Friday, November 8, 2013

Fashionably Late.

The Last Stapleton Foliage

You're like a party somebody threw me
You taste like birthday
You look like New Years
You're like a big parade through town
You leave such a mess but you're so fun

Tell all the neighbors to start knocking down walls
To grab their guitars and run out to the hall
And we're coming out right along to sing them my new song

For every place there is a bus
That'll take you where you must
Start counting all your money and friends before you come back again

For every road we can retrace
For every memory we can't face
For every name that's been erased
Let's have another round
May I propose a little toast?
For all the ones who hurt the most
For all the friends that we have lost

Let's give them one more round of applause

But you're like a party somebody threw me
You taste like birthday
You look like New Year
You're like a big parade through town
That leaves such a mess but you're so fun

The Party, Regina Spektor
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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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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ετσι ειναι η ζωη: Livin' the good life, Greek-style.

My Frappe: Metrios Me Gala

ετσι ειναι η ζωη: Such is life.
(phonetic: etsee-eeneh-ee-zoe-ee)

This was one of the first phrases I learned from my Notre Dame-North-Carolina-Indiana-Jones Professor upon arriving in Ancient Corinth in 2003.  Such is life.  At the time I was in full Greek-immersion mode, "efharistoe"-ing my way around the picturesque village, downing bowls of avgolemono and living mostly off of homemade wine bought from the little old lady's back room in a tiny village outside of town, that we, naturally, used to store in large, plastic gasoline containers on the front porch.  Life seemed good.  It seemed very good.

When I think back to that brief period on the Peloponesos in the summer of 2003, I recall nothing but the ideal of what life was: hot summer days, the esoteric beauty of piecing together Ancient yellow-limestone Corinthian roof tiles to reconstruct a geometric era temple, of meeting third-generation Pot-shard experts from the local village and watching them apprentice their sons for the same, the views of the peninsula from the top of Acrocorinth (Ακροκόρινθος), that first dinner at the local taverna where I learned how to properly pronounce Moussaka (μουσακά), eating raw garlic by the clove with 20-hour cooked mutton and homemade bread and cheese in the mountains, pathetic attempts at sketching Penteskoufi (a tiny ruined village nestled in a beautiful valley near our house), learning to orient myself based solely on the Isthmus and the surrounding mountains, diving into the impossibly beautiful waters of Perachora on a hot summer day and admiring the bountiful sea urchin next to the ancient Greek ruins of the Heraion (Ηραίο Περαχώρας), eating freshly washed, ice-cold cherries at a roadside restaurant with a view of the ocean and a nice breeze after cruising at indecent speeds in our cooky professor's dilapidated, A/C-less, white Lada, window shopping in modern Corinth while sipping a Greek Frappe (Metrio me Gala, for the record), learning bazouki songs after a giant outdoor barbecue of a whole lamb in a hand-dug charcoal pit, laughing and singing and telling stories late into the night, every single night, with a tiny glass of wine (ποτηράκι) in hand.

I didn't tend to think about the less than ideal aspects of the "good life" in a tiny village in Greece: village gossip - especially about expats and the new "archeology arrivals," constantly changing rivalries between family-owned restaurants and bars which effectively reduce your eating options by 50%, no hot showers - and no indoor showers, for that matter - oh, and no indoor toilets either, no air conditioning (even when it's bitterly hot), being jokingly punished for too much drinking by being forced to climb Acrocorinth while seriously hung-over, a mostly-vegetarian diet (this was particularly painful for me), sleeping in a room with crumbling ceilings and a perpetual fear of rodents, lizards and spiders crawling between your sheets, endless afternoons spent sketching temple blocks on graph paper in a hot room, or even more endless afternoons spent sorting through endless piles of said-ancient temple blocks to catalog and re-sketch them again.  The list goes on.

Still, that summer, like many others I've lived, is one suspended forever in my mind and heart as representing a form of true happiness - the kind built upon utter simplicity and freedom, making it ever-memorable and, in its own imperfection, perfect.  And the one culinary memory that best represents that carefree Grecian summer for me is the Greek Frappé.  I drank them every chance I got.  They were one of the first things I learned to order on my own.  And they hit the spot on a hot, dry afternoon of too much antiquity.

Summer these days is, admittedly, full of neighborhood pools and play dates more than leisurely dips in pristine Hellenic waters, but, one day in June, on a perfect Denver afternoon, I decided to take a moment for myself by making a frappé after almost a year since touching my $13 / can Greek Nescafe.  It transported me immediately.  And reminded me that whether it's the Colorado sun, or the Corinthian heat, summer is summer.  Happy is happy.  And ετσι ειναι η ζωη: Such is life.

*  *  * 

Image credit
To make your own frappé, first, find a Greek grocer near you and purchase this.  Then go to Frappé Nation and check out their real Greek recipe and method.  I prefer mine metrios (2 sugars) "me gala" - with milk.  If you have regular American Nescafe, just add more coffee.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Keep Your Eye on Little Jupiter: Roman is 4!

Birthday boy riding his new bike
Before I can remember remembering,  and definitely before I was four, I knew I had a special necklace I daily wore and that my parents gave me.  It had a charm with what looked like a number four on it, paired with a gold medallion of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the Holy Spirit which I'd been given for my baptism.  This all seemed very normal.  It likewise seemed very normal to me when my mom told me the "4" was an Egyptian symbol for "eternal love."  It also made perfect sense that this bit of wisdom was one she had gotten from none other than the cover of an album in the 70's by Earth, Wind & Fire.  :)

My four.
It's funny what's passed down from one generation to another.  I thought of that four a lot last week, when Roman turned four, and we held a bouncy house party for him in our front yard.  I thought about how that metaphorical "eternal love" had also been passed down to him, but that, unlike my mother - blessed with two obedient daughters - there was no way I'd trust my little warrior to wear a gold necklace, and probably wouldn't for years to come.  But that despite that, I metaphorically gave him my "eternal love" daily, and in greater amounts, perhaps, on the day of his birth, that day being filled with so many memories and so much meaning for me and him.

In the end, symbols have the meaning we wish them to.  It took me little more than a few minutes to do some research and find that my beloved four is actually the symbol for the planet Jupiter, in some ways far more fitting for Roman than me because Jupiter was the head of the Roman pantheon, the Italic equivalent to Zeus.  Jupiter symbolizes optimisim, the higher mind, generosity, goodness and opportunity.  His was the thunderbolt and he was held to be the greatest, the strongest, the leader.  I can't help but feel that's apt in some likely-highly-exaggerated, perhaps maternally-convoluted way. :)  Roman and his Buzz Lightyear party, in which he was the head space ranger, wings, lightning bolts, laser gun and all, is indeed a little Jupiter - commanding our attention, our admiration, and our love in new ways every year.  Roman bravely suffering his first cast being put on a broken arm.  Roman asking questions at the art museum about Mummies and why we die.  Roman asking me if I'm a dark heart or a true heart when I don't want to share my dessert.  Roman knocking things over and leaving trails of crumbs, no matter how mindful he tries to be.  Roman being his wonderful self: thoughtful, silly, boisterous and perfect.

And so, to close, in the funk-filled words of Earth, Wind & Fire

"Keep your eye on Jupiter, such beauty in the sky,
 We will wait for your return, in the by & by
Keep your eye on Jupiter, memories we shall fulfill
just to view a brighter day, and do a righteous will."

*  *  *
Here are a couple of lists to remind me of what Roman is and has been like over the past year, his first spent in Colorado, and some pictures from his wonderful, friend-filled birthday party - a chance not only to celebrate Roman being in our lives, but also to celebrate the small but budding support network of friends we have started here in Denver.

*  *  *

Top 5 Songs Roman Loves to Sing / Listen to
a little more angsty, and a little more selective

Sing us a song - you're the piano man.
 1. Lookin' Out My Back Door - Credence Clearwater Revival
There was a six-week period when we went skiing every weekend, mostly at A-basin this year.  I became obsessed with listening to my Credence Clearwater Revial Greatest Hits CD during the multiple-hour drives.  Let's just say that thanks to that and maybe thanks to us watching The Big Lebowski and absurd amount in his youth, Roman has become a fan. Especially of the line "Do-do-do-lookin' out my back dooooooaaa'!" which he belts out while slapping the back of his seat, kinda like I do :)

2. Little Talks - Of Monsters and Men
This became a favorite on our cross-country drive last June from Maine to Colorado.  It's kind of a dark, broody song with a slightly haunting quality to it (for the love, don't watch the freaky video), but for whatever reason Roman calls it "his song" and gets mad if I don't put it on when requested.  He also loves to yell out "hey!"

3. Pack Up - Eliza Doolittle
When my niece Sara Eli came to stay with us during our first month living in Denver, Roman and her developed a hilarious duet singing to this song.  Sara was Eliza and Roman was, clearly, the old black man that sings the chorus to this remade, British World War I song. :)  Hilarious.

4. Home - Philip Philipps
Again, not the first song I would have thought a three year old would like, but there's something about the melody that holds Roman's attention.  He loves to sing and hum to it.

5. Ta-ra-ta-ta - Mina
This is not the song Roman sings most often, but I have to say, it's the one he's absolutely the most passionate about.  I became a fan of this song after Matt and I watched a funny Italian movie called "Dillo Con Parole Mie" in which the protagonists do an impromptu lip sync of this quirky 60's era Italian song at the end of the movie while riding a bus in the Greek Islands.  Mina's music, if you're not familiar with it, is a bit dramatic and lots of fun, in the best of ways.  Roman knows all the words - in a slurry, phonetically pronounced Italian - and also works a MEAN shimmy while he sings them.

*  *  *

Top 5 Random, Funny & Touching Things Roman Said
over the past year

Funny guy.

1. Every day after school Roman has to wash his hands.  Sometimes he tries to trick me by just quickly rinsing them without scrubbing with soap, so I always ask him to let me smell his hands when he's done to prove that he actually used soap to wash them.  The other day he cam up and said: "Mommy, smell my hands.  I used water and sunlight."  They still smelled like bananas but I couldn't help but smile. (May 2013)

2. Roman was looking particularly thoughtful one day in the car after one of our many conversations about mummies, death and Egypt (where you go when you die, according to him).  He suddenly announced, "Check one: don't get old and be dead.  Check two: don't crash into things so you'll be dead." (Jan 2013)

3. In reference to the human anatomical feature we call intestines: "Mommy at the bottom of your stomach it looks like you have macaroni but you don't." (Jan 2013)

4. "Hello, this is Roman Ciardiello.  Please leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.  Thanks." :) (July 2012)
5. Bright and early on the morning of his 4th birthday, he woke me up and said:
"Mommy, look how big I am! Look how big my eyes are!
(Stretches eyes)
Look how big my nose is!
(Flares nostrils)
Look how big my muscles are!
(Does the Popeye)
I can even hop on one foot!"

And then he hopped all around, halfway and very proudly, for quite a while. :)

Honorary Mention: When Roman broke his arm in October at his cousin Ava's house after falling off his daddy's back (while riding him like a horse), we all spent a nervous and worrying couple of hours in the Children's hospital emergency room.  I couldn't tell if he was scared or just in pain; he was just very quiet and stoic while he watched cartoons.  When we got out, and only after being given quite a lot of pain medication, he looked at me as we walked to the car and said, "Mommy, I thought I was going to die."  Little people, big world.

*  *  *

Top 5 Things Roman Loves These Days
strange and varied, like his mom

Foo Dogs with Daddy; Chinese New Year
1. Ancient Things and Egyptian Mummies
When we started frequenting our new local library last year, Roman and I gathered a motley assortment of books.  I wasn't sure what he'd be most interested - not having taken him to the library for years (please don't judge me: there are no libraries in Abu Dhabi (yep.), and the two times I went in Portland he almost got us kicked out he was so loud and boisterous at story time).  One of the books was this Eye Witness book on Mummies.  What ensued was an endless series of renewals and a full-fledged obsession.  At the beginning of the school year, I was informed by one of his teachers that Roman had given an impromptu lecture on Mummies, the Sphynx and hieroglyphics for his pre-school class (choice quote: "Can everyone say 'the Great Sphynx?'").  Our membership to the Museum of Nature & Science has paid for itself about five times over.  And a very nerdy party of me absolutely loves that he knows who Anubis is.

2. Steak.
What a little man Roman has turned out to be.  He loves steak and requests it regularly.  That and pork chops.  When I asked him this year what he wanted his special birthday dinner to be he said, unequivocally, "Steak, corn (on the cob) and cherry limeades (from Sonic)."  That's what we had - along with the prerequisite chocolate cake with strawberries (his favorite), and Bluebell Ice Cream. 

3. Guns & Shooters
"Shooters," as they are euphemized at Roman's school, are the dreaded but inevitable obsession of most toddler-aged boys I know.  Even if I never gave him a toy gun, he would use his finger, or a branch, or a piece of broccoli.  He loves playing good-guy-bad-guy (again, something he was never taught) and loves putting on his holster, cantine and cowboy gun his Grand gave him.  He also admires his daddy's love of skeet and bird shooting.

4. Bedtime Stories & Night-lights
We have an array of different night lights in Roman's room, from the snoopy one to the regular one, to the Christmas lights in his "secret hiding place" (the crawl space in his room).  My mom even got him a cool turtle that displays stars and moons on the cieling and plays nature music.  There's nothing Roman loves more (and nothing that works as a better threat or bribery) than his beloved bedtime stories.  Matt is more fun than me because he likes to hide under the blankets and read stories with a flashlight.  But I get the prize for good voices and accents.  He especially loves the Olivia stories (I agree) and we recently found a great version of Jack & the Beanstalk which he really likes.

5. His Soccer Class.
We signed Roman up for pee-wee soccer a month ago or so.  His first class was a struggle for his two type-A parents, watching him be the only kid who completely disregarded the coach's orders and basically ran around picking up random soccer balls at will.  Matt had to step in several times.  Eventually, Matt set up a mini, nightly, post-dinner training camp in our basement.  He memorized all the games and drills Roman was supposed to know and basically drilled him in them daily (all the while having a great time, might I add) so that now Roman is the best, most well-behaved kid in his whole class (well, besides the goody-goody girls, which, everyone knows, will always be better behaved than the boys!).  Every day after dinner Roman says, "daddy can we go play soccer now?"  I love that.

Honorary Mention: Breaking my back - by stepping on every crack, that is. :)

 *  *  *

Top 5 Random Cool Things About Roman

Roman soldier, or Jupiter in disguise?
1. He's a Classicist at heart, too.
At some point in the fall of 2012, I discovered I still had my National Geographic CD on Pompeii that I used as a teacher in NY for my Pompeii unit.  I immediately wanted to put it on for Roman - the recreation of Vesuvius' eruption alone is worth watching it for, but the British actors are a second, surprise bonus - but Matt said he thought there was no way he'd be interested.  Against all odds, he sat there the entire hour, enthralled by the story of Pompeii, its people, and the eruption.  It soon became his favorite movie to watch and for about a month he watched it daily.  We were thrilled when our local Nature & Science museum then opened a beautiful exhibit on Pompeii, complete with the plaster casts of bodies and animals that are Roman's favorites. 

2. He Dallies in Aesthetics.
I wouldn't say Roman is a particularly "broody" kid, but he definitely has a lot of pensive, quieter moments (yes, even in between all the screaming, yelling and throwing that goes on non-stop).  He's more observant and less willing to share his inner thoughts than a lot of kids I've met.  Sometimes that drives me insane.  Sometimes, though, it is a great reminder of what a beautiful, deep little soul I have in my house.  Roman loves to stop and admire beauty everywhere, from the sun ("Mommy, isn't is a beautiful day?"), to art ("Isn't that painting beautiful, mommy?", to my dress ("Mommy, you look like a princess!".  He thinks it's interesting that people can fall in love with the wrong person, but still find the right one eventually.  He often asks me what songs "mean" and then sits to consider what I've said.  I hope I can continue to model and encourage that about him.

3. He has an incredibly memory.  And flare for the dramatic.
My mom says he gets it from me.  I have to agree.  I don't know many other people who can memorize most choice parts of a movie after just watching it once.  Roman loves to perform little sections of movies he likes.  Most memorable is his rendition of the "Bernie" clip from The Incredibles, complete with hand and head gestures, and several character changes.  And also his delivery on the dead-pan line by Lightning McQueen while in the Rust-eze tent: "Race cars don't need headlights because the track is always....littt." He has also mastered basic American, English, Scottish and Texan accents.  I'll have to video-tape him one of these days.

4. His favorite holiday of All is Halloween.
He has told me multiple times that he prefers it to Christmas, which, to me is borderline heretical.  He loves skeletons (2012 costume) and, as anyone who knows Roman can tell you, is absolutely obsessed with candy and sweet things.  He loves it when the seasonal Halloween stores pop-up, and trips to Wal-mart in October become almost impossible as he insists we go try on every single mask they have.  He started planning next year's costume before he was even done trick-or-treating this year.  I can't wait to see what he'll be next.

5. He loves maps.  And thrift-shopping.
Roman and I have become companions in trawling for unusual and interesting things at our local Goodwill and other thrift shops.  He loves to go down every aisle looking at things and asking questions about them.  Once we found a gigantic child's Atlas - the thing is probably 2.5 feet by 1.5 feet.  It shows maps of the whole world and the US, and is illustrated.  He loves to look at it and it became quite the rage at school when he brought it for show and tell.  He owns many other atlases (the first of which we purchased at a yard sale in Portland last summer) and has a map of the Roman empire in his room.  I love his curiosity at what they are, how they work, and what they represent.  And I'm thankful that he loves to indulge my closet-hoarder tendencies. :)

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Roman's 4th Birthday & Party

Blowing out his candles with Evil Doctor Pork Chop and a Cherry Limeade
His first real bike - no training wheels!
The stage.
Sweet moment with Daddy before the madness.

Scoping out the goods.

Leading Space Ranger Training Camp!
On the war path for the Evil Emperor Zurg!
Zurg has arrived.  ATTACK!!!
Funny faces.
Finally breaking the pinata!
Jumping together at the very end.

 Happy 4th Birthday Roman!

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Invoking Spring: Barrafina's Chorizo & Watercress Sandwich

Barrafina-inspired Chorizo Sandiwch with Watercress salad
Sometimes in the Spring, ever-so-fleetingly, I get nostalgic for London.  This year that was the case last week when I re-experienced the frustration of it being too cold to wear anything but a sweater in the middle of April.  It's just not right.  And it's just what I experienced every single spring in Londontown.  Even now, I shake my head at my British / UK-residing friends' facebook statuses about how they're almost convinced the sun will never shine again, that the weather will never warm up.  I shake my head in dismay, but also in solidarity.  I know their pain.

So this post is about invoking Spring in an otherwise un-spring-y circumstance.

I remember the first time I heard about the then-new Barrafina restaurant in London's west end back in February of 2007.  My hellacious boss (who I'll refer to as " Luca Delcattivo" here for the sake of anonymity) had taken a client to lunch there one day and came back to our offices raving about it.  Tapas.  New, delicious, refined Spanish tapas in London like none he'd ever had outside Spain.  I drooled at his brief but poignant descriptions.  Shortly thereafter, in March or April, Matt and I went there and we were so blown away that we insisted on taking most of our guests there too when they came to visit.  And a couple of Marches and Aprils later, they were all blown away too.  It's such a nice place to eat, but best in the Spring, when the window-walls fly open and you're left to enjoy the ambiance of Soho, crowds toasting glasses of wine as they wait patiently outside the door, wafts of gambas and garlic filling the air.

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Top Things that Invoke that Springtime Spirit 
at Barrafina

watercress in a snowy garden
1. A Glass of Cava
 Maybe it's the stark, modern decor or the white-marble countertops, but, to me a glass of bright, bubbly Cava is the best-fitting drink to start your meal at Barrafina.  There is always a queue so forget the fantasies of walking in to a lovely white-linen-lined table and eating a leisurely meal.  Tables don't exist either (except for a few impossibly-small ones on the sidewalk outside if my memory serves).  You get there, you get a drink, and you stand outside with the rest of the world on the street, drinking, toasting, and feeling bubbly.  The cava brings the sunshine to you.

2. The Ooey-Gooey Tortilla Española (with shrimp)
The Spanish Tortilla is a thing of beauty.  Eggs and potato combined into round sublimity.  At Barrafina they cook individual-sized tortillas in tiny cast-iron pans, finishing them under the broiler so that the outside is set but the inside is an ooey-gooey, runny, eggy mess.  A revelation. Completely, absolutely, delicious.  They offer many different variations - often using seasonal ingredients (perfect for a time like Spring).  We especially enjoyed the one with shrimp.

3. The Pan con Tomate
Dreams of sun-ripened tomatoes haunt me at this time of year.  If you've never tried this uber-simple Spanish-staple, you must.  You will never look at a tomato and piece of bread the same way again. 

4. The Seafood
Nothing screams warm-weather and better-days more to me than a well-cooked piece of seafood.  Barrafina excels at taking fresh fish and highlighting its best aspects.  Get the octopus, the clams, the razor clams - or any of the fish.  They are all cooked simply and perfectly.

5. The Cheery Ambiance
The seating in Barrafina and the fact that you can't make reservations will either make or break the experience for you.  It's hard to sit at a long bar when you're with more than one person.  You are always seated next to a stranger.  There is no privacy because the cooks, the bar staff and chef are all running around in front of you, making food, drinks, taking plates and glasses, offering another round of painfully expensive Jamon Iberico which you will not be able to resist after a certain number of alcoholic libations.  But that's ok.  You'll feel shocked the next day when you remember the total cost of the meal, and marvel at how, truly, you're probably still hungry after having had 6 plates between the two of you.  But that's ok.  Sometimes its worth it just for the ambiance and for a couple of truly amazing bites of food.

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Last week I decided to invoke the spirit of Barrafina by making what was one of our favorite dishes there (though we admittedly loved them all): Chorizo and Watercress sandwiches.  I'm not sure whether they still serve the chorizo sandwiches or not as it has been about four years since we've been there but judging by the reviews on Urbanspoon, whatever they are serving is still as good or better than what we had several years ago.  We loved the sandwich both because of its simplicity and its seamless fusing of Spanish and British cuisine: the Spanish chorizo and bread together with a quintessentially English crop - peppery watercress.

Bolillo and Chorizo
The chorizo I used is Mexican (I like it hot, what can I say?), and I simply formed small sausages from loose chorizo, grilled them, and paired them with a lightly toasted (grilled) Mexican bolillo.  I then placed a small helping of a watercress salad dressed simply with lemon juice, fresh garlic, salt and pepper on top.

Spring in sandwich-form. :)

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