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 the fire.


When it's rainy or snowy, gloomy and cold, I say let's throw New Year resolutions to the wind. Once you try a warm cheese toast, I think you'll agree. My grandmother made them for my sisters and me and we would devour them with teeny tiny glasses of red wine mixed with Sprite. This precursor to the ubiquitous avocado toast is honest and simple and, yeah, simply delish. 

Whether employed as an hors d'oeuvre at a cocktail party, an accompaniment to soup or salad, a protein-rich breakfast, or an afternoon snack, a warm cheese toast earns its keep. As that potato chip commercial says, "Bet you can't eat just one." After all, when we're old and gray, what will we remember? Our New Year diet resolutions or the small (edible) treasures in life. I think you know the answer.

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Old-fashioned yet somehow still appropriate, cheese toasts are timeless in their appeal. I like the trio of cheeses I call for in this recipe but feel free to adapt if you wish. Gruyere would be a nice substitute for the Fontina (they're both nutty) and Roquefort makes a nice understudy for the Gorgonzola. 

Serves 6

1 sweet baguette, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Fontina cheese
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese such as Gorgonzola

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the bread slices on one side with the olive oil and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake, turning once, until just beginning to become golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the oven and turn the bread slices so the olive oil side is face up.

Combine the cheese in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bread slices with the cheese, dividing it evenly among the slices. Return to the oven and continue to bake just until the cheese melts, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Ciao'd while watching finches at the feeders.


After the excess, the abstinence. Whether you're enduring dry January, swearing off sweets, or embracing Paleo, this is the month that's buttressed by food resolutions (yes, I used BUTTress intentionally). Thankfully, resolving to eat healthfully doesn't mean jettisoning flavor. To wit, this winter salad with Gorgonzola and pears. Its crisp textures and full flavors are at once satisfying and refreshing. Yes, I know the salad includes cheese. Leave it out if you must but you'll miss the lovely creaminess that counterbalances the crunch of the other ingredients. Since you're eating so healthfully EVERY SINGLE DAY, a little bit of Gorgonzola won't harm you. 

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This robust salad is terrific with roast meats and poultry. Store the walnut oil in the refrigerator after it's opened. 

Serves 8 as a side dish

1/2 cup walnuts
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup walnut oil
1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
Leaves from 2 small heads romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces (about 8 cups)
3 ripe but firm small pears, such as Red Crimson or Bosc, halved, cored and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast until the nuts are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool and then coarsely chop the nuts. 

In the bottom of a large salad bowl, stir the red wine vinegar, mustard, a generous dash of salt, and a sprinkle of pepper together. Gradually whisk in the olive oil and taste for seasoning, adjusting as necessary. Add the cheese and stir to combine. 

Add the lettuce, pears, and red onion to the bowl. Toss gently to coat the salad with the dressing. Sprinkle with the nuts and serve.

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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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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 blueberry muffin and a glass of rosé

After a few weeks back East, I returned home to find a mint melee in the garden. The Greek oregano, while abundant, was no match for the madding crowd of mint. The chives popped above it, their purple flowers bobbing like surrender flags.

What to do? I can make mint pesto for grilled lamb, add the herb to salads and smoothies, create pretty ice cubes, or stir it into ricotta as a topping for crostini with peaches and prosciutto. 

No doubt I will get around to all of these options; however, a trip to the farmers market sparked another idea.  Wouldn’t sweet, crunchy yellow corn and fat, juicy cherry tomatoes make the perfect canvas for a pretty and toothsome salad whose flavor would be lifted by the refreshing mint and perhaps, a salty snap of ricotta salata?  

Proving that there are few new ideas in the cooking world, wouldn’t you know that the great Mark Bittman had already created a recipe for this salad? Prior to seeing MB’s recipe, my musings about the salad popped cherry tomatoes into the mix rather than the medium ones MB suggested and opted for ricotta salata rather than feta.

Mark Bittman’s Corn Salad with Tomatoes, Feta and Mint is super delicious not to mention beautiful in a bright summer kind of way. Your mission to success is finding sweet, ripe corn and juicy, red tomatoes. If you need mint, come on over to my garden and help yourself. I’m afraid I’ll wake up one morning and it will be creeping through my kitchen windows.

Here’s Mark Bittman’s recipe for Corn Salad with Tomatoes, Feta and Mint. Enjoy!