Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SLOW FOOD/FAST COFFEE

Last year, my sister visited from Italy, and I took her to a beloved neighborhood coffee place. We placed our order for two espressos, and then I stood back to analyze the various stages of shock she was bound to experience. The reason? The espresso making took FOREVER. My sister stared in increasing disbelief as the barista took all the time in the world to go through the 7 Steps of modern American artisanal espresso-making:
  1. Pour ground coffee into the handle in atomic increments.
  2. Press the coffee down with complete concentration in carefully-applied 30-lb thrusts.
  3. Polish the border of the handle until it shines, completely speckless.
  4. Let the coffee drip into the cup with monastic patience.
  5. Examine the espresso closely for possible flaws that would nullify the process.
  6. Send a silent prayer to the coffee gods to ensure future blessing.
  7. Place the finished espressos on the counter for the costumer to finally enjoy. (Avoid eye contact.)
You know what it's like: It took at least 10 minutes from start to finish. My sister looked at me, her brown, life-filled Italian eyes wide open, and said, "We need to open our espresso bar. We'll be millionaires!"

See, espresso in Italy (we call it coffee) is actually a very quick experience. Even in the nicest torrefazioni (cafes where coffee is roasted and served), it might take a minute at most for a perfect espresso to appear in front of you after your order. It's not only that Italians barista are quick, it's that they have to be. We Italians are physically and culturally addicted to coffee and to its almost instantaneous kick, so much that we don't even care about sitting down at a coffee bar. We need our espresso, and we need it NOW. That's why at home we use the little stovetop moka, because it produces a concentrated coffee in a matter of minutes.

Anyway, my sister thought Americans would love to have their coffee just as fast. She thought, arent' they addicted, too? Well, as much as her fantasy of opening an espresso bar appealed to me, I knew it would never work in America. Nobody cares about a fast espresso here. Instead, a carefully-poured espresso is popular because it reminds American of the artistry and tradition of coffee. An express espresso would not have the same charm.

So I started thinking, and I realized there is a major difference between American and Italian approach to food and coffee that I summarized in this handy infographic:


Italians will happily wait 20 to 30 minutes for the appetizers to show up and would never dream of having lunch in the car, but need their espresso right away, preferably standing up, and five minutes later they're already on their way. In Italy, a barista is as swift and invisible as a ghostly apparition, seen only with the corner of your eye.

Who is right, then? Well, Italians, of course. We're always right on food. But I will concede that slow coffee has its charms. I very much appreciate the dedication that American baristas are giving to our home staple, and I am definitely thankful to them for taking espresso seriously enough to transform it from a bitter soup to a creamy deliciousness that is often just as good as the original. And as soon as you get addicted as Italians are, I know you'll learn to make it quick. See you on the other side.

Monday, June 1, 2015

STRAWBERRY RICE TORTE

Strawberry Rice Torte, or rice pie with strawberries.

I love spring because my CSA starts again, rescuing me from a winter of badly-planned grocery shopping where I fill my house with too many cabbages destined to be forgotten in the back of the fridge. I always have grandiose plans for my cabbages, plans I promptly forget when I need them, as if they were only beautiful dreams from the deepest of sleeps. But I digress... Back to my CSA. This week, I bought a pint of pulpy strawberries that looked and tasted too good to be wasted on my kids' afternoon snack. (It's not that my kids don't deserve good strawberries, but the afternoon is usually a time of angry screaming and hurled toys, so rock-hard pears would do just fine. Am I digressing again?) I thought about it for a while, and I remembered the recipe for Strawberry Risotto that I had so loved in my childhood. I probably had it only twice then, but I tried it again a few years ago and found it lovely.

I thought that recipe for Strawberry Risotto would be perfect for the blog, so I started researching its origin to give you, my dear readers, some damn culture. As I started my Web browsing, I was already beginning to imagine an adorable alpine village in the north of Italy, nestled in the middle of a perfumed grazing pasture and animated by colorful wildflowers waving in the breeze. There, a small group of stern but kind matrons would throw handfuls of fragrant wild strawberries in a rice cauldron, stirring the Risotto with their massive wooden spoons around and around... Sadly, my Italian daydreaming was stopped short. My research immediately revealed that Strawberry Risotto was not an ancient Italian tradition. In fact, it's nothing but A FANCY RECIPE FROM THE 70s, a self-satisfied gimmick of a culinary period that thought itself above history and taste, and possibly the Italian equivalent of this Chicken Fricasee. My bucolic fantasy was shattered. I saw the wildflowers wilt with a cracking sound, and adorable black-and-white cows stampede all over my imaginary matrons and their northern village. A cloud of hairspray engulfed the land, and massive vol-au-vents began hailing all around me. Then everything turned glossy, and I passed out.

Well, not really. I find 70s food amusing, actually, but this time I wasn't interested, so I decided to employ my strawberries in a different direction. I still liked the idea of rice and strawberries, and so I researched a dessert that would use them both. I found this recipe for Torta di Riso al Balsamico con Fragole, which is fancier than my adaptation here given its inclusion of balsamic vinegar, but whatever. What I did was a very simple sushi rice cooked in milk and then mixed with sugar, egg, and a little rum. I spooned the mix into a cake pan in two batches, so that I could have a layer of sliced strawberries in the middle. The result is a simple, pretty cake that is the emblem of spring. It is light and delicious, and perfect for a picnic. And, in case you need it, it's also gluten-free.

Garnish it with good fresh strawberries, if you have them, and eat it warm, or at room temperature, or cold. And let's forget that the 70s are back.

Strawberry Rice Torte, or rice pie with strawberries.

STRAWBERRY RICE TORTE


3 C milk
1 1/2 C sushi rice (or other short-grain starchy rice like Arborio)
1 C sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp rum
1 Pint of strawberries (half for the filling, half or less for topping or accompaniment)
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cook the rice in milk on the stove until cooked through, then transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool down.
  • While the rice cooks, wash and slice half of the strawberries.
  • Stir in the butter (broken in little pieces), the eggs, the vanilla, and the rum.
  • Line a 9'' round cake pan with parchment paper (or butter and flour the pan if you prefer), and pour half of the rice batter in.
  • Arrange the sliced strawberry in a single layer over the rice batter.
  • Pour the second half of the batter over the strawberries, then slide the cake pan in the oven for one hour, or until cake is firm and top is slightly golden.
Note to ramekin lovers: This recipe works great in individual ramekins as a spoon dessert. Just check the ramekins after 35 minutes for doneness. 

Slice of Strawberry Rice Torte, or rice pie with strawberries.
Microbee's unforgiving claw.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

IS HOME COOKING ANTI-FEMINIST? AN ITALIAN PERSPECTIVE


At the end of last year there was a resurgence of articles questioning the feminist or anti-feminist nature of home cooking. The debate is not new, but it flared up in response to the publication of "The Joy of Cooking?" (the article is not longer available for free, so buy it here or read about it here), an article by three sociologists from North Carolina State University that was based on their interviews with 150 black, white, and Latina mothers and on over 250 hours of observation of 12 working-class mothers dealing with cooking and family life.

The article was quite discouraging for those who believe America should embrace home cooking in the name of public health and a lesser environmental impact. What emerged from it is that mothers, even when they hold full-time jobs, are still the ones saddled with cooking and all its implications, from meal planning to grocery shopping, from making the time for cooking to cleaning afterwards. To make matters worse, the onerous home-cooked meal stands a good chance of being rejected by the kids AND the husband, so the whole ordeal might end up in a maddening waste of time, energy, and money. The mothers' uphill battle is not only confined within their homes: Junk food is advertised everywhere and easily available, and school cafeterias most often serve just that (it reminded me of a comment in the movie Fed Up, defining some schools today as "7-11's with books"), so convincing their children to start eating healthy, home-cooked meals becomes a near impossible task.

To be fair, the article never uses the terms "feminist" or "anti-feminist" to define the problem, but much of the debate that sparked from it posed that very question. Is home-cooking feminist? The debate intrigued me. I've often heard Italian mothers complain that they have to do all the cooking, but I had never seen the blame being put on home cooking. In fact, home cooking is still upheld as one of the best things Italians have accomplished, and I've always agreed. But should I? I started thinking about my Italian experience with home cooking, about its rituals, meaning, and consequences on Italian family life. As you may already know, food in Italy is pretty much sacred, and most Italians are very educated (and opinionated) about nutrition. We have a great, incredibly varied cuisine that spans from the very simple to the refined, from the perfectly healthy to the obscenely sweet and/or fat. Is cooking for Italian women a source joy, a necessary chore, or just a tool of oppression? I decided to talk a little bit about food culture and home cooking in Italy to see if it could help shed some light on the American cooking conundrum.

The following considerations come from my personal experience (I do not work full time at the moment, but I was raised by a mother who did) and that of a few Italian female friends I spoke to who were raised by full-time working parents or are working mothers themselves.






HOME COOKING IN ITALY


How Do Italians View Food? 

Of course you know this, but I have to say it: Italy is a food-centric nation. Italian cuisine is exceptionally varied and relies on a fantastic quantity of amazing produce for each season. It is also worth remembering that Italians' rural past is just a couple of generations away. Almost all Italians have strong connections to people growing produce or raising livestock, be it in their family or in or around the place they live in. In my personal experience, even though I grew up in the city with two full-time working parents, my family would often stay at my grandfather's home in Tuscany, which had a small farm right behind it where my sister and I would pick fresh fruit and eggs, help with the animals, and occasionally be given the chance to milk a cow.

How Does Home Cooking Work in Italy? 

I would say the vast majority of families eat mostly home-cooked meals during the week, although, compared to previous generations, they tend to prepare easier and quicker meals (home-made pasta is a treat to make once in a while) and eat out more than in the past. Cooking skills are passed on from generation to generation, and even if you were not interested in cooking or your parents were less insistent on your learning (that would be me), Italy as a whole is permeated by a constant conversation about food and its preparation. You cannot be immune to that information: You are going to pick up at least the basic techniques, recommended ingredients and combinations, meal planning ideas, nutritional information, etc.

Who Cooks? 

Mostly women. Men in my family did grocery shopping and some of the cooking, but I know that was not the norm among my acquaintances. I have to be honest about this: Italian culture is still deeply sexist, and men are not expected to provide any help in the kitchen. In fact, some of my male friends grew up never once helping around the house whereas their sisters were absolutely expected to. Italian men may cook for their own pleasure or on special occasions, but it's not common to see them actively participating in every aspect of meal planning, preparation, and cleanup. I know the situation has evolved, but we can't talk about equality yet.

Is it easy to eat healthy food in Italy? 

Yes, and the reason is simple: Produce is still the cheapest option in Italy. Even in the expensive Northeast where I come from, you can subscribe to a CSA to provide you with organic produce for a family of four for 7 euros a week. Non-organic produce is even cheaper and readily available in markets.

How Do People Shop for Groceries in Italy?

Today many Italians might visit a supermarket once a week like Americans, but up to the 1990s (when big distribution really took off in Italy) the situation was different. Italian cities and towns were still densely packed with small specialized grocery stores where people could by quality local food easily and cheaply. Small stores disseminated all over the cities made for frequent but quick visits that allowed for a pantry populated with fresh food. Even though today many of the small grocery stores have closed, especially in the North, people still tend to have quick and easy access to a wide variety of foods in their neighborhoods and towns.

Do Italian Children Eat Everything? 

No, they don't. Some of them do, but just as in the United States, many children have very definite preferences and aversions that need to be defended at all costs. Yet, junk food in Italy is much less available compared to the United States, and society expectations on children's diets are higher (Italian restaurants do not serve kids meals, except for smaller individual pizzas), so I think Italian children tend to grow up appreciating a wider variety of foods.

What Food is Served in Italian Schools? 

There might be some debate about accessibility and quality of Italian school cafeterias, which are only present in preschool and elementary school (from middle school onwards, Italian kids are mostly home for lunch), but food options in school cafeterias are much healthier than in the United States. It's unthinkable for a school to offer fast-food items to children, and desserts are generally absent (fruit tends to end a meal). Mealtime in Italian school is seen more and more as an opportunity to teach children about healthy behaviors. It doesn't work all the time, but at least the school cafeteria is not sabotaging the parents' efforts.

What's the general opinion about junk food? 

Italians have always had a strong stance against processed food, so fast-food never really took off in Italy like it did in the United States. I actually remember the uproar when the first McDonald's opened in my town in the early 1990s: Even as a teen willing to try the greasiest of foods, I knew very well that was unhealthy and could never become a staple in my diet. Also, a McDonald's meal was still much more expensive than better-quality food made at home, so the appeal was simply not there. I would say that, for Italians, junk food is a guilty pleasure to be enjoyed in moderation, but hardly a meal-replacement option to be consumed several times per month (this survey suggests that about 39% of Italians practically never eat at fast-food restaurants).


My conclusion 

So this is it. I offer no solutions, no great idea for steering America back towards home-cooking, and especially on how to help working American and Italian women lessen their burden. And yet... Even though Italy is a sorry mess of a country, economically and morally, I do think that the Italian experience might have something to teach us at least in terms of availability (both economic and physical) and a proud culture of healthy eating.

Personally, I think cooking is a wonderful skill. I know, I have a food blog, so of course I'd say that. But I also really believe there's something magical about the way cooking can make us healthier, happier and bring us together. Good ingredients, a touch creativity, and a table with family and friends to celebrate a great day or to gather in silence after a horrible one. It is a gift of health, human connection, and time. And also, there are so many practical skills we can learn and share with our kids, and home cooking is one of the easiest to tackle.

If I think about the gender implications of home cooking, I wouldn't say that home cooking is in itself anti-feminist but that serious issues of gender inequity surround and complicate the matter. In fact, as I reread the original article, I have a nagging feeling that one real problem was left unexplored. I never see fathers questioned about their role in all of this. Once again, this looks to me like it's being presented as a women's issue rather than a family issue. Sure we should indict an economic system and a food culture that pushes junk food before healthy food, but why are fathers never mentioned, never asked to participate? Home cooking can greatly contribute to improve the health of the Italian families, but we can't expect mothers to do all the work.





Wednesday, May 13, 2015

HAPPY PASTA (PUT AN EGG ON IT)


In the past years, there have been few things that made me happier than the rehabilitation of the egg as a health food. It is really up there with the comeback of leggings and the birth of my children. Really, I love eggs. I love them in all their gastronomic incarnations and for their simple beauty (please check my humble Pinterest homage, "The Egg Came First"). In fact, I'm pretty sure my elder days will see me as an Italian-American version of Edith Massey's Egg Lady, juggling hard-boiled eggs in the air and dishing out frittatas left and right. You've been warned.

You can only imagine how I felt when I found the recipe for "pasta with a fried egg" in a tome of ancient traditional Italian recipes that a friend gave me when I moved to the United States. The dish is from Calabria, the region of bold and spicy flavors, and is so simple and genius I could not believe I had spent thirty years of my life without it.

So, what's pasta with a fried egg about? Well, it is simply good-quality spaghetti tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes, and pecorino, and then topped with a fried egg. Once the dish is presented to you in all its sunny cheerfulness, you just break the egg with a fork and release the runny yolk for your personal, instant mini-carbonara.


The first time I made it for myself and Mr Bee, we became almost giddy with joy. This spicy, hearty pasta was flavorful and creamy, and probably one the best examples of old-Italy comfort food. Also, for someone as lazy and perennially late as I am, I could not get over about how easy it was to make.

Now to the important stuff. For a dish this simple, the pasta needs to be good quality, which means it needs to have flavor on its own and be able to keep "al dente" (many low-quality pasta turn to glue a minute after you take them out of the pot). For the past few years, I've been using Trader Joe's organic spaghetti, but they've recently changed brand, and I still need to test it. I think De Cecco pasta should work, and you definitely can use hardier long pasta like Venetian bigoli or bucatini. In a pinch, and for a healthy accent, I like to use Trader Joe's whole-wheat pasta, which has surprising great bite and taste. I know that's not traditional, but we're not purists here: We just have standards, right? One last piece of advice: I would not use egg pasta; as much as I love eggs, that would be redundant.

So let's celebrate the good weather we're having and the decreasing pollen count with a simple, quick, cheap, and happy pasta that is as fun to serve as it is to eat. And for the hearts of stone out there, how can you resist that yolk's adorable stare? DIG IN.




PASTA WITH A FRIED EGG


Makes 4 portions

10 oz spaghetti (good quality)
1/2 C grated Pecorino
1 whole dried red pepper, crushed, or 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or whatever you feel comfortable with)
3 tbsp EVOO + more of drizzle on pasta
4 eggs (preferably pasteurized)


  • Cook the spaghetti al dente in a large pot of salted water.
  • While the spaghetti cook, fry the eggs in the EVOO until the whites are firm, and the yolks are still runny.
  • Drain or scoop the pasta out of the water (you want it to retain some of the water to better bind with the other ingredient) and place in a bowl. Stir in the Pecorino, the red pepper, and some more EVOO to taste.
  • Divide the pasta on the plates, and top each with a fried egg.
  • Sit down to eat, chop the egg coarsely with your fork so that the yolk runs all over your pasta, and enjoy.

And since we're making pasta, let's refresh our basic pasta skills:


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

YOU'RE READING MY DIARY

BUSBOYS AND POETS?

Before last week, I had never been to Busboys and Poets, the DC "community gathering place" where you can eat and read (my favorite pastimes). So when Mr Bee woke up on Sunday and suggested I take two hours away from the kids to have coffee by myself somewhere, I got dressed and ready in 10 seconds flat, grabbed my laptop, and rushed to the new Busboys and Poets location in Takoma, DC. When I got there, the place was packed, but I saw one free tables in the café section, albeit with a few dirty cups from the previous patrons. I asked the hostess if I could sit there and plug my battery-pauper laptop, and she said yes. Ten minutes passed with me standing in front of my dirty table, so eventually I picked the cups, put them on the bar, and sat down only to realize there was no outlet to plug in my laptop. The waitress finally came and acknowledged the lack of outlets. We looked at each other in the eyes for a long instant, and then I told her I would go somewhere else. As I left the place, a little confused and a little sad, I realized the last thing I expected from a place called "Busboys and Poets"  was to have to bus my own table and leave. So the only appropriate thing to do was to write my own poem as well. That'll teach them.

Dear hostess,
Are you useless?
Or just smarter than me?
'Cause I cleaned up your table
And did not get my tea.


DONE WONDERING


MicroBee is in the sunny last line. 
A couple of weeks ago, in a moment of boredom, I was perusing the apps on my smartphone when I opened the "baby" folder and found again The Wonder Weeks, the companion app to the bestselling infant development book of the same name. For those who might not be familiar with it, the Wonder Weeks are ten stages of mental development that all infants go through on their way to becoming accomplished toddlers. A Wonder Week is an amazing mental "leap" during which your child becomes magically able to master new physical, mental, and emotional skills. Unfortunately, each Wonder Week is preceded by an exhausting period of extreme, unforgiving, back-breaking rage and neediness from said genius child that I believe the authors were too chicken to call The Month of Shit. It is the other side of the infant coin. In any case, according to the app chart, my 18-month-old MicroBee has finally emerged from the rollercoaster of mental growth-spurts that are The Wonder Weeks. So I guess my parenting will be downhill from here. *pats own shoulder* 


BIOMETRICS BUMMER

I'm currently in the process of becoming a US citizen, and the second step, after submitting all of the paperwork, is getting fingerprinted and photographed for the so called biometrics. I went through this process once already when I applied for my green card, and the experience was marred by my assigned officer complaining multiple times about my "greasy, greasy thumbs" that were preventing her from collecting my fingerprints. This time, I arrived all clean and made-up, and with perfectly degreased thumbs, only to be told that my bangs could not be in the photograph. I had two hairpins with me, but no mirror, so I started pinning my bangs back blindly with very poor results. How do I know the results were poor? Because this time my assigned officer had a laughing fit while looking at my image on the screen. And when I told her, "I don't want to see how I look," she answered, "Yeah, YOU DON'T WANT TO SCARE YOURSELF." Oh well, so much for my hopes of gaining that world-famous American confidence through naturalization. I guess I'll be the eyesore in America the Beautiful. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NOT TOO LATE: MALLOREDDUS WITH LAMB RAGÙ

Malloreddus with lamb ragù, a Sardinian pasta

One of the main differences between Dead Chef and a serious food blog is that the serious food blogs publishe holiday recipes on time, so that readers have all the time to make up their minds on their menu, buy the necessary supplies, and even attempt a recipe once before the big day. So it is with a little shame that I present you with my Easter recipe a full two weeks after Easter. The recipe is Malloreddus with Lamb Ragù, which should lessen the shame quite a bit since it's a pretty damn delicious.

So, Easter. I love lamb: so soft, so flavorful, so fat. It was one of the main reasons that Mr Bee and I spent our honeymoon in Sardinia, the beautiful Italian island that is heaven on earth and that perfected the use of lamb in cooking to an art. Among the million amazing dishes we tried on our 6-day trip (we ate in our sleep, too), there was a simple pasta with a lamb ragù that captured our hearts and possibly initiated their clogging. The pasta was malloreddus, a traditional small "dumpling" you can find in specialty stores or at conventional grocery stores under the name of "gnocchetti".

The main focus of the recipe, however, is the lamb ragù. I based my recipe on the Florentine ragù preached by Giuliano Bugialli in his precious tome The Fine Art of Italian Cooking (incidentally, a great culinary history book, too). I made Bugialli's ragù many times with beef, veal and pork, and even turkey (surprisingly flavorful), and it always comes out extremely well: rich, earthy, velvety, and abundant. I believe the secret lies in the use of dried porcini mushrooms to impart a robust, earthy vigor to any sauce. You might want to find some good-quality dried porcini for this; I get mine straight from Italy.

Once you have your lamb ragù, you just mix it with the cooked pasta and serve the dish drizzled in good extra-virgin olive oil and topped with grated Pecorino. It's a super-flavorful pasta with the pomp of a winter recipe and the simplicity of a last-minute spring lunch. Perfect for Easter, then, or right afterwards.

Malloreddus with lamb ragù, a Sardinian pasta


MALLOREDDUS WITH LAMB RAGÙ

FOR THE RAGÙ

4–5 large pieces of dried porcini mushrooms 
3 tbsp EVOO + more to top off pasta in the end
1 onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery rib, minced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbs tomato paste
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 C red wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 1/2 C vegetable stock

1 lb malloreddus (or Barilla "gnocchetti")
3–4 tbsp grated Pecorino, preferably Sardinian


  • Soak the mushrooms in a cup filled with warm water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Make the soffritto: Heat the EVOO in a large pot (I use a Dutch oven), and then add the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery and let cook at a low heat until soft and a little caramelized. You might want to splash some water here and there if the soffritto ever gets dry.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Turn the heat to medium, and mix in the ground lamb. Sauté for 15 minutes, then spoon off most of the fat. Unless you want to keep it, of course. I'm not judging. *tips hat*
  • Add the red wine and cook until evaporated, for another 10–15 minutes.
  • While the wine cooks down, pureé the tomatoes with an electric blender.
  • Once the wine is cooked down, add salt and pepper to taste and mix in the tomatoes.
  • Lower the heat and cook for 25 minutes.
  • Remove the porcini mushrooms from the water, give them a good squeeze, chop them, and add them to the sauce.
  • Strain the water from the dried mushroom through paper towels or a fine sieve to remove any grit.
  • Add the mushroom water and vegetable stock to the ragù and cook for another 1 1/2 hours.
  • Cook the pasta in abundant, salted water, then strain and mix with the ragù in a large bowl.
  • Drizzle the pasta with EVOO and top with grated Pecorino.

Note: If you really cannot find malloreddus, you can use other types of short pasta like conchiglie, orecchiette, elbows... Do not go as small as orzo, though, or it will turn into a sad slop of a dish. 

Another note: The original recipe was for a beef ragù, but I made it with veal and pork and even with turkey, and it always turned out great. And at this point, you can use it for anything you want,  from pasta to lasagne to chili to the Sloppy Joe of you life. 


And since we're making pasta, let's refresh our basic pasta skills:


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

SPIDERMAN, SPIDERMAN...

Forgive this silly post, but the entire family is sick and suffering from massive sleep deprivation, so this is the best I can do. As some of you may know, I am ambivalent about superheroes and their unironic stronghold on the contemporary male psyche. I really hope children will grow less obsessed than their fathers with high-flying musclemen dealing with unresolved childhood traumas. To speed up the process, I've started my own little campaign of placing superheroes into a more rational perspective. It all began when I revealed to my Italian nephew that the name Wolverine is not a play on the word "wolf", but it refers to an actual skunk-like species whose name in Italian is gulo gulo, which sounds a lot like "ass ass". He was crushed, but I believe for the better.

Today, I'm making sure that my son's budding admiration for Spiderman is kept in check with this little song. To be administered three times a day for two weeks, at monthly intervals.


Spiderman theme song, revisited.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

YOU'RE READING MY DIARY

PHILOSOPHY

As I approach the mid-point of my journey on this planet (take that euphemism), I am starting to question more and more the meaning of it all, and what should be my line of conduct for the rest of my life. I know I've abandoned the staunch idealism of my youth, but I'm also wary of the comfy judgementalism of old age. So I have come to my personal conclusion. Presently, I have been trying to live according to the Buddhist precepts of "letting go" and "releasing the ego", which I combined in my personal mantra of "letting myself go". Which brings me to the next point.


BARRE NONE

As long as I can remember, I've done all I could to avoid physical exertion. Sweating and toiling for the sole purpose of sweating and toiling always sounded absurd to me, and a long time ago I decided the best exercise would be walking briskly because I was late for stuff. It worked, until I had kids. After my second pregnancy, I found myself as strong, nimble, and quick as an octogenarian toad. So last week I appealed to the last bit of energy in my atrophied muscles and signed up for a barre class. Cursory research told me that barre is an exercise inspired by ballet and Pilates, and pictures showed slender, smiling women in yoga pants gracefully holding a ballet barre and keeping a perfect posture. More importantly, none of them was covered in sweat. It looked dreamy. Well, I had my first class on Sunday, and please know I'm in physical pain even now as I type this. Barre is not easy. There was a moment where I had to sit on an invisible chair with my back against the wall while opening and closing my legs for what I'm pretty sure was 45 minutes (okay, maybe 3). I was shaking like something powered by a steam engine and I was pretty sure my kneecaps would pop out and my ligaments would roll out in the air like curly ribbon on a gift box. I had none of the grace and poise I was envisioning, I was sweating through every pore, and every single time the instructor was not looking I would flop down on the floor like a sorry, empty tutu. All that said, I'm not giving up. Even with all the pain and humiliation, my barre class is an excused absence from my house. I'll take it.


VIDEO TUTORIALS = UKULELE

For many reason that may or may not include my clumsiness and lack of manual skills, I watch a lot of video tutorials in my spare time. One thing I cannot explain is the directors' over-reliance on upbeat ukulele music (like this), the kind you are also likely to hear on most tech gadget commercials. Actually, it's not so much that I don't understand it as I hate it. Really, it makes my nerves jump out of my skin. I don't know exactly why... I suspect it might be a reaction to the current infantilization of everything and the modern penchant for unthreatening cuteness. I promise, though: If I ever make a video tutorial, the soundtrack will be this.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A YEAR IN PARENTING

Is it Spring already? No, it isn't, but we're getting there, right? Aren't we??? If I sound desperate, it's because I am. I have spent the entire winter indoors trying to keep my children entertained yet safe while throwing Cheerios at them at hourly intervals. I may have survived, but barely. The only thing that has kept me mentally stable has been googling diagramming apps, an old passion of mine. So here are four pie charts to summarize the seasonal activities of average parents. If someone ever asks you, "What do you do all day?", then show them these.

How parents spend their Spring

How parents spend their Summer
How parents spend their Fall
How parents spend their Winter








Tuesday, March 10, 2015

FOOL ME TWICE: 2 KIDS UNDER 3 (Part II)


Here is the second installment of the lessons I've learned as a mother of 2 kids under the age of 3. (Here you can find Part I.)  My chidren, MiniBee and MicroBee are now 4 and (almost) 18 months, which means I'm still in the trenches, but breathing some, too. I hope some of these thoughts are going to help parents about to embark on the double-parenting adventure, although I know very well that everything you are reading here you will forget within minutes of your second birthing experience. Good luck!

NAPS

You are surely wondering how on earth you will be able to have two children nap at the same time or at different times of the day. I have no solution for you, I'm afraid. Having two children following two different napping routines is olympically challenging. A classic two-hour routine right after birth saw me nursing MicroBee to sleep while listening to MiniBee trashing the living room downstairs, then drag an overexcited MiniBee to his room and read him stories for 45 minutes so that I could finally leave the room only to hear MicroBee waking up from is nap. I would then pick MicroBee up and be greeted downstairs by MiniBee announcing he would not nap that day. So my advice is, do whatever you can. It will be over someday, somehow.

DUMBING DOWN FOR ALL

When you had your first child, you spent all of your energies crafting the perfect amount of quality mental stimulation to be balanced with strict routines and a plenty of nurturing affection. Your first child is a genius with massive potential in practically all areas. As soon as the second comes along, all comes to a halt. I'm sorry to tell you this, but now that you're a family of four, your youngest will drag you all to his/her own level, nullifying all of your previous efforts. You are exhausted, and all you can muster is going through the motions of the simplest activity that will make the youngest happy. In my case, it's banging toy cars together. (You will always choose to cater to the one who screams the most and is closest to your ears.)

POTTY MOUTH

When your oldest child turns four, s/he will enter the horrifying stage of potty mouth, during which s/he is going to repeat swearing you say at home together with mystifying coinages s/he will pick up from other children (welcome to "fart sauce"). At the same time, your youngest will be the impressionable toddler dealing with his or her first words. You will then enjoy having a toddler whose only words are "mom", "dad", "shit", and "stupid". I can tell you there are not a lot of good sentences coming out from this.

THE IRONY OF "THE GOOD OLD DAYS"

You will think back at those days when you were only dealing with your first and wonder what the fuck you were complaining about. When you have a second, the idea of having to deal with one tantrum, one meal, one potty-training disaster will sound like being transported into your early 20s on a solo vacation to a Caribbean paradise. Of course, this doesn't mean you start judging parents with only one child. You are just gaining some very much needed perspective. Sometimes you'll even go as far as thinking that, if you had three children, then the two you have would look like a stroll in the park. But that's usually when I slap myself really hard on the face.


Read Fool Me Twice, 2 Kids Under 3 (Part I).