happy mother’s day!

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I think this is the first time that I have been apart from my mom on Mother’s Day in my entire 23 years as a daughter. I wish that I could be home right now, making my mom some delicious brunch, and spending the day together having fun, watching movies, and probably cleaning out my dresser drawers (I WILL GET TO IT, MOTHER).

But although I can’t actually be there, I can use this blog post to talk about all of the things that make my mom awesome.

Let’s talk about how, even if I were at home right now, it would be impossible to arrange a Mother’s Day surprise that would be nearly as elaborate and well-executed as the surprises that she puts together for us every Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s Day, or any other celebratory occasion. This is the lady who BROKE INTO my apartment on my 21st birthday (while I was in class), covered everything in streamers and confetti and left Diet Coke, chocolate pizza, and an assortment of mini liquor bottles on my desk. Slightly amazing.

IMG_0076There is one very upsetting thing about my mother, though. You know that omniscience that is granted to mothers to allow them to know things that the rest of us just can’t? My mother’s got it in spades. The lady is ALWAYS RIGHT. Even if it takes me 6 years to realize it (looking at you, ugly prom dress), she is always, always right. And it only took me 23 years to figure it out.

Her resumé includes raising two daughters who, in addition to being a little stubborn, a little melodramatic, and a little crazy, are also incredibly photogenic.

DSC01349 DSC01174 DSC01831This blog is actually the perfect place to talk about my mom (and I do mention her frequently), because she is really the one who taught me how to cook and bake. She makes the most delicious food you will ever eat, and I hope I can one day do the same, and make it look as easy as she does. She’s always the voice of reason when it comes to eating well and being healthy, advocating for everything in moderation and depriving yourself of nothing. Everything I know (and lots of things I don’t know!) about food and love come from her, and I wish that I could be home right now, watching her scowl and surreptitiously remove some of the butter from whatever dough/batter I’m in the process of making.

I love you Mom also give me the Reporter Bag you never use it.

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molten chocolate cake

close upThe last time I did this (all the way back in July), I had just moved to New York City and I was consuming alarming amounts of pastries. Fast forward 5 months, and I’m doing much the same thing. But now at least I’m baking them first.

Given the responsibility for Thanksgiving dessert, my mind started wandering into the realm of pumpkins and apples and spices and pies. But in the name of appeasing a picky cousin, I turned away from these happy autumn treats and steered towards an even happier star ingredient: chocolate.

ingredientsIt took all of 30 seconds for me to settle on these dangerous little cakes – I’ve made the recipe several times before and it has never failed to make people continue reaching for more bites even when there is simply no more real estate available in their stomachs.

I’m happy to say that this time was no different, and even after a delicious dinner (during which unspeakable amounts of mashed potatoes were consumed), no one could turn down at least a few bites of dessert.

chocolate butter meltingThis dessert starts by melting chocolate and butter together. Don’t worry if you don’t own a double-boiler, any heat-proof bowl placed over a saucepan filled with boiling water will work. The basic idea is that the chocolate/butter shouldn’t come into direct contact with the heat source.

combiningI’m slowly trying to get into the habit of baking and taking pictures again, but time is becoming an increasingly rare and precious commodity in my life. I begin to fear I’m turning into an adult.

ramekinsIn the name of staving off adulthood, dinner tonight will be Diet Coke and jellybeans.

Molten Chocolate Cakes recipe (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare 8 individual ramekins by buttering the bottom and sides. Set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water). Once the mixture is completely melted and smooth, set aside to cool.

Using an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg yolks and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla stir until blended.

Combine the chocolate mixture and the egg yolk mixture in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, incorporate egg whites into the chocolate mixture GENTLY – do not overmix or this will deflate the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the ramekins. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the outside of the cakes are done but the insides/middle remain a little wobbly. If you want less “lava” in the middle, bake the cakes a few minutes longer.

Remove from oven and let rest for a minute or two. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, or just by themselves.

Makes 8 individual ramekins.

buon anno!

Happy New Year! 4 days late I know, but the year is still new, so humor me. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I visited Barcelona, Granada and Madrid in a whirlwind 5 days, seeing lots of beautiful sights and eating lots of delicious food.

Casa Batlló (Barcelona) - built by Antoni Gaudí, one of the most interesting aspects of this structure is the lack of straight lines - the facade (as well as many of the walls) is curved, and decorated with mosaics. The chimney at the top is fashioned to look like a dragon

Parc Güell (Barcelona) - a park on the El Carmel hill, also designed by Gaudí. The park contains the house where Gaudí lived, which is now the Casa Museu Gaudí (Gaudí Museum).

Gourmet Seafood Paella at Can Majo. Paella is a rice-based dish that is commonly considered the national dish of Spain. In addition to rice, it consists of a variety of proteins including (but not limited to) chicken, rabbit, duck, shrimp, clams, crab and other types of seafood.

After a day in Barcelona, we headed to Granada, a city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the south of Spain

Granada's most famous monument is the Alhambra, a palace and fortress situated on top of a hill, overlooking the city. The Alhambra was built in the 14th century for the Moorish rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty. The palace is full of beautiful and perfectly-preserved Islamic architecture.

Cueva Venta El Gallo, a restaurant in the Sacromonte quarter of Granada, where we had a delicious dinner and saw a wonderful flamenco dance show. The Sacromonte quarter is home to a large gitano (gypsy) population.

Leaving Granada, we headed up to Madrid for our last few days!

I didn't get too many pictures in Madrid, but this is the Museo del Prado, the most famous Spanish art museum. If you are traveling to Madrid and want to visit the Prado, be sure to check and see when/if free entrance is available (in our case, tickets were free between 6 and 8pm, but I don't know if this changes seasonally!)

I flew from the land of Prado back to the land of Prada on New Year’s Eve, just in time to bid farewell to 2011 and usher in 2012 with my friend Allyson at a small party hosted by Maureen Fant, a cookbook author and writer who lives here in Rome.

The food was as expected: amazing and plentiful. We started with a variety of antipasti, including tuna spread, olives, cheese, crudite, bread, crackers, tzatziki, and paté. From there, we moved on to the main course, which consisted of two delicious baked pasta dishes, one of which was a lasagna that was out of this world (but I failed to get a name or a recipe!). In addition, we had lentils, a traditional Italian New Year’s dish. The lentils (which look like tiny little coins) symbolize wealth and prosperity in the New Year. I ate a whole bunch, so I think I’m pretty much set.

After dinner, we headed up to the rooftop terrace. Maureen lives very close to il Colosseo, which is where the city-sponsored fireworks are held. In addition to the city’s fireworks, however, were about a dozen other private fireworks shows all over town, resulting in a beautiful, deafening, and extremely well-lit midnight!

Because of how close we were to the Colosseum, it was difficult to get a picture with both it and the fireworks in the frame - this was the best I could do!

The area between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia is Rome's Times Square on New Year's, completely packed with people and covered in discarded champagne bottles and broken glass. This is a shot of the LEAST crowded side of the Colosseum. It was a looong walk home.

Here we are, 2012. May your year and stomachs be filled with delicious food! Happy New Year!

buon natale!

Merry Christmas from Rome! Last night, on the way to midnight mass at the Vatican, I snapped a bunch of pictures of Rome in all its Christmas finery. Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday!

Nativity and tree on Piazza Venezia (in front of Il Vittoriano)

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Italian flag lights on the via del Corso

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View of Piazza Venezia from via del Corso

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Lights on via dei Due Macelli (leading up to Piazza Spagna)

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Under normal circumstances, the only time the Spanish Steps are this empty is at around 4am. Normally this place is packed with people, both locals and tourists, and is one of the most popular (and, as a result, most inconvenient) meeting places in Rome.

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Beautiful lights on Via dei Condotti, perhaps the most expensive street in Rome. The street, which connects to via del Corso on one end, and the Piazza Spagna on the other end, is named for the conduits that once carried water to the Baths of Agrippa. Modern Italians with addresses on this street include Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Ferragamo, Armani, Fendi and Dolce & Gabanna. I’m pretty sure I get a little poorer just window shopping on this street.

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The via del Corso ends in the Piazza del Popolo

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Christmas tree above Piazza del Popolo

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Here we are! Christmas tree in Piazza San Pietro

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Nativity scene at St. Peter’s (sans Baby Jesus, because it was not yet midnight). I had to do some impressive elbowing and some moderate foot-stomping to make my way to the front to get this picture. Do as the Romans do, right?

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We did not have enough Papal pull to attend the actual mass inside the basilica, so we stood in the square with the masses and watched the whole thing on one of several screens stationed throughout the square. Please notice Santa Claus fleeing the scene!

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St Peter’s nativity scene post-midnight, now with Baby Jesus. It’s officially Christmas!

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View of Castel St. Angelo on my way home – not Christmassy, but still kind of spectacular

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Last, but not least, the tree in the Campo di Fiori

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Buon Natale!

p.s. Tomorrow I am leaving for Spain at the ungodly hour of 6:45 am, and I won’t be back until New Year’s, so my next post won’t be until 2012! Happy holidays!

a very belated thanksgiving round-up

Remember last week, when I said I would put up pictures of Thanksgiving dinners from home that my friends and family were kind enough to send to me? I believe I threw around words like “tomorrow”, which is a laughable promise for me to make. Here we are, one week post-Thanksgiving, and I’ve got so many pictures to share!

My family, in order to make up for the zero dinners that I was attending, went to two Thanksgiving dinners. This meant twice the normal amount of mashed potatoes for my sister, but also twice the amount of vegetable-dodging. Green things are not welcome on her plate. Both dinners were at the homes of close family friends who also happen to be amaaazing cooks.

Here we have A Very Husseini Thanksgiving, which, I’m sure, was full of delicious food, lots of laughs, and probably a few too many urology jokes. (It’s not as weird as it sounds, my dad and Dr. Husseini are urologists. That being said, it’s still not ok when I’m trying to eat, capiche?) As you can see, no turkeys were pardoned around here. The food is always wonderful, as is the company…

…all the company.

The second part of my family’s Thanksgiving took place at the home of Benny and Giuliana Campagnolo. Benny and Giuliana moved here from Italy when they were young – I think Benny is originally from Fondi, and Giuliana hails from Monte San Biagio. Ironically, my parents had a more Italian thanksgiving than I did! Giuliana’s cooking has served to ruin every other lasagna, potato pizza, or bowl of pasta e fagioli for me forever. Even here, in Italy, nothing is as delicious as what comes out of her kitchen.

In the picture above you can see the tiramisu that my mom made! It’s the best. Again, I wrote that from Italy, so don’t question it.

But what would Thanksgiving be without the people we spend it with? A lonely, sad food coma. There is a time and place for solitary food comas, but it’s not the last Thursday in November. I’m sad that I missed spending Thanksgiving with all of these people that I love,  but thank you all for tolerating my mother’s incessant photo-snapping at my request!

Even though Thanksgiving is generally a holiday spent with family, I still needed to know what my friends were eating. Especially this year, I had to live vicariously through everyone. In exchange for sending me photos of their dinners, I promised them the fame and status that comes from being featured on MY blog (check it, over 11 readers every day).

Li Guo. A nice boy. The boy who watches endless amounts of Food Network and Whose Line Is It Anyways with me, and (sometimes) washes all the dishes when I cook him dinner. The Guo Thanksgiving featured the traditional turkey, as well as some vegetables, and SHRIMP. This is a major plus point, especially for people like me who don’t like turkey. I am way more thankful for shrimp than turkey. Li’s mom is another amazing cook – she makes the best dumplings on the planet, and, yes, I know that me writing that from Italy means nothing, but take my word for it anyways. At Chinese New Year dinner, she hides coins in some of the dumplings, and if you find a coin, it is supposed to be lucky. This is the only occasion where I am sad to accidentally find money, because then I can’t eat that dumpling.

Jumping over to the west coast, we have Thanksgiving with the Family Lawless. Sean was my best study-buddy in college, probably due to the fact that we always ended up in literally all of the same classes. I guess he was as sick of me as I was of him, because the minute college ended, I headed to Italy and he made a beeline for California! With regards to his Thanksgiving meal, the turkey was cooked with brown sugar, brine, orange and spices and stuffed with rosemary, and was “un-freaking-believable”. The pies are apple and pumpkin and they look gooood.

Last, but not least, we have Thanksgiving the Abowd way. As you can see, my friend Danny took my request for “a few pictures of your dinner” and ran with it, and I didn’t even have room for all the photos he sent me! Included here are all the usual suspects; sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, stuffing, The Bird (sans dignity), the pies (after Danny took his slices) and the booze. By his own admission, Danny did not contribute much to the cooking process, leaving that task to his parents, sisters and brother-in-law. I forgive him, because when the world tires of discussing Harry Potter with me, Danny never does. And if the pictures are any indication, the meal was a roaring success anyways!

Thank you so much to everyone who sent me photos, I love you and miss you all!

p.s. Next weekend my friends and I are doing Harry Potter Weekend. All 8 movies. Lots of rewinding and re-watching the Harry-Hermione dance scene. And, of course, some yummy things to eat. It will be the exact opposite of our Thanksgiving dinner, in that it will actually happen. So excited!

happy thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m sad to be away from home today, especially since I’m in a country that, in general, could not care less about Thanksgiving. I figured today would be a day of work and eating mashed potatoes (the true star of any Thanksgiving table) on my own while watching Thanksgiving episodes from favorite TV shows.

A little depressing.

So I decided to turn it around. I left work at noon, and met my friend Allyson at an American bakery called Sweety Rome, with the sole intent of finding and consuming some pumpkin pie.

They did have pumpkin pie, but it was half the size of a normal pie, covered in crushed pistachios (not OK), and cost €30. Not happening.

To console ourselves, we turned to the case of pastries and, in addition to some questionable cupcakes, I spied a cheesecake brownie. I deemed it a satisfactory substitution (for the moment), and Allyson settled for a coconut brownie, and we sat and ate, while listening to a bizarre cover of Bohemian Rhapsody that was blaring through the sound system.

After putting away the brownies, we still had a little time to kill, and we hadn’t given up hope on the pumpkin pie. So we headed for The Perfect Bun, crossing our fingers that they would come through.

Well, they knocked it out of the park. Not only did they have full-sized pumpkin pies, they had miniature pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies! The Thanksgiving Trifecta. Allyson bought one of each to take home to her host family, but, ever in need of instant gratification, we decided to split a mini pie right there.

Since no one can make better pecan pie than my mom, and I wanted to buy a pumpkin pie to take home and eat later in the evening, we chose the mini apple.

It was so good! The crust was flaky and not too sweet, and the filling was cinnamon-y and not at all soggy. We got our much-needed dose of Thanksgiving and I headed back to work.

Now I’m home and I’ve got a solid line-up of episodes to watch, a glass full of Diet Coke, and a mini pumpkin pie just waiting to be devoured.

I did ask my family and some of my friends to send me pictures of their Thanksgiving dinners, and provided they don’t all forget, I’ll share those tomorrow!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

p.s. My friends and I are planning our own little Thanksgiving meal for this Sunday! I will share the disastrous/delicious results early next week!

Ferragosto

While its true that August is a general vacation time here, the 15th in particular is the day that Romans close up shop and head for the beach, leaving their fair city in the hands of the ever-present tourists. The 15th of August is called Ferragosto, or Assumption Day. The word “ferragosto” derives from the original name, feriae Augusti, meaning “holidays of [Emperor] Augustus”.

I knew that lots of places would be deserted this past Monday, but I still failed to stock up on Diet Coke (my drug of choice) in anticipation of the closed grocery store. Rookie mistake. Despite the crippling absence of my daily dose of caffeine, I headed out to see what Rome looks like without the Romans.

That is the emptiest you will ever see the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. I took this picture from the middle of the road (hence the looks that I’m choosing to interpret as admiration). Gone are the fashionable, well-dressed locals, and in their place is an abundance of backpack-wearing, camera-wielding tourists, frantically searching their maps, looking for all of the must-see historical attractions.

When confronted with a sign like this, how do you even begin to decide which way to go?

I headed for Piazza Navona, accidentally wound up at the Pantheon, then circled back to the Campo di Fiori, hoping but not really expecting to see the fruit and vegetable vendors. As I suspected, the Campo was similarly deserted and taken over by tourists. No strawberries for me.

When everything is closed, including grocery stores and bakeries, a girl still has to eat, right?

That’s lunch, folks.

p.s. Check out the Weeping Willards, they are kicking off their mini-tour today and I’m sad I can’t go to any of the shows, so I thought I would throw A Little Love their way!