Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eat. You'll Feel Better! - Jean's Recipe for Zeps - Italian Breadsticks

My cute self, hard at work in my Mother's Kitchen.
This picture is the first thing you'll see when you
enter my side door today.
In my family, we joke that, "Eat.  You'll feel better!" should be our motto.  And we do.  When we're happy, we eat.  When we're sad, we eat.  When we're not sure exactly what we feel, we eat!

So much of who I am blossomed next to my Mother, my Sister, my Aunts, my Grandmother, and my Cousins in the kitchen.  My Mom is Italian, and one of ten children.  My Dad was German, and one of eight.  Both were raised during the depression, and their Mothers worked diligently to feed their large hungry families on a budget, while still maintaining their traditions in the kitchen.

My Dad's favorites included ham and bean soup...heavy on the beans and with a ham bone to add flavor... potato pancakes, and apple cream pie.  When he returned after his service in The 69th Infantry Division in World War II, he loved the simple luxuries of meat, potatoes, fresh tomatoes, sugar, and good coffee.  They were available in short supply to him for so long, and he wanted to ensure that they were never lacking in our lives.

My Mother's family traditions revolve around food and lots of it.  (I come by it honestly!)  Pasta,
soup, and salad was served with virtually every meal.  Throughout the summer, and before the farm-to-table concept became a popular one, we delighted in the bounty of my Grandpap's urban garden, with the excess being canned for use throughout the year.

Grandma's handwritten recipe.  Until I read it, I would have
spelled this as "Zeppoli", Zeps for short, and the
Fish Cakes, made with anchovy were "Ulige Cakes".

Please remember that all measurements are approximate.  
Grandma let the dough lead her to a perfect consistency.

Both of my Grandmothers cooked without recipes, and in large part it's a tradition that continues today in my family.  Once my Mom's sister, Aunt Stella, spent an entire day in the kitchen with my Grandma in an attempt to capture written recipes for some of her favorites.   The result is a lovingly prepared pink three ring notebook.  Some of the recipes in it are written in my Grandma handwriting, others Aunt Stella typed, and all editorial notes are written in Aunt Stella's handwriting. This book is one of my most treasured possessions, and I still refer to it on a regular basis in an attempt to recapture the tastes of my youth.

One of Maggie's handmade samplers.
In many ways my love for time in the kitchen and this tradition continues with friends.  I love learning about their culinary pasts and sharing mine with them. We love to feed one another and share our stories, and this has become a central part of the experience at our ReMe Retreats.  While we spend oodles of time creating in the studio, the heart of our home on Ocracoke is Maggie's Kitchen.  I'll be forever grateful for the new memories that we're making in this magical place.

Hot and Ready Zeps!

Thanks to Aunt Stella, today I'll share with you my Grandmother's recipe for Ceppolli, "Italian Christmas Breadsticks".  These tasty treats were made exclusively for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and we looked forward to them all year long.  We ate them at room temperature days after they were made, and we couldn't get enough of them!

Now, we eat them the day that they're made, and my family loves them when they're fresh and hot.  They've also been known to dip or roll them in sugar or cinnamon and sugar, and this is something that we'd never even considered in  my family.
1 cake of yeast, 5 cups of flour, a little salt, and 1/4 cup of oil and the magic begins!
The Zeps rest a bit before their bath in hot oil.  While called "Italian Breadsticks" in my family they're donut-like shapes.
Cook two or three at a time for just a few minutes per side until they're golden brown.
The board that I use almost daily in the kitchen is the same one that my Mom and Grandma used.
Each mark is an integral part of it.  I like to think that I'm preserving its history while adding a bit of my own story to it. 

While our ReMe Retreat in May on Ocracoke Island is at capacity, a few spaces around the table remain in October.  To join us, please reserve your spot by using the Paypal Link on the left side of this page.  Convenient payment plans are available, and I hope to see you there!  


  1. Wonderful story and those look delicious! I'm counting the days til we gather again in that warm and comforting kitchen!

  2. I love seeing your younger self! Be sure and introduce yourselves to Carmie and Mickey at Mermaids'
    Folly. I emailed them links to Reme. Soon I'm off to the south of France soon for a week of watercolor journaling with Lori Mitchell.


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