Ciao’d with a cup of mulled cider.


Just as a rose smells sweetest before its demise, autumn flaunts its fleeting nature. This season of tailgate picnics (see you soon, CU Buffs!) and leaves crackling underfoot urges us to recognize time’s ephemeral quality and to treasure each moment.

After sending off our son to his freshman year of college with exhortations along the lines of “Best 4 years of your life!” my husband and I returned to a house resounding with silence. Rather than answering the morning (every morning) call, “Hey, mom, I can’t find my Vans/backpack/car keys,” I sit with my cup of coffee and gaze at the garden. The autumn wind rustles through the trees, their branches becoming barer with each passing day. The wind seems to have sucked the energy out of the house, too.

Teenage boys exude distinct energy. It’s all consuming, lurching from pound-my-chest masculine bravado to outright immature silliness. One evening in August, I heard Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl blaring from the speakers in our yard and my son’s friend shouting over it, “Happiest song of the summer!”

Okay, let’s take a step back, shall we? Brown Eyed Girl was written in 1967. We listened to it in college, and it was throwback even then. But some things gloriously transcend time. Brown Eyed Girl is a song about youth, growing up, and okay, it’s about “making love in the green grass,” too. It is a paean to memory. It’s nostalgic. How perfect that the boys would be playing this song on the cusp of their yet-traveled adventures.

I will miss that riotous and richly textured boy energy. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, though. I can already hear their voices trilling in the crisp autumn air. I smell their weed, oh I mean chicken katsu from the Hawaiian take-out place. I feel the pleasant softness of well-worn sweatshirts when we hug, and I see them tossing lacrosse balls (and dice for beer die). I can taste their joy.

In the meantime, speaking of ephemeral, the last of the season’s tomatoes hang heavily on the vine. My friend harvested hers this week and bestowed me with a basket of red, ripe treasures. I’m a bit tired of Caprese salad and gazpacho, so I took an autumn spin and made tomato bread pudding. Layered with cheese and laced with herbs and garlic, it’s just the thing for a warm, cozy dinner.

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Bread pudding is traditionally made from stale bread. If you have it, great. If not, a fresh crusty baguette or country loaf will do just fine. If you’re the traditional sort, toast the fresh bread slices in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

½ pound country bread, sliced about ½-inch thick
3 large, ripe, tomatoes, sliced (about 1 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
3 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 ounces Fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated (about ¾ cup)
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
2 cups milk (low-fat okay)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Layer half of the bread slices in the baking dish. Top with half the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half the herbs and garlic. Top with half the cheese. Repeat the layers.

Beat together the eggs and milk. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pour over the bread and tomatoes. Bake until puffed and golden, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Adapted from The New York Times.

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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!


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. 


Ciao'd with a vodka and Jack Rudy tonic. 

At once invigorating (college football) and calming (bourbon on the rocks), the South captivates.  I grew up in the Northeast and my husband heralds from Southern California. East coast. Left coast. Opposite ends of the spectrum.

Our son gathered our wool and said, “I want to look at colleges in the South.” Cut to last week in South Carolina touring schools. Like most kids who are privileged enough to skate on their parents' indulgence, our son has had the opportunity to work with various college coaches – ACT prep, college prep, and tutors. You would think he would be good to go. The pressure on our kids is so intense, though. Good to go isn’t good enough.

When I was a kid in Connecticut, we took the SAT prep class during high school. We signed up for a test day, we went, we received our scores, and that’s all she wrote. We visited schools, we applied to them, we were accepted, denied, or waitlisted. Life went on. Everybody was happy. “Best four years of our lives” we sing as we wade through middle age. Regardless of where my son lands, I am sure he’ll be singing the same tune.

It turns out the South just may offer what our son desires. For those of you new to a progeny’s college exploration, as I am, you will be astounded at what our kids’ brains hoarded in the years they loitered in our houses.  Our family life centers on a love for sports, a house filled with friends, food, and laughter, and a belief in working hard to achieve goals and enjoy the result. Because the 'rents are “creative” (writer/designer), we’re big on aesthetics, too. For our son, the family mores translated into this checklist for schools: big-time college football, not only for the game but also for the ribald camaraderie it fuels; a fraternity, for the brotherhood that will enrich the deep friendships he cultivated from nursery school through high school; sports (in this case, lacrosse), for the joy of contributing to a team and the sustained expression of skills honed from second grade “bobblehead” games through the next 10 years of his life. And yeah, a beautiful campus. No block concrete buildings for him. Manicured lawns a plus. 

Academics are a given.  I’m looking forward to my son exploring his interests and talents on a deeper, more competitive level. But there's a more visceral consideration and it’s a powerful one. Let’s call it the vibe. The vibe riffs off the cultural microcosm of place and people. It plays out like this: walking onto campus and absorbing the energy, or lack thereof. Perusing the students and thinking, “Yes, these are my people (or not).” It’s a similar vibe to the one that’s infused in the town where you feel welcomed when you’re house hunting. It's the moment when you're standing on the kindergarten playground and you lock eyes with the woman who becomes your best friend. It vibrates through the group of people at a dinner party when you don’t know the whole bunch yet you connect with someone. Life is a mirror. It reflects the discrimination and judgment when we encounter a person or an idea that's unfamiliar or uncomfortable. It shines on the “welcome home” frisson when we find our tribe.

The Southern culture complements the place my family inhabits. The weather is warm but heavier. The people are polite and, truth be told, even more so than where I live.  Laughter and lightness ripple through the days. The food (and drink) is intoxicating, grounded in history and diverse ethnicity. Yes, grits. Yes, sausage and gravy. Yes, okra. And yes, yes, yes, wonderful, modern interpretations of these dishes by forward-thinking chefs and restaurateurs like Sean Brock and Brooks Reitz. They honor local ingredients and celebrate historic recipes while modernizing them for today’s palates. I defy anyone to visit Charleston and stick to a diet.

The South exemplifies la dolce vita.  Each day is a gift. Life is fun. That’s why I will deviate from the Italian recipes I usually offer and instead, share with you this recipe for Tomato Pudding from the Hominy Grill in Charleston. At once simple and complex, the recipe will charm you, just like the South.

And p.s. for those of you who are wondering, Clemson won the college tour. Go Tigers!



When you order the vegetable plate in the south, you will not be served bird food. At the Hominy Grill in Charleston, the spring vegetable plate consists of stewed snap peas with ham, cheese grits, and a rich yet sprightly tomato pudding.  It's down home and satisfying. As Hominy Grill says, "Beware of tarting up the dish with fresh herbs or fresh tomatoes. It is what is is." I couldn't get enough.

Serves 4

One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

4 slices brioche or white bread, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted + more for greasing the baking pan

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a medium baking pan with butter.

In a medium bowl, coarsely crush the tomatoes with the back of a spoon. Add the bread and drizzle with the butter. Add the sugar, salt, and pepper. Gently stir to combine.

Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.  Recipe courtesy of Hominy Grill, Charleston.


Ciao'd while watching the Red Carpet hoopla. 

Many years ago, back in the culinary land inhabited by my Italian aunts and grandmothers, "bake" applied to anything cooked in the oven. None of this "roast" and "broil" stuff. Now, "roast" applies to what happens to meat and vegetables in the oven and "bake" is about the more liquid stuff, like cake batter, that solidifies into yummy goodness.  Marcella Hazan was clearly part of my aunts' and grandmothers' squad.

Marcella calls this mix of potatoes, peppers, onions and tomatoes a "cheerful, comforting dish." She also advises that we use a green, fruity olive oil. She doesn't say why but I am guessing that this type of oil graces the vegetables rather than overwhelms them. It surely did when I made it. In fact, the beauty of this dish lies in the intermingling of the vegetables' flavors with their individual textures. 

Serves 6

4 medium boiling (waxy) potatoes, white or red
3 sweet and meaty bell peppers, red, yellow, or green
3 round tomatoes or 6 plum tomatoes, fresh, firm, and ripe
4 medium yellow onions
1/4 cup fruity olive oil, such as Lucero
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the potatoes into wedges about 1-inch thick. Cut the peppers into lengthwise sections, following their folds. Scrape away and discard all the seeds and the pulpy core to which they are attached. Cut the tomatoes into 6 to 8 wedge-shaped sections. If you are using plum tomatoes, cut them in half, lengthwise. Peel the onions and cut into 4 sections each.

Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss to coat. Put the vegetables into a baking dish in which they will fit comfortably. If they are packed too closely together, they will become soggy. 

Bake, turning every 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. If after 20 minutes you see that the tomatoes have thrown off an excessive amount of liquid, turn the oven to 450 degrees for the remaining cooking time. Do not worry if some of the vegetables become slightly charred at the edges. It is quite all right, and even desirable. 

When done, transfer the vegetables to a warm platter, using a slotted spoon. If there are any bits stuck to the sides or bottom of the baking dish, scrape them loose and add them to the platter. These are choice morsels. Serve at once. Adapted from More Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan, Knopf, 1978.