Lately, I’ve been obsessed with all things New Jersey. I guess after having spent five months in Italy, I’m longing for a little bit of my home. That’s part of the reason I suggested taking Antonio and his friend Ludovica, who is staying with us while she studies English in New York, down the shore to Point Pleasant Beach on a Saturday afternoon in November. The other reason was that the weather was particularly warm until very recently here on the East Coast. (See the “Down the Shore” photo album for photos from our day.) We looked for sea shells — and found a ton of them, did a little shopping at the Jenkinson’s Aquarium gift shop, and took a stroll in the town of Point Pleasant. All in all, it was the perfect day down the shore.
The song Jersey Girl (which, in true Jersey Girl fashion, I’m listening to Bruce Springsteen sing as I write this) tells the entire story. “Cause down the shore everything’s all right, you and your baby on a Saturday night. You know all my dreams come true when I’m walking down the street with you.” My husband is one lucky man to have found an Italian Jersey girl who brings him down the shore on a Saturday night! A lucky, lucky man!
Whenever Antonio comes to the United States, he loves to feast on lobster. While the delicious shellfish that has meat as hearty as a steak is expensive in the States, it’s out of reach in Ischia. It costs hundreds of dollars to get one small lobster dish in Ischia. There is another shellfish, astice, that is similar to the lobster and more reasonably priced in Ischia. But it too is still pretty expensive. We almost always indulge in lobster at least once when Antonio is home in the States. This time around my cousin Fran cooked us up lobster stuffed with rice and more lobster. It was creamy and delicious. (Although stuffed lobster is a more advanced recipe, you can get tips for learning how to make basic recipes at the About.com Newlyweds site that I run.) There was so much of it that we ate lobster for days. I was afraid that Antonio was going to grow lobster claws.
As many of you know, my husband, Antonio Gerenini, returned to the United States last week — and he brought his friend Ludovica, another native of Ischia, Italy, with him. She’ll be staying with us while the two of them go off to New York to take English classes at Berlitz. Today was their first day of school. I packed them American-style brown-bag lunches that featured a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, a banana, chips, and two little chocolates for dessert. I also made sure they each had an umbrella, notebook, and pen and pencil. They better make As.
So much has happened in the last week. When the two of them arrived last Tuesday, there was a terrible rain storm in Ischia, which caused an awful mudslide in the town of Casamicciola. At least one person was killed and others are injured. Ludovica, whose family is safe, is from Casamicciola and she was pretty emotional at getting word about the damage. In fact, a friend of hers who was also in New York studying English had to return to Ischia on Wednesday. (Our prayers are with the victims at this time, and we wish their families and friends our sympathy.)
I recently babysat for my little cousin William. We had a great time doing homework, watching Monsters, Inc., and eating pasta and Italian bread, a family favorite. Babysitting is a great way to decide if you would like to have a baby. It gives you an idea of what parenting really is. You get down to the nitty gritty — from convincing them to wear their socks (I lost that battle) to comforting them when they’re upset (I’m pretty good at that). For more information on how babysitting can help you decide whether to have a baby, you can read my Newlyweds blog “Babysitting As Practice for Parenting.” You can see pictures from my afternoon with William — and his brother Phillip who joined us with their mom later — in the “Adventures in Babysitting” photo album. To the right of this entry, you’ll see “Cousin William as Buzz“, a YouTube video of William’s appearance as an extra on the soap opera All My Children. Great stuff! One warning – the photos and video are so cute that you may just catch baby lust before you babysit anyone!
My family helped host two weddings — one in October 2007 and the other in October 2008 — for my brother and me respectively. As a result, we have not had a Halloween party for my little cousins since 2006. I must admit that, although the weddings were fun, I missed the Halloween party. And after five months in Italy, all I could think about was celebrating Halloween with everyone. On Friday night, we indulged in our usual hero sandwich and pizza buffet and followed it up with a murdery mystery game that had me dressed up as a pirate and the kids trying to figure out who kidnapped Ogre Francesca and murdered her friend Woody from Toy Story. Our favorite games — turning the adults into mummies and handing out bags with odds and ends from the dollar store (such as wings, wands, and mop tops for wigs) for a make-your-own-costume contest — were of course apart of the fest. The kids arrived all dressed up — and were thrilled join in the games. (For photos, visit “Halloween Party 2009” photo album.) It was like the Halloweens of yesteryear. In fact, the only flub was my attempt at making caramel apples. They turned out beautifully but they stuck to the wax paper and the trays. Next time, I will definitely use a candy thermometer and sprinkles or nuts to give them traction. Well, you live and learn. Happy Halloween to all!
When you first roll into Atlantic City, you might think you’re in some abandoned town. You might see a prostitute or two, depending on the time of day. You definitely will notice the pawn shops next to the tiny churches. I presume the folks who sell of their life’s posessions could stand to say a prayer or two.
Then, you turn a corner. Up ahead, you see the outlets — from Ralph Lauren to Coach. In the distance, you will see the lights and colors of the casinos on the Boardwalk. In fact, once you reach the Boardwalk, you forget all about that other Atlantic City. You start to give luck a chance — and take a spin on the slots. You might do some shopping. Head to the buffets and pig out. You will definitely do some people watching.
Once a year in October, you might be watching my people. A bunch of Italian Americans pack themselves into three buses that leave from northern New Jersey early on a Sunday morning and head to the Boardwalk. Every year, there’s some story. One year, my cousin Salvatore’s wallet was stolen and he couldn’t report it because the bus threatened to leave without him. Another year the bus broke down and the people on board were ushered into the woods to wait for a replacement. This year was the first one that I agreed to join the herd. (For photos of our day, visit the “Atlantic City” photo album.) Aside from one of the older ladies getting confused about which bus to get on and losing my father in the Showboat, everything went swimmingly well. Maybe I’ll join the herd again next year. We’ll see.
One of the bloggers I follow is crazy for pumpkins, so she invited fellow bloggers to write posts and share pumpkin-filled photos. I used the image above, which is of our front lawn, in a post for the About.com Newlyweds site. It also includes info on how to create such a scene at your own home. D & D Landscaping, which is run by my parents, is responsible for creating the Halloween scene at our house every year. My next goal is to carve a jack-o-lantern and make some caramel apples ahead of my Halloween bash for the kids on Friday night. I’ll give you more scoop on the party planning as the week unfolds. Happy Halloween!
On Saturday, my first day back in the United States, I immediately headed to Bobby’s Burger Palace or BBP, Bobby Flay’s new chain of burger joints, for an all-American beef burger with cheese, fries, and a milkshake. (I went to the one in the Bergen Town Center in Paramus, formerly known as the Bergen Mall or the dirt mall, which has recently received a major face lift.) Welcome home, welcome home, welcome home! Anyone who’s eaten a hamburger in Italy knows what I’m talking about. Pasta and sausage and chicken and rabbit — that’s what Italy should stick to.
The beef there is simply missing something. For starters, their cows are skinny little things. Sometimes, you can even see their rib cages. Then, when you eat beef — especially burgers — there’s this awful after taste. For a minute after I take a bite of an Italian burger, I’m always convinced that I’ve just eaten a hoof. They don’t know the joys of French fries and a shake either. Their fries are good but rarely paired with burgers and their gelato is delicious (in fact, I’m a recovering gelato addict), but it’s soft and therefore doesn’t hold up well when you try to make a frothy American milkshake.
But Bobby’s burgers are mouth watering bits of heaven, especially for someone who had not eaten a hamburger in five months. I ordered the classic with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle on the side. For my side, I chose the sweet potato fries, another item I had not eaten in months, and a strawberry shake. My mom ordered beer battered onion rings. (Okay, so I mostly ate those, too, but in my defense I was hungry and my stomach has grown significantly since I left for Italy in May.) In any event, the food tasted as good as it looked. And I literally did a little dance in my barstool as I feasted on it.
Anyone who thinks Bobby Flay is too highfalutin to run a burger joint should think again. “Chefs have funny dreams,” says Flay, according to Newsday. “They may have a couple of four-star restaurants, but they fantasize about opening up a hotdog stand. A lot of them think that it’s too late, that they’re beyond that, but for me, it’s the opposite: Now that I’ve gotten to this point, I can do the thing I crave the most – which is a cheeseburger, fries and a shake.” Mr. Flay, you certainly quenched my craving for that very same menu. Kudos and thanks!
At the beginning of September every year, the people of Ischia, Italy practically do a rain dance hoping that the summer heat turns to fall showers. The reason? It’s not just to cool off the island. The gents are hoping for rain because rain, followed by the strong sun, produces a fruitful mushroom season. When Mother Nature cooperates, the people of the island — usually those from the side of the island where the families once worked the land as their job — head to the hills of Buceto and Epomeo in search of mushrooms.
The most commonly found mushrooms are porcini. Those are the brown ones in the photo above. But when some of the others are found like the red one above (whose name literally translated is hard boiled egg), it’s like striking gold. People who find mushrooms have their spots — specific places they go in the woods to collect them — and they don’t like to tell anyone else for fear that their treasure will be stolen. Some of the people sell the mushrooms they find on the streets of Ischia during this time of year. Everyone wants to make creamy pasta sauces with the mushrooms. Some people even eat the porcini raw as antipasto.
Not just anyone can find and cook mushrooms. You have to know what you’re doing because mushrooms can be poisonous and you have to be able to tell the difference between the good and the bad. Also, if someone gives you mushrooms to use in your cooking as a gift (which often happens this time of year – the above in fact are mushrooms that my aunt’s friends gave to her when she arrived in Italy from the States a few days ago), never wash them in water. You might be tempted because they usually have dirt on them. But the mushrooms will soak up the water like a sponge, and you’ll have a soggy mess. Just rub off the dirt with a dry towel. Also, you can freeze the mushrooms if you’d like to have them at other times of the year for cooking. Yum!
Castello Aragonese is a castle attached to the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy, that has been used as a fortress, prison, and love shack for royals. Today, it is a museum. Much to my surprise, part of the castle is also a hotel. (For pictures of the castle and its hotel, visit the “Night at Castello Aragonese” photo album.) My husband Antonio completely surprised me for our first wedding anniversary on Oct. 2, 2009, by bringing me to spend the night at Castello Aragonese. Even though my wedding dress from a year ago stood in my closet, I felt like quite the princess at the castle. We took in spectacular views of the town of Ischia Ponte from our window, including the most brilliant of moons, and we wandered the grounds. Then, we had a most delicious meal in the castle’s restaurant, which is open only to guests of the hotel. It was an unforgettable anniversary, and I can’t thank the hubby enough for his romantic gift. How did you celebrate your first wedding anniversary? Let us know in the comments below.