Ciao'd watching Frankie and Grace (finally)


I heard a wonderful term the other day: the hundred days of May. God, it's so true. From the beginning of May until mid-June, when school lets out, it is literally a race to the finish. Teacher appreciation day. Step up day. Sports semis and finals. Banquets of every color - honor society, varsity athlete, you name it, these are just the ones I am attending. And then the finish line. Pre-school to elementary school. Elementary school to middle school. Mid to high school. And then (insert sob here) high school commencement. It sounds like a ramble but every mother knows it is a wink. 

The days go by fast and the moments even more so. My son's school sent a message the other day asking parents to collect photos and make a collage for display at the sober (hah!) grad night. I am trying really hard not to embarrass him but I am partial to certain memories. My son in his high chair, age one, with cupcake frosting on his face. Our black lab chasing him bare butt-naked poolside (if Coppertone can do it, why can't I?). The first lacrosse game when he, like his fellow second graders, were mere bobbleheads (small boys, big helmets). A sneak pic when he, in his teenage lankiness, was languidly asleep in his bed (mouth open) during our college tour. 

I am a human pin cushion. Each day during these hundred days of May a pin pricks my heart. How to slow down time? I wish I had an app for that. But we can't manipulate nature, regardless of our net worth or influence. That's why I decided to make a stew today. From chopping the ingredients to browning the meat to simmering the stew, this is not a get-food-quick endeavor. It is, however, a satisfying one. And isn't that what we wish from all our days?

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Soffritto is the holy trinity of Italian cooking. Translated, it means "fried slowly." Soffritto is the undercurrent of flavor in so many Italian dishes. Onions, celery, and carrots are the underlying flavors but, like Italians, soffritto loves variations. In this recipe, the soffritto is composed of onion, celery, parsley, rosemary, and garlic. It adds a jolt of freshness to the rich lamb.

Serves 6

3 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks + leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dry white wine
3 1/2 cups beef stock
one 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
12 baby potatoes, cut in half
1/4 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas

In a large bowl, sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper. Toss the lamb in the flour until evenly coated. 

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or other deep pan. Add the lamb to the pan and brown on all sides. Do this in batches so as not to crowd the meat. If the pan becomes dry, add a bit more oil. Transfer the lamb to a plate. 

Add the onion, celery, parsley, and rosemary to the pan and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes more. 

Increase the heat to high. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, stirring to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Return the lamb to the pan. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and beef stock. Cover partially and simmer until the lamb is tender, about 1 hour.

Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Add the green beans simmer until the  tender, another 5 to 10 minutes. Toss in the peas and cook until thawed, about 5 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and serve. Crusty bread makes the perfect accompaniment.

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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 after eating rice pudding - no raisins! 


When my husband and I were startled out of our sleep by the ruddy smell of fire, we thought our home was on fire. No. And then we thought a house in the neighborhood was afire. No again. Instead, there were thousands of homes and vineyards burning 40 miles north of us in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

We didn’t realize the terror until the next morning, which I shouldn’t term “morning” at all. The sky had disappeared. The light was little more than a smudge. The sun rested against a pillow of grey. Powdery ash punctuated the air. Shards of black, the afterlife of trees and, bless them, people’s homes, wallowed at the bottom of our pool and on the wide white arms of our Adirondack chairs. I gazed through my kitchen window at a surreal, sorrowful and dreamlike landscape. Any color I could discern lurked only in the sepia tinge of the air. The green leaves had dissolved into the brown branches. Sparrows and squirrels went about their business in grey camouflage. Even the red hummingbird feeders had assumed a plum hue.

Smoky air is different than fog, a familiar visitor to those of us who live near
San Francisco. Smoky air doesn’t come on little cat feet like fog (thank you, Carl Sandburg). It infiltrates and then it hangs. Smoke doesn’t wear fog’s mantle of misty and cool. It’s heavy and smothering. And unlike fog, which can highlight the colors it surrounds, smoky air mutes everything into a single muddy gradient.  

 Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi began spinning in my head and would not let go.

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

When the air cleared, my mind did, too. My eyes opened wider. The sky flaunts all manner of blue depending upon where your gaze alights. Cerulean, cornflower, steel, Duke, Yale and UCLA blue. Far from one note, the sparrows flock in a fluttering mix of grey, white, black, and brown. The squirrel flourishes red highlights in its fur. The Adirondack chairs are whiter than white. They glow with their whiteness. There is so much green. The lime green of the lime trees. The yellow-green in the bamboo. The Japanese maples strutting autumnal dappled greens.  The grass outside the kitchen is bright, the sage in the garden is silver-green. I could go on and on with this green thing.

I know, I know. It’s not lost on me that the “green thing” signifies life, renewal and nature. It's a promise and I believe that promise will be kept. Soon green will return to the fire-ravaged areas to the north. It will manifest itself in new beginnings of the structural and soulful kind.  

During times like this, manifested in wildfires, hurricanes, and the playpen aka the White House, sorrow and helplessness can permeate our days like smoky air. We all have different means of dealing with the unfathomable. My friend, Tori Ritchie, wrote a heartfelt and heart wrenching post on her blog, Tuesday Recipe, today. And then she shared a recipe “that might make you feel better.” It’s a recipe for Farro, Squash & Kale with Currants. I could not have shared a more spot on recipe myself so I’m spinning the spotlight to Tori. And I’m making that Farro goodness tonight. #grateful #lifeisshort #letseattogether

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