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 can of Yerba Mate.


Do you remember the children's rhyme about weather? It goes something like this: "January snowy, February flowy, March blowy, April showr'y, May flowr'y," etc.  How prescient, even for a poem written in the 19th century when "global warming" wasn't part of the conversation.  

Easter and Passover are snowy, flowy and blowy this year, yet they bring a message of hope and celebration for the fresh start that is spring. Proof positive that there is a tender shoot even in the coldest ground, March shepherds in daffodils, robins, and spring lamb.

Across the globe, lamb is the most popular Easter symbol. Back in the day, the lamb was considered a lucky omen, especially at Easter time. I won't go into the religious symbolism other than to say the lamb is a symbol of peace. For centuries, the pope's Easter dinner has featured a whole roast lamb. And so, here we are with a recipe for lamb. 

Roasting a whole lamb is a bit cumbersome, even if you can find one. My recipe showcases tender, juicy loin lamb chops. They're quick to grill (or broil) and present beautifully on the plate. A flurry of herbs and a healthy spritz of lemon complement the earthy richness of the lamb. Serve the chops with other spring yums such as tender asparagus followed by sweet strawberries.

Some say January is the month for resolving to do something new. I say it's spring. Why else would a season be synonymous with leaping, launching, and jumping off? Happy landing! 

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Tender lamb chops are quick to cook yet elegant enough for a dinner party. Feel free to substitute other herbs such as thyme or mint for the rosemary and oregano.

Serves 4

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried
8 bone-in lamb loin chops, each about 6 oz. and 1-inch thick
Kosher salt and black pepper

In a shallow bowl or baking dish, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs. Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper and add to the dish, turning to coat with the marinade. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

Remove the lamb chops from the marinade (discard the marinade). Grill over high heat or broil for 5 minutes. Turn the chops and grill another 5 minutes for medium-rare, or until done to your liking.

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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 while watching the National Spelling Bee. It's all the buzz. 

It's the grilling season. For many, this momentous shift in the calendar means that the man of the house will submit himself to the task that we women carry all year. Carry is the operative word here. We carry the task in the kitchen, he carries the torch at the grill. Fire allusions aside, this hand-off means that said man can drop his winter coat and adorn himself with the mantle of caveman, instead. Whatever.           I'm pretty sure cavewomen were manning the fire, too. And I know for sure that globally, women (wo)man the grills. But we're 'mercans and in the blessed US of A, women cook and men grill. So, why not humor him so we can out-source the main course? 

I do not belong to the church of women in the kitchen while men be beer drinkin' but I do believe that imprinting plays a part in the man-at-the-grill thing. Everything harks back to our childhoods, doesn't it? Who did the grilling at your house, I ask? 

The primal appeal of fire and tools (fork, spatula, tongs) attracts men (with beers). Think about it. Have you ever attended a social gathering, grill or not, where men actually interact with women? As women, we're perfectly happy to nibble on brie and sip chardonnay in the kitchen while talking about our latest diets ("But I'm treating myself tonight") and bragging (passively. not.) about our kids ("He's the top lacrosse scorer/math maven/artist"), but the guys? They need entertainment. When it's not big-screen TV football, it's the grill. 

A few years ago, Kingsford Charcoal ran a commercial during which a husband comes upon his wife pouring charcoal into the barbecue. "What do you think you're doing? What would happen if I walked into the kitchen and started making a salad?" he asks. "Yeah, that would be weird," she answers.

So, let 'em have at it. The men can man the grill but we mandate (I know, all these "mans") the food that adorns it. How about something like these Greek-Style Mess 'O Greens Lamb Burgers. The burgers are infused with mint and garlic and then topped with a riff on the classic Greek salad. The salad, a party of arugula, cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, red onion, and gorgonzola, brings zing and crunch to the burgers. Serve the burgers on crusty rolls. Then stand back and let the caveman take the bow. Cuz, yeah, we're humble.  



I love this Mediterranean take on the customary beef burger. Lamb takes center stage with a lively complement of herbs - mint, oregano, parsley - and a healthy dash of garlic. Top it off with a riff on the classic Greek salad - arugula, cukes, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and here comes the Italian component - Gorgonzola! - and yeah, perfection. 

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing burgers and buns
4 hamburger or ciabatta buns, split
1 1/2 cups arugula leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 Persian cucumber, cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

In a medium bowl, gently mix the lamb, mint, chives, oregano, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Shape into four 1/2-inch thick patties. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each patty (this will help the burgers stay flat while cooking rather than swelling into a ball shape). Brush with olive oil.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet begins to smoke, grill the burgers, turning once, until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Alternatively, prepare a charcoal grill or gas grill for direct grilling over high heat and grill the burgers.

Meanwhile, preheat a broiler. Brush the insides of the buns with olive oil and broil, cut side up, until golden, about 2 minutes. Place a burger on the bottom of each roll. In a medium bowl, toss the arugula, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, onion, cucumber, and vinegar with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Gently stir in the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad on top of each burger. Cover with the bun tops and serve.


Ciao'd with a cup of Cup o' Soup. 

An Italian Pasqua (Easter) is not complete without lamb. The tradition harks back centuries. A Christian culture with deep Catholic roots, Italians revere the  "lamb of God," as a symbol of Jesus, innocence, and sacrifice. On a more prosaic level, harking back to Italy's agrarian history, lambs are born in the spring and baby lamb (abbacchio) is a treasured accompaniment to the Easter festivities. 

My recipe features rack of lamb. Because it's so easy to prepare and lends itself readily to an impressive presentation, I serve rack of lamb frequently, varying the flavors of the crust with the seasons. Here, I've created a fragrant Moroccan rendition of the traditional Italian gremolata, which is a mixture of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. I've substituted mint for the parsley and added orange zest and cumin to the mixture. It's a sprightly dish for a spring celebration.



Have your butcher trim off, or french, the thin strip of meat and fat between each chop.  I served the lamb with couscous blended with orange zest, chopped green onions and a dash of chili oil. Orzo with parsley and butter and/or asparagus would make a great side dish, too. 

Serves 6

3/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated orange zest
1 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 racks of lamb (8 chops each), cut in half

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

In a small bowl, combine the mint, garlic, citrus zests, cumin, salt and pepper, to taste. Score (make small cuts) the fat sides of the lamb. Pat the mint mixture over the racks to form a crust. 

Place the racks on a baking sheet, crust side up, and roast until an instant-read thermometer registers 130 to 135 degrees for medium-rare, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before carving.

To serve, slice the lamb between the ribs and serve 3 to 4 chops per person. 


Ciao'd with a vase of yellow tulips keeping me company.

This recipe is the epitome of cucina povera or peasant cooking. It's home-based food that's not influenced by chefs or trends. Cucina povera is grounded in basic ingredients, historically gathered and grown on one's farm. Made with the freshest ingredients, whether truly fresh or preserved, the food manifests integrity and sings with flavor. In my recipe, I call for dried beans which would be used in traditional kitchens. If you're pressed for time, substitute 3 cups canned beans. 

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup dried cannellini beans*
Several sprigs each parsley, thyme, oregano
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh spinach, stemmed (about 8 cups), rinsed
1 pound boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 pound eggplant, trimmed, cut into ½-inch wedges
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup beef broth
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and drain the beans, picking them over to remove any debris. Transfer the beans to a medium saucepan, add cold water to cover the beans by 1 inch or so, cover the pot, bring to a boil, and then remove from the heat. Let rest 1 hour. Set the pan over medium heat. Add the herb sprigs, bay leaf, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Bring to a boil then uncover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender, 1-1 ½ hours total. Test for doneness after 1 hour, adding more water as necessary to keep the beans submerged. Drain the beans and remove the herbs.

In a large deep skillet over medium heat, combine the spinach along with any water clinging to its leaves and a generous dash of salt. Cook until the spinach just begins to wilt, about 3 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a paper towel-lined plate. When the spinach is cool, wrap it in the paper towel and squeeze to remove as much water as you can. Coarsely chop.

Wipe the skillet dry and heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the lamb and garlic and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning, until the lamb is browned but still pink inside, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a plate and loosely cover to keep warm.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is browned and tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is browned and tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Return the lamb and accumulated juices to the pan. Stir in the beans, spinach, oregano, and beef broth, and cook until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.

*For a quicker version of this recipe, substitute 3 cups canned cannellini beans and skip the dried beans cooking method and ingredients therein.