MommaRita is the mom of one of my BFF’s. She is one of the sweetest and most generous women I have ever met. She loves Jesus, people, and animals- in that order, and she does it all from her heart of pure gold. To know Rita is to be loved by Rita, and hugged. A lot.
My connection to MommaRita began almost 20 years ago when I met her husband, an OBGYN who delivered our youngest daughter. Women know how important it is to like and trust your OBGYN, and Doc is the greatest there is. I always felt like he was taking care of me like he would his own family. I had no idea, then, that their family would become part of ours. Fast forward several years to my pregnancy with Little Guy. It was during this pregnancy that I met Sarah, Doc’s daughter who was a nurse at his office. She and I became fast friends. Sarah was pregnant with her first baby and delivered 5 months before I did, so we saw each other regularly at the beginning and end of my pregnancy. Our boys are still best buds.
It was while Little Guy was in preschool that I finally met MommaRita. Sarah kept Little Guy a couple days a week while I went back to school to finish my degree, and sometimes I would get to see MommaRita when I dropped him off. She has a gentle, soothing voice that reminds me of a Pre-School teacher or or NICU nurse, and caring eyes that shine with genuine love and gentleness. Over the years I have spent a good amount of time around their family, and have come to feel very much at home with them, and in their home. The chaos of a large family is very familiar to me, being 1 of 5 kids, and the decibel level, activity, and amount of food at every gathering reminds me of growing up. The entire family is very welcoming, and that comes straight from the way Doc and MommaRita live their life and raised their children.
As I said earlier, to know Rita is to be loved by Rita. Very early into the life of this blog, I was blown away at how quickly it was spreading, how many readers and followers I had, and even at how writing and sharing my love of food and people energized and renewed me. I shared some of this with someone I had expected would share my excitement, but didn’t. I felt rejected, deflated, and very hurt by the lack of interest in something that was so obviously making me over-the-moon-happy. It hurt me so much that I cried off and on for 2 days, but didn’t say a word to anyone about what I was feeling. Completely out of nowhere on that second morning, MommaRita texted me and said God put me on her heart. She sent me a picture of her devotions that morning and it was exactly what I needed to hear. It talked about how much Christ loves us, and that even when we feel rejected or brokenhearted by others, He always loves, and never rejects us. Well, that had me in tears of gratitude! I shared a little snippet of what had been going on, and she responded that when God put me on her heart that morning, He told her that I was feeling rejected and broken hearted. She shared encouragement and love, and the truth about how much I was loved by my Creator- and that changed everything for me that day!
Because our lives can be crazy and unpredictable at times, it took us a good month to schedule time to cook together. When deciding what to make, I said, “Anything you want! Your signature recipe, your favorite thing to eat, your most requested food, your favorite thing to make, anything you want.” She decided on Parmesan Popcorn and Pizzelles, much to her family’s disbelief. MommaRita is an amazing cook, and has so many fantastic Italian recipes in her arsenal that they thought she should showcase. I sat there and laughed as they rattled off all the things she could make and lovingly harassed her for her choice of snack foods. I, on the other hand, was super pumped about what we were going to make. I haven’t had a single snack food on the blog yet, and I love to learn new recipes. I had absolutely no idea what pizzelles were, let alone how to spell them to look up what they were, so I was ready to have that mystery solved.
Finally, our cooking day arrived. I showed up armed with an empty stomach and my camera. Rita already had her apron on and the ingredients ready to go. After a few moments of catching up we got to work on the popcorn so we could snack on it while we made pizzelles. I love the way she thinks!
MommaRita’s Parmesan Popcorn
- 1/3 C Orville Redenbacher White Popcorn
- 1/3 C Grapeseed Oil
- 1/2 C Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated
- 1/4 C Melted Butter
- Himalayan Sea Salt to taste
Finely grate cheese, set aside. Using stovetop popcorn maker, heat grapeseed oil, then add popcorn and shake to coat kernels. Cook over medium high heat until popping stops for about 3 seconds-shaking pan or stirring kernels (depending on pan.) Immediately transfer hot popcorn to large bowl and sprinkle with grated cheese so it can melt a bit. Add melted butter and salt, stir or shake to coat evenly. As MommaRita says, best enjoyed with an ice cold beer-and she’s right! Store any leftovers in an airtight container.
Then we moved on to pizzelles (pronounced pit-sells), where I would finally learn what in the world these things are. Turns out I had seen them several times throughout my life, but never tried them because I had no idea what they were. They are a traditional Italian cookie that is often served with coffee or tea. It’s not sweet like a traditional cookie, it has more of a subtle sweetness. It reminded me of a waffle cone because of its crispy texture and light flavor. And like a waffle cone, the possibilities are endless when it comes to filling and toppings.
- 1 C Softened Butter
- 1 1/2 C Granulated Sugar
- 6 Large Eggs
- 1 tsp Pure Orange Extract
- 1 tsp Pure Lemon Extract
- 1 tsp Pure Anise Extract
- 2 1/2 C Flour
Mix butter and sugar together until combined. Incorporate eggs, 2 at a time, stirring between additions until mixed well. Add all 3 extracts and stir again. Fold in flour, 1 Cup at a time, and stir until just mixed.
This is a simple cookie, a simple recipe, a simple process. There is something really special about simple flavors. I sometimes find myself attracted to complex recipes with a lot going on because I love the challenge of it all. But it’s also nice to have simple and uncomplicated. I do want to let you know that the process of making the pizzelles is a bit time-consuming, as the iron only makes 2 at a time. Don’t let that discourage you from making them! There is a comfortable rhythm in the process, and that rhythm forces you to slow down and move at the pace of the iron, which I found relaxing. Each pair takes 60-90 seconds to complete.
Place dough in the center of each mold. We used a regular spoon from the silverware drawer. Close and latch, or just hold tight, and prepare for a little dough to sputter out the sides of the iron if you went a little heavy on your spoonful. Sometimes I nailed it and put in the exact amount, other times it reminded me of when I make waffles and the batter overflows a bit. Check the pizzelles at about 60 seconds, since iron temperatures vary. You want them lightly golden, so check on them until you figure out your timing.
While we cooked we talked about many things, but mostly about family and relationships, and how this pandemic has made us both re-evaluate what is important in our lives. We laughed, shared, cried, and hugged. And as always, MommaRita was full of compassion, encouragement, and wisdom. She is just such a blessing! You can tell she is listening intently to your words and praying for you at the same time. And she’s not afraid to speak truth and life to you in the most loving and encouraging way. I always leave my time with her all full of love and totally renewed. And it’s not just me that feels like that. While we were cooking, one of her sons stopped by with 2 grandkids. When they were leaving, Rita told her 5 year old granddaughter that she could take anything home with her that she wanted. This sweet little baby said, “I wanna take Grandma home with me!” And she meant it! Toys are nice, but she wanted Grandma. That was one of the sweetest things I have ever witnessed.
My time with MommaRita ended all too soon, and I had to head home and get Superman ready for a midnight shift. In true MommaRita fashion, she made sure I did not leave empty handed. I took home some pizzelles, the remaining popcorn, and she gave me one of her pizzelle irons so I could make them again. I left her home feeling like I spent the afternoon being stuffed with love. I am so grateful to have her in my life. She is my Momma, friend, confidant, and a wonderful woman who radiates love.
Thank you, MommaRita, for sharing your recipes, your time and talents, and your ability to share the love of Jesus with everyone you encounter. Your friendship nourishes my heart!