Bossy Italian Book Review: The Hunger Games

Any book with the word "hunger" in it appeals to my foodie side... okay, I'm kidding. I actually don't even read fiction books very often, let alone YA fiction. So when a friend suggested that I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, I wasn't sure if I would like it. Then I saw the movie preview, and that got my wheels turning.

I love post-apocalyptic themed anything, so that was getting me sucked in.. and the movie looked good so shouldn't I read the book? When I looked it up on my Kindle and realized it was inexpensive, I downloaded it. And when I began to read it, I was hopelessly drawn into the work of Panem, of Katniss, and the Hunger Games. Hopelessly.

Every day I woke up and I could only think of one thing: The Hunger Games.

Okay, I don't want to ruin anything for anyone who hasn't read the book because everyone, should, in fact, read this book. But the Hunger Games are games that happen every year in the post-apocalyptic United States called Panem. Katniss, as you likely know from the preview on television, ends up volunteering herself in place of her sister and so she has to play the games...

The games are a fight to the death.

Just all of that sucked me in, but then there is so much more in the book that just draws you in. I loved every second of living in the world of Katniss, the main character. She is complex, strong, and the type of role model that I think is really positive for children (this is a young adult book, so...) Collins paints a vivid picture for the reader and there were times when I would look up from my book and exclaim to my husband, "I don't think I've ever read a book like this before!"

There were even times when there are battle scenes in the book and I found myself gripping the kindle, my palms sweaty and my body filled with anxiety for Katniss! I also skipped a workout to read which is really saying something because I love my exercise class. That same day, I stayed up until I finished the book.... until almost midnight (I generally go to bed around 10pm).

This book is epic. It's about love, it's about fantasy, it's about death. It's wrapped in emotion that stirs that soul and awakens the senses. Oddly, I thought that there was a lot about food in the book, making it strangely tied to me in this way. If I was living in a post-apocalyptic world, I would want to be just like Katniss--I want her strength and her abilities. I long to hunt game and be all hardcore with a bow and arrow.

Until then, I have my laptop... and I'm hardcore about it! But on a more serious note, you should read this book. It's an easy read, but it is also a fascinating tale. It's destined to be a classic. 

Quick Fix: Herbed Croutons

It's inevitable; I always come home from the grocery to the question, "Did you get croutons?" And the answer is always the same thing, "I forgot." I always did. Croutons aren't in my mind--not on my radar. I feel it's pointless to pay for stale bread, that sort of thing. But then it dawned on me... if it's croutons he wants, then I can make that!

And so can you! They are even a quick fix! In fact, it's so easy to make croutons that it sort of blew my mind. It made me feel all awesome when I made them. So if you are looking to feel all awesome, you might want to make croutons... or buy a new blouse. Your choice. 

Take your day old bread of any variety.... 

And cut it up.... 

Into cubes. 

Put your bread cubes in a bowl and then sprinkle them with basil. 

Then add your olive oil, trying to distribute it relatively easily. 

Then you must mix it... and can you guess how? With you hands, of course! It's the very best way to do it!

Place them on a pan and spread them evenly. 

Sprinkle them with parmesan cheese. 

Then pop them in the oven for 30 minutes, turning once half way through. 

YUM! All goldeny and crispy!

Salad heaven.... here I come!

Time: 40 minutes, start to finish | Makes: A bunch of Croutons | Difficulty: Easy 

You will need

About a half of loaf of day old bread
pinch of salt 
1 teaspoon dried basil 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
Parmesan cheese (to sprinkle)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut bread into cubes and place in a large bowl. Add the salt, basil, and olive oil. Mix evenly with hands. 

Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet in one layer. 

Sprinkle the bread cubes with parmesan cheese.

Place in the oven for 30 minutes, turning once about halfway through. When they are done, they should be golden and crispy. 

Keep in mind, oven temperatures can vary from oven to oven. So if your croutons need a little more time, trust your judgement and give them time :) 

Add them to a salad and marvel at your excellence! You'll never buy croutons again!

On Taking Your Husband's Last Name...

When you marry, there is a new identity that you assume... many women take the last name of their new husband, and when they do, suddenly there is a the title: Mrs. [Insert the first and last name of your man.] I was no exception to this rule. I took my husband’s last name. But when I did, I had no idea that letters from my grandmother would never again bear my own name.

It seems a small thing, and really it is, but it’s at once very traditional as well. My grandmother is one of my best pen pals, and we always write one another. It’s one of those nostalgic traditions we share with one another, and it means a great deal to me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been very surprised, then, after I married when a letter arrived addressed, not to me, but to Mrs. Daren Criswell.

Well, it was, in fact, addressed to me. Shockingly so. Why hadn’t I expected such a title after I had taken my husband’s last name? I puzzled over the envelope for what seemed like an excruciating amount of time, even still as my husband playfully remarked, “Your grandma loves me. You don’t even exist anymore!” We laughed over this, but at the same time, I felt there was an air of truth in this jest.

There is was, in plain black and white, the disappearance of my entire being replaced by a Mrs. and a man’s name. Funny how much we take for granted things like our name and identity being attached to one another, isn’t it?

Taking my husband’s last name, for me, was an easy decision. As I have discussed before, my last name growing up was a farce; a made-up name made to make me like other Americans rather than a unique entity of 4th generation Italian- American. Ever since learning about the true origin of my last name (a court-room creation) I came to resent it. It represented nothing more to me than the cover-up of a heritage that I was previously proud of.

When I decided to take my husband’s last name, I felt it meant something... I was taking his name out of love, but also to have a name that represented family heritage. Sure, it was his family’s heritage, but it’s mine now too, and it means a great deal to me. Many women don’t change their names anymore. Or they keep their last names and add on their spouse’s name. This all fine too. But the truth is, they will never know the feeling of seeing their husband’s name as their own, written inconspicuously, without even much thought put behind it, in their grandmother’s cursive script.

I have never received a letter from my grandmother addressed in my name since I married. Once I asked my husband’s grandmother about this. She remarked that it is just a matter of respect and tradition, and this much I had already suspected. But perhaps I am a bit flattered by it, after all.

Stuff I Use: Mini Pie Maker

My pie maker!!!!
By now you may have guessed that I am a sucker for gadgets. I just love them. If there is a gadget to help me in the kitchen, I am hard pressed not to try it out. Some people amass gadgets and then they go by the wayside, never to be used again. Not me. I love them and I use them and I honestly think they make my life better.*

So when I was hanging about the consignment shop my new friend own and they said that they had a kitchen gadget I might like, I was all ears. I didn't expect them to pull out a brand spanking new mini pie maker, though! YES! OH HAPPY DAY! I knew that this pie maker and I would be best friends. And we're getting very well acquainted lately.

Now, let me take a minute to talk about pie and I because we have a special relationship. Cake is cake. It's all fine and well, but I am not cake's biggest fan. For me to love a cake, it has to be breathtakingly moist and heavily frosted. But pie.... well, pie is different. The crust is a flaky adventure and the inside? Always moist and the perfect pleaser for me. Pies also don't tend to be overly sweet, which is a point of attraction for me. I just love pie.

So far in my tiny pie maker I have made chicken pot pies, blueberry pies, and mini quiches. There are lots of uses for this machine and it works really easily. It makes dessert (something my husband lives more) a total no-brainer, which I love! I have yet to freeze any of the pies I have made because they seem to keep disappearing into piles of crumbs... hmm.... I wonder why.

The recipes in the booklet that came with the pie maker leave something to be desired, but I am not much of a recipe follower, anyway. And I never really expect very much from those books, either. Other than that, let the good pies roll! This machine is great and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves pie and/or gadgets and/or miniature anything!
*Any company, persons, or entities that would like to send me gadgets, therefore, would be welcomed. I should also mention that if you did happen to send me a gadget, I would love you.... forever.

You can use ready made crust, or make your own. I chose to go hybrid on this one and use the Jiffy Crust. It's easy and never fails! The machine comes with crust cutters, making life exponentially easier!

It's great because you just pop it in, fill it, top it again with crust. Then close the lid and let he magic pie fairies go to work!

BAM! Check it out! These are blueberry, but you can add virtually any filling you like! It's like magic... only pie-ier. 

The Ravioli Press

After reading The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken I just had to have a ravioli press. I figured it didn't matter how much it cost because I simply could not live without it. Luckily is was less than $20 and so I was not only able to live with it, but I was able to afford it. After using it, though, I realize it is far more valuable than the dollar amount put on the press; it's worth it's weight in gold!

It was im-press-ive how easily raviolis are made using this simple, even rudimentary, machine. I have a fever that can only be cured by more ravioli and now that I am armed with this press, the world better watch out because I am liable to wrap and roll everything that fit within the confines of the press.

Seriously... it's that simple. It was so simple that I was mystified by the thing. The directions on the back of the bag containing the gadget were less than helpful. But you know what was helpful? This video on You Tube. Without it, I would still be puzzling over how to use the ravioli press... I can text like a bandit, but these two pieces of metal had me stumped!

Generally, I like to make my pasta using the food processor or Kitchen Aid mixer to mix the dough. But this day, I was feeling so happy I thought I would just do by hand--how hard could it be? 

Easy enough. 

And I got into it.... without taking off my wedding ring! UGH! There were bits of dough in my ring for days. There probably still is. I was too excited!

The dough really came out well, I think!

Of course, nothing will thin a dough like a pasta machine. It's the best. Then you lay a layer over the press part of the ravioli press. 

Seeeeeee. And I also floured it, too. But the guy in the YouTube video says you can also spray it with Pam. Your choice. I had a lot of flour, as you can tell!

This nifty piece goes over to press the filling holes in the pasta... and it stretches it evenly and gently. 

Then you put the filling in and lay another layer of dough overtop. 

Then you literally take your rolling pin and run it over the top to shape it and make it even. 

Have you met my dough scraper yet? I think I mentioned it last week. It's an amazing thing and I love it immeasurably. Came in handy with gnocchi and again with ravioli. The ravioli are very delicate and trying to lift them can result in disaster. This eliminates the would-be disaster factor. 

These ravioli are miles above the last ones I made! They are perfect. They are pillows of Italian love... 

And now I have to take the time to admit that even though I promised I would get a picture of them after they cooked the last time I forgot to take the picture because I was too busy eating them..... I have again failed in this endeavor. I am sorry. They were too good. And I made them and I ate them and I realized I forgot to take a picture... again. But you know what that means?! I'll have to make [even] more raviolis! Maybe this next time, I'll even get down a recipe!

"Making" The Family Picture

As long as I have known him my husband has had a family photo of his immediate family in a frame next to his desk. I always thought this was really sweet because I knew right from the start that family was important to him, and this was something we had in common. It’s an important value to have in common, too.

Over the years, we would pull out pictures, go through them together, and share our memories. I had this one set of pictures from when I was about 15 and they were completely silly. Someone had snapped quite a few of me being absolutely ridiculous--making funny faces and picking my nose, that sort of thing. Well, Daren took the craziest one--of me with my hands up my own shirt making nipples or something--and carefully cut it out and placed it on his family picture.

When I saw this I was completely embarrassed, of course! What an awful 15 year old picture of me! He thought it was sort of funny and it became a joke as he would tell people who came into his office, “See, she’s in my family picture!” As the years passed, even I came to love the silly “family” picture because it was just so "out there."

When we had been dating nearly five years, Daren’s sister got engaged to her boyfriend. To say that I wasn’t jealous would be a lie. I was insanely jealous. I wanted to be married so badly, and even though I was really happy for his sister, I felt a little slighted. I bring this up because Daren’s mother, of course, gave a dinner to celebrate their engagement and we were all in attendance.

Daren's other sister had been dating a man whose parents also were invited to the dinner. They never liked me. For whatever reason, these people and myself were the proverbial oil and water. Before dinner on this beautiful summer evening, someone came up with the idea to take a family picture to mark the celebration of the engagement. As quickly as the idea came about, I realized that I was being excluded from the family photograph.

My tender feelings took a further blow when oil and water mother said to me, “Only engaged people get to be in the family photo!” Who was this woman?! She had been present in the family structure for, like, five seconds! I prickled up like a cactus and snapped back, “Yea, I guess five years doesn’t make you family!” I wanted to yell and scream at her that sucked, but instead I smiled and sucked it up, thinking to myself that someday I would be in that family picture--come hell or high water! And hopefully by then, she would be long gone back to whatever cave she hailed from.

Just a few months later, Daren and I did get engaged. And about a year and half later, when Daren’s sister got married, I finally got to be in the family picture. That was nearly two years ago, but for some reason, that same picture was hanging by my husband’s desk--the one with 15 year old me clipped in! To my surprise, though, on a rainy Tuesday morning, my husband announced, “I sent you the new family photo.”

“What do you mean?” I checked my email and there it was: the picture from his sister’s wedding with me actually in the photo--with all of us in the photo! And he printed out a new one to put by his desk. It may have taken me 8 1/2 years, but I finally made the family photo next to his desk; though, in our hearts, our families were blended long ago, it is amazing how the little things just make a person smile from the inside out!

I finally made the family picture!

Bossy Italian Book Review: Comfort Me With Apples

Just when you think the adventure is over, there is another adventure. I was elated that I found another Ruth Reichl book when I finished the first one and this second one was an even better read. As it seems the way with first and second books, the first one was decidedly more happy than the second, but it wasn't necessarily bad news.

Ruth takes us on more adventures abroad and at home; she eats, she loves, and she makes me fall in love in with her for all these new reasons. I feel like I have discovered a piece of myself when I read Ruth's books, and I love that about her. I feel her language, if that makes sense.

Comfort Me With Apples is a great book, and if you liked Tender at the Bone, you will love this follow up because it literally picks up right where Tender at the Bone left off; I love her for that. So often, I put a book down and I am wondering where in the heck it went from there, and I love when writers connect the dots. Ruth connects the dots and fills in the picture of a life.

I am sure I am not in a unique position of relating to this woman; she has layers that surely anyone could relate to. But there is something special that ties us together, and of this, I am certain. Ruth lived for a long time on a commune. Now, I did not live on a commune, but I have lived with some many people communally at our farmhouse that I sort of feel like I lived on a commune--for better or worse. And then, the people sort of drifted away and there we were: the two of us, my husband and I... left alone in a place that was once the home to so many people. And that is a strange thing.

I suppose I don't quite have the words to explain what it was like to cook for 8 or 10 people and then, in the blink of an eye, there was just two of us. But I know that Ruth can relate to me on this point, though she was the one doing the walking away rather than the staying. When I read it as she tells it, though, I see something of myself, and I am comforted by that.

Her food adventures also mature with her own life, which I think is remarkable considering how many people fail to grow in life. I love the relationship with her parents, too. If you read the first book, you were likely as fascinated by her parents as you were by her, and I think she expands on the relationship in the way that only an adult child can do.

Well, now I am going to log back onto my Kindle and download her next book because I am hooked... I am addicted to Ruth Reichl and I don't care who knows it. When it comes to food writing, she is IT. I know it might seem like I am pushing her books, but it's only because the writing is so exceptional, and the story so compelling. Just do it. You won't be disappointed.

Quick Fix: Blood Orange Vinaigrette

'Round these parts, we love to eat salad. It's a great accompaniment to many a dish. What we don't like? Processed salad dressings. Every once in a while, we'll buy a bottle of the good stuff, but most times, I like to make my own dressings because it's simple and healthy. Let's face it, there is no feeling like knowing what in the heck went into your food.

Best of all? It's easy! This is a dressing I have been making a ton of lately, since I came across a bag of blood oranges in my local grocery. Blood oranges used to be a hard fruit to find... a specialty fruit, if you will. But I guess they are all trendy now, so you can find them much more easily. Lucky for me--and lucky for you! (Also, they are good in cocktails... but more on that in a later post!) 

Also, I would like to give a little credit on this one. My friend Katie makes amazing salad dressings. Once I saw her add orange juice into her homemade dressing and when I saw these oranges, I thought I would give it a try. This was the result, and I have her to thank. So thank you Katie!

Behold: blood oranges! They vary a little bit in color, as you can see, but the juice has a very nice, deep color and the taste is a little more sour than their Florida counterparts--which is why I like em! Two is the magic number of oranges for this dressing. 

If you don't own this gadget (the juicer thingy, as I like to officially call it), I highly recommend it. It comes in handy for ALL the time in the kitchen, and this is just one of those times! 

This step is not essential, but humbly recommended. I like to get the little bits out and that includes the pulp. Sorry pulp, but you don't make my short list. 

Add some red wine vinegar, which you should always keep on hand!

And extra virgin olive oil.... 

Put them in any container with a lid along with some garlic, salt and white pepper.... 

And shake it...shake... shake... shake! Shake your dressing! Shake your dressing!

Do a little dance... make a little dressing... get down to tonight! Huh!

And pop it in the fridge until you are ready to wow your salad! Easy, right? 

Time: 10 minutes | Serves 4 or one large salad | Difficulty Level: Easy 

You Will Need: 

2 blood oranges, juiced (which is about 2 ounces) 
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1 clove garlic, minced
3 dashes of white pepper 
bit of salt 

Strain the blood orange juice to get out any seeds and/or pulp. 

Combine all the ingredients in a jar or container with a lid. Shake the jar to fully combine the ingredients (while singing a fun 70's song about shaking your booty and interchanging "booty" for "dressing") 

Taste for seasonings and add salt or pepper to adjust, if needed. 

Place the jar in the refrigerator until you are ready to dress your salad. 

Don't you feel awesome and all homemade and stuff? I know... it's great!

I [accidentally] Love You

The other morning, I woke up and sleepily putted around the house in my usual morning routine: find coffee and get back in bed to enjoy a little morning reading. My husband, in his usual chipper morning routine, had been watching the news, “Hey,” he said to me first thing, “I saw on the news this morning that over fifty percent of men say ‘I love you’ by accident the first time--even though they mean it.”

This might sound strange to some people, but for me I knew it meant only one thing: he was thinking on and remembering the first time he ever told me he loved me--by accident no less! It’s a great memory, too; one I will never forget and was happy to remember after our 8+ years together. I thought it a worthy story to share with you all....

As you all know now from my Halloween Love Story, Daren and I started dating on Halloween of 2003. Shortly thereafter we became literally inseparable. He was a huge Phish fan (well, he still he a HUGE Phish fan) and I was a Dave Matthews Band fanatic. As fate had so cunningly arranged for us, Dave Matthews was just releasing a solo album and touring with Trey Anastasio, the lead singer/guitarist from Phish.

At this point in my young life, I had been to a couple of concerts, but Daren had made a practice of it. So when he mentioned getting tickets to see the show casually, I casually said it would be fun. When the tickets came in the mail, I realized he was serious and I was totally impressed. It would be our first concert together, December 15, 2003.

It was the perfect fusion of our respective musical histories, and the beginning of a mutual passion for live music. It was also, unbeknownst to me, the moment my future husband realized he had fallen in love with me. There we were, in the Wachovia Center,  walking through what seemed like a giant tube of hallways. We were sauced, laughing, casually holding hands and looking into each others eyes on our way to our seats.

And there, with thousands of people wandering to catch their seats, in the midst of a conversation about who knows what, Daren put his arm around me, pulled me close, and said, “You know I love you!” And then he gasped, catching himself, cupped his hand around his mouth as if to try and stuff the words back in. And I looked at him, equally as surprised by his admission and we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.

We let it lie. I didn’t push the issue--didn’t make some awkward return of love in his direction. I just relished it. It was the very first time in my whole life when I had dated a guy--a man--and he had been the one to tell me he loved me first. Be it accidental or not, I was captured by the moment because up to that point, I had always been so infatuated with love itself, that I had never let it happen naturally. Now, for the first time, love happened completely organically.

Of course, I was completely and utterly head-over-heels in love with him. But I was trying to play it cool, at least a little bit. I made him sweat it out for ten more days and then I said it to him... and it was perfect. Just as love should be. Certainly we’ve had many more imperfect moments since that time, but I will always remember his accidental 'I love you' and I will always treasure it. Because that is how love happens, so often, when you aren’t looking, it’s snuck up on you, as if by accident.

Rise & Shine: Stuffed French Toast Recipe!

When I was a kid my mom would sing this song to me, "Rise and shine and sing out your glory-glory!" It was such a pleasant song and I liked waking up to the sound of my mother singing to me. (Though, for the record, I was embarrassed when she would burst into song in public.) Anyway, this recipe I have been working on for stuffed french toast reminds me of the song. 

It's a great way to wake up and it makes me want to sing out my glory! I hope you will feel the same way I do about it!

Notice I am using buttermilk and mascarpone cheese. Both of these ingredients add character to the dish, overall and I think you will find it worth the extra trouble. Plus, c'mon, you should be expanding your ingredient horizons whenever possible. 

I added just a  touch of sugar to the egg. It doesn't need a lot. Just a tablespoon. 

Add your buttermilk to your eggs and sugar, give a beat and set it aside. 

Spread your bread with mascarpone.... 

And let's take a moment here. Mascarpone cheese is the Italian counterpart of American cream cheese. I prefer it to cream cheese because it is a little more rich, but just as versatile. If you haven't got mascarpone, or can't find it, you can totally substitute cream cheese. But, I encourage you to give mascarpone a try.... for me. 

Next, spread your jam on the mascarpone. 
I used my own homemade jam, but you can use any jam you like best and in any flavor. This happened to be peach and it was really yummy. 

Top it with another piece of bread. 

I think two of these is a filling meal for any one person. I won't judge you if you want to double the recipe, though, because they are very yummy! 

Again, a dollop of bacon fat in the pan to add extra flavory goodness. No bacon fat? Shame on your butter using butt! Get your skillet hot and melt that fat (or butter) and inhale the smell of morning time food love!

Dip your stuffed french toast in the egg/buttermilk mixture

Place in hot skillet and let it cook 4-5 minutes on each side!

YUM! I love french toast--but this is like french toast with an extra surprise inside!

Topped with syrup, there is no way you can have a bad day after eating this meal!

Time: 25 minutes | Serves Two | Difficulty: Easy-ish 

You Will Need

8 slices of bread
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons jam (more to taste) 
1 tablespoon bacon fat (or butter) 


In a bowl big enough to hold the bread, beat the eggs. Add the sugar and buttermilk, beat with a fork to combine and set aside. 

Spread 1 tablespoon of mascarpone over 4 slice of bread (that's 1 tablespoon per slice of bread, give or take.) Then spread the bread with the jam--about a half a tablespoon each. If you like more jam, put on more jam--no one will judge you!

Place another piece of bread on top of your mascarpone/jam slathered bread to make a sandwich. Set aside.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt bacon fat or butter. 

Soak your sandwiches in your buttermilk mixture so that they are evenly coated on both sides. Place them in the heated pan. 

Let them cook 4-5 minutes on each side, flipping once. You will know that they are done when they are nice and golden on both sides. 

Serve with hot, buttery syrup and a glass of orange juice!

The Year of the Baby Shower

Once upon a time it was the year of the wedding; well, actually, twice upon a time it was the year of the wedding. There was the first go 'round, when I was about 20, and this was because my then-boyfriend (now husband) was considerably older than me and his friends were marrying. It was a little bit hard. I remember having this feeling of looking in on something I didn't understand. I also remember wanting to be a part of it, but not really understanding why.

The second round of marriages came when I was getting married myself, and so was my soon to be sister-in-law, and so was a close family friend. That was the most hectic one because it went May, June, July, and with my wedding being the one sandwiched in the middle, well, there was a ton of things to do. What I remember the most about both these times in my life, different as they were, was they had one distinct thing in common: they were expensive!I wasn't altogether sad to see them go, let's put it that way.

Funny then, that this year unexpectedly became the year of people I know expecting. This one, I didn't even see coming. Odd perhaps because the thing that follows weddings is, indeed, generally babies. For the first time in my whole life, I was invited to a baby shower. Then my brother announced that he and his girlfriend were also having baby. Another family friend also invited me to a shower, and then another girlfriend, who is having a girl, also invited me. That's four baby showers, in case you lost count (and it's only March, so I'm sure I've got more coming!)

I find myself once again in the position where I am the one watching everyone have their big moment in life, and wondering about my own. I am the outsider looking in on the lives of others who have chosen to make a big step in life, but this time, I am a little more skeptical of it instead of the one wishing desperately to be a part of it. And then Snookie announced she was pregnant....

...That one got me in the gut. If Snookie can do it, well then certainly I can too...right? Only I am not sure it's my time. So instead I order gifts from registries and I wrap them. I buy baby books, and I mark the dates on the calendar. I smile and I try my best to pretend that I understand what is going on because I really am excited for my friends. In reality I can't fathom how wonderful, scary, and altogether daunting it must be to sit amidst all those gifts and know that soon a whole new person is coming in your life. No, I can't wrap my head around it at all despite my wanting to be able to share those feelings.

This year of the baby shower is a lot different than the year of the weddings, I'll say that much. It's funny to watch your friends become parents and realize that you are the friend of someone who has children... like, you are that old. It's further astounding when they start talking, and a little boy who was once the size of a bean tells you over the phone, "I love you," like my friend Emily's son did a few weeks ago. I know that someday this child will be a teenager, and he will never remember a day when I wasn't in his life, but I will be able to think back to the day when I first met his mother, when she was just a young 20-something pulling up into our driveway with her then-boyfriend to come live with us on the farm; destined to become one of my very best friends.

And when I think of it this way, I tear up a little bit. The year of the baby shower makes me realize that I have come a long, far way in a few short years and that the world looks different through older lenses. For as skeptical as I may be about motherhood, I know it's coming for me someday and will swallow me whole. I will become another one of my friends with children and I will be fascinated by every word, every sound, every accomplishment my child makes. This year is just a glimpse of what is to come for us someday.... a glimpse into something we can't even venture to understand until we are there, standing with shaky footing on the precipice of parenthood.

Mario Batali's Gnocchi = He's My Hero

I once asked an authentic Italian-American chef how to learn more about Italian cooking, and he literally told me to cook from the Babbo cookbook. So, when my mother got me Mario Batali's Babbo cookbook for Christmas, I was beyond excited. I knew I was in for a treat with his earthy, authentic recipes. Some people might never tackle homemade gnocchi, but if you ask me, there is no other kind.

It is really hard for me to go to eat Italian food because people who open Italian restaurants are usually in the business of butchering the food's authentic flavor and replacing it with American standards. Nothing bugs me more. Thumbing through this cookbook, it's easy to see why he is not only pioneering modern day Italian cuisine, but also how down to earth he is as a chef.

So the gnocchi... I had to try it. Gnocchi is a touchy food for me because I ate in Italy and it was so good that practically any other time I have eaten it has been disappointing. I also wanted to make Mario's version because there is a recipe for it with a venison ragu. I happen to have an entire deer frozen in my freezer (well, not the whole deer, mind you, we've eaten some already, of course!)

It's also Monday. Which means I want to brighten your ever-loving day with a little food porn. And since Mario and Monday both start with "m," well, you see where I am going with this. Onto the food-filled pictorial adventure!

For gnocchi, you must use russet potatoes. They have the proper starch content. But it's also important that you boil them in their skin and remove it after cooking. 

So I did. I will warn you, it hurt... just a little. But cooking isn't for the faint of heart, so.... 

Then I sliced them so I could put them through my grinder. 

Gotta love the Kitchen Aid mixer--no home should be without one! 

Some people have pasta boards, but I have this piece of granite left over from my husband's days at a granite place which he fashioned into a counter top piece. It works just as well. The "thingy" to the left is a dough scraper that my mom gave me for Christmas. I don't know how I ever lived without this thing! It does the work of 20 gadgets!

I sprinkled the potato with flour and added and egg. 

Then you beat the egg as if you were making a regular pasta dough. 

And then you work it in. I have to say that I feel like making potato gnocchi dough is a might bit easier than pasta dough because of the moisture from the potatoes. 

But the feeling of accomplishment is no different!

Divide it into 6 equal parts... 

Which you then roll into these strips... 

And cut into the little pillow shapes!

In the cookbook, Mario Batalli says that you should roll them onto a fork to make that classic gnocchi imprint. You know what I think? Every time I eat them in a restaurant they aren't at all shaped--only the packaged gnocchi seem to come this way! So I abstain from this ridiculously time consuming step. It's more rustic (or at least that is what I tell myself). 

Then you boil them for just a couple of minutes!

Then to stop the cooking, plunge them in ice water. Essential step in the process, if I do say so myself. 

Then drain them in a colander. 

To make the ragu, get your venison steaks ready. 

Cut up the venison steaks. 

Then brown them on both sides 

Add the ingredients and braise away! (Because, as we all know, braising meat is my very favorite at the moment.) 

And then it works itself down to a nice ragu... YUM! 

And plate it up over the wonderfully soft gnocchi. 

Topped with parmesan cheese, of course!

Thank you Mario Batali, thank you... now I don't have to live in a dark world without perfect gnocchi.