Sometimes a little French Onion Soup is enough

This October was one of the craziest months I’ve had all year, and, honest to God, I have no idea of the why or the how of it. All the kids’ activities kicked in at once, as well as my own, my mom was supposed to arrive, then didn’t, then reset the date, and then changed her plans again, then finally arrived, which kept me in stand-by mode for two weeks, not being able to make any plans as she was arriving “any minute now” and then kept me busy for the two weeks she was actually here. In fact, now that I think about it, it all makes sense, October was taken over by the tornado that represents my mother’s visits.

A visit, which incidentally, was much better than expected, in part because I kept my expectations way low and in part because I sent the kids off to their other grandma for three days. My mom has a low tolerance for children and I always had unrealistic expectations as to her magically (and inexplicably) becoming a kid person as a grandmother. She does really well the first few days, then she usually overloads, but this time we got to spend some quality mother/daughter time for a few days and then the kids came back. Though I felt bad sending them away since they only get to see her once or twice a year, I’m perfectly aware that it’s all in my head. They didn’t care, their other grandma was ecstatic, my mom got to decompress, and I got to go shopping all day, cook with my mom, and go out to dinner with absolutely no organizing required and no guilt at leaving the kids home with the babysitter. Definitely the way to go for all her visits, until the kids start into the tween/teen years, at which point I will be able to just leave her to it and go enjoy myself in total independence.

The Husband’s health saga continues, he’s not terribly ill, he’s just not terribly healthy either, and quite frankly, it’s starting to get annoying for all concerned (directly, or indirectly). He’s actually starting on a path of self-discovery of sorts, which hopefully will bring him some positive results and, even more hopefully, won’t drive a wedge between us, as these things often do. Things between us, they have been tense lately, so we’re all hoping that some good will come of this, and I’ll leave it at that, for now.

We went out for lunch today, a rare occurrence on a week day, which, in this case, mostly involved taking the cars to get the tires changed for winter… oh so romantic, I know. As chance would have it though, we decided to go to a friend’s restaurant that we always enjoy greatly and is usually too far to drive to in the rare evenings we manage to dine out sans kids what with the babysitter waiting at home impatiently counting the minutes till she can leave and go out with her own boyfriend.

This restaurant, The Baluardo, is fantastic, the chef Marc Lanteri is French and his wife, my friend Amy, is American and their diversity really shines through, with the Italian wholesome ingredients, the American boldness and French sophistication. If you’re ever in the area it’s definitely an obligatory stop, especially if you’re into Michelin Guide starred restaurants.

Anyway…

They had French Onion Soup on the menu today. I’ve been hankering after a good, authentic, French onion soup, which is strangely a much harder dish to find than one would think. Also, I’m extraordinarily picky when it comes to French Onion Soup. Mostly I only like the one I make, which is truly delicious, and for which I can take none of the merit other than being able to follow a recipe. If you want to try your hand at it I got the recipe from Deb of The Smitten Kitchen, since finding it I’ve tweaked it enough to make it my own, but the original is the best place to start experimenting. After eating it today, I wrote on facebook that French Onion Soup makes me happy. And it really, truly, does. It’s so simple, just a handful of ingredients, but it’s so comforting when done right, so light yet tasty, it has so much depth of taste and texture. I needed it today, I needed something simple to make me happy, I needed to be reminded that life doesn’t always have to be about the complicated dishes, that sometimes the simple things, if prepared with great care and attention – because that’s the only way to get a French Onion Soup to taste right – can be just the thing to set your world back right-side up. If only for a few minutes.

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One week down, how many more to go?

Week one of school is finished, and I survived. Unbelievable. Because, let’s be honest here, getting the kids back on a school schedule after the summer is much harder work for Mom than for anyone else in the family. I’m not a morning person, and quite probably neither are my kids, whether it’s survival instinct (who knows what I would have done with one of those children who wakes up every morning at 6.30 all chirpy and talkative?) or their natural inclination I have no idea, either way, I tried to bring their wake up time up (and consequently all the related sleep times up) for the two weeks prior to this and I clearly failed, if the amount of tantrums, hysterical, over-tired crying fits, middle of the night wake up calls, and generalized grumpiness are any indication. I’m hoping this week will be better.

Although, as I started planning their weekly activities I already wanted to pull out all my hair… I don’t know how mothers with more than two kids do it (and I quite envy mothers of singletons right now, for organizational purposes, at least). The Boy wants to play soccer this year, they start them at 6 here, but as he’s tall they’ll take him anyway, the Girls wants to do a dance class, and I would like them to do a swimming course before the start of the skiing season. It shouldn’t be that complicated, I thought, I don’t want to over book them, but an activity each and a joint one shouldn’t overextend us. I am so naïve.

Oh, and I need to keep one afternoon for their American babysitter because I’ve realized that when they have someone (other than me) who speaks English to them they’re more prone to speak it in general. Easy peasy. Right.

So, this is what I found out after a round of calls and a couple of hours of scheduling: soccer is Tuesday and Friday, because apparently 5-6 year olds who aren’t allowed to play in the tournaments and who are basically going to chase a ball around a field for an hour and a half need to “train” at least twice a week. Every single dance school but one in this god forsaken town, in an evil conspiracy to drive mom’s insane (I presume), decided that Tuesday was the only logical day for the 3-4 year old dance class, and the one that went against the mold already has a waiting list. Oh, and by the way, our lovely American babysitter only has one afternoon off from her primary job. Guess which day. Tuesday. And after a half hour of route planning and head banging (not the heavy metal kind) I resigned myself to the fact that without the aid of cloning or a teleporter there is no way I can get them both to their activities on Tuesday. Seriously, how does everyone else do it?

Anyway, before letting myself get sucked into the insanity of a new school year, I’d like to wrap up our summer. We got back from our extremely long vacation to a garden that looked like this:

my tomato plants

my tomato plants

 

cherry tomatoes

cherry tomatoes

Eggplants! I have 3 plants just like this...

Eggplants! I have 3 plants just like this…

Peppers, I have eight plants of lovely green, yellow, and red peppers. Not as pretty as the supermarket ones, but yummy all the same.

Peppers, I have eight plants of lovely green, yellow, and red peppers. Not as pretty as the supermarket ones, but yummy all the same.

So we had a LOT of this:

Caprese salad - the tomatoes and basil are from the garden, as is the basil in the pesto.

Caprese salad – the tomatoes and basil are from the garden, as is the basil in the pesto.

Tuna salad bruschetta

Tuna salad bruschetta

And since this was overflowing:

large lavender plant

large lavender plant

so I made sachets for my closet and drawers… but when that wasn’t enough I figured I could use it to experiment…

Sausage risotto with rosemary, lavender and saffron.

Sausage risotto with rosemary, lavender and saffron.

so creamy makes me hungry again...

so creamy makes me hungry again…

Have I made you hungry yet?

I’m slowly getting my act together again with the start of a new school year. I’ve got several posts I think you’ll like in the works, and I’m pretty confident I’ll even manage to finish them and post them, so yay for school, despite the scheduling headaches.

Two cutie pies on their first day of school. Sweet brother carrying his sister's backpack. A little southern gentleman in the making.

Two cutie pies on their first day of school. Sweet brother carrying his sister’s backpack. A little southern gentleman in the making.

The heart of the home

utensils

As I may have mentioned a time or twenty, we bought a “house” (i.e. very, very old, falling apart, structure that vaguely resembles something one might one day live in) last year and are in the very long and articulated process of renovating it. And, though I’m very happy to finally call myself a homeowner at the ripe old age of ahem… mid thirties… I’ve recently realized that I’m going to miss the house we’ve been renting for the past seven years. Our first actual house, with a yard, where our two kids were born (one almost literally), where they learned to crawl, and walk, and talk… so I’ve been thinking about documenting it, for posterity, room by room, maybe a couple of posts a months from now until we move in to the new place. And in one of those lucky twists of fate that happen once in a blue moon MamaKat’s prompt: “show us your kitchen”, called to me like a much needed bell toll to get my procrastinating self into gear.

So here you have it, as the first post of a long goodbye to the house we’ve called home for seven years, my kitchen:

Kitchen1

kitchen2

Kitchen1

I have a love hate relationship with this kitchen. In Italy, when you move into a house all the rooms are generally empty, there’s no kitchen, no closets, the bathrooms come with the bare essentials plumbing, toilet, bidet, sink and shower or bath, nary a cabinet, mirror, or light to be found. This is so even if you’re renting, unless the house is said to be partially furnished (meaning it has grandma’s old kitchen from the 1940’s – with the original appliances). When we moved in we bought the kitchen and a few other things from the previous renters. I didn’t really like the kitchen, I’m not a huge fan of the red, I didn’t really like the layout, and I hated the counters, stove, and sink (I changed the last three), but we got it for a bargain and we didn’t know how long we’d be here so… eh…

Seven years later and I really, really, hate the red.

In fact, if I may presume to suggest anything to anyone, if you’re renovating or building, get a kitchen in the most neutral color you can imagine (I’m partial to white) and then just paint the walls, you can change the color of your walls however many times you want for a fraction of the cost and hassle of changing the color of your kitchen cabinets.

But I also love this kitchen, because the kitchen, often, is the heart of the home. And a lot of things happened in this kitchen.

Food gets cooked in this kitchen:
pasta stracotto  ravioli strudel

dishes and stuff get washed by little hands

washingdishes

and things get baked (by short people…)

shortpeoplecook

birthdays are celebrated

celebratebirthdays

 

chessecake

 

spidermancake

and silliness happens

silliness happens

Turkeys are carved

turkeyscut

and cakes decorated

car cake

children eat politely. yes, even that happens! (rarely, so rarely in fact three different moms ran for their cameras)

kidseat

and old friends get togetherfriendsmingle

I may not like it anymore, and I may not want to admit it, but I’m going to miss this little red kitchen, a lot of heart happened here.

Linking up with MamaKat’s writer’s workshop.

 

Mama’s Losin’ It

Monday Listicles, the food edition.

Hello friends, it’s Monday Listicle time! This week Stasha’s assignment is pure torture for me, as I have to do another no carb, no sugar, my meals are so boring and I’m starving all the time week. Thank god my personal trainer values his life and only makes me do this for a week at a time! But since this was Bridget’s idea, I couldn’t very well ignore it, although I was tempted since she’s in Hawaii on vacation and I’m green with envy! But no one deserves a vacation more than Bridget and her husband so I’m putting my envy aside. My love and loyalty to her notwithstanding, I couldn’t very well make myself sit here and think about all the lovely things I want to eat but can’t… so I decided on another angle. I like to cook, I hate the daily drudgery of having to come up with what’s for dinner, but once I know what I’m doing I enjoy the process, and baking and decorating relax me into a very zen state. So, I figured, why not share my ten favorite cookbooks, I’m addressing the food category while not having to actually think about specific foods, because honestly, I’m starving, and I know you don’t want to torture me, reading everyone’s posts will be torture enough!!

My ten favorite cookbooks:

Joy

1. The Joy of Cooking – this is my absolute go to recipe book for everything, if you only have room in your life for one cookbook this is the one you should have.

 

 

 

Nourishing

2. Nourishing Traditions – this is the first “real food” cookbook I bought and it really changed my outlook on a lot of things, it’s easy to follow and very informative.

 

 

 

casserole

3. The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever – I love casseroles, cause they’re easy and comforting and many of them are make ahead and after dinner I don’t have to wash a hundred pots.

 

 

Lost Art

4. The Lost Art of Real Cooking – this book is lovely to read, the two authors each write their own recipes in two completely different styles. It’s funny, and entertaining and the recipes are wonderful.

 

 

putemup

5. Put ‘em up – I have a vegetable garden, which is great, but it also means that when the eggplants or the zucchini or the tomatoes are in that’s all we eat for a month. Canning and other preserving methods have really saved my sanity, cause after eating string beans every day for two weeks straight you kind of want to kill yourself.

 

forgotten skills

6. Forgotten Skills of Cooking – this book does what it says in the title, if you want to learn how to debone a duck, for example, you either need this book here or Julia Child’s Mastering the art of French cooking. Not that I’ve ever deboned a duck, but should I need to, I’m totally covered.

 

 

canning

7. Canning for a New Generation: A seasonal guide to filling the modern pantry – see number 5.

 

 

 

talismano

8. Il Talismano della Felicità – this is my favorite Italian cookbook. Not many people in Italy have it nowadays, but my grandma used it, my aunt used it, my mom uses it…. It’s a bit old fashioned, and has no pictures, but just like the Joy of Cooking it’s one of those must have books.

 

 

onceamonth

9. Once-a-Month Cooking – this book I just bought, so I haven’t tried it out yet, but it looks fab, and honestly cooking only once a month and then just defrosting and making maybe a side or salad is my dream of kitchen utopia.

 

 

smitten

10. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook – this book I haven’t yet bought, mainly because the Husband has threatened to kick me out of the house if I buy one more cookbook. But I love the smitten kitchen blog, and the author Deb Perelman, her pictures are gorgeous and her food is mouthwateringly good, and she really tries to simplify her recipes so you don’t make a gigantic mess in the kitchen, what more can we ask for?!

 

So what are your favorite foods (or cookbooks, or any other food related thing, in fact!)?