Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of soccer. I even helped launched a girls soccer club in my hometown back when I was in high school. That’s why when my little cousins Ali and Amy (who is also my Goddaughter) asked me to watch their recent soccer games, I couldn’t wait to cheer them on. To view photos from the games, visit the “Girls Soccer 2010” photo album. The games were spirited and the girls showed some good form. A few of the kids had excellent technical prowess to boot. Of course, Ali and Amy were the stars that I’ve always known them to be. It was a delightful day on the field (despite the hot, hot sun). Thanks for inviting me, girls! Go team!
Girl’s night is a necessity when you need to blow off some steam. Little girls are just as good as big ones when you need to put aside stress — which usually is a result of the men in your life — and have a little fun. After the worst trip I’ve ever had to my family’s native Ischia (lots of drama and work and little time for rest), I was itching for a girl’s night. And my nieces — Francesca, Laura, and Giulia — were up for an old-fashioned pajama party. (To see photos from our slumber party, visit the Girl’s Night 2010 photo album.) We pigged out on pizza and chips, did each other’s hair and nails, poked fun (just see the hair-do’s above), and we even slept a bit. In the morning, I made a big American breakfast, with eggs Benedict, pancakes, ricotta pancakes, and even pancetta (instead of bacon) on the menu. In the end, I had a lovely pedicure, soft hands, and a little less stress than before. Grazie mille a Francesca, Laura, e Giulia!
I’ve been in Ischia, the island off the coast of Naples, Italy that is home to my ancestors, for a month now, and all I’ve been eating is fish. From mussels and clams to cod and tuna, my belly can’t seem to get enough. Most recently, my brother-in-law has been going fishing with his family. Every time he does, he comes home with buckets full of fish for us to eat. The photo above features his first bucket. My mother-in-law fried and roasted these bad boys. After fishing last week, my brother-in-law marinated the fish, grilled it, and we all ate it outside. I have to admit, however, that the “spine” in these fish are getting on my nerves. You feel like you’re choking and then you have to fish out the tiny bones before swallowing. I guess that’s why mussels, clams, and shrimp remain my favorites. In the spirit of this food-inspired blog, check out my recent Newlyweds commentary on cooking for date night and my ItaliansRus article on Italians and their wine.
Italians like to eat. But few of the ones I know in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples that is home to my husband and my ancestors, are adventurous when it comes to food. I’ve had them try Chinese food; most of them hated it. I’ve had them try Mexican; most of them complain it’s just too spicy. I’ve had them try sushi; most of them find it disgusting (I’m actually not a big fan myself, so I can’t gripe much about that one). My in-laws and my husband, however, are willing to try my American fare — and a few of the desserts they rather like. In the past, apple pie and chocolate chip muffins have been big winners with them.
This year, I decided to bring a Duncan Heinz lemon cupcake mix (from a box, which is sacrilege among southern Italians, who cook and bake everything from scratch). Well, my niece and I made the cupcakes and handed them over. After one bite, we earned a standing ovation for the cupcake’s moistness and the flavorful lemony zing. Friends, who visited the house, tasted the cupcakes and said they tasted better than some other Italian treats on hand. All the while, these gourmet Italians, who believe in only homemade goodness, had no idea what they were eating came out of a box, and I just had my niece add eggs, oil, and water and mix. Who knew entertaining could be so easy? Gotta love it!
There is an art to setting the table. Different cultures have different ways of doing it. The Japanese, for instance, might have you sit on cushions on the floor. Americans put forks and spoons on the left and knives on the right, and our drinking glasses are way bigger than others. Everyone wants to make a statement with his table when hosting a dinner party at home. But Italians simply do it better.
Entertaining is as natural to southern Italians as breathing. Their lives revolve around food and family, and their homes, much like their hearts, are always open. Recently, my cousin Fausto set a table for his parents, our Australian cousin Vanessa, and me, at his family’s home in Ischia, Italy, the island where I’m staying for the next month or so. (For photos, visit “Fausto’s Tablescape” photo album.) Here are some tips I picked up by observing Fausto’s tablescape –
1. Make the most of nature. Fausto used pink flowers from his parent’s garden to spruce up the table, which was set outdoors on a patio. He used these flowers to surround two candles on either end of the oblong table. He also wrapped coral tea roses, also from the garden, in large green leaves and left one at the seat of each of the women in attendance.
2. Keep things simple for a casual night with family. Rather than pull out expensive, fancy china and silverware, Fausto used his mom’s everyday dishes and glasses and paper napkins.
3. Food is as much apart of the tablescape as anything else. Fausto and his parents were sure to beautifully plate our various courses. For instance he put a chunk of grilled bread smothered in calamari with red sauce on the center of one plate and sprinkled chopped fresh parsley on top. The food (as you’ll see in the photo album) looked like another piece of art on the table. It also happened to be delicious, a bonus.
4. Your guests are the most important part of the dinner party. Fausto and family were entertaining, too. They always are gracious, and keep the conversation moving. Of course, they like to have fun. Fausto put additional flowers in our hair — and his own — so we could take funny pictures to send to our relatives around the world (in the United States, France, and Australia).
Last night, episode two of MTV’s reality series Jersey Shore aired. While everyone is tuning into see what Snooki and the Situation will do next, I’m thinking about my Jersey people, specifically the girls. Most of my Jersey girls are in the photo above, and they will never grow into a JWow. Yes, they are strong and they can fist pump on the dance floor with the best of them. But they are respectable ladies, who already speak more eloquently than anyone on the Jersey Shore. They will use their words before their fists (except occassionally with their own siblings, which they are working on) to resolve conflicts.
They are Italian Americans with a great sense of pride, and they probably don’t even know the meaning of the term guido. But they do know how good Nonna’s pasta sauce is on Sunday and how to say, “Buona notte,” to their elders. When they go down the shore, they play on the beach, build a sand castle, visit the acquarium, and go on the Boardwalk rides. My Jersey girls, even if all of them are 12 and under, already have brains that are bigger than Snooki’s hair poof. And I’m certain they are going to do more with their lives than become a reality star. That is truly Jersey of them.
When my friend Gayle said she was coming into town to try on wedding dresses, I knew I had to see her. After all, we used to pass by the Vera Wang wedding dress shop in D.C. back in college. Now, she’s planning for the real deal. Talking to her about wedding planning has me getting nostalgic for Antonio and my wedding in Italy and vow renewal in the United States. I never did get tired of trying on wedding dresses or choosing floral centerpieces. But the cake tastings were probably my favorite. Gayle likes that, too. She brought some yummy cupcakes from Crumbs in the spirit of wedding planning. And the apple one was as perfectly light and moist as it looked. Still, I’ll have to try the M & M topped cupcake by day’s end. It’s the least I can do for the bride to be. I’m sure she’ll want a full report from me. This visit with Gayle would have only been better if we could have finished it off with a stop at Con-E-Island, the D.C. ice cream shop we used to frequent back in the day. Thanks for the visit and delicious trip down memory lane, Gayle! You are going to make a beautiful bride. I can’t wait.
My family made big contributions to the Class of 2010. Both my cousins Raffaele and Alexander recently graduated high school and will be going away to college in the fall. Over the summer, their parents each hosted a party in honor of their son. (To join the fun, visit the “Alexander’s Graduation” and “Raffaele’s Graduation” photo albums.) As I sat at their backyard bashes, I couldn’t help but think about my own experience going away to college way back in 1996. It is like a dream now. But I have proof it really happened. In between Raffaele’s and Alexander’s parties, I received the invitation to my class reunion at the George Washington University. Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I left GW?
What I loved about going away to college was how much it made me appreciate my family back home. They wouldn’t let me forget about them. My father locked himself in the bathroom at the hotel when he dropped me off at school for the first time. My mom could hear him crying. Then, his sisters — all three of them — called me during my first week of classes. They left messages that all pretty much sounded like this: “You eat-a? You sure-a you eat-a? You wanna sauce-a? I can make the sauce-a and then we mail it and you can freeze-a it? You betta eat-a!” After I packed on the freshman 15, they still swore I wasn’t eating without them. Despite those late night pizza and Chinese runs, my aunts insisted I was disappearing. There were care packages from cousins, visits from my parents, who would literally bring that sauce for freezing, and many trips home for the holidays.
Still, independence is the most beautiful part of going away to college. I felt like such a grown up paying for my own groceries, cooking for myself, keeping track of my bills, staying on budget, and doing the laundry. Plus, I got to keep my apartment just the way I liked it, at least during my junior and senior years when I lived alone. My roommates from the previous years weren’t always as neat as I am (but they were lovable just the same).
To be honest, I find myself jealous of Raffaele and Alexander. Freshman year of college is a clean slate. The labels from high school fall off as soon as that high school diploma is in your grasp. The kids at college won’t know anything about you or what happened in high school. When you enter college, you will take new classes in subjects you barely (or never) touched in high school. Every corner you turn, you’ll find a new person who has the potential to be your new best friend, lab partner, frenemy, entertainer, or love. That newness — the idea that everyday is a surprise and could influence your future in such profound ways — never gets old. You will miss it greatly when you hit sophomore year and even moreso when you graduate.
Friends you make in the dorms will feel more like family, and some of them will be just that to you for many many more years. Others will be close to you in college, and you might lose touch down the road. But you’ll never forget each other or the memories you’ll be making because it’s one of the most important transitions in your life. Consider yourself a sculptor, Alexander and Raffaele. Your work of art is your own life. Begin building a strong foundation and mold it well.
My family is like its own United Nations. We have relatives in the United States, Italy, Canada, Australia, France, and Argentina. I have friends who barely know their cousins who live a few towns over, meanwhile I can say that I know a lot of the relatives in these other countries — and I know many of them pretty well. We’ve visited each other’s countries, met up in Italy (the ancestral home base), and stay connected with letters, phone, e-mail, Facebook, and Skype. It’s pretty special if you ask me.
In the last week, some of our cousins from France made a stop in the States on their way to a Quebec vacation. Since I work from home during the week, they were kind enough to travel from Long Island to New Jersey to see me. They brought my grandmother — and a GPS — to boot. They made their way here despite the inevitable traffic and without getting lost. I was able to have lunch and catch up with them despite the work week. For this, I’m grateful.
Having relatives from all over the world is a lesson in culture. I’m always having to keep track of how to kiss the relative in question. The Americans want one kiss on the cheek, and men never kiss each other; they give each other handshakes. The Italians demand two kisses, one on each cheek, and the men kiss each other, too. The French expect three kisses, alternating cheeks as you go. Men kiss each other in France, too. I’m always fumbling and giving the Italians three kisses or pulling away after one. I guess they just all think I’m a kissing fool.
I’m excited to be celebrating America’s birthday in the United States for the first time in four years. I hope you and yours are stuffing yourselves with hot dogs and hamburgers, taking in the sun, and getting ready to view some fireworks. We just finished off a plate of grilled corn on the cob, onions, sliders, dogs, and ribs. The cupcakes with strawberries and blueberries on top are now calling my name. If you’d like to join me and my parents at our table or at the George Washington Bride, where the flag is flying high, you can visit the “Fourth of July 2010” photo album.