Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hold That Baby

For the last year, rather than blog about my food and parenting adventures, I've been practicing being in the moment.  I've had moments where I did this SO well.  And then I had those moments when I decided that rocking the baby while reading the Kindle was totally what I needed.  Then, I'd hate myself for reading while nursing my baby, rather than gazing at her sweet face.  Ah, parenting, you cruel mistress, haunting me with the fact that my babies will NOT. STOP. GROWING. UP.

Us mamas and daddies do not get a pause or rewind button, we are ever in the moment, cooing, laughing, cuddling, loving, getting barfed on, getting nagged for second breakfast/lunch/dinner/MORE SNACKS (you would seriously think that I do not feed these children.)etc.   So, because of this beautiful thing called parenting, this thing that I would not trade for one moment, I am wracked with excruciating guilt for the times when I am not totally present, like when I am exhausted from subsidized single parenting for 5 weeks or months straight, and just need a moment.  I hate myself for those moments.  Truly.

That said, I do my best.  I adore my family.  And I am grateful that the advice of a dear friend stuck with me for the past year- "Hold that baby.  You will not get the time back."  Sweet Charlotte will never get to say that she was not held, loved on, cuddled, or given attention.  She has gotten it in spades.

In some ways, I've mellowed a lot about food over the last year.  In others, I've become an obsessive maniac.  For instance, we now have boxed organic mac n cheese in the house, and organic hot dogs, just in case I'm just too tired to do anything other than boil water.  One child me would have been way disappointed in me, but I've learned that sometimes, stuff happens.  Big kids have activities, and at the end of the day, they'd rather have that extra 40 minutes with you to cuddle them and read stories.

Now the flipside of the coin, the obsessive maniac gives poor Kyle a look that could melt ice when he accidentally bought REGULAR milk for the baby the other day.  The poor guy had to go back to Costco to get the REAL milk.  Yes, I realized after he got home that I probably needed an intervention.  BUT IT'S MY BABY PEOPLE.  I just can't.

The point is, I'm striving to find balance in a very extreme world.  It seems like all around us, we're being told that we have to be able to spend a million hours a week crafting/cooking/sewing/cleaning, and frankly, I just don't know how!  Yes, I am admittedly a perfectionist, but there has to be a line.  Do we want our kids to walk into a work function as adults, and bring their own snacks?  Because, where I come from, that's disrespectful and rude. 

We need to teach our children about healthy habits, healthy portions, and to eat healthy, REAL, food, but we also need to teach them balance.  They need to learn how to eat reasonably well at a function full of unhealthy food, and that the world isn't going to end if they go to Five Guys now and then.  The key is now and then.

Your question now probably is, what the heck does this have to do with a food blog?  Everything.  Family is everything.  Family meals, family eating habits.  Your children are watching you.  They see how you eat, what you don't eat, what you sneak, what you throw away.  They see how you do or don't spend time on dinner.  This isn't a judgment, it's just a fundamental truth.  So what I'm trying to do, what I was trying to do for the first few years of this blog, is making it EASIER.  I didn't know what I didn't know about feeding more than 3 people for more than a holiday.  And honey, sometimes it's hard! 

So here we go.  Back in action.  Healthy, family friendly meals that don't make you nuts.  And if you need to head on over to your local burger joint, because you JUST CAN'T TODAY, I hear ya.  Do what ya need to do.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Photo: Valentine's Day mini cupcakes for my daughter's Valentine's Day party at school. <3
Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and I'm finding myself feeling a touch of nostalgia...

My earliest memories of Valentine's Day are of my Dad.  My hero. My first favorite guy.  I remember, year after year, him showing up with a yellow rose, or some yellow roses, just for me, and I loved it.

One particular year, right as I was towing that line of when a little girl is becoming a young lady, I was having, well, let's just call a spade a spade- one of the first of (sadly) many angsty moments in my life.  For you adults out there, you KNOW what I mean.  And for those of you that are in the thick of it, you're probably too busy having deep conversations about how you aren't angsty...or maybe you're the most angsty?  Who knows anymore?

That said, I was heartbroken, maybe not for the first time, but probably the fourth or fifth time (yikes again..we have girls, so not looking forward to that!), and my sweet Daddy came in with flowers just for me.  It made my day.  I don't think he really ever knew how much that small gesture meant to me, but at that moment, when I felt awful about everything and everyone for reasons that I simply can't remember, but felt were VERY important at that time in my life.  It meant the world to me.

Maybe this sounds silly to you, but everyday, I wake up, and I think about the things that I can do to make my girls happy.  What will they remember? What can I do to make holidays and moments special and memorable for them?

Laela is at that magical age where things are sparkly and fabulous.  Where creativity and time mean everything.  So when my sweet girl told me that she wanted "teeny tiny cupcakes in a beautiful heart with candies allllll around them" for her school Valentine's Day party, I had to oblige.  I know that these moments count so much, even though to us grownups they can seem pretty inconsequential.  It's pretty amazing though when you see the look on a child's face when you created something magical just for them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Elusive Blogger Returns...

I can't tell you how many times that I've sat down at the computer, started a post, and gotten distracted...first by our non-stop life in Italy, then by relocating to the States, and now by our sweet new baby girl, Charlotte, who graced us with her presence 5 weeks early (a mere 2 weeks after moving into our new home in Atlanta).  There is busy, and then there is BUSY.

That said, this mama hasn't stopped cooking.  Okay, I took a week off when my amazing Mom came down to help us with the baby, but once week 2 of our tiny tot's life hit, I was back in cooking action.  Has it been all gourmet meals?  No way.  But it has been a lot of simple soups, easy crock pot dinners, and yes, Italian food...because frankly, a girl can't leave a country like that and abandon those amazing pastas, sauces and meats.

Starting next week, I'll be sharing some of the amazing recipes that I learned during our amazing year in Italy, as well as some recipes that I've come up with that suit those of you like me that are maybe a little sleep deprived, but don't want to sacrifice the quality of their meals!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Last Minute Cupcakes with Melty Chocolate

I don't know about your little ones, but when my daughter comes home from school, she is famished!  Living in Italy, we often stop by the local bread shop, pick up a few mini pizzas with sausage, and she is one happy little lady.  But then there are days where all my little pinkalicious princess wants is a cupcake.

The other day, Laela came home from a long day of learning and playing, begging for something that sweet that she could help create.  In a moment, I was bamboozled into making quickie cupcakes that I found in the Nigella Express cookbook.  They are ridiculously easy, and when topped with some chocolate (that you can easily melt over low heat on the stove, or in the microwave for a few seconds), you feel like you're throwing the most fancy of tea parties.

For the cupcakes you'll need:

  • 1/2 stick plus 1Tb soft butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or if you live in Italy and only have powdered vanilla, use about a quarter packet of the vanilla powder.  No more, or it will be a vanilla BOMB.)
  • 1 TB milk

  • Preheat the oven to 400-degrees farenheit
  • Line muffin pan with paper liners/grease muffin pan with butter (I just stick a hunk of butter into a paper towel and spread it around each muffin section evenly).
  • Cream the butter and sugar either in a bowl by hand or with an electric mixer (it should look creamy and well blended, kind of like icing).
  • Add the eggs, one at a time with a little of the flour, mixing as you go.
  • Fold in the remaining flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, and milk.
  • Spoon the batter into paper liners/greased muffin pan, dividing equally.
  • Put in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until cooked and golden on top. (you can test with a fork or toothpick.  If it comes out clean, they're done.)
  • Let cool on a clean counter or wire rack.
For the topping:

Nigella recommends using whipped cream:

-Whip 1 cup heavy cream, once fluffy, put a dollop on top of the cupcakes

My daughter and husband are chocolate lovers, so I simply melt a half a bar of chocolate (4 or 5oz- doesn't matter if it's light/dark/milk/white) in a small pot on low heat.  I dip each cupcake in the pot, turning a circular motion as I lift from the pot to remove any excess chocolate. Continue with each cupcake.  If you have the willpower, allow the chocolate on the cupcake to cool before serving. (This seldom happens in my house.)


(note the melted cioccolato allll over my little girl's happy face!)

(**This recipe is from Nigella Express, page 187 by Nigella Lawson)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Quickie Expat Meatloaf and Biscuits

  I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of having kids in the kitchen.  Sure, it creates a bigger mess, and maybe slows things down a bit, but cooking as a family is something that my husband and I make a serious effort to do.  I really believe that it builds confidence while teaching kids about what's in their food (which usually gets them to eat things they might not normally be inclined to try).
That said, there are moments when getting a kid to eat a vegetable is like pulling teeth from a snow leopard.  When veggie strikes come up, and this expat mama is craving some "American" style food like meatloaf, it makes it pretty darn easy to sneak in some vegetables. 
Now we have visited meatloaf before...there's "sneaky meatloaf" and also a couple of different ways to eat meatloaf when you have leftovers...but this recipe was made on the fly on a day when I had one egg in the house, some spinach, a couple of heels of bread, and some leftover pasta sauce.  I pureed the spinach in with the sauce, toasted and blitzed the bread in the blender, and mashed it all together with the egg in a large bowl.  After that, I baked it for about 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven, and voila, dinner!  The best part?  Kyle and Laela made Laela's favorite biscuits, and voila, we had ourselves a tastylicious American style dinner that took so little effort, Laela and her Daddy wound up playing "biscuit dough" for a half hour.  Fun times.
For this easy peasy meatloaf, you'll need:
  • 1lb ground beef/meatloaf mix
  • 2 heels of bread (toasted and then crumbled in food processor/blender)
  • About 1 cup of pasta sauce
  • 1 cup spinach (pureed)
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wednesday I'll be sharing a super easy cupcake recipe that Laela and I like to make when we're craving cupcakes, and don't feel like making a ton of effort!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I had a moment today.  I was sitting at the kitchen table with my beautiful, too smart for her own good, little girl this morning, eating strawberries and toast for breakfast.  I clicked on cnn.com to do a quick check of the news (something I've found myself doing infinitely more since my family and I moved to Firenze 6 months ago), and I saw that one of the victims of the Boston tragedy was an 8 year old boy.  I couldn't help the tears from escaping as I thought of that poor child's family, of the numerous families that are crushed by these events, of the millions of Americans worldwide that are being shocked to the core at yet one more horrific even in which innocent people are harmed.

My sweet daughter asked me why I was crying.  I'll be honest, I don't make it a practice of being upset in front of my child.  I try to make things sunshine and roses as much as possible.  But when she asked me this, I didn't pause.  I said "some people did a very bad thing and they hurt a lot of people."  Do you know what my 3 year old's reply was?  "They shouldn't have done that Mommy.  No one should hurt anyone."  From the mouths of babes.

I studied Political Science in college.  I have a best friend who is a high ranking military man.  I like to think that I have a decent grasp on war, terrorism, and the effects that it has on society. What never occurred to me was how it would feel for people within my home country to attack one another, or for our country to be attacked from within.

I'm of the 9-11 generation.  I went to college in a big city where our bridges were cut off, our subways shut down for our own safety.  We huddled in our homes and cried together for our fellow countrymen.  Wars were fought.  No one won.

We can't get back the people that we lost.  Not the children that were needlessly murdered earlier in the year, not those lost during the marathon, and during the countless other "events" that have happened over the last few months.  Maybe because I am not currently living in my home country I should feel less upset.  Perhaps my world should feel a bit less rocked- but it's not.  I'm an American.  I love my country, my home.  I don't have one state that I feel tied to.  I feel tied to many.

We are moving home in a few months, and there is a part of me, as a mother, as a wife with husband that travels all over the world regularly, that feels like I should be afraid, but all I can think of is this: we shall overcome.  We're Americans dammit.  And one of the quintessential things that Americans do, come hell or high water, is we band the hell together and fight.  We fight for our independence, we fight for the right to run marathons, send our innocent children to school, to go to work without harm, but most of all, at the end of the day- we fight for each other.  United we stand.  So don't let the evil take over.  Send your kids to school, run your marathons, practice your politics and religions how you choose, because that's your right!  The day that we all stop living in the world, and start cowering afraid is the day that "they" win. 

If we can learn anything from the Italians, it's to keep on keepin' on.  Italians don't quit on themselves.  They don't quit on their country.  They've been bombed, sieged, overtaken, broken down, you name it, it's happened to these poor people.  But they cherish their culture, and they keep moving forward.  Isn't that all any of us can do?  Move forward, stay brave, and be strong?

Yes, I know I'm just a young woman who blogs about food and her family, but writing about my family and what we're having for dinner tonight just didn't feel right to me today.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pregnancy and Bolognese

I have been a terrible, rotten blogger lately.  The truth is, that for 15 of the last 16 weeks, I've had no desire for food.  Every time I've tried to eat it, my body rejects it.  I've been taken down with a case of pregalimia.  Brutal.

If you haven't heard of pregalimia, then you have either a. never known a pregnant person with "all the time sickness" (morning sickness is seriously the most annoying phrase EVER.  It has nothing to do with the morning.  It has to do with things being smelly, the very cute little alien that has taken over your body and turned you into a vomatious demon, and a very disturbing relationship with your head in the toilet- or the sink- or the trash can...), or a. you are one of those people that have only seen the bright side of pregnancy (i.e. your wife/significant other/friend never got sick, or she kicked it old school, and hid from you until she woke up and saw the sunlight with a rumble in her stomach that said: FEED ME NOW!)

Now that I've hit week 16, I finally have a (mostly)steady, ravenous desire for food.  This is one of those lovely times when living in Italy is first world problems.  What?  You're pregnant!  'No cured meats little lady, but here ya go, have some bolognese!'  It's wonderful.  Good grief.  Writing this blog is making me hungry. (Yay!)

Speaking of bolognese, or ragu, as it is known to some, this is one of the recipes that I have come to love since moving to Firenze.  A good girlfriend gave me the recipe, and it's one of the few things that I've ever made that if it was in our house everyday, my husband wouldn't be able to resist it.  Ever.

You'll need:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (I prefer extra virgin)
  • 6 rashers of streaky 'pancetta' bacon, chopped
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • Stick of celery, chopped 
  • 1kg/2¼lb lean minced beef (I usually use what is sold as "ragu meat" in Firenze.  Pork is just as tasty as meat if you prefer it.)
  • 2 large glasses of red wine (I prefer Chianti)
  • 2x400g cans chopped tomatoes (or 1 jar of passata- a type of tomato puree for those that don't like a chunky sauce)
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 800g-1kg/1¾-2¼lb dried tagliatelle or a good artigianale pasta that will hold up to the ragu.
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional for serving)

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and fry the bacon until golden over a medium heat.

2.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery, cook until softened, and the onions are clear.

3.  Increase the heat and add the minced beef. Fry it until it has browned. Make sure to "chop" at it with your spatula so that the meat gets nice and small (and the veggies too as they break down and cook).

4.  Pour in the wine and boil until it has reduced in volume by about a third. Reduce the temperature.  Stir in the tomatoes and bay leaves.

5. Cover with a lid and simmer over a gentle heat for 1-1½ hours until it's rich and thickened, stirring occasionally.

6.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

7.  Serve over tagliatelle, or stir in with a hearty pasta that sticks to the ribs on a cold day!

8.  Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

This is also one of those delicious sauces that tastes better with each passing day, so don't be afraid to make it ahead of time and use it later.  (Although, once you taste it, I guarantee that it won't last long!  I've caught Kyle eating it by the spoonful!)