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 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 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 over ticking another Oscar-nominated movie off my list. 

It’s raining or snowing somewhere. Roasted Tomato Soup with Rice, accompanied by Parmesan Parsley Toast, is just the ticket for keeping you warm and your stomach happy. Canned fire-roasted tomatoes make the soup quick and easy.

You’ll spend most of your time (and not a lot) making the soffritto. Soffritto is the Italian version of the French mirepoix. Both are a combination of aromatics such as celery, carrot, and onion that form the flavor foundation for the soup. The vegetables in the soffritto should be finely chopped so they cook, or should I say, almost melt into the oil.  Begin with a cold pan and an ample amount of olive oil. Add the vegetables, turn the heat to medium, and cook slowly. It’s perfectly fine to add complementary flavors to the soffritto such as garlic and herbs.  A splash of white wine never hurt either.

One of my favorite and most accomplished Italian cooks, Emiko Davies, has a great piece about soffritto on her blog. It’s informative and fascinating. Check it out here.

One more thing about making deeply flavored, satisfying soup: the pot you cook it in counts. I am partial to enameled cast iron for its ability to hold the gentle heat that facilitates a meltingly rich soffritto and a soft simmer. Plus, it looks great, goes from stovetop to table, and YES! enameled cast iron is super easy to clean. I am partial to the Staub 5-quart Cocotte. The lid fits snugly and the wide handles make it easy to grip with dishtowels (what I use) or oven mitts. This is not a plug for Staub. Well I guess it is, but it’s on me. No $$ changed hands. If you want to learn more, visit Staub.



This is a chunky tomato soup with pleasing textures gleaned from the diced tomatoes and rice. The fire-roasted tomatoes add a pleasant depth of flavor. 

Serves 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, about 3 inches each
3 large leaves fresh sage
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
one 14-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
Dash or two of red pepper (optional)
4 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup rice
Handful chopped fresh parsley or chopped fresh basil

Parmesan Parsley Toast
4 slices Italian bread, about 1/2-inch each
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the olive oil, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, rosemary, and sage in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. 

Increase the heat to high. Add the tomato paste and red wine. Once the red wine has just about evaporated, add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to boil, lower the heat, add the rice and simmer until the rice is just tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, use a fork to mash the butter, Parmesan cheese, parsley, and black pepper. Spread evenly on each slice of bread. Place on a baking sheet and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the edges are crispy and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. 

Remove the rosemary sprigs and sage leaves from the soup. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the parsley or basil (and a splash of wine, if you like) and serve along with the Parmesan Parsley Toast. If not serving with the toast, pass Parmesan at the table.


Ciao'd with the words of Virginia Woolf: "How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself." 

Since high school, I have kept an ongoing list of words that resonate with me.  While my friends were collecting autographs and stamps, I (the nerd) was chronicling words like prairie, whisper, and lagniappe.  As you can imagine, the list is now long and varied. Like a diary, the words echo the stages of my life.

Of late, the word solitude drifts with me. Say “solitude” out loud. It’s voluptuous and velvety. It spreads its syllables like creamy frosting. Solitude is a word that is deliberate and slow. And that is just what I need now.

I’ve been seeking solitude in a variety of places. The yoga studio. My kitchen. A trail on Mt. Tam. In the middle of the night when the 3 am hour rustles me from sleep, I quiet my mind by envisioning Makalavena, my favorite beach, saying a Hail Mary or two, or counting sheep, depending on the past day and its circumstances.

Jack Kerouac’s words resonate deeply with me in this time of incredulity and apprehension.  “After all this kind of fanfare, and even more, I came to a point where I needed solitude and to just stop the machine of 'thinking' and 'enjoying' what they call 'living,' I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds...” 

Solitude is not loneliness. It’s a celebration of being alone, away from the fray and turbulence. It’s the place where when “the world is too much with us (Wordsworth),” we can take shelter in a quiet place to hear our own voice and tap into the wisdom of the universe. Only in solitude can we recharge.   

Listen, I know it’s super difficult to find time for family and friends, never mind yourself. I have found that the best time to create a space for solitude is the early morning before the house awakens. Even 5 minutes, sitting quietly and calming my mind restores me and buoys me as I go about my day. My doctor told me that after sleep, darkness is the most effective mechanism for rejuvenating our minds and bodies. If we unplug all light sources, including computers, clocks, and phones, and simply sit in the darkness and silence, we can free ourselves from the distractions of modern life and realign the fissures that create anxiety and unrest.  In short, clear the head to reclaim your soul.  

For me, solitude is a sanctuary. It’s the place that recalibrates my balance. It affirms what I can control and what I cannot. By flicking away distraction, I tune into what really matters. I tap into the beauty and joy that each day brings.  

My kitchen is a sanctuary, too, especially when I am alone and engaged in the humble practice of cooking something like this chicken broth which is restorative in its own way. The broth is so easy to make - throw a bunch of bones and a few aromatics into a pot, cover with water and let the broth simmer as you go about your day. Here's to a peaceful mind and a happy palate. Breathe.



What separates an Italian chicken broth from all others? The addition of tomatoes and garlic, of course. These ingredients boost the flavor and enrich the broth. And then there's the lemon that brightens the whole thing. I'm guessing if you make this broth once, you'll never go back.

Makes about 4 quarts

3 pounds meaty chicken bones, a combination of necks, wings, and backs
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered2 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
2 celery stalks with their leaves, cut into thirds
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
½ lemon, cut in half
1 cup diced tomatoes, Roma or San Marzano
1 bay leaf
A few thyme sprigs
A few parsley sprigs
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Put all ingredients in a large soup pot over high heat. Add 6 (4?) quarts cold water and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and cook, uncovered, at a gentle simmer for 2 hours. As the soup simmers, spoon off and discard any foam that rises to the surface.

Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth. Cool to room temperature before refrigerating (chicken fat will rise to the surface and congeal). If using the broth immediately, skim fat from the surface and proceed.