It has been tough getting back into the swing of things. Jet lag and having a ton to catch up on combined to make me exceedingly tired the first week, and now I am just ‘normal’ tired, though still further behind than I like to be. What I really do not like about coming back from any trip is how quickly the feelings and memories fade when we get into our daily lives. I am good at living in the moment and fully enjoying where I am and what I am doing, and in Italy those feelings of joy and satisfaction were intense! It is a good thing we took pictures and wrote the blog while we were there because it is really really tough to portray those feelings after some time has gone by. sigh.

This Saturday at the cafe we are having a PARTAY as my friend Manny would say. I learned lots of new recipes in Italy and I cannot wait to try them out! We will have them for sampling and of course some wine to sample from the wineries that we visited. The flavors of the food will not be completely true since we do not have access to the same quality of ingredients here, and my recipes will be based on my perceptions and preferences. So I can guarantee that they will be fabulous! And I can hope that anyone who has been to Italy and tasted similar dishes will be able to appreciate that we are trying to get as close to those flavors as we can.

The smartest thing that we did on our return was to ask Dawn, our house/kitty sitter, to pull some items out of the freezer for us on Friday. When we got home on Sunday they were defrosted in the fridge and we were able to eat well right off the bat. Plus Sharon from the cafe dropped our last CSA box on the porch for us so we had an abundance of fresh produce to use as well. Mom and dad had to go to the store when they got home, I felt so lucky to have someone to pull the food out of the freezer for us! If you go on a long vacation and you empty your fridge before hand, try to find someone to put something in it for when you get back. That way you don’t have to go to the store right off the bat when you are tired and just want to snuggle back into your own home. It’s a great gift to give yourself!

We made some wonderful friends on this trip and it is really difficult to plan next year’s trip now. We want to do all the same things and add more, which simply will not work. So culling out any of the fantastic things that we did is really hard! I am going to ask the folks who went with us for their feedback as well, and that may help me decide. The most exciting news about that is I already have names on my list for next year’s trip! It is going to be great!

What is new locally? Well some extremely exciting news for those of us who cherish locally grown and produced foods: Fresh Local Bremerton is opening soon! A group of farmers have gotten together and are opening a ‘grocery’ store which features locally grown and produced foods. This is a non profit organization and they are partnering with the commercial kitchen next door: this is going to be one great resource. You can join it, much like a CSA, and prepay an amount to help them with capital, and then you get that back in store credit. Sort of a gift card that you buy for your self! They will not just have produce, either. They will have meat, eggs, dairy products, coffee, honey, grains & flour, soup to go, baked items and more. The store is at 540 4 ST in Bremerton, and they are still working on the permit process to get it open. It could happen any day now! I am keeping my fingers crossed!

The Kitsap Community Food Co-Op is getting closer to fruition as well. We are member number 30! It is a great time for thinking local first, and we are proud to be in the thick of it. The Poulsbo Farmer’s Market is going to have an ‘Eat Local For Thanksgiving’ Market on November 21 where you can fill your holiday table with a bounty of locally produced foods. That is fabulous!

We are busy prepping up pumpkins and getting things ready for our own Thanksgiving orders these next few weeks. Our next shipment of Italian wines are due in by the 15th and our tasting is scheduled on the 20th. We are really looking forward to our busy season this year, especially because last year’s was the beginning of a major decline in sales. The snow last year forced us to cancel Mrs Claus, many caters cancelled or did not schedule at all, and the number of special orders were extremely low. We did not even make as many Christmas and Hanukkah cookies as we normally do, because folks could not get out to buy them. Sales the rest of the year have been down as well, but December through February was the worst, and we are really looking forward to putting that behind us and starting fresh this holiday season. I want you to have the tastiest holiday season possible!

So let’s raise a glass of wine (that we bought from the vineyard or from a locally owned, independent business) to THINKING LOCAL FIRST! The local stores and services may not have every single thing we need, but if we try them first we may be surprised at what they CAN do for us. And it is guaranteed to keep our local economy healthier and stronger than it would be if we all shopped at the big boxes and ate at the chains, all of the time. Cheers!

The recipe this week comes from my favorite tv chef Anne Burrell. I modified to makeit my own for Mark’s birthday dessert on Monday, and you all seemed to love it! For the bread I used our cinnamon bread (we keep unsold ‘day old’ loaves in the freezer just for this purpose) and I loved it more than pie or cake to be sure. Give it a try, you can always make it at night and then bake it in the morning, the longer the soak the better! Just don’t soak more than 24 hours or the bread will start to dissolve in it. Here you go:

1 (4-pound) sugar pumpkin
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups heavy cream
4 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 loaf (about 10 cups) diced cinnamon bread, challah or plain pound cake
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup diced crystallized ginger
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish if you like it

Special equipment: 11 by 7-inch baking dish

For the squash: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the squash in quarters and remove the seeds. Brush the insides with a little oil and arrange on a baking sheet, skin side up. Roast in the preheated oven until the squash is soft all they way through, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool. (This can be done 1 or 2 days ahead.) When the squash is cold, remove it from the skin and puree in a food processor. You’ll need 2 1/2 cups of squash puree for this recipe. If the mixture is dry while pureeing, add a ladleful of the pudding mixture.

For the pudding: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the heavy cream, eggs, brown sugar, spices, and vanilla and mix well to combine. Mix in the pumpkin puree. Combine the bread, raisins and ginger in the baking dish. Pour the pudding mixture over the bread to cover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Cook’s Note: You may not use all of the filling. Add more filling if there’s room in the dish once the bread has soaked.

Bake in the preheated oven until the custard is set, about 20 to 25 minutes.