Archive for February, 2013

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;)




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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!)

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