Friendly Fire

I decided to close my little etsy shop a few weeks ago because I’m back in school now and my free time…well, I need to be careful with it and not “give” it away to strangers who want Yoda hats or fairy wings or castle tents and such.  Although it wasn’t a huge time-sucker (except for around the holidays), I figured just closing it up would be best for the time being.  I miss it though, not the sewing since I’m always sewing, but the seeing…the seeing of finished projects all tied up neatly with a bow (figuratively and literally sometimes).

What people don’t tell you when you go into stay-at-home parenting is that you will actually complete about 2 things per year that actually stay done, well maybe more than that, but still. Not that the temporary things aren’t sometimes more important: the dinners that will be eaten, the made bed that will instantly become un-made in a single pounce, the faces that will become re-covered with pesto in two seconds, etc.. But a person likes to look around sometimes and see that something got done and stayed done for more than a minute.  And for me, the “around” was my etsy shop.  So, more for me than for anyone else, I’m setting up a window into my old shop/ brain right here on this blog. That way, I can look at this stuff whenever I feel like I’m running in circles….because I will tell you what: I know I (can) do more than wipe faces, but sometimes I forget.

The Plush Fireplace Project

My father builds fires at his house and the kids help a little, but my mother and I like to think that fire and kids isn’t always a match (sorry) made in heaven.  Thus, I made a soft, plush, kid-friendly version.

The logs are just stuffed, tube-shaped sticks, but I halved one log and did the flat side in a wood grain fabric (just to be extra nerdy about it).

The fire comes on thanks to battery operated tea lights that we had left over from Halloween lanterns we made one year.


I got the idea from this magazine snippet and thought I could go reeeally low budget if I went with flannel instead of stone or marble for the hearth;)


The hearth is basically a slip cover for a tallish table we were given.  I created a casing and filled it with a swim noodle to make the arch. then I added batting to the back and sort of quilted the design of the flower and the moldings.



Now before you decide that I have too much time on my hands, I would like to remind you that it would take me much longer to find a babysitter and then go out and somehow earn the thousands of dollars it would cost to build a real fireplace, so in effect this is quite practical if you do the math.

(Although as a heat source, it’s pathetic.)

Happy Birthday, Nonno!

nonno baby victor

My grandfather, seen laughing with my grandmother at the top of this page and then again with me and one of my babies, would have been 90 today, not that I remembered. I never remember people’s birthdays until someone reminds me that it’s, like, toDAY.  It’s fine though, since I do everything at the last minute anyway.

I feel like I should do something, but I can’t go to the graveyard because I don’t want my little daughter there.  I tried to take her once, but there were just sooOOOoooo many questions.  And then after what I thought was a preeetty good summation/explanation of life and death and ceremony and graveyards, she said, “Mommy?  Okay, we should go. I think we should go to that berry garden and then we can help Nonno Mimmo get up if he is stuck in there.”

So, instead I’m staying home today and playing with my kid, which is what he would want (and most importantly what I want), but I feel like I should do SOME thing.  My gut instinct is to writewritewrite some mondo-huge, epic thing that would somehow miraculously capture everything he did for me and all he lived through and how much I just adored him and how he was my friend and not just some brilliant old man. But that’s not going to happen for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I’m already bawling and there isn’t enough Tylenol on earth.

I think instead that a nice top ten list of quotes will have to do.

(Just a note… if you can, just to make it authentic, try and over complicate the pronunciation of each word and roll the R’s, but not in a big way…like as if you have a HUGE accent, but you are desperately trying NOT to have one. That’s how he spoke;)

10. (after a long day out, driving around winding roads, he “lightly” crashed the car into the side of the garage and turned to me) “Well, we have arrived.”

9. “No good deed goes unpunished.”

8. (after a sort of a…well…TOTAL FOOL finally left the kitchen after talking for an hour about NOTHING at all and I was tapping my foot and rolling my eyes) “Don’t be that way, honey. You have to be kind to him. I don’t think it’s a medical condition, though.  He’s maybe what you can call a jackass.”

7. On the highway when one of those signs flashed about reporting suspicious activity he was quiet for a while and then shouted, “I think I thaw a tewwwowithst!”

6. (after my telling him about something one of my students had said) “Look, I know you love these children, but don’t forget to have you own.” I glared at him. He said, ” I know you have your ideas (gesturing into the air as if brushing away my dreams of being something “more”), but when you were small and I asked you what you wanted to do, you told me you wanted to be a mother. YOU said that.”

5. (on the beach in Torre Faro after we walked past an old, wrinkled tourist who was completely naked except for a TINY pile of clothing mostly covering her most unattractive bit…note the singular on that) “Come on, let’s go.  Probably your Nonna will hear about this even before we get home and the story will be that I looked.”

4. (holding my son) “Maybe if I can live just five more years, he will remember me.”

3. “I know they told you that when you were born that I wanted you to be a boy.  I know I was stupid.”

2. (Once when we were walking home from the beach.) “You see that old man sitting over there by the church?  The one with no shoes? He had eyes once for you nonna.  You can remind her next time she get mad.”

1. (On Christmas Eve one year in the midst of the 7 fishes feast) “Look around you, girl. Even if we had nothing in the bank, we are rich.”


In the end, we were REALLY lucky with him.  He lived and loved a lot and wrote two books: one for me when I was born (written in the voice of a man who thought he’d never get to know me and had a lot of explaining to do) and another for everyone else….which was too much for me to take.

In the very end though, we knew it was the end and he knew, too, but he wasn’t scared. The last time I saw him, as I was headed out the door and  crying, I said, “I just don’t have ANY words here.”

He smiled up at me from his chair and he said, “I’m going to find out everything…I’m finally going to know.”

That sentence was JUST like him.  This was all some fact-finding mission to my nonno. Ever the student, child-like with wonder.

I miss him so much and I really hope God is being nice to him on his birthday. I hope She at least bakes him a cake;)




So I think this recipe is my own twist on one I originally tore out of an issue of Real Simple or something, and where it’s a simple idea, it’s really amazingly flavorful and would make a WONDERFUL Valentine’s Day dinner.

Even if you aren’t usually the cook in your house/relationship, if you do this in steps and don’t try and do everything at once, it’s EASY. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to do everything. I put the time required for each step, so you can plan and look in control of everything.  However, sometimes a nice pre-dinner melt down and an emergency run-out for pizza can be just as romantic, so there’s your back-up plan;)

This recipe also dirties a lot of pots so your love will KNOW you worked really hard to make something special for them and that’s half the battle right there.


So here’s what you need:

some white wine (for cooking and drinking)

1 big supermarket rotisserie chicken (or 1.5 smallish ones)

a stick of butter

5 Tbsp flour

4 cups of broth (you could use canned or make it from the bones of the rotisserie if you have time)

(Optional: 1/2 a  Star brand Porcini cube to add to the broth)

1 large onion, chopped

(optional: 1/4 of a bulb of fennel, chopped very fine)

2 tsp ground thyme

5-6 carrots peeled and chopped into coins

1 (10 oz) pack of mushrooms, sliced

10 oz of petite frozen peas

Sheets of frozen puff pastry (taken out to defrost a good 30 minutes before you start cooking)


For novice cooks: prepare all ingredients and put into separate bowls like they do in cooking shows.  It will make it much easier and less stressful. Also, unbutton your shirt and lean over a bit  like Giada or Nigella, you know,  just to get some good mojo going. (If you have a hairy chest, try to do it away from the food.)

1. Take the pastry out to defrost.

2.  Chop up all the chicken into bite sized pieces (takes about 15 min) and put it into a large baking dish. If the chicken fills the dish, you need a bigger dish!

3. Heat oven to 425 degrees

First 7 minutes: The Gravy

1.Set a burner to medium and melt 5 Tbsp of butter in a sauce pan. STAND THERE AND DO NOT WALK AWAY OR IT WILL BURN. Now add the flour and whisk it in.  KEEP STIRRING (sorry for the yelling) until a paste forms and it bubbles for 3 minutes.

2. Add the broth and keep stirring.  Turn up the heat and bring it to a boil.  Then lower the heat and let it simmer (with little bubbles) for 5 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it sit.

15 Minutes: The Carrots

 1. In a frying pan, melt 2 Tbsp of butter and add the chopped onion (and the fennel if you are using it) and stir occasionally for 7 min. then add the carrots and thyme and keep cooking for 5 more minutes. Add a splash of wine and let it cook off for about 2-3 minutes. Then add the carrots in with the chicken.

5-7 Minutes: The Mushrooms

1.  In the same pan as before, melt the rest of the butter and add the mushrooms.  Let them cook for about 5 minutes until they release a bunch of liquid.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add in with the chicken.

5 minutes: Putting it all together

1. Add the frozen peas in with the other ingredients and add the white sauce to it also.  Mix well with a wooden spoon.

2.  Carefully unfold the sheets of puff pastry.  They usually come in pairs.  Place one on the other and roll them until together they become a thin layer large enough to cover your dish.

3.  Place it over the dish and seal it tightly around the edges like a pie.  Trim the edges and make little hearts if you want to put them on top.  Cut some slits so the steam can escape.

45 Minutes:  Baking

Place the dish on a cookie sheet (because the pie might boil over a little bit  while baking) and place it on the lower middle rack in the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes and then lower the temp. to 350 degrees. Bake for 10 more minutes and then place some foil around the edges of the crust to prevent burning. Cook for 15 more minutes.


(Sorry for yelling again…Happy Valentine’s Day!)

“Pumpkin” Custard

Well, it’s not exactly a 1,2, 3 operation, but basically you roast the pumpkin or the squash and then make the custard (which is a pumpkin pie recipe I altered and baked in ramekins in a water bath). So here goes:

First you need something other than pumpkin.

I know. It seems wrong and against everything you ever believed to be true.  It’s like (I would imagine) when the lights come up after a rave and you find out you’ve been making out with the ugly kid from Spanish class. Unexpected, but maybe nice. (Not that I would know.  When MY friends went to such places, I stayed safely home…situated safely behind a pair of knitting needles and clicked away the evening watching Mr.Lawrence Welk wave that very long baton of his.)

Funky music indeed.

Anyway, my favorite pumpkin alternatives are butternut squash and God-Knows-What-This-Is-Called (if you know, lemme know). They sell it at a local farm stand and it is AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS.

To Roast:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then slice your squash and remove all the seeds and stringy pulp.

Then place the large chunks, flesh side down, onto a greased cookie sheet or roasting pan and prick the tops with a fork (which may or may not be necessary…it’s just one of those things you think you should do). They will probably need about 45 minutes in the oven.  The skins should bubble a bit and brown (see the “due” picture at the top of this post for the right color).

After you roast them, let the pieces cool and peel the skins off and discard them. Then you need to puree them, adding some water if need be, until they are smooth and resemble the (ahem) canned variety.

Now for the pie bit.


1  1/2 cups of pureed squash

1/2 cup brown sugar (light)

3 large eggs

3/4 milk (I add some cream to the milk for my hips)

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp salt

2 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp butter (melted and cooled)

1-2 tsp vanilla


1. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and place a roasting pan with tallish sides into the oven.

2.Then put everything in standing mixer, adding the ingredients one by one.

3. Put a large sauce pan of water on to boil.

4.  Now pour or ladle the mixture into your ramekins and place them onto the roasting pan in the oven.  Space them evenly.

5.  Without sliding the rack out, pour the water into a corner of the pan until it rises 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.

Cook time:  You don’t want these to split, so cook them for 15 minutes and then check every ten until they are dry to the touch and softly bounce back.

Serve with cinnamon whipped cream….and don’t be angry when it melts;)

And You Shall Have No Pie

I didn’t buy pie.  I passed the world’s best pie place today TWICE, but in the sunny-warm afternoon, I didn’t know just how badly we would need it until it was dark and cold and way too late.

It’s autumn, and that’s great, but the nights are getting chilly and it’s too soon to turn on the heat.  I feel like pie is the only thing that works (I mean, how much tea can one drink?) and there we were tonight after a very lame dinner of leftovers, pie-less and cold.

But then it hit me: how about we fake it in a pretty dish?

So I chopped up 3 apples, sauteed them in a teaspoon or so of butter until they were soft and brown (5-10 minutes), then I added fresh nutmeg and some cinnamon and about a tablespoon of water until a nice glaze formed.

Fresh whipped cream on top and SHA-ZAYM. The still warm apples and the cream….. nobody missed the crust.

It was so simple and basic and necessary.

I think we might make it through now;)

Stuffed Artichokes

So! Let’s make some nice artichokes!!  Although these aren’t my favorite kind   (I won’t pretend to know their names), this is the kind with the thorn on the end of each leaf.  Sometimes I get the kind that look like beautiful green roses.  They are much friendlier for obvious reasons, but these tasted REALLY much better than ever, so maybe you should try for thorns, I don’t know.

Anyway, my grandmother used to make these for us and sometimes I took one to school wrapped in foil.  They were so delicious and soul warming (even cold) that it was worth the eye -rolls that flanked me there on the group W bench.


1. Cut off the stem as close to the base as you can and set aside.

2. Slice off the tips with a good knife.

3. Pull off any sad. tough looking leaves from the bottom.

4. With kitchen scissors, cut the tips off each artichoke leaf and the rub a lemon over all of the cut leaves.

5. Peel each of the stems and then dice them.

6. Saute them in olive oil until they are soft and brown.

7. Then crush 2 cloves of garlic under your knife and peel them. Add the garlic to the saute for 2-3 minutes (whole crushed cloves for less flavor, diced for more…more is better).

8. Now in a bowl, mix seasoned breadcrumbs and some freshly grated cheese. Also add some fresh parsley if you’ve got it.

9. Then add the saute and all the oil.  Mix in a few splashes of additional olive oil until the mixture is moist. Then stuff the artichokes.

10. Before placing the artichokes in a covered pot to steam, place a little water in first.  Otherwise they will stick to the bottom and it will be gross and terrible and awful.

Cooking:  Pour enough water in so that it comes about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the artichokes. Cover with a lid (clear is best) and steam these guys, checking every 10 minutes or so to see if you need to add water.

They are done when you can easily remove a leaf from the bottom of any of the artichokes.  To eat, bite on the leaf and pull it through your teeth. It will get messy, but I find it so very worth it.

How sad is this little thing?  It used to have lots of  bright yellow attachments (which have long since become robot parts wrapped in layers and layers of tape) and a black hose which someone hit me in the leg with once and was never seen again. (It stung.) Anyway, sad indeed. Rescued multiple times from the Goodwill box (I mean it still turns on!), it eventually went (insert sad music) down to the basement where I suppose it’s been talking to all the other mistreated and neglected toys in a Woody and Buzz kinda way. *Sniff*

But things started to brighten up for it  last week when my daughter developed an urgent need for a pink vacuum cleaner toy and I was really in the mood to spoil her (I got stuck in the hospital for a while and she reeeeaaallly loved that I was finally home).  So that very minute we jumped into the car and went to MANY toy stores and found NOTHING that was pink. We even hit Goodwill and several consignment stores and niente. I gave up and started adding stuff to my Ebay watch list thinking maybe I’d try again at Christmas.

So this morning, I was in my crazy studio (room heaped with fabric organized in no particular way) looking for some felt for her to cut up and glue and I saw the sad little vacuum and brought it up with the felt. She started cutting and I started cutting….

     I found some other “attachments” and in about 15 minutes, she had a new little pink vacuum cleaner (well, new to her).

Anyway, she’s very happy and I am very happy. In fact, I so love that it was so easy to keep something so big and plastic out of the ground that I’m going to make it a weekly tradition. Nothing huge, but I’m going to try and do something little to refresh something that’s already ours and currently, well, gross.

I mean, don’t hold your breath or anything. We’ll see. I say I’m going to do a lot of things. Meanwhile, I’m being told I should also be vacuuming.

So this is a very beautiful, basic idea that I learned about by reading this recipe by the wonderful Lidia Bastianich. It never ceases to amaze me how differently people do things, especially simple things like frying zucchini.  Until tonight I have put zucchini in egg and milk first and then in breadcrumb and parmigiano cheese, the way I do eggplant when I want to make parmigiana. But a super crisp crust doesn’t like to roll-up, so sometimes I just leave  my involtini naked like I do with eggplant involtini which I grill and then bake with sauce and cheese.

Kids, however, at least in my house, don’t do well with the texture of zucchini or eggplant without it being dressed up as junk food. And so Lidia’s recipe was worth a shot and the oil splatter, too.

I started tonight’s little bites, by doing it Lidia’s way and slicing the zucchini nice and thinly, although I had to use much larger zucchini than the ones she uses.  It looks like our garden will only have a few more coming and they are really small still.  So, I sent my husband to the farm stand for these.  Beggars can’t be choosers, I know, but this beggar will be more specific next time, I assure you. Regardless, you slice them about 1/8 of an inch thick.

Then you set out a colander (on a plate) and two bowls.  In the first bowl you beat 5 eggs (yup) and in the second you just put a few cups of white flour. A slice gets floured, then dipped in the egg, then waits in the colander to drip off a bit before frying.

After letting the slices fry on both sides until golden, you drain them and allow them to cool on a bed of pater towels. I waited until they were cool enough to handle and then I started rolling them up with grated cheese inside.

Lidia uses a caper inside each one, which I would love, but we were out of capers and my kids would never eat them if there was an unfamiliar surprise inside.

I also didn’t have toothpicks, and I wanted these to be grab-able, so I used a skewer to make a place for a little carrot matchstick to slide in.  It actually gave them a nice little crunch and reminded me of veggie tempura sushi.

In the end, one of my kids popped these into her mouth one after the other, while the other one had a reaction I will not describe, but reminded me of that scene in the movie Big when the man-child realizes he’s just eaten fish-eggs.

Oh, well. It’s not like I spent any amount of time standing over a hot sizzling stove to make these.

(Can you hear the guilt dripping off with the excess oil?)

The Flying Zucchini Brothers!!!!!

Every once in a while, you get those “check-in” days, as my father calls them. Those days that go so amazingly NOT according to plan that it’s like someone getting a hold of  the back of your neck, shoving your face against a wall, and saying, “You know you’re not in control here, right?”

I’m still a little flustered by my recent encounter with Fate the tough guy.

It started out of thin air halfway to my mom’s house. By the time I arrived, instead of quickly dropping off my kids so I could rush home and accomplish 4 billion things before our long-awaited anniversary celebration, I  opened the car door and sort of crumbled onto the garage floor.  I was barely able to really talk. It felt like I was being stabbed in the back with an  icicle every time I drew breath and I kept thinking about the grandfather I’d never met and genes he might have passed on…the ones that make your heart stop too soon.

My kids didn’t get it.  They kept pulling on me and asking about their swim goggles.

Eventually, thanks to my parents,  a bunch of people in blue uniforms showed up and said it wasn’t my heart, but this bizarre  muscle spasm that was pushing against the ribs in my back, making me cry when I inhaled. They really didn’t need to plug me into their equipment though, since I figured it wasn’t my heart when I didn’t drop dead immediately when one of them referred to my FATHER as my HUSBAND.   I’m not buying that she thought I was a trophy wife, so that means she thought I was eligible for an AARP membership.

Not cool.

Anyway, when I briefly pulled my hands away from the painful spot on my back and considered wrapping them around the woman’s throat, I figured I (for one) would live. (Deep breath.)

So, as most things involving a 911 call tend to be, yesterday’s incident was unexpected, inconvenient, and terrifying. The worst, most horrible part was the look on my son’s face and the fact that he went from worrying about the location of his swim goggles to asking my mother if I was going to die.  Sweet Jesus.

Now I’m sore, but it’s all good again, although dis(harhar)heartening because I’d hoped to avoid any and all emergencies in this life. Why? Because I thought I was wearing my  funeral goggles and didn’t need “check-in” days to know what’s what.

Funeral goggles? Well, what they are not are those worn by the sexy mourners draping themselves all over Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers. (Nobody in real life is ever attracted to a man who dry humps the air.)

What I mean are those lenses that zoom in on everything that really matters. They help you see everyday what others can only see after attending a funeral, and what they stop seeing as soon as the effect wears off. They (these goggles)  focus in on little children and family and good food. Best yet, on a day when they are really working, they sweep away trivial things into your peripheral vision, like handbags that cost two grand (who buys those?) and Fox News reports and bizarre comments made by idiots who think you are eligible for social security when you are most certainly still youngish.

So here I am.  I have cancelled everything fun we had planned, the house is still a huge mess, and I don’t feel quite up to doing much of anything. But maybe that’s all part of the check-in, the just figuring out how to have fun without so much preparation. Maybe I’ll stop worrying so much about little things and, say, start ordering pizza sometimes instead of making the dough…and the sauce…and the cheese… from scratch. (Eyes wide in the realization that I’m insane.)

I think I can see clearly now that my goggles were broken.

My uncle married a great woman.  She’s down to earth and generous and funny and real. (Real people are my very favorites.) Plus, she told me about this idea, for which I will always be grateful. Thank you, VL. I’m so glad you are in our family.

So this idea, which is simple and brilliant, is to substitute grated zucchini for crab in your Maryland style crab cakes. You will be SHOCKED to discover that the texture is so similar that the Old Bay tricks your mouth into saving over twenty bucks a pound on crab meat. Plus, eating bottom feeders is a lousy idea for some people with certain health problems and  for women who are pregnant. I really wish I had known about this recipe when I was expecting.  I really craved crabs and beer and all the while I could have been feasting on these and washing them down with Near Beer. Oh, well.

After trying these a few times, I discovered that they fry up better than they handle broiling. Also,  you need to chill the grated zucchini before you create the patties. In most crab cake recipes, after you form the patties, they need to chill in the fridge for an hour or so in order to hold their shape while cooking. If you include this step with the zucchini variation, however, the squash will release all of its liquid and everything below the patties in your fridge will be covered in drippy, eggy, zucchini water, causing you to pick a fight with your husband… and it just snowballs from there.

So here’s what you need:


2 medium sized zucchini, grated (on the side pictured above)


1 Tbsp mayo

1 Tbsp yellow mustard

1 Tbsp Old Bay

1 egg



1. Grate the zucchini and place in a colander lined with paper towels. Let it chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

2. Beat the egg in a bowl and add the breadcrumbs (one tsp. at a time) until you have a paste. Then mix in the  mayo, the mustard, and the Old Bay. (Now’s the time to turn the heat on under the frying oil.  Use medium heat, whatever that might mean on your stove. Also, set the oven to 350.)

3. In a mixing bowl, use a spatula to mix the paste into the grated zucchini.  In about 2 minutes you will have a scraggly batter (the only way to describe it, really).

4.Prepare a flouring dish and line a baking dish (or cookie sheet) with wax paper.

5. With a cookie scoop if you have one (or a quarter cup measure), create patties out of the wet batter and flop them onto the flouring plate, coating them on each side.  Then place them on the wax paper.

6. Fry them in a pan until the edges are golden, then flip.

7.  Now you can test one.  If the zucchini still tastes too firm, set them on a towel to drain their excess oil and then place the patties in the heated oven for about 5 minutes on each side.

Serve them as you would normally.  For me, the tomato is the clincher.  (And a beer.)