When Life Gets You Down, Try Some Panzanella.

September 30, 2010

How's that for my most bizarre blog post title to date?  Ugh.  Aggravating life stuff is getting me down.  You know, those issues that never seem to go away yet you still insist on bashing your head against a 30 foot brick wall?  That would be me of late.  Nothing too concerning, I am just irritated and annoyed mostly.  OK, done with that.

Moving on.  I've been making this here panzanella salad quite a bit over the last month or so and recently it even got my mind off my troubles.  A salad!  That cures seemingly-unsolvable family dynamic craziness!  Imagine that.  Maybe that is a tad hyperbole, true, but there is something very zen-like (to me, anyway) about taking some very humble vegetables (most of which came from our garden!), quietly and calmly cubing them in perfect-ish cubes, also cubing some bread that would otherwise not be used, whisking up the simplest of vinaigrettes and then tossing the whole thing together with my hands.  Yesssss.  And then, sitting down and eating straight from my favorite serving bowl (a gift from my MIL!).  And feeling no guilt about eating the whole thing (or close to it) because it's a salad and the calories don't count!  Please don't tell me there are probably 497 carbs (because there is a whole loaf of bread int here after all) and a million grams of fat (because I am very, very generous with the olive oil) because I sorta already know it's true.  Just work with me here.
Side note: we ate quite a bit of panzanella when we were in Tuscany.  But I dare say I like my version better.  The Tuscans soak the bread in water and crumble it into tiny pieces.  I do believe this is more traditional, but I like the bread in crusty, crunchy croutons that soften a bit from all of that yummy olive oil.  Whichever way you do it, though, it is one of those (many) perfect examples of la cucina povera.

Panzanella....My Way

4-5 good size ripe tomatoes (heirloom is always best!), cubed
1 cucumber, cubed
1/2 medium red onion, sliced and soaked in water for 10 minutes
1 lb. peasant loaf (day old), cubed and toasted in the oven
3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil (use your best stuff here....it really shines!)
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1 cloves garlic smashed into a paste with salt
1 big handful basil leaves, torn

Toss the first four ingredients in your favorite serving bowl.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.  It should be very strong and flavorful.  Add vinaigrette to salad along with the basil and toss gently with your hands.  Feel your worries wash away.  Ahhhhhhhh.  Better already.

Stories From Italy: Street Shots.

September 28, 2010

Some of my very favorite things about Italy are the beautiful streets and storefronts.  I can't seem to help but take lots and lots of pictures of them when we are there.
{one of the many alimentari that we shopped at and ate from each day}
{watching brother get his hair cut}

{outside vivoli in florence}


{the steps at the kids' language school}

{a typical lucchese menu hanging in the window}

{a favorite restaurant}

{a sweet spot to dine}

{four very different doors}

{chocolate shop}

{lots of yummy take-out food from this place}

{more good food}

{cafe life}

{exposed brick}

{bakery and bicycle}


{a market and clock tower just outside our apartment}

{a main piazza in lucca...photo by c-man}


{a lovely little wine bar}

{flower shop}

{papa and his bimbi}

{the first stop we made for coffee and snacks}

{another bakery....our favorite}

Stories From Italy: Where We Went.

September 26, 2010

So some of you have emailed me or commented asking about our trip and how did we do it with three kids what are your tricks how can I do it too and by the way where did you guys go? And seeing that we've been home for almost a month now and I've barely managed a blog post about the trip, I guess it's about time to share a bit.
First. I am not an expert in travelling with kids. We don't normally do it. I mean, we did when we had one child. That was easy. We went all over. He had his passport stamped more than I had by the time I was 21 (not that we were some huge world travellers, but he did OK is all I'm saying). But then he started walking and not wanting to sleep in strange beds and then he had a baby sister. The end.
Seriously, though, we have taken some trips with the kids. (When someone forced us to!) But, honestly, we did not find those trips very enjoyable. So, B and I decided we only want to travel with our kids while they are very young when it involves a place we really, really, really want to go. (And lots of alcohol is available. HA.) Italy passed muster for us. Also, we know we want our kids to be travellers so we can't let them figure out we are big chickens about the whole thing. So we decided in late June (pretty much on a whim) to take a trip to Italy. Like we decided and then the tickets were booked about 45 minutes later. We didn't want to give ourselves a chance to back out, you see (or be talked out of it by all of our very well-meaning friends and family!)
We knew we wanted to stay in one place and take daytrips (too much stuff to lug around, plus we thought it would be good for the kids to feel like they had a home). We also decided we didn't want to do a "countryside villa" vacation this time because we sorta already live in the country. We wanted to step outside our door and know we were in Italy. (Don't worry Italian Villa Vacation of My Dreams...I'm coming to get you sometime soon.  Very soon.)
 We didn't want to stay in a city that was too big (as much as we are both crazy about Rome, it freaked me out thinking about keeping tabs on three little people on those streets). We didn't want to stay in a town that was too small (we took a trip like that a few years ago and got bored with all the picture perfect small Italian "Disneyland" towns). So, we honed in on Lucca, which is in Northern Tuscany. Pisa has an International Airport about 20 minutes away. The town has something going on besides tourism. There is a lot of live music in the summer. The daytrip possibilities were good. Lots of families live there.
Fortunately, Lucca ended up being perfect for our family and we fell absolutely IN. LOVE. WITH. IT. We can't wait to go back.
To be continued....

An Epilogue by B.

September 24, 2010

B asked that I post this as a follow-up to his post from last week:

To those who have asked to see a photo of the sweet Adorno Bonciani, here is one of him and his late wife wife, taken in 2005.  
To those who have asked to see the three of his children we just brought home, here they are:
{in our hallway}

{in the office}

{no home yet...maybe the girls' room?}
The one with the guitar player was in his house for 54 years (painted in 1956), the other two, 51 years (1959).

We are glad to give them a new home.

To those who are interested in hearing more about Bonciani, here are the observations of Italian art historian, Gabriella Gentilini (translated, very roughly, from Italian):

. . . Not far from the watermelon, the ice cream man, the painter, the gondolier . . . The sun shone on the beautiful facades of the cathedrals, basilicas and monuments of Florence, Pisa, Venice, Paris, all cities of the Earth seemed to join in one song, inspired by those lovely creatures, light as air, moving timidly, gently touching the ground.  Their round faces reveal a serenity and an inner light that is spread around, but also hide a veil of sadness because no one was leaving the world of dreams.

One day they met a poet, painter, Adorno Bonciani, who came in on tiptoe in the place of fantasy where they lived for centuries and fell in love with them. He was struck by the sweetness, the innocence and the irony of these little beings. Slowly he pulled them out one by one by his magic brush, taking care to preserve the atmosphere around them and the perfection of architecture, fruit of civilization and human ingenuity.

Since then, Bonciani was devoted entirely to these wonderful characters, has been able to hear the secrets of their hearts and made them the protagonists of his works, with great technical skill, but also with patience, creativity and much inexhaustible love.

{some other paintings by bonciani we have in the nursery}

They Draw and Cook.

September 18, 2010

 Hve you had a chance yet to check out the wonderful blog They Draw and Cook...Recipe Renderings by Artists and Illustrators?  Loving this site.....

{these sweet potato enchiladas sound delicious!}
via wide open spaces

Stories From Italy: By B.

September 17, 2010

Today I would like to extend a warm welcome to a new (and old) friend: B.  Yes, he has broken his silence.  I seriously never thought he would appear here (as a contributor anyway)....he who turns his nose up at Facebook, Twitter, texting, blogging and most other forms of social media.  And he almost wouldn't let me post this. He wanted me to get back some of the readers I lost (sniff sniff!) while we were gone on our trip by putting up some stories and photos of Italy, and getting some "interest" as he called it.  Oops.  I will try to get those out to you.  In the meantime, please show B some love, will you?!  :-) 

Can I introduce you to someone? His name is Adorno Bonciani. He is 90, and lives in Florence. He painted from 1947 until he could paint no more two years ago. His paintings are playful and light, usually including singing children or fanciful dragons or playful musicians or wedding processions—or some combination of them all. He was especially successful in the 1960s, and had exhibits throughout the world. Here are samples of his work from this period:

Jora and I like the playful quality of the art. But, we also cherish the fact that we have spent time with Bonciani in his home in Florence. I first met him in 2002 (without Jora there), in what became one of my favorite travel experiences. I was already a fan of his work, having seen one of his paintings with my friend Kathy in a gallery in San Diego. Then, in September 2002, I again saw some of his paintings in a hotel in Florence. Long story short, I looked him up in the phone book, ripped out the page with his name, dialed the number, spoke to him, took a cab to his house, visited for four hours with him and his wife, bought some paintings, and ended up in his “Cinquecento” (is there a smaller car?), with him at the wheel—81 years old and with a partially paralyzed left arm—buzzing through the backstreets of Florence, navigating, it seemed, by feel alone.

Jora and I visited Bonciani the next year. He was 82 then, and he and his 75 year-old wife were very gracious and welcoming. Bonciani was happy to tell us his life story. He explained that the couple was never able to have children; that his only children were his paintings. His paintings were everywhere in the home: on every wall (including the kitchen) and even scattered, loose, around the home, against this or that piece of furniture. These paintings had literally never left that home, for 50 or more years. Bonciani explained both his love of the paintings, and of his desire to sell some of them: they were, practically speaking, his retirement. Buying a painting that day, which we did, was bitter sweet, as we knew he could use the money, but also that he was parting with something he cared about.

I called again this time when we arrived in Italy. Again this time, he was there; and, again, he would be happy to see us. Things were different this time, however: when I asked of his wife, he explained that she was now gone, having passed away, unexpectedly, five years ago. 
{c-man hanging out by bonciani's gate}
When we arrived at the home I was greeted by a nurse. Bonciani’s earlier stroke now reduced him to a wheel chair, and in the constant company of a relative stranger.

Jora asked me whether she should take a photograph. Not wanting to injure Bonciani’s pride, I said no. I know now that this was a mistake. It is unlikely that we will have another chance to meet again. Adorno explained that his body was failing him. I suggested that his mind was strong and that he would live a long time. He said that he hoped that was not so.

This, obviously, is hard to hear. But it is also understandable, as Adorno now finds himself alone, with only his “children,” the paintings. 
{c-man and juju petting one of bonciani's cats}
We had a nice time together. I reminded him of his trip to America in the 1960s, where his English consisted of saying, whenever possible, “A Coca-Cola for me and a Coca-Cola for my wife.” (Jora likes to bust that out, for no particular reason, every now and again.)

I am glad our kids were there this time and were able to meet him. C-Man seemed to sense something important was happening, as he was very serious and respectful. He was excited to see “our” paintings in a book Adorno religiously maintains of all of his paintings, with detailed notes about the purchasers from around the world.

Knowing that this is more my thing than hers, Jora kindly prevailed on me to purchase more paintings (“Won’t you regret it if you don’t?”). We bought three, on credit—as Bonciani insisted.

After an our hour or two at the house, Jora and I left with six children—three of ours and three of his.

Some Good Stuff.

September 15, 2010

First, I forgot to tell you about my guest post on Marvelous Kiddo yesterday.  Check it out!

Second, if you read design blogs and get that "fatigued" feeling and you need to get a little something off your chest, I suggest you check out this post (and comments!) and then this one too.  Funny stuff and somehow, I don't feel so mean anymore.  ;-)  (via pretty mommy)

p.s.  kim awesomely brought this post to my attention...seriously funny!

You Likey?

September 14, 2010

Friends. Dear Ana helped me redesign ye old blog. You like?  She has been super duper awesome cool over the top helpful.  So if you're in the market for a little help in that way, send her an email.

JuJu's First Day.

September 13, 2010


Today was all about JuJu. It was her first day of preschool. She is the youngest in her class and I am a little sad about that (I feel like it's too soon??)....but this morning when I took her to her class, we went inside, hung up her sweater, looked in her cubby, found a spot for her lunch basket, said hello to a few of the children, and then she leaned in and whispered, "I want you go bye-bye now, mama." And then I may have shed a tear. Sweet, sweet girl. And when I came to pick her up? Like an old pro. She didn't even miss me.

{after school: "and then mama....and then...."}

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