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 glass of fino sherry.

My dogs, Kai, origin Newfoundland, Tiki, a German, and Koa, whose breed (Carolina Dog) traversed over the land bridge from Asia to become the first domesticated dogs in America. Photo credit: Alexandra Sasha de Jesus.

My dogs, Kai, origin Newfoundland, Tiki, a German, and Koa, whose breed (Carolina Dog) traversed over the land bridge from Asia to become the first domesticated dogs in America. Photo credit: Alexandra Sasha de Jesus.

The first time I saw a black person I was in kindergarten. Chucky Newell entered the classroom wearing a bright yellow Charlie Brown shirt, the one with the bold black zig- zag skirting the bottom seam. I was assigned to be his buddy.

We sat upon our sit-upons, cloth mats we “stitched” with seaming tape and fabric glue. I was tan from a summer at the Cape. “Where did you go this summer?” I asked Chucky. “I played at the park,” he replied. “But how did you get so tan if you weren’t at the beach?” “I’m not tan dumb head, I’m an Afro-American.”

I was aware of Martin Luther King, Jr. (he preferred Negro to Afro-American), Arthur Ashe and Diahann Carroll, who starred in one of my favorite TV shows, Julia. Julia was a nurse who had a little boy about kindergarten age. I knew Afro-Americans, just not in real-life.

Chucky and I shared a love for books. During the course of the year, we “read” picture books, knowing the stories so well we could recite them by heart. Policeman Small, Pretzel, The Snowy Day, The Little Farm, Blueberries for Sal and more Golden Books than I can list here. 

We pledged allegiance to the flag (“with liberty and justice for all”), drank milk from little wax-lined containers, played Red Rover on the playground, sang Bingo, This Old Man and Frere Jacques (in the round!) while Mrs. Banks accompanied us on the upright piano in the corner of the room.  

We were silly, curious and sometimes naughty (I talked to much; Chucky fidgeted). Our desires were simple. We wanted to play, have friends, be heard and be loved.  We were like every other kid in the classroom and for that matter, the world. Different colored shell on the outside perhaps but the same yolk on the inside.

It's a verity that begs the question: who would teach their kids to hate? What parent would build a soapbox of entitlement for his or her child? Why would anybody sit around a dinner table and spout heinous opinions about people who look different/speak another language/pray in a temple rather than beneath a steeple? I’m guessing the parents’ parents did the same. This is neither nurture nor nature. As my grandmother used to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – whether it’s rotten or pure.

Can we be honest with each other? Is there a teeny, weeny part of you way down deep that dismisses another? I’ll admit to it. I malign the group who comprises the largest segment of the student body in the University of California system. I also know that this reproach stems from envy that my kid, while academically successful, did not put academics at the top of his priority list and the culture of our family did not either. So my son did not earn the GPA that would grant him entry to a UC school and my husband and I did not attain the pure, unadulterated wonderfulness of UC tuition.

While I am not pretending to make light of prejudice (it’s revolting), here’s one that is so comical it defines the stupidity and ignorance of bias. Prius owners cannot drive. They cut me off, drive slowly in the fast lane, and tail gate. There are approximately 4 million Prii (yes, that is the plural of Prius) on the road. See, I told you. Proof of a generalization that is so ridiculous it’s ludicrous. Mea culpa to the land of the Prii.

And let me say this, too. What goes around comes around. How many times in corporate reviews have I heard the words, "You're emotional but of course, you are a creative." "Executive leadership demands gravitas. You might want to modulate your passion." "She's Italian. What do you expect?" Don't even get me started on the pin pricks of discrmination based on my sex which trumped (Oh, God, did I really use that word?) my intelligence, talent, and experience. Bias stings. It makes us question our worth and our purpose. It makes me sad. 

Chucky moved away in third grade. Here and there as life has passed, I’ve wondered what became of him. A few years ago, a childhood friend told me that Chucky lives in Florida. He’s an elementary school principal. If the child is the father of the man, his charges are fortunate. I’m sure he is as fair and fun as he was when were friends too many years ago.

America is the melting pot, people. Everybody knows that a pot of something tastes better when the ingredients meld harmoniously. Choose your recipe. Celebrate the deliciousness of diversity.

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Fresh sweet corn and briny wild shrimp play perfectly in this chowder. It makes a lovely simple supper dinner or lunch. Add an arugula salad and crusty bread and you're good to go!

Serves 4

2 ounces diced pancetta (about 1/4 cup)
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, diced
3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
3 cups diced red potatoes
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveiend
Smoked paprika, for sprinkling

In a medium Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta until it just crispy. Add the celery, onion, corn, potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring to combine the ingredients, 3 minutes. Add the flour and stir to incorporate into the mixture. Add the milk, cover the pot and bring to a soft boil. Uncover, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 8 to minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. 

Stir in the shrimp and cook until opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with the paprika. 

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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 with a black Labrador retriever at my feet. 

Some mothers cook with love, others out of a sense of duty, and still others cook with a shot of both. My mother harbored on the latter shoal. I'm not sure if she simply did not like cooking or because she was busy with a full-time job and four kids, she couldn't or wouldn't prioritize the task. I get it. What mother who also works (and p.s. my mom was getting her masters degree, too) can do it all without the help of a large staff?  We didn't have a large staff. 

Before my mother married my dad, my Italian aunts summoned her to their kitchens. Her mission: hover over their shoulders and learn to cook the dishes my father favored. To what end? They wouldn't bestow their blessings upon the marriage?  She was a good soldier, though. The dishes she learned became bastions of my childhood. Among the highlights, ziti pasta with broccoli and garlic (before the dish claimed a regular spot on restaurant menus). Fritelle, Pugliese for frisbees of fried dough, slicked with pungent goat cheese and tomato sauce and flurried with Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Eggs with peppers and tomatoes served with crusty bread that ferried the mixture to our mouths. 

Today I had a text conversation with my three sisters wherein we cast our votes for our favorite foods from our childhoods. Suffice to say the eggs with peppers and tomatoes, a dish composed of fried green peppers, garlic, tomato sauce, and lightly scrambled eggs, was not a crowd favorite. Not so fast. It was a win for me.  I loved the flavor, the divergent textures, and even though it's not a pretty dish, the colors resonated with their brightness. Scrambled eggs with peppers and tomato is one dish I'm glad my mother taught me how to cook. It's a go-to when I'm tired or desire a comforting bite of nostalgia. 

My mother mastered the aunts' dishes and I learned how to cook them, too, but there are three foods she taught me not to cook. Let's start with pot roast. New Englanders (I am one of them) like to gussy up this dish by anointing it Yankee Pot Roast. My childhood pot roast was a calamity of sallow, stringy boiled beef that borrowed its flavor from soft vegetables, the carrots leading the pack with their cloying sweetness and baby food texture. Gag worthy. 'Nuf said.

Next up: pork chops with applesauce. I know, I know. Cue the Brady Bunch theme. Pork chops pose a challenge for many cooks because they can cook quickly into a scourge of dry chew. The applesauce was the bigger culprit, though. My mom spiked the Mott's with cinnamon and lemon. Kudos to her for (unconsciously) lifting the sweetness with the acid. Still, I was not, and I am not a fan of fruit with pork. 

And coming in third, the slime parading as tapioca. (My throat constricted as I wrote those words.) I've heard this horror of a food depicted as frogspawn. Wish I had coined that one because it is so spot on in so many ways. So, yeah, enjoy your frogspawn, oh I mean, Bubble Tea.  

It may be a coincidence that the foods my mom cooked with mastery were Italian but I don't think so. She learned how to cook them out of love for my dad. These were the dishes that reverberated with flavor, color, and, cheesy as it sounds, love. These are the dishes I cook to this day and every time I do, I think of my mom and dad. And I cook the dishes with love, too. 

My husband and son appreciate my cooking. My son has a particularly sharp palate that (he believes) gives him permission to comment on my cooking to the Nth degree. "Mom, maybe a bit more oregano and a tad less salt to highlight the herbal depth." "The pork chop is perfectly cooked in the center but then drops off to dryness too soon." "This needs more acid." "This needs more salt." On and on it goes in our personal episodes of Chopped. Food Network, you vex me, and at the same time, I am grateful that my son and I have this delicious bond. I am especially thankful that food connects us even during the dour teenage years.  p.s. he can cook, too. 

So here's to you, mom, for walking the kitchen line even when you were dreading it after a long day at work. Here's to you cooking eggs with peppers and tomatoes (and remembering to buy lots of bread) when you'd rather relax with a good book. And here's to the moms who get dinner on the table every night even when they order pizza or bring home Mexican.  I feel you. Let's take a collective mom breath. Food, regardless of its provenance, connects a family, especially when its enjoyed together. Believe me, our kids remember the table talk. 



This classic Pugliese dish serves deliciously as an appetizer, lunch, or breakfast. My mom made it for a light Sunday dinner after a robust Italian lunch. Use the very best extra virgin olive oil you can find as it adds a lovely dimension to this simple dish. And don't forget the crusty country bread! 

Serves 4

3 large green bell peppers
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups tomato sauce
5 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Trim and slice the peppers lengthwise into 1-inch strips. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the peppers and saute until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the tomato sauce to the skillet, stir to combine and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.

Add the eggs and gently stir to scramble them into the mixture. Add the parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for a minute or two, stirring, and add the grated Parmesan cheese. 

Serve with crusty bread.