Ciao'd while watching the robins


High, low. Up, down. Black, white. And for the purpose of this post, left coast (rain), east coast (snow). 

We seem to be living in a world of opposites lately. Points of view about politics, immigration, the stock market, and global warming are, more often than not, polarizing (pun intended). But when it comes to the weather, Mother Nature rules. 

While yet another snowstorm (say it ain't snow) is poised to blanket the east, in my neck of the woods we are celebrating spring. Literally. Those April showers that bring May flowers are about to deluge us, thanks to the pineapple express, a wash of warm rain that originates in the tropics. 

This weekend will be a beat down weatherwise but I proffer a sunny outlook in the kitchen. This salad showcases spinach, a green that deliciously straddles winter and spring. It's a "meaty" green with a toothsome texture and forward flavor. That's why it pairs so well with smoky, salty pancetta. Pine nuts offer a creamy crunch. 

The salad is a lovely side dish for 'most anything, cold weather or warm weather.  I savor it on its own, too, with crunchy, country bread - and a double dose of pancetta.

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This salad takes the Italian route with the addition of pancetta, pine nuts, and balsamic vinegar.

Serves 6

3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 pound pancetta, cut into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 cups spinach leaves

Preheat to the oven to 350 degrees. 

Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast until lightly browned,
3 to 5 minutes. Watch them carefully, as they will burn in an instant!

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta until crisp; drain on paper towels. 

In a large salad bowl, whisk together the vinegars and salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil in a steady stream. Taste for seasoning. Add the spinach and toss to coat with the dressing. 

Divide among 6 plates, sprinkle with the pancetta and pine nuts and serve immediately.

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Ciao'd in front of a crackling fire (the secret's in the oak).

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After a false spring warm snap that enticed daffodils, plum trees, and sneeze-inducing Acacia to bloom, we've been booted back to winter. This is the meteorologic equivalent to the cute, debonair guy you meet in a college bar who drinks bourbon instead of (or with) beer and makes you feel oh-so-pretty, witty and wise,  and then goes home with the spray-tanned girl in the crop top. You know it's not going to end well. And it didn't.

Today it's chilly, gray and rainy. Spring will come again. Until then, why not warm up with a bowl of soup?  And why not give the nod to cauliflower? It's having a moment. Take a stroll through your local market and you'll see the knobby, ivory veg transformed into "rice" (do this at home by pulsing the florets in a food processor until they resemble, well, rice), pizza crust and other variations on familiar foods. Ka

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Italian Herbs is at once rich and healthy. (Thank you, soup angels, it's possible to enjoy both in one bowl.) Roasting cauliflower elicits its earthy flavor and locks in its gentle sweetness. A bit of char imparts a hint of smoke. The Italian herbs complete the flavor dance card. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand but I am partial to the rosemary-basil-oregano triumvirate. I tossed fresh rosemary sprigs and a few garlic cloves with the cauliflower for roasting and then included dried basil and oregano in the soup. Serve the soup with a green salad and crusty bread and you've got a simple, sensational meal just right for a rainy (or snowy) night. 

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Rich in flavor yet low in fat, this soup is just the thing for a rainy or snowy night. In fact, it's just right for any night. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread and you're good to go. Substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

Serves 4

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large leek, white and light green parts, quartered and sliced
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
5 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped parsley or chives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss the cauliflower with the garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread the cauliflower onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast until it is golden brown and tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan over medium heat and cook the leek until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and oregano and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about1 minute. Add the broth to the leek mixture and bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook 20 minutes.

Puree the soup until smooth and creamy. You may need to do this in batches. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the Parmesan. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Ladle into individual bowls and top with the chopped parsley or chives.

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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 with a tomato sandwich on squishy white bread

September has always been my touchstone for what's to come, what I hope will come, during the next year. Some people start the journey with New Year's resolutions, others with a budget for the new fiscal year.

The onset of the school year signaled the potential for reinvention, growth, and conquering what would be new and different. It was exciting. I loved the first day, the smell of chalk in the schoolroom and disinfectant in the halls, the likes of which would become increasingly mellowed as the school year ebbed and the musk of bodies skulking the halls, wet mittens, pencil shavings and molding lockers burgeoned. I loved, loved, loved college where I found myself and had a hell of a lot of fun. I don't care what people say; those years are the best years.

Later, photos of my son (names have been omitted to protect the not-so-innocent) on his first day of school ticked the passing years. They chronicle nursery school and the take-off to grammar school when I had the power to dress him as I pleased, his long blonde curls brushing the collar of his polo shirt. The brand of sneakers I preferred embraced his little feet. Except for a momentary pivot to brightly-colored soccer jerseys emblazoned with European team logos, Real Madrid and Manchester United among his favorites, he opted for khaki shorts, surf t-shirts (white) and Vans, a preference he wears to this day. As my son got older, I had to wrangle him for a first-day photo. These last few years he has downright refused me so I mentally snap the photos and file them in my memory.

This year, my son will be a senior. Five feet-eight inches tall, lanky and lean. He insists on wearing white Vans. They assume a boggy hue when he kicks ashes at beach bonfires, toes his skateboard, hikes to his posse's secret lair on Mt. Tam (I can only imagine the shenanigans), and skin boards on sports fields in the rain. He stands for God knows how long at the mirror finessing his hair and the John F. Kennedy waves therein. I am inordinately proud of this. JFK rocked the hair.

As each year passes, especially in high school, my son morphs more distinctly into a dimensional human being. His sense of humor sends me into hiccupping laughter, sometimes accompanied by tears. He has a knack for casting this spell on me even when I am cross with him. I suppose this will help diffuse marital spats later in life. His athleticism has blossomed and I am mesmerized by his litheness and acumen on the lacrosse field. I love his friends, their kinetic energy inciting a cyclone in my house fueled by silliness, vigorous opinions about sports, music, politics and girls, ravenous appetites, and sometimes, requests for my opinion. I try to be cool in the not-so-cool way of parents but I can never reach the high coolness of teenagers. Notes to those embarking on this wild ride: Do NOT comment on their music unless you write/perform/produce it. Stay AWAY from admitting that you smoke pot/weed/marijuana until they catch you in the act. They will. 

This year flags the race (and it is surely a race as time will fly at the speed of light) to next September when my son leaves for college and the commencement of life on his own. It will be a stressful year as he fills out college applications and anticipates acceptances and endures rejections. It will be an exhilarating year, too. As each month passes, he will experience a sense of freedom (and a day or five of playing hooky). Graduation will be a moment of happiness and relief for him. It will be a day of pride, tears, and an impending sense of loss for me.

I read a draft of his college essay the other day. The values my husband and I strived to instill in him yet didn't know he harbored so deeply floated to the fore. "So I have to ask: is making tons of money all there is to life? Can we have a good life without loving what we do for a living? Can a person have both a job he loves and make enough money to live a good life at the same time? Can we be true to our authentic selves?" and "I think there's a morality to not taking the same path as everyone else and instead, really searching to find the thing I love doing. I believe you can learn more from experiences and connecting with others; you can benefit from learning what goes on around you as much as from what happens in the pages of a book."

Clearly, I am not as evolved as my 17-year-old. I ask myself the same questions to this day. If my son is aware enough to pose these questions now, I am confident he will remain open to the wisdom of the universe and find his true purpose. If at some point he can answer this question posed by David Brooks, "Am I living for my resume or my eulogy?" and choose the latter option, I will know that he is on track for a happy, satisfying life. If we parents were to shelve the bright and shiny yet evanescent lure of 4.0+ grades, D1 sports commitments, Ivy League (and UC for that matter) acceptances and full rides to college (though that would be nice), isn't this the triumph, the masterpiece, the grand slam, the BLESSING that we all want for our kids?



The end of summer may be bitter but the tomatoes are still sweet. Were you to enjoy this light and refreshing summer salad in Puglia, it would include chunks of friselle, a round, very hard bread made from semolina flour. The friselle is soaked in water and then added to the tomatoes, a humble version of Tuscany’s panzanella. It’s difficult to find friselle stateside. Substitute stale, hard country bread for it. There are many versions of cialledda. This is the version I enjoyed with my father.

Find it here.


Ciao'd with a glass of iced elderflower tea.

Juicy, fresh, and full of flavor, tuna-stuffed tomatoes make a lovely first course for a summer dinner or a light lunch anytime. This recipe, based loosely on one by Marcella Hazan, combines albacore tuna with briny capers, salty black Kalamata olives, and a spike of spicy mustard in a sun-ripened whole tomato. 

Serves 6

6 large, ripe, round tomatoes
3 cans (5 ounces) tuna, packed in olive oil
1/3 cup homemade or best-quality prepared mayonnaise (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons spicy mustard such as Dijon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped black olives such as Kalamata
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper

Slice off the tops of the tomatoes. Scoop out pulp and seeds, leaving a 1/2-inch shell. Salt lightly and invert the tomatoes on a platter so their liquid drains. 

Drain the tuna, allowing a tablespoon or two of the oil to remain with it. In a medium bowl, mash the tuna. Mix in the mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. Add the capers, olives, and parsley and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Fill the tomatoes with the tuna mixture, mounding it at the top. Garnish with parsley leaves. Serve at room temperature or just slightly chilled. Based on a recipe from The Classic Italian Cookbook, Marcella Hazan, Ballantine Books, 1973.


Ciao'd after (organically) spraying my greens garden because somebody (pointing to you, squirrel) is enjoying the kale and chard a bit too much. 

Gorgonzola and walnuts play beautifully in this classic salad that pairs deliciously with a main course of beef. The salad also serves admirably as a light lunch. In either case, don't forgot the crusty bread. Marcella Hazan's touch manifests itself in the perfectly balanced vinaigrette that dresses the salad. 

Serves 6 to 8

1  to 2 heads butter lettuce, about 1 pound
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnut
2 tablespoons whole fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, shallot, salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Add half the Gorgonzola, and mash it well with a fork. 

Add half the walnuts, all the lettuce, and toss thoroughly. Taste and correct the seasoning. 

Transfer to a bowl. Top with the remaining half of the Gorgonzola, cut into small pieces, and the rest of the chopped walnuts. Garnish with the parsley.  Recipe adapted from More Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan, Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

*Because the Gorgonzola adds a robust richness, you would do well to use a grassy, green olive oil. I am partial to Lucero Taggiasca olive oil.  It's bold but green (think a bit of spice with artichoke aroma) so it can hold its own with the cheese. Note: this special olive oil does not have broad distribution so chances are you will need to order it online. It's worth the effort for its taste and affordability.