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 after a day at the races.


Gratinato is the Italian word for gratin, a French dish baked in a shallow pan and topped with something that browns to gratifying crunchiness, such as breadcrumbs or cheese. In this recipe, I used both. Classically, potatoes cook to creamy lusciousness under the topping, but truth be told, any vegetable or pasta (think macaroni and cheese) can play the starring role. In this rendition, I topped zucchini with panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) for an extra dose of crispy and tossed them with fresh (semi-soft) Asiago cheese and a kiss of Parmesan. The gratinato makes a fresh yet earthy side dish for grilled or roasted meats and poultry. I eat it on its own for lunch, too.

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 2 1/2 pounds medium zucchini (4 to 5), sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup thinly sliced green onions (about 5), white and green parts
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hot whole milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 cup panko
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup grated fresh Asiago cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Grease a 2-quart shallow baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are just translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, 4 to 6 minutes. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the flour. Add the hot milk, basil, and mint and cook until the liquid thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Combine the panko, Asiago, and the remaining Parmesan. Sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture Dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits, and bake until bubbly and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. If the topping browns too quickly, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Remove the a minute or two before taking the dish out of the oven.


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.