from danger, from mess, from pain.  But the part of me that can remember, just a little, stays inside, hides behind the curtain.  I don’t want them to know they have an audience.

“You be the dragon,” Mose will say to Lew, in the next room, on a rainy day, “and I’ll be the knight.”  I know this is going to end in someone bleeding.  But I stand there on the other side of the door, and smile to myself. I don’t stop them. I envy them.

Sometimes, when I go on author visits in schools, I talk about this memory with the kids I meet.  I ask them if they play imaginary games.    Some of them nod, with secret smiles, happy to know that we share this magic. 

Some of them laugh.  They’re too old for baby games like that.  Or they prefer their adventures to be pixelated.  They like to act out stories, they tell me, but in video game form. 

“Okay,” I say.  “That’s fine too.” I’m not there to judge.

But honestly, it makes me a little bit sad, to think that some of these kids have so many digital characters to choose from that they’ll never make up their own. Or rather, to realize that they think making up their own character is about choosing which color costume to assign to their avatar.  They are used to “creative” games. But they don’t know the joys of limitless invention.  Their game is finite.  There are walls to their world.

In the game I played with Susan, there was no avatar to look at. There were no rules. We could go absolutely anywhere in our world. We could leave our world, and jump into another one.    We could slip out of one character and into another.

Storytelling is, for me, the part that comes before writing, before structure, before there are rules or pictures. Storytelling is the wildest forest, the most unbelievable land.  It gets harder as we get older.  Some people stop doing it altogether.

And I’m beginning to think some people never get to do it.

So I guess this little essay has turned into a plea. As adults, I think we owe it to our kids to let them get bored enough, disconnected enough, alone enough, to truly invent a world, a character, all their own.    It isn’t enough to let them “select” a character.  If we rob them of the chance to create, to truly invent, to run wild as thinkers… we are teaching them that the world is finite.

And if we watch them play, if we hover, they will always have an audience.  Which is just another sort of wall.

In my dream world, I want every kid say the magic words, “You be the dragon, and I’ll be the knight…” I want them to say the words alone, to each other, in a tangle of vines somewhere, or a fort made of pillows, a world made of stories.

ABOUT LAUREL: Laurel Snyder is the author of five novels for kids, including Bigger than a Bread Box and its forthcoming companion, Seven Stories Up. She also writes picture books, poems, and occasional essays, when she isn't chasing after her two small boys.

Find Laurel on Twitter @laurelsnyder or at her site:

This piece was written by Laurel Snyder exclusively for Mission Read.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Getting Your Teenage Son to Read by Alicia M. Rodriguez of Bold Conversations

Before Joseph could walk he had a book in his hand. Granted it found its way into his mouth more often than not but by the time he was two he was enjoying picture books. By the time he headed to kindergarten he could read. Now that little boy is eighteen and his world revolves around friends, music and technology. Getting an eighteen year old to appreciate reading competes with the teenager’s desire to socialize and do what most teens do.   At this age, college looms in the foreground and reading is associated with homework and papers to write. I wanted Joseph to maintain his love of reading that started at a very early age. My son is very creative and I credit reading a wide variety of books to his creative sensibilities. When he is inspired, he writes very well. When he is interested, he devours a book. And that is the hook to getting teenagers to read.

Getting Your Teenage Son to Read by Alicia M. Rodriguez


Everyone has something that inspires them. It could be travel, history, music, comedy, or just about anything when it connects with the right attitude can be inspirational. Find out what inspires your teenager. Let go of what you think should inspire him. When Joseph first started to formally read in kindergarten the teacher told us that he could not read well. I knew he could. I also knew that he loved Scooby Doo. So I would buy him a new Scooby Doo book for every book he read in school. It worked. Later he would be learning history through the Magic Tree House book series. His father read the Greek myths to him as a child and through those adventures he gained insight into values, courage and friendship. Inspiration comes in stories, myths and even comic books.  


As a teenager, Joseph loves hip-hop, technology, interactive online games and graffiti. He is also interested in metaphysics and quantum science. That’s quite a range of subjects! When I purchase books for him I consider what he may want to learn or what would interest him. I know he reads the books because I hear him commenting to his friends or he will share something from the book with me. Keeping interested in what interests him assures that I can provide him reading opportunities that he feels are valuable.   As a parent, especially one that knows how much reading and writing is needed for college, I find myself wanting to push him towards reading “useful” books. The news flash is that all reading is useful and valuable. He will have to read certain books for school but it’s my job as a parent to keep him inspired to read so that what he considers to be the more tedious reading of school does not quell his love of reading. Balancing the reading he must do with the reading he wants to do is key to maintaining a life long love of learning. And that is what reading essentially does. Through reading he becomes a life long learner. As long as he keeps inspired, stays interested and keeps reading and learning he will continue to grow and develop as an individual who can then contribute his knowledge and wisdom to others. That is the path Joseph began when he was a small child and it is one I imagine he will continue to follow through his teenage years into adulthood.

  Alicia Rodriguez 
ABOUT ALICIA: Alicia is a writer, blogger and catalyst for bold conversations. She helps individuals design their lives around what matters. She writes on personal and spiritual development and travel as a transformational journey.  

This post was written exclusively by Alicia Rodriguez for Bonbon Break Media, LLC and Mission Read

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