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.
The main reason that I’m taking two flights to reach home in the United States on Friday after five months in Ischia, Italy is because on Oct. 1 Eurofly stopped its direct flights from Naples to New York. It’s the only airline that ever offers direct flights from Naples to New York. But Antonio and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on Oct. 2, and I couldn’t go home before the big day, even if it would have made my life much easier. I’m thrilled, however, that I’m making this sacrifice, which includes a four-hour layover and an arrival time in New York that is past 9 p.m. ET, because my husband Antonio really made our first anniversary special.
Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that Antonio planned a big surprise for me. It all began with a late dinner the night before our anniversary. We went to L’ Incanto, a restaurant that is part of a new hotel on Ischia called Mirage. (To see photos, visit “Mirage and L’ Incanto” photo album.) Although neither one of us had ever been there, the restaurant delivered on romance and delicious food. As good Italians, we revolve our entire relationship around food, so this was perfect. Indeed, it was a night to remember — and the most delightful way to kick off our anniversary. There was one more surprise, which I’ll get to tomorrow. Stay tuned!
My father and grandfathers never gave up their wine — or making it themselves. Even though they’ve been in the United States for more than 40 years, they continue to keep up this tradition from the homeland. Now that I’m here in Ischia, I can better understand their connection to wine (even if I don’t share their love for the stuff). The vendemmia, or grape harvest, is a joyful time in Ischia. It’s cause for celebration. Even the children get in on the act because the schools here often bring students to see how to make wine and learn about Ischia’s history at the same time.
In fact, my niece Laura Porraro, 10, recently visited the Museo del Contadino (Museum of the Peasant) in Forio, Ischia, with her class. And she took many photos that she shared with me (and all of you). She also told me all about what she learned, which I included in an article I wrote about the vendemmia for ItaliansRus.com and La Voce, a newspaper for Italian Americans in Las Vegas. You can check out more of Laura’s photos at the “Wine Making in Ischia” and “Presepio at Forio Museum” photo albums. If you stop by the ItaliansRus site, you should also take a peek at “Where in the World are Antonio and Dante?“, the new column that my editor Anthony Parente is writing for the site. You’ll get clues as to where in Italy his sons Antonio and Dante are traveling. Who knows? They might eventually end up somewhere in Ischia.
Today, Antonio and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary. The year has flown by. I wrote a little bit about it and offered some advice by way of the features I’ve written for About.com on today’s Newlyweds blog. There, you’ll learn that Antonio has only told me to pack an overnight bag with little other information. I have a feeling we’re going to have a great anniversary — quite the romantic my husband, no? I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, so I’ll probably scroll through the photo album of our Italian nuptials, which took place one short year ago today. I’m happy to report that the wedding was last year in Ischia, when the sun at least came out for us in the afternoon. Today it’s pouring buckets of rain and it doesn’t look like it will let up anytime soon. “Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata!”