The Next Four Years {A Parenting Perspective in an Age of Political Upheaval}

When I heard that Donald Trump was going to be our President, I was not happy. In fact, I was devastated. One of the first things that went through my head, as I am sure it did for many of you who feel as I do, was "Gee, I hope the next four years go by really quickly." And then, that thought circled back and stabbed in me in the heart as I sat there, looking down at my daughter who is two and a half.

The truth is that I am not happy about our political climate. I am worried about the fact that approximately 27% of our country elected a man who 100% of us have to live with. There will be changes-- perhaps not all of them bad--but the way things are looking right now, it seems like we're in for a needlessly wild ride. Our institutions of democracy and decorum are under attack. Our press is being hogtied. And to top it off, our world representative is a thin-skinned tweeter-in-chief. The stage is set.

And yet, as worried and plausibly frightened as I am, I don't really want the next four years to fly by. I have one child. One beautiful, crazy, and very bright child, that I am having a lot of fun raising. I want to savor those moments and be able to enjoy them. I don't want to wish them away because once they are gone, they are only memories.

I know that we have to fight. I understand that it's going to be important to be abreast of the politics that are happening. But we also can't forget to LOVE. How we love is perhaps even more important than how we fight. I know that I've been a little here and there with my blog these days, but I wanted to take a moment to let everyone know what they can expect of me the next four years....

Expect some more good food. Listen, I know these past years I haven't cranked out as many recipes. But I have been cooking, I swear. I have been dairy free for a number of years now (due to lactose intolerance) and I am working on more Italian-American recipes that don't include cheese. It's been a little rough. But, when I am not coming up with new recipes on here, you can also see old posts that I will push out on my Facebook Page.

Expect more political posts. It's going to happen. I am invigorated in ways I never have been before, and I am going to need to talk about the way that effects me as a person, what we can do, and the ways in which I see the important lessons this brings up as a parent. HOWEVER, I promise to be KIND in the process. We all get fired up about this stuff, but we are all entitled to our beliefs. I intend to be accountable to this promise of remaining respectful and kind, and I hope you will too!

Expect the truth. I am truth teller. It don't care if we talking about my unabashed love of cheap sprinkle cheese or women's rights. I'm gonna be hitting you with the truth, no holds barred, no bullshit.

Expect joy! Listen, I don't care how bad things get, I have to live in a place of joy, and I hope that this is something that we can all do together. Don't surrender your happiness. Watch your babies grow and revel in it. Eat great food. Enjoy the company of others. Share IT! I say this (mostly) as a reminder to myself. I want to really embrace life, and not feel so addicted to the issues. There is a time for everything, even especially joy.

Expect action. I'm not going to exclusively be busy sitting behind my computer and telling y'all a bunch of rhetoric. I do hope the things I share will be useful, practical, and perhaps even thought-provoking. But for the love of god, I am sick of talk without the walk. I'm going on the ground in my community and helping in any way I can. Whether my friend has a baby and I bring her meals, or I working toward passing a referendum in the local school district--I'm getting in the game! Batter UP!

WHAT I ASK OF YOU: 

If you're steppin' in what I'm putting down, here is what I ask of you. Be passionate. Create your own guiding list like this (hell, share it with us, if you want to!) Engage in meaningful conversations with the people around you, especially if you have different opinions. Be respectful of others and when you interact online, be kind. Be thoughtful.

Send me topics you want to see discussed (especially if you think that your views might be different than mine!) Send me recipes you would like to see cooked. Tell me what is important to you! I want to know because as Malala says, "I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it's not, it is the story of many girls." We always share commonalities, whether we acknowledge it or not.



Let's Talk: Potty Charts

I swore that I would never be the type of parent who posted on social media when daughter learned to use the bathroom. I kept that promise. And look, I get it, you're all proud and stuff, but just....no. But that doesn't mean that I didn't go through all the trials and tribulations of what parents go through when they are potty training. When your kid does finally get it, it almost feels like you wanna shout it from the rooftops (or Facebook, as it were in this digital age.)

Anyway, it took us several charts to get where we wanted to go, potty-wise. And you know, there are print outs, and suggestions, but at a certain point, I had to make up my own that worked for me and my kiddo. So, I wanted to share those charts with you and tell you a little bit about what worked and didn't work for us. We waited until after her second birthday to potty train, and I want to be clear that you've got to gage if your child is ready.

Here's what I have learned about potty training: FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION AS A PARENT.

Here's what I have learned about being a parent: FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION AS A PARENT. 

I know, I know. It's the age-old lesson we're constantly re-learning, but I'm serious. These charts I'm posting, this advice I'm doling, it's not the end all, be all. There's a lot of advice out there, but it doesn't always apply. All that being said, here's the charts and here's what worked for us!




First Chart, as you can see above, was super simple. 

What worked:
1) CHARACTERS. Oh mah gawd did characters motivate her. 
Characters on the chart, characters on the underpants. CHARACTERS, PEOPLE
We would say, "Hey you gotta keep Elmo dry." We really tipped the scales when we got Dorey underpants. Considering she's a fish, and we told our gal to keep her dry, you can tell that potty training is some looney business, but hey, whatever works
2) Fancy-ass stickers. Those jewels? Toddler crack. 
3) Prizes. We had physical prizes (lots of cheap figurines and toy cars) but what usually took the day was the ice cream prizes. And I know, some people are against food as prizes or rewards, but I'm not those people, so... 



Chart two, shown above got a little more sophisticated as we got deeper into potty training territory. 
What worked: 
1) Ditching pull ups all together (well, not during nap time and nighttime, but during the day). It was big girl undies all the way. Were there accidents? DUH. But you know what, kids like to succeed, so it was fewer than you might think. 
2) Poop was a prize every time for a while. (Yep, I just wrote that. Ugh.) Look, it must be said...kids will learn to pee in the potty long before they will be poop masters. So, just hang with it and bring wipes everywhere. 
3) Not being attached to a timeline. You guys, this chart was up a looooooong time. Because some areas took longer than others. We didn't apply pressure because you know, kids DO potty train eventually, but they have to be able to do it on their own developmental schedule. 
4) Talking up those prizes. We were shameless. 



Third (and final) chart. Looks different, huh? Yep, she switched from Elmo to Daniel Tiger in the blink of an eye. But, you know, CHARACTERS. 

What worked: 
1) Half-way point markers. 
2) Taking prizes down to a bare-ass minimum. Earn it, kid! 
3) Changing the chart to fit out (new, ever-changing) needs. (i.e.- brush your teeth, dammit!)
4) Not pictured here: THE TRAVEL POTTY. Ermagerd, this thing is magic. It folds up and you can take it anywhere, from Grandma's house to the grocery store to the zoo. Hell, we took it on a trip to NYC with us! I highly recommend a travel potty to save everyone from a (pardon my french) shit storm. 


By the end of this chart, she wasn't as jazzed on the charts anymore, which I took as a sign that she really didn't need them any longer. Three charts, and probably about 2 months total and we were solid on the potty training.  Everyone will train in their own time, so you shouldn't use my kid as the measure. Some will be faster, and some slower. But overall, if you are looking for a graduated chart system and some tips, I hope you have found this helpful. If you have any tips or pictures of your own to share of charts that have been helpful, I hope you will share them here for others as well. 

Happy potty training everyone! Hahahahaha. 




Healing Bone Broth {With Recipe}

If you've ever had digestive issues, then you will know where I am coming from when I say you will try nearly ANYTHING to make them go away. And I've tried a lot of things. There was something that stuck out to me, though...my issues started when I began breastfeeding. From there I developed a crackpot theory, which I will now share with you.

Crackpot theory: Because of breastfeeding, my nutrients are being drawn out. The good stuff like calcium, magnesium, and other types of nutrients is being given to my daughter via my breastmilk, and while I probably have "enough" there may not be enough for my gut to help me process foods like dairy and wine. The conclusions of this, at least in my own mind, was that if I drank bone broth I could help replace these "stolen" nutrients and maybe resume my normal digestive functioning.

So, I gave it a try. For a week I drank chicken bone broth, and I loved it. My stomach felt great. I wasn't completely cured, but I felt like I was on my way. Next on the list? Beef bone broth. I got some great organic, grass fed bones from a local place, and I made this broth.

My husband and I have both been enjoying the broth, and I daresay, I am feeling so good, whether it's the broth or my own placebo-laced mind, I don't care! Now I need a bigger slow cooker so I can make EVEN MORE BONE BROTH!

Really, though, in all seriousness, the benefits of drinking bone broth are pretty amazing. You can read more about that HERE and HERE.  Best of all, if you've got a slower cooker, you're just a day or two shy of a good bone broth. Now, for beef bones you have to slow simmer a little longer (48 hours), but for chicken it's just 12-24 hours. I'm giving you the recipe for beef bones, but you can apply this across the board, depending on what you fancy.



The nice thing about using the beef bones was that I got a huge amount of high quality lard that I can use for cooking, and some of the top bones were still firm enough that I could give them to my dogs. So everyone won! **Do be sure to check your bones thoroughly if you are going to give them to your dogs, as many do soften considerably and that would be clearly unsafe for your K9 friends.**

I do suggest you vary your bone broths, and also, when you're making it, be sure that your bones are high quality. Consider the life the animal lived, as well as what they were fed and whether it's organic, or at the least all natural and hormone free.

Bossy Italian Beef Bone Broth 
<<Say THAT three times fast>>
Time: 48 hours | Makes 2 quarts | Difficulty: Easy-ish


You will need:


Approximately 5-6 pounds beef bones 
Water 
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's) 
Slow cooker 

Optional (to be added in the last 6-12 hours) 
Celery
Carrots
Onion (with the skin on) 
Peppercorns
Garlic cloves 

Method:

Add your bones and apple cider vinegar to the crockpot. Add enough water to cover the bones. Simmer (I mostly leave it on high) for up to 48 hours. 

While it's cooking, you will notice a lot of the fat going to the top. I skimmed my fat and got quite a lot off. It's great for cooking with, so save it if you have use for it. At a certain point, I gave up on trying to skim and let it cool in the fridge and scraped off the rest. Be sure you top it off with water as the fat comes off and makes more room. 

This is what the fat looks like separated from a bit of broth
As you are nearing the end of the cooking process, you can add the optional vegetables and spices. I wait to salt mine until it's all done. At the end, strain the solids out and let the broth cool. 

To consume: Heat and serve in a mug. If that doesn't turn you on, you can add it sauces, soups, or anything you would find a use for regular beef broth. 



Perfectly Fabulous Cakes

This summer was super busy and it went by in a blink. Since I've sent the husband back to work (at a school) and the child off to preschool, I am looking forward to getting out some of the projects that I have been working on in my Bossy Italian kitchen.

As you all might know, I'm not the biggest baker, but I have my moments. Well, my best friend in the world is getting married (in less than 30 days EEEEK!) and I am the maid of honor. Okay, fine, I'm the MATRON of honor, but whatever. The point is, I was tasked with throwing some parties for the lovely bride, and you know what that means..... CAKE! 

Now, cakes are kind of a big deal. They have to taste good, but you also want them to look good. And really pretty cakes can cost a really pretty penny. Or, like, 4,000 pennies. So, I knew I had to come up with something cost effective and elegant. That's a tall order for someone who isn't really much or a baker. I'm being candid when I say that my cake decorating skills are even worse than my bakery knowledge. Or as my husband says, "You start out strong, but then you move too fast." Metaphor for life? Hmmmm. 

Luckily, what I lack in pastry skill I make up for in creativity and now you all can too. Because I have found the solution for all people like me who want fancy little cakes that wow the crowd, and taste great too. Ready? 



Here was my first try at this cake. It's three store bought angel food cakes layered with my own homemade jam (recipe for my jam HERE) and vanilla icing. I cut each cake in half, did a layer of jam and icing, and then put the next layer on. 

Now I bet you are wondering how I held this sucker together right? I used a paper towel roll, which, I have to say worked well, and it was great for sticking flowers in. I used fresh flowers, and mint to garnish the cake. You may recall how my husband said that I start strong but then I sort of get impatient... yea, well, I have to give it to him on this one. The cake was a wee bit lopsided due to my *ahem* haste. 

My best advice is to take more time cutting the layers. I did a hack job. Now, this cake was meant to feed about 30 people for this wedding shower I threw. Hence, the six layers. But after this one came out so great (I got sooooo many compliments on this!), I decided to make another one for my husband's grandmother's birthday. 


This one only had two layers, and I actually made the cake myself...from a box mix. But I did the Angel food cake in a bunt pan because I didn't know there was a difference. It came out great! This time I topped it with some fresh peaches from our local orchard, mint and lavender. 



This cake looked and smelled amazing. The fresh peaches were really juicy, and they dripped down the sides, mixing with the blueberry jam and it looked just beautiful. 

So there you go. You too can make a confectionary masterpiece that everyone will think took hours, and really, it didn't. Shhhhh. It'll be our little secret. 



Terrible Twos and Tomato Tarts

It's tomato season. Does anyone else have a tomato garden? Mine is positively overwhelmed with tomatoes and so I have been digging deeper than ever into my tomato recipe thinking place to come up with ways to use them. Tomato sauce is a great way to use tomatoes, and I've also been eating them sliced with lots and lots of salt.

Last week, though, I wanted to try something a little different, and since we had a family party, I came up with this tart. This tart was not only delicious, but it was the bright spot in my day that day. You see, my daughter has entered what I think can be officially dubbed "the terrible twos." She's so dang stubborn. She cannot be moved, compelled, or willed into anything.

And the day I made this tart, it was "one of those days." Boy, I felt like I was losing at the parenting game big-time. I had to give up on my night weaning efforts, I couldn't get her to brush her teeth, and for a number of days now, she's been running around with hair that--even when brushed--cannot be tamed. She absolutely refuses to let me put it in cute braids anymore. My poor heart... but two year olds, they are kind of like tomato tarts.

First you think you have a tomato problem, and then next thing you know, you've got this beautiful tart. Thank goodness for this tart. It came out right. It was wonderful. And dammit, this two year phase will pass and my child will puff up like pastry and come out right too...I just have to find a way to turn her tomatoes into a tart.

So if you have a two year old, a bunch of tomatoes and a need for something pretty, this recipe is for you (and everyone else too). I hope you like it!

Billie's Tomato Tart 

Time: 30 Minutes | Makes 1 Tart | Difficulty: Easy 

You will need

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed for 30 minutes 
2 tablespoons mayonnaise 
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
fresh basil, several leaves, chopped
small egg, beaten 
balsamic glaze to finish 

Method:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

On a greased cookie sheet lay out your puff pastry.

In a small bowl combine the garlic and mayonnaise. Spread the mixture over your puff pastry, leaving a nice edge for folding over.

Top with the sliced tomatoes and fresh basil.

Fold the sides over to make a bit of a "pocket" (see picture.)

Brush the puff pastry with the beaten egg.

Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the pastry if puffed and golden.

Finish by drizzling the balsamic glaze.

Enjoy with a glass of wine and possibly your two year old.

The Shared Cooking Experience {Cooking with Fire}

So it's been FOREVER since I've posted, which is mostly because I have been very busy. You may be happy to know that one of the things I have been busy is actually cooking. I have been learning new techniques, once of which is cooking over the fire. I have also been cooking new recipes, which I am excited to share with you guys.

One of the things I have found since my daughter was born is that recipe development takes longer. And that time is so precious! I find myself wanting to be around the people I love more, and to that end, I have been cooking with people more.

Recently, I've been cooking with my friend Jenn, who is also Ruby's godmother, and her fiancé, Andy. We've been busting out some truly amazing meals together, and having a fabulous time doing it. It all started when Jenn and I wanted to tackle some ravioli together several months ago.

I love making ravioli, but it's so much better when you do it with a friend and make a ton of ravioli that you can freeze and enjoy for the next several weeks. (Check out my ravioli recipes here and here). So there we were: my best friend, my daughter and I, and we were facing down a pile of flour that would become our ravioli.


The ravioli that began it all. 


The experience of rolling out what seemed like a million little raviolis was a lot of fun, if not labor intensive. As it usually happens with my best friend and cooking, our little ravioli adventure sparked something larger. It was around the table later that evening, eating our ravioli with her fiancé and my husband, we concocted a plan to cook over the fire a couple of days later.

Over the spring, we cooked over the fire together several times, and now that we are into summer, our fire cooking sessions are getting more intricate and we've been inviting more people. There is something magical that happens when you share a cooking experience around a fire. It's primal, and it keeps us coming back and growing our venture to include more people, more tricks and, ultimately, more love.

This was a chicken and lemon recipe, one of our first fire cooks. 

You can take something so simple: cooking around a fire, and make it into a day long event that feeds you, body and soul. I find myself looking forward to these days with friends and family; they are their own event.

It was my husband's birthday in June, and Andy (Jenn's aforementioned fiancé) and Jenn got him this book: Seven Fires, Grilling the Argentine Way, written by Francis Mallman. It's become our fire cooking bible, and we are just loving it.

This was our "traditional" Sunday Asado. 


Food has always been a way that I have connected with people, and the older I get, the more this continues to be true for me in an evolutionary way. Now that I have a child, I am especially grateful for her to see people gathering, putting down their phones, looking into the flames of a fire, and cooking a meal together. I want her to know that even in a modern society, we are ancient people and we can practice being present and cooking slowly.

I watched Cooked, ( on Netflix, with Michael Pollan), and he talks about how cooking over a fire is the bridge between the humans and gods. I don't know if I believe in god, per say, but I certainly feel cosmic when I'm communing in this way. I feel responsible for the food in a way I don't when I cook over a stove. I feel connected in an experience that is wholly enriching. And I would like to encourage others who may be interested, to give it a try.


My New Favorite T-Shirt

The other day I was having dinner with my dear friend, Paul, and his friend Nate, and Paul said of me, "No one loves where they live more than you." It's true. I love Delaware, like, so much. Moving away from Delaware is practically unfathomable for me. We have it all: beautiful beaches (actually, some of the most beautiful in country), open farm land, small town appeal, wonderful seafood, and of course, all my friends and family are here (well, almost.) 

Simply put, Delaware is an amazing place, and in particular, Southern Delaware. It's where my heart is. 

So when a high school friend of mine, Crystal, posted her t-shirts online, I was super duper DUPER stoked to grab one. And I wanted to share them with you guys in case you are from Delaware, live in Delaware, or are just feeling Delawarey. If you aren't, check out her other stuff, too. 

But you guys, this is my new favorite t-shirt. I almost don't even want to admit how much I have been wearing it. Gray is my black, so it's just awesome. Thanks to Crystal, I can wear this sucker out. Now I just need to get one for my daughter and we'll be set. 

This is Crystal, she made these beauties (and she has other goodies too!) 


This is muy bestie, Jenn, rocking her t-shirt. I love how she rolled the sleeves. 


And this is me! Seriously, I had no idea how hard taking an outfit selfie in the mirror was. GAH. But whatevs. I love my shirt, and the weird selfie.