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La Dolce Vita

Jan D'Atri and Mom, Livia, Living The Sweet Life

Jimmy Magahern | Jul 1, 2011, 10:13 a.m.

It’s the hottest day of the year, so far — 107 degrees, even as the late afternoon sun begins its merciful descent — and Jan D’Atri along with her mother, Livia, are taking a break at a Paradise Valley coffee shop to plan the week ahead.

As on any given week, the veteran Valley TV and radio personality has a full plate. Monday through Friday, there’s her lifestyle show on KPNX-TV 12, Arizona Midday, followed by her afternoon cooking show on Fox News Radio KFYI 550, “In the Kitchen With Jan D’Atri.” In addition, D’Atri writes a weekly column for the Arizona Republic and a monthly column for Lovin’ Life After 50 and the largest family of free distribution publications in Arizona, The Times Publicatio

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Despite of their inherited passion for food, Livia, 83, and Jan, 57, have both managed to stay trim and healthy by eating natural food and staying active.

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“Momma” Livia D’Atri is a frequent guest — and always steals the show, Jan says — on her daughter’s TV and radio programs. And this Friday, the inseparable mother-daughter team will host a book signing for their cookbook, Momma and Me and You, in celebration of Livia’s 83rd birthday, a milestone the radiant Italian transplant looks nowhere near approaching.

Still, at this moment, all Jan can think about is the plastic container of pre-fermented dough baking on the floor of her hatchback.

“I’ve got the starter bread sitting in the car,” she worriedly tells Livia. “I really should bring it in before it explodes in this heat!”

This is not mere good common and practical cooking sense, although Jan has become an Arizona icon by sharing her sweetly spoken advice on each for over 32 years, beginning in 1978 as the Phoenix host of the nationally syndicated PM Magazine, TV’s first newsmagazine-formatted program, and continuing through three long-running local lifestyle shows on KTVK Channel 3 before migrating to the city’s NBC affiliate.

There’s a special significance to the sweetbread baking in Jan’s car, which, returning to the café, she cradles in both hands like a treasured heirloom.

“It’s a little weird, I know,” she says, lovingly settling the container down on the table between herself and Livia. “I treat it almost like an urn.”

Jan started making the bread four years ago to honor her brother John, who died of a brain aneurysm June 1, 2007, at the age of 40. “Momma took it hard,” she says, after Livia momentarily excuses herself from the table. “So I started this on her birthday four years ago. It’s kind of a way to keep my brother alive, because he’s always with us.”

Johnny’s Sweet Friendship Bread is Jan’s personal take on the Amish Friendship Bread tradition, which requires that three cups of an original “mother dough” be stirred every day and fed every five days with flour, sugar and milk, then two cups shared every tenth day with friends and family — who in turn bake their own bread and pass a bit of the leftover dough on to others to do the same.

“It lives on your counter,” she explains. “You go on vacation, and it’s like a kid: you have to have someone babysit it. You have to stir it every day, and every five days you have to feed it. Then every ten days you take one cup out to bake bread or some cookies with, give another cup away, and save the rest to grow it again.”

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