Ciao'd with a slice of birthday cake.


When January sets in, shrouding the world in gray, sunny Meyer lemons arrive, too - just in time for my birthday. In December, tiny white blossoms, tinged with lavender in the center, appear on the trees almost overnight as if the moon fed them. When I brush up against the blossoms on my way to feed the birds, their heady perfume startles me. 

If you've never tasted a Meyer lemon, you're missing out on a citrus celebration. The Meyer lemon is the fruit that makes the party. Like the guest who glows with charisma yet seems to harbor a delicious secret, Meyer lemons are blessed with alluring attributes, too. The egg-yolk yellow rind outside, the translucent marigold flesh inside. A thin edible rind without the pinch of bitter pith. A sweetness that trumps the acidity of common lemons, though that doesn't mean the Meyer's flavor doesn't resonate.  It brilliantly straddles the richness-brightness line. 

When the earth is soaked with rain and the skies are bearing down, the Meyer lemon "spills a universe of gold" (Pablo Neruda). 




Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced into
1/2-inch-thick slices
1 celery stalk, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 garlic clove, minced
Zest of one lemon and juice of two
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup small pasta, such as orzo or tubetti
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as thyme, parsley, and dill

In a large heavy pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leek, celery, and garlic and cook until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. 

Add the chicken and the broth to the pan along with the lemon zest, lemon juice, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool and then shred the chicken into bite-size pieces.

Return the broth to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Stir in the chicken and herbs.  

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Ciao'd while nibbling peppermint bark. 

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Happy Holidaze! My fingers ache from online shopping. My feet relentlessly remind me (at 3 AM) of time spent cooking and baking. My derrière seems to expand every day, no thanks to cocktailing and celebrating at various holiday soirées. It's time for a rejuvenating, healthy bowl of soup. And this one's a winner. 

Farro Soup with Beans, Broccoli, and Chicken Sausage is just the foundational recipe. You can add other vegetables (cubed potatoes, green beans, and peas come to mind). If you are of the vegetarian persuasion (shout out to Glo and Randee), you can take that route. Simply omit the sausage and use water or vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock. Go for broke and add tubetti pasta for a farro-y take on pasta e fagioli. 

I'm giving a dinner party this weekend. Rather than serving an over-the-top menu, I'm thinking of offering this soup with warm crusty bread and a salad. For real. Cozy vibes all around! 

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Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, complement the earthy flavor of farro. Sure you can use canned beans (use 2 cups if you opt for this route) but the texture of the cooked dried beans is so much more substantial. You can also opt to make this a vegetarian soup. Simply omit the sausage and use water or vegetable stock rather than chicken stock. This is a hearty, satisfying soup that tastes even better on the second or third day. It freezes well, too.

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup dried borlotti (cranberry) beans
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fully cooked chicken or turkey sausages, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup farro
One 28 oz can chopped tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock or water, more as necessary
2 cups broccoli florets
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

Place the beans in a large, heavy pot. Cover with water about 2 inches above the beans. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and then remove from the heat. Let the beans soak in the water for 1 hour and then drain.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pot along with a ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, scraping up any brown bits of sausage from the bottom of the pan, until the onion has softened and turned translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the farro, beans, tomatoes, sausage, and stock. Bring to a boil, and then decrease the heat and simmer until the farro and beans are tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add the broccoli florets and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and stir to combine.

Serve the soup and pass the Parmesan at the table.

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Ciao'd after making a donation for Houston relief.

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My son opted for grilled lamb chops for dinner the night before he started his senior year of high school. I set the table with anticipation for him and anxiety for me. My mind and heart are hopping, skipping and jumping through the next year and the finals; not the exams per se but the senior year milestones: the applications and acceptances or rejections from colleges, the final lacrosse season and the last lacrosse game, the bawdy weekends when his posse of friends descends upon my kitchen and refrigerator and, ultimately, graduation.

So it’s with a touch of envy that I watch the little ones as they hop, skip and jump on their way to the elementary school in our neighborhood. Those days of snapping photos to commemorate the first day of school – new shoes and backpacks – have long been sequestered in my memory.

It is with more than a little sadness that I see the moms and dads texting and talking on their phones as they accompany their charges to school. I want to scream at them at my highest pitch because they are so self-involved that they ought to be reported to child protective services. “Look up!" I want to say, "Look at your baby bird. Your chick will be in middle school and then high school and then fly from the nest faster than you can text a reply to a friend or schedule a tennis date.”

Hey elementary and middle school parents, I may not have done everything right, God knows, but I did cull a few tidbits of wisdom that may serve you well. Here are few standouts:

Don’t get caught eating a cookie on campus. You will risk someone from the nut club descending upon you and demanding what exactly is in that cookie. The one you purchased from the coffee shop. The one someone else baked. The one labeled Oatmeal Raisin. When you explain this to the nut monitor, she will look at you like you’re nutty in the crazy way and say, “Oatmeal, raisin and what else?” You will reply because you know this for sure because you have baked oatmeal raisin cookies (which, p.s., are better than the one from the coffee shop) hundreds of times, “Butter, sugar, and flour?” You will answer this question in the up-talk of those who are not so sure because, by now, you are blindsided by the inquisitor’s zeal and her disregard for personal space. She will look at you, quite likely with hands on hips, and direct you to “Throw the cookie away or exit campus.”  You will most likely do both, the former with disgust, the latter with fear. 

If your child is not reading at an 8th grade level in first grade, he shouldn’t be. Unless, of course, he is a prodigy and there aren’t many of those. We all want our kids to succeed but our children bloom most beautifully not from a singular focus but from exposure to diverse experiences academically and socially. Deep breath. Your kid will read. He’ll understand fractions. Hopefully, he’ll coat his hands with clay in a pottery class and perhaps even play the triangle in band. The point is, the three Rs (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) are a given. It’s the other stuff that expands minds and enriches hearts.

Don’t try and rig the system. Every summer, the list of classroom and teacher assignments was posted at our school (yes, physically posted on the door to the principal’s office) and every summer, parents called the school demanding changes. One mother didn’t like a teacher because she didn’t award her son A’s, another because her daughter wasn’t in the top reading group, and I love this one, “She doesn’t understand boys. She favors girls.” All this lore heard and then passed on while hands clasped lattes or through downward dogs on adjoining yoga mats. It's the 21st century version of the telephone game.

My good friend threw a fit on my behalf when my son was assigned a teacher in first grade. My friend maligned the teacher about this, that and the other thing, all hearsay by the way. I stopped. I contemplated. I figured it would be an interesting year. And it was, and Ms. Einen turned out to be one off my son’s best teachers. This all to say, trust your gut. Let your kid gut it out.

Lice happen. They’re the great equalizer. There’s nothing better than when a Patty Perfect is informed that her child has lice and even more deliciously diabolical, that the lice have hatched.

A trophy for every child is just plain nonsense. “Trying our best” to win the trophy is not the same as earning it.  It’s harsh to face defeat but it’s a reality, and it’s a lesson our children should learn early. James Harrison, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reacted with these words when his sons came home with participation trophies: “I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men because they tried their best, because sometimes your best isn’t good enough. That should drive you to want to do better.” Word.

And while we’re on the trophy subject, I will release the bee in my sports mom bonnet. Shut up on the sidelines! Your child is not D1 material at seven-years-old and it’s likely he never will be. So you played lacrosse (or any sport for that matter) at a D3? Good for you. It doesn’t give you permission to live vicariously through your kid and, more critically, put the pressure on him to 1. Play lacrosse and 2. Suffer for D1. Put away the camera. He doesn’t need a reel unless, of course, he is standout in high school and even that is a long shot. Maybe he just wants to have fun. Accept it and move on. You’ll have a happier kid. And isn’t that the point of sports parenting?

Now for a view from the trenches. My mother was a teacher. During dinner, we listened to stories from the front. I decided that teaching was not for me. A sister of mine embraced it. She teaches in a community much like the one in which I live. It’s wealthy and populated by parents who are educated and professionally successful, including the moms who no longer work (they are the majority) but somehow manage to sport a CEO mantle in car line even though they left the professional universe when they were low level account coordinators or legal assistants. Here’s what my sister has to say and you, parents, may want to heed her advice.

Don’t drop off lunch and special drinks every day, especially when they’re from Starbucks, Panera or Teavana. Send your kids in with a damn PBJ and juice box. They will be happier.

Lurking by the principal’s office to say “hi” to your children on their way to the cafeteria is just weird.

Please don’t email articles about education. Teachers live education every day. Most of them have been in the trenches for what seems like a million years. When June comes around, it feels like a trillion.

Don’t ask for the assignments that Suzy will miss on the two-week Disney cruise in the middle of January. Suzy opted out and, in deference to the other students who must slog it out, the teacher is opting out, too. 

Why would parents take verbatim what a second grader tells them and then contact the teacher to “help” fix the social injustice? “Ashley made fun of me in front of Bella and Isabel, and now they hate me” or  “The PE teacher put Tommy at the back of the line because dodge ball is not his strength.” As my mother told us, “Fight your own battles.”

One more suggestion from me to the parents whose children attend the elementary school in Kentfield: please don’t park in my driveway and linger on your phone after your kid has been dropped off for school. And to that guy who ignored me until I knocked on his window and then told me we needed a gate, F--- you.

When I grilled the lamb chops for my son on the evening before his first day of senior year, I made this rub to gussy them up a bit. Redolent with oregano and garlic with a lemon kick, it’s a flavor spark that works not only for lamb but for pork, chicken, and vegetables, too. 

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This rub is a flavor enhancer that works for a range of foods, including lamb, pork, chicken and beef. Don't be afraid to add a bit more olive oil and toss with vegetables. Oh, and how about scrambled eggs? Make a double recipe for the rub and store the extra in your pantry so it's at the ready when you are. 

Makes about 1/2 cup, enough for 4 to 6 lamb chops

2 tablespoons dried oregano, crushed between your fingers
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients. Rub and press evenly on meat or toss with vegetables.

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Ciao'd with handfuls of white cheddar popcorn.

Friday is my day to write an essay for the blog but for the last few Fridays, I have found myself at a loss for words. Perhaps it's all the noise reverberating out there and around us. How can I get a word in edgewise? Perhaps it's the time of year, a new season and therefore, a reset for my thoughts. The winter birds are flying away and the spring birds, golden finches among them, are alighting on our feeders. I like to think that the cold weather birds have pecked my negative thoughts to carry with them as they head to points north. As for the spring birds, I hope they bring sunny optimism.

My kitchen has been a respite of late, more than usual. I am a slave to television news and talk radio. Neither is serving me well these days. I need the simple tasks of the kitchen. Chopping and dicing onions and carrots. Stirring and mixing breadcrumbs, basil, and parsley. Washing dishes and wiping counters. These actions draw a baseline of calm. 

When I cook, my brain (and ire) rests and my senses sing. The aroma of fresh garlic and basil. The song of sauteeing onions. The loveliness of glowing lemons in a white bowl. The push of the knead and the pull of shaping pizza dough. The taste, oh, the taste of so many miraculous things! Fresh-picked lettuce, grassy, green artichokes, the first asparagus. And sweet, red, ripe strawberries! 

The earth gives in equal measure. It does not judge if we're flying on the right or on the left. It does not care if we're the 1% or the 99%. It bestows its bounty on any level of cook and invites, "Do what you will with me." And anything we do is just fine.

This week, I planted my garden with warm weather deliciousness, including Swiss chard. This recipe is a harbinger of what's to come. I think you'll enjoy its simple preparation and fresh, uncomplicated flavor. 



Succulent chicken thighs (yes, you can use chicken breasts, if you wish), Swiss chard, and tubetti pasta cook together in one pan (easy cleanup!) for a light and bright springtime meal. If you can't find tubetti (I use De Cecco), substitute orzo or Israeli couscous.

Serves 4

2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves (or 3 small cloves), finely chopped
1 cup tubetti pasta or other small pasta such as orzo
1 bunch Swiss chard, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Combine basil and thyme in a small bowl, crumbling between your fingers to release the flavor. Add the salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with half the spice mixture.

In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Stir in the garlic and pasta and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the Swiss chard, lemon zest, and remaining spice mixture; cook, stirring, until the chard just begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan along with any accumulated juice from the plate. Pour in the broth and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the pasta is al dente (firm to the bite), 10 to 12 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Serve, passing Parmesan at the table. 


Ciao'd while watching Chopped, the bacon edition. Yeah, I know. 

In East Cork, by the sea,

The hens, the hens, they call to me.

Leg Horn, Sussex, Barred, and Black,

As red beaks peck, orange feet tack.

Early dawn, in their Palais du Poulet,

Do they wonder what brings the day?

The sustenance of Ballymaloe,

They take and give as they go.

Eggs for breakfast, chicken for dinner,

Is the cook winner or sinner?



Come sit on the culinary therapy couch and let me talk you down from the anxiety ledge. Roasting is one of the easiest ways to cook poultry. Bring the chicken to room temperature, slather it with herbs and olive oil, and stuff it with herbs and lemon. Stick the bird in the oven, walk away, have a glass of wine, and then check its temp with an instant-read thermometer. Seriously simple! I'm serious. 

Serves 4 to 6

3- to 4-pound whole chicken
2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs, such as rosemary, sage, and oregano
Zest of one medium lemon, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I like the Lucero Green Collection)
1 medium lemon (use the one you zested)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh sage
3 sprigs fresh parsley
1/2 cup white wine

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry. Place the chicken on a slightly tilted dish to let the water drain from the cavity as you prepare the rub (and then pat dry again). In a small bowl, mix the herbs, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Add the olive oil and stir to combine.

Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on a rack
(v-shaped or flat) in a roasting pan. Using a skewer or toothpick, pierce the zested lemon all over (10 to 15 places). Slip the lemon into the cavity with the rosemary, sage, and parsley sprigs. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the back. Slather the chicken with the herb mixture, rubbing it into the skin and cavities. Pour the wine into the pan. 

Roast the chicken until the thickest part of thigh registers 170 degrees and the juice runs clear, about 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest 15 minutes before carving.


Ciao'd while watching the weather report. More rain. For days. 

A few days ago, plagued by a fit of indecision and doubt, I asked a question of the universe, “Let me know if what I am thinking (hoping) is the right way to proceed?” I asked for three signs. 

This morning, gazing out my kitchen window at the birds as I usually do, I saw five woodpeckers perched like soldiers in formation on my fence.  Their garnet heads bobbed and glowed above the squadron of  little mushroom-brown wrens pecking on the lawn.  Woodpeckers are known for their temerity. A sign? And, p.s., in a 5-plus expression?

Later in the morning, a squirrel flew from the Blue Spruce tree to the terrace outside the den. He (she?) hopped from planter to planter, pausing in each one to gaze, dare I say stare, at me. Even my Carolina dog, slung across a club chair to better see out the window, could not growl or bark him away.   Alighting on the last planter, the squirrel flicked his tail and, I swear to God, fixed a “let’s roll” expression on his face and launched himself at the window. Squirrels are light, swift, and agile. And clearly, determined. A sign?

So far today, the third sign has not availed itself. Maybe the moon (or a nightingale, wouldn’t that be nice?) will wake me with a message. Perhaps an owl will hoot a bon mot of wisdom from the top of the tree. Nature has an uncanny way of whispering to us if we are open to listening.  

Please enjoy this simple and satisfying Chicken with Rice and Chickpeas. It’s a one-pot meal that expresses itself honestly and deliciously. Why tackle the complex when you can cook the comforting?



Every culture has a version of chicken with rice, led, I think, by the Spaniards. They, after all, govern the realm of paella. This dish is inspired by that savory history. In Spain, you would not likely come upon chickpeas in this dish while in Italy, you may. I like the nutty flavor and crunch they add. 

Serves 4 to 6 

4 bone-in chicken thighs
4 bone-in drumsticks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
one 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup long-grain rice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally until well browned, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. Remove. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan.

Reduce the heat to moderately low. Add the pancetta and onion to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and becomes translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, smoked paprika, chickpeas, a generous dash each of salt and pepper, and broth, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the rice and arrange the chicken in an even layer. Cook, partially covered, over medium-low heat until the rice is tender and the chicken is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.