Friday, August 30, 2013

Our Lives are Full. Almost.

Moi-meme: Love-filled and bubbly-all-over.

Days like today make me remember why I feel so lucky to be a part of my family.  Things happen, like my little sister calls me to tell me that she's just found out she's having her first son - a new little brother to my niece Ava, a new cousin to my son Roman - and suddenly, my heart, my life, feels so full I could burst.  We have so many good people in our lives, so many happy moments, so much to be thankful for.  Our lives are full.  Almost.

There are a million hopes and dreams that remain to be hoped and dreamed - some more immediately attainable than others - but, in a strange, fortunate way, here lately I've felt like I am truly appreciating and enjoying the life I have rather than focusing on the one I wish I had.   No, life is not perfect, but there's a vision and reality there that feels so right, so attainable that it almost doesn't matter.  And there's so much good coming up in the next six months that, if only for a brief, fleeting moment, it feels like I can do the Ren & Stimpy "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy" dance in-the-now, and minus the depressing, nihilistic undertones.

Tomorrow we embark on a beautiful adventure to visit family in the last days of summer warmth and to usher in the beginning of a new era.  Matt's brother (and he's mine too, actually) is getting married.  It will be a "last hoorah" on many levels and for many people.  Besides the obvious nuptials, Matt's sister is also expecting so it will be their last big family event minus a baby, it will also be Roman's last visit with Nana and Grand as the only grandchild (thank goodness!).  My sister and her husband will be joining in the celebration - also their last vacation / event minus baby #2 due in January.  And, for us, well - who knows what life can and will bring in the coming months.  I feel that somehow it is a last for us too. In a good, very, very exciting way.  :)

So to kick off a great week and a half of fun times, and new memories to be made, here are some photos that visually represent the beautiful spirit of my life and family.  I found them today as I was going through my pictures and couldn't help but smile.  There's an irrepressible happiness that shines through them.  And, as they say, from the mouths (and minds) of babes...

All photography and artwork by Romanorum Master Forum.

This post is brought to you by Mr. Blue Sky - the song by the Electric Light Orchestra and the embodiment thereof in my-personal-offspring-form.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

The Summer Wind.

Dennis Port, Cape Cod, MA 2013
The Summer wind
came blowin' in, from across the sea.
It lingered there to touch your hair
and walk with me.

All summer long we sang a song
and then we strolled that golden sand -

Two sweethearts - and the summer wind.
Frank Sinatra / Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

*  *  *

NOTE: I found this unfinished post in my drafts and decided it was worthy of posting despite being 3 years old.  It was nice to look back at that lovely summer of 2013, now in the Spring of 2016, when we only had Roman and were enjoying the best of times in Denver and New England with friends and family.  

*  *  *

This post is meant to be an ode to the end of summer.  Maybe it's this week's 3-day torrential downpour and the ensuing basement mini-flood that has inspired me to reflect so fondly - nostalgically, already - on this past summer, but I think more accurately it has to do with the idyllic week we just spent in New England.  Part-vacation, part-family-visit, part-wedding-celebration for Matt's brother.  We all had such an enjoyable time.  And there is something very special about a family being "complete" in the sense that all our siblings are now married and these people are the ones we'll be sharing family holidays, reunions and making memories with for, hopefully, the rest of our lives.

There have been many wonderful "firsts" and special memories made this, the summer of 2013.  Here they are, in list form:

Top 10 (11) Moments of Summery Goodness
2013; in no particular order

Roman risking the diving board for the first time at our local pool in Stapleton.
Matt and Roman fishing together for the first time at Washington Park, Denver

The Labor Day (or maybe Memorial Day?) party in our courtyard with all our neighbors.

Canoeing on Evergreen Lake for Father's Day with Roman and Matt.
So lovely.

A nice day trip to Summit Lake on Mount Evans.
We saw a ridiculous amount of big horned sheep that day.

A pit stop at Avery Brewery in Boulder after a day of hot and glorious hiking.

Roman discovering Chichen Itza in the Yucatan during our vacation to Mexico.
He was very upset that we weren't allowed to climb it.

A beautiful hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Roman had to be bribed with Snickers, of course, but it was fun all the same.

Grocery shopping at King Soopers is never dull with Darth Vader in tow.
He's partial to the deli section.

Playing on the beach in Cape Cod before Uncle Marcus' wedding meant the ring bearer
was out like a light as soon as the ceremony was over.  Oh but he had a ball.

My little garden box in Stapleton, overflowing with bountiful zucchini,
tomatoes, fennel, herbs and more.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Amicable Alimentations: Garden-fresh Sauteed Broccoli Rabe

The Rabe: Highly Bolted.
Amicable Alimentations: A series of posts with no predictable order or timing dedicated to a delicious food and the friend who most reminds me of it or inspired me to love it.  Here's the link to post number one, number two, number three, and this, of course, is post number four in the series.

*  *  *

We are getting ready to head NE for Matt's brother's wedding, and so I find myself nostalgic for many things I associate with Matt's family and New England summers: verdent forests, running on Dunkin' for a week straight, family time on the boat, early nights slurping oysters and clams at the local raw bar, and late-night drives on the causeway.  I've been a part of Matt's life in Connecticut for the better part of 10 years now, and I have a lot of fondness for his hometown and his family's traditions.

One of the first times I met Matt's family, we ate what I didn't realize was a staple of their diet: sauteed broccoli rabe.  A self-professed lover of broccoli, I was dumbfounded that I'd never even heard of it.  (Italian thing, for the record.)  Anyway, they told a story about some lady who used to say "I never liked broccoli rabe until I met the Ciardiellos."   Well, that lady is me now.  And this post is dedicated to Matt's family for having introduced me to what is now one of my favorite veggies.  (Which, also for the record, is a lot to say.)

The years in London were like a metaphorical culinary desert, for many reasons.  I never saw much in terms of unique or local "greens" in the grocery stores, despite, ironically, the English countryside being covered in fields of broccoli rabe, its yellow flowers in bloom, harvested for rapeseed oil only.  There is no culture of eating greens in the UK - not like in Italy and Greece.  Anyway, I was very pleased when we moved to Portland and discovered that every local grocery store carried broccoli rabe.  In withdrawal, we feasted for months, and, temporarily, the beast was sated.   Now, in Colorado, we're back to the famine: no broccoli rabe to be found!  I saw it once at King Soopers for a few days and then it was gone, never to be seen again.

lovely, bitter, and leafy
When spring hit, I resolved to grow my own, knowing nothing about how or when to do so.  The only picture I had in my head was that of a little garden in South England where Matt's great uncle had grown his own as well.  I figured if he could do it so could I.  One purchase of heirloom broccoli rabe seeds later, I was on my way.  These are the results.  a few precious stalks (and admittedly I waited too long to cut a few and they bolted and got a little woody, but I ate them anyway :)) sauteed in olive oil with fresh garlic and crushed red pepper.   Pretty close to a perfect summer lunch, in my book.

I was proud of the small but beautiful little crop I reaped.  And I'll be trying my hand at growing some more in the next few weeks as the climate here in Denver starts to cool.

*  *  *

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic
Serves 4, as a side-dish
Broccoli Rabe is a bitter green that grows best in cooler temps and partial shade.  It's not the best crop for hot Denver summers but might be good for Denver Springs and early Falls. :)

1 lb broccoli rabe, washed
2-3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed or sliced
crushed red pepper (pepperoncino)
olive oil
salt & pepper


1. Bring salted water to boil.  Add the broccoli rabe and cook for about 5 minutes (this step tones down the extreme natural bitterness), until tender and bright green.  Drain and shock in an ice bath or by pouring cold water over the colander until the broccoli is cooled and has stopped cooking.

2. In a sautee pan, add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and heat on medium high.  Add the garlic and crushed red pepper (to taste and optional).  Swirl the oil around so it gets flavored by the garlic and pepper flakes.  Do not allow the garlic to burn.   

3. Add the broccoli rabe to the hot pan and toss to coat in the olive oil, adding more oil if necessary.  Sautee for a few minutes, then salt and pepper.

Serve with a wedge of lemon.  Can be eaten hot or at room temperature.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Colorado Beauties: Summer Peach Pie with Vanilla & Cardamom

Summer Peach Pie - Oh my.
I started to write this post almost exactly a year ago.  A colleague of Matt's from London happens to own a house in the amazingly beautiful mountains of Western Colorado - in  Telluride to be exact - and he invited us for a weekend trip at the last minute.  Despite the long drive (6-7 hours), and the fact that we hadn't even finished unpacking our house completely, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to see friends again and to also explore the other side of this beautiful Rocky Mountain state we had just moved to a month before.

I racked my brain for what I could bring with us as a gift to the hosts.  My eyes and hands had been wandering to the piles of Colorado peaches available at this time of year in the grocery stores, and so when I found a recipe for summer peach pie out of Bon Appetit - something I'd never tried - I was sold on the idea.  Luckily, I happened to also know that these particular friends of ours are as big of fans of dessert and pies as we are.  The recipe I found included cardamom which I felt was a nice shout-out to the Middle Eastern experiences we had all shared while Matt and co. worked at a Bahrain-based bank in London.  Perfect.

* * *
View for the weekend.

The drive through Colorado was a sort of unexpected initiation into life in "the west": plains, mountains, forests, rivers and streams.  We saw much of the best of what Colorado has to offer in terms of scenery and ambiance, and felt ourselves thinking - hoping - that maybe, just maybe, this really could be our forever home.  Not just out of convenience and circumstance, but because we could see ourselves truly falling in love with it.

We wound our way up mountain roads, following the slightly-less-than-precise directions ("take a left at the third cattle crossing and then drive for a mile until you see the small wind turbine...") and getting lost in beautiful, verdent and whispery Aspen groves.  We passed an abandoned ranch where John Wayne's True Grit was filmed back in the day, listening to John Denver and snapping pictures of all the seemingly untouched, natural beauty.

The peach pie was a hit; and it turns out our friend is particularly fond of both peach pie and cardamom (which was quite a good thing, the latter being, admittedly, quite an acquired taste for Americans). 

Here's the recipe.  Take advantage of those August peaches.  They are a fleeting pleasure, but the sweetness does stay with you the rest of the year - much like that trip last summer has stayed with us.

*  *  *

From Bon Appetit; found at
Serves 6-8

Colorado Peaches


2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1/3-1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 3/4 pounds firm but ripe unpeeled peaches, halved, pitted, each half cut into 4 slices (about 10 cups)
2 Best-Ever Pie Crust dough disks
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Whipping cream (for glaze)
Vanilla ice cream (optional; to serve with it)


Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400°F. 

Combine 2/3 cup sugar and vanilla bean in processor; blend until vanilla bean is very finely minced. Sift vanilla sugar through strainer into large bowl; discard any large bits in strainer. Mix flour and cardamom into vanilla sugar. Add peaches to flour-sugar mixture and toss gently to coat.

Roll out 1 pie crust disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Spoon peach mixture into crust; dot with butter. Roll out second pie crust disk on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Drape dough over peach filling; trim overhang to 1 1/2 inches. Fold top and bottom edges under, pressing together to seal. Crimp edges decoratively. Using small sharp knife, cut 2-inch-long X in center of top crust to allow steam to escape. Brush crust lightly with whipping cream; sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crust is golden, peaches are tender, and juices bubble thickly through cut in top crust, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool until lukewarm, about 2 hours.

Serve pie warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

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