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Belle Auguri

Family, food, travel, and celebrating la vita bella!

Not qualified to give advice…

A friend’s mom recently asked me to write a couple paragraphs of advice for new parents for a book for my friend who is having her first child.  While I was happy to contribute, I don’t feel at all qualified to provide anyone advice.  I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time!

The following was what I finally managed to come up with.  Inappropriate? Of course.  I didn’t want to just say the same old things.  Hopefully it helps her though or at least provides a laugh.  (I think she’s just as quirky as I am, or at least was in high school.)  I figured I’d share it here because I haven’t gotten to blog recently as we’ve been traveling (thanks Delta) and LB was quite sick for a week (thanks 2 docs who prescribed Z pack which is now ineffective against almost everything).


Advice for New Parents

I won’t give you the traditional advice, because you can just Google that and likely already have!  What I want to share with you is something that has gotten me through many long sleepless nights and sometimes crazy daytime behavior that is mystifying to anyone but a toddler.  Babies are just small, drunk people.

Toddlers stumble around, are constantly changing their minds, love everyone but get frustrated incredibly easily.  They don’t know what they want, and you’ll often have to convince them to drink some water or lay down and rest.  You also can’t understand a thing they are saying.  But just like your college friends, you’ll step up and do what you can to help them feel better/keep them safe.  Unlike your friends (hopefully), they’ll pull this shit on you every day for a year (or 2 or 3).  But they’re so cute when they’re happy that you’ll forget the hard times.  And when they’re being crazy, just think “this too shall pass”.

Newborns have it worse.  What is it like to be born?  It’s probably similar to recovering from the worst hangover.  The lights are too bright, everyone is talking too loudly, the room is too cold, and they have no idea where they are or how they got there.  Plus, they’re hungry but eating makes them spit up.  The best thing to do is help them sleep it off.  Treat the first three months as a “fourth trimester” and then they’ll really be ready to tackle the world!

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LB’s best newborn “hungover” face.
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My Favorite Pinterest Recipes

As anyone who has ever used Pinterest to find recipes can tell you, there are some great recipes and there are a lot of losers!  This post is dedicated to the winners.

Before LB was born, I made a special board full of recipes that we had made several times, that always turned out well, and that were easy enough I could make them while tending to the baby.  Once I went back to work, we continued to make these recipes all throughout the spring semester, only taking a break once summer started!

You see, we like to cook a variety of things (no “pizza night” for us).  So even though I made a list of about thirty recipes, it still felt like we were being super repetitive.  I did have the great idea to make a summary shopping list with the ingredients for each recipe that we don’t usually keep on hand (or that we might run out of easily like eggs).  Each week it used to take me an hour to draw up a grocery list but with this summary I could do it in five minutes.  Plus I would place a magnet on each recipe we planned to make that week, so that I wouldn’t forget (#newmombrain).  Here’s what my list looked like: summary ingredients list.

I hope you enjoy these recipes!  Next up, I’ll have to write a post dedicated to special recipes that might take longer but are totally worth it.

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Dinner Recipes

 

Getting my life in order

I want to make some long-term changes before the fall semester begins, and the craziness that is the school year happens all over again.  I don’t want to spend 9 months counting down to summer, just to find that I am still incredibly stressed out.  I want to enjoy the now!

On the advice of a stranger (one with extensive training, but a stranger nonetheless), I’ve decided to cut back.  I’ve known for months that I’ve needed to, and PB has also been prodding me.  Hell, my own mother has been hounding me for years that I do too much and I just need to slow down.  And yet, it felt different coming from a stranger.  Like, if she came to this same conclusion, then man, I really need to make a change.  Ridiculous, I know, but I guess it’s what I had to hear (for the third time, from a stranger).

I started by making a list of promises to myself.  I made it pretty and hung it up by my desk.  I won’t share it here because it’s too personal, but I based it off of this work/life balance to-do list.  It includes statements such as “I will schedule time for scholarship during the year and will not feel guilty about work that does not get completed in this time frame,” “I will not hold myself to ideal standards,” and “I will put my family and my happiness above work.”  It also includes a lot of specific promises.  Now that I have a plan, I already feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  I even have a contingency plan for what I will cut back on first (and second and third) should work start to get overwhelming.

Then, I decided to try out the Daily Habit Tracker from Daisy Cottage Designs.  I’m only two days in, but I’m hooked on coloring in those little squares!  Compared to the year-long list of promises that I started with, this is a list of small things that I would like to do on a daily/weekly basis.  From eating fruit to prepping my classes to blogging, these are things that I would like to do regularly but that aren’t a big deal if I don’t do every day.  If you plan to only do the task less than once a day, you can put a dot in the squares for the days that you want to accomplish that task.  If I do the habit, I get to fill in a little colored square (fun!) and if I don’t, then I don’t (sad).  But it’s completely low-stakes.  And it’s a way to celebrate all those little things I do every day that otherwise might go unnoticed.  By acknowledging my successes, I can feel like I’m not sucking at being an adult (even if I’ve just started going back to yoga, and it’s once a week vs. 3 times/week pre-LB).

By acknowledging my successes, I can feel like I’m not sucking at being an adult…

Next up, I’d like to try making SMART goals and bullet journaling.  I first heard about SMART goals in a professional development seminar last semester.  The idea is that you want long (and short) term goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.  For example, a poor goal would be “I want to be fluent in Italian.”  SMART goals would be: I will practice italian in Babbel/DuoLingo six times a week.  I will write a blog post/journal entry in italian once a month.  I will find a tutor or start a language learning coffee club this month.  The goals should be small steps where you can actually tell if you’ve completed it, and you give yourself a deadline.  I particularly like the printables on the My Love for Words blog.  You have to sign up for their emails, but then you get the link really quickly.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about bullet journaling recently but it was Crystal Russom’s post at The Little Things that convinced me I should give it a try!  As someone who frequently makes to-do lists and then leaves a few items on there for weeks, it sounds like bullet journaling will help me stay organized without stressing me out even more.  I like that the symbols also help you to find little notes that you wrote to yourself last week, and that each day/week you can reevaluate whether the items left to do should be moved to a different list.  (Maybe broken down and turned into SMART goals?)

Do you use any of these techniques?  How do they work for you?

La mia fine di settimana

Sono nervosa.  Questo è il mio primo posto in italiano.  Studiavo l’italiano per tredici anni, di tanto intanto (off and on).  Però quando io provo a parlare l’italiano, non posso pensare!  Anche ora, sto facendo una volta difficile.  Fiduciosamente (hopefully), la pratica mi aiuterà!

Questa fine di settimana scorsa:

  • La mia famiglia ed io siamo andati ad una festiva di mango.  Purtroppo, ci non era molti mango.  Tuttavia, ho bevuto l’acqua fresca della noce di cocco (coconut), diritto dal cocco!
  • Ho infornato fatto in casa (homemade) dei pancake e dei cracker per LB.  (Is this really how you say “pancakes” and “crackers” in Italian?)
  • Mio marito ha cucina pesce per me per cena, e c’èra delizioso!
  • Ho cominciato a aggiustare (fix/mend) una trapunta (quilt) che l’ho aveva per molti anni.

Finché c’è vita, c’è speranza.

Hope springs eternal.

(lit. As long as there’s life, there’s hope.)

Taken from the Living Language Italian Daily Calendar.

For the record…

Jennifer Aniston wrote an article for Huffington Post yesterday called For The Record that really resonated with me.  That might be surprising, because I am happily married with a child, but I didn’t do those things to be complete.  She writes “we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone.”  I had a plan from pretty early on (16 or 17 years old) about how I would live a complete and happy life, and it wasn’t based on finding a mate and starting a family.

We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone.  -Jennifer Aniston

I knew that I would travel, that I would try to have new and diverse experiences each year, and that I would pursue a career that would allow me to study mathematics the rest of my life.  Did I want to find someone to share that time with?  Sure.  Actually I really wanted to, although I know not everyone feels that way.  In my opinion, having a best friend is more important than a passionate lover, and when you get both in one package, that’s the best of all!

But I digress.  My point is that even though I really wanted to find my “soul mate” and thought I might possibly want to have kids one day, I didn’t plan my whole life around it.  I was going to have a good, full life no matter what, god damn it!  Maybe because I’m a mathematician, but it seemed like finding someone that one would be a great fit with for even a year, enough less five or fifty years, was highly unlikely.  It’s silly now looking back because I met PB when I was 18 years old, but I had also finished three years of university (yes, I graduated young, let’s move on) and there hadn’t been a single person I had been interested in more than just a small crush.  I had never been in love and I was starting to think that maybe I would never be in love.

I used to say I would never consider marriage until I was at least 30 (it seemed so old at the time!).  It was because I wanted to travel the world and I thought all fun stopped when you got married and settled down.  (Of course, the traveling has slowed since LB appeared… see Wanderlust with a toddler.)  I even told PB this about a week before he proposed (I was 19).  Thankfully, he still asked and I said yes (mostly).  We were young, and we got married young (21 and 25 years old).  But it’s worked out for us.  I could claim that we knew each other really well and ourselves too, and we lived together for a couple years first, and while that’s all true, I think we just got lucky.  We’ve changed over the last 9 years since we started dating, but we’ve both changed in ways that have made us more compatible.

I can’t imagine what it’s like for Jennifer to live her life with Paparazzi following her everywhere.  For decades.  She’s been my favorite actress since Friends (the greatest show of all time), but I know that doesn’t give me the right to have access to all the parts of her private life.  I’d rather she enjoy her private life; she seems like an awesome person!  I’m glad that she seems happy right now.  Not many people (myself included) would be strong enough to withstand that onslaught for so long, and still be able to feel good about themselves, their friends/partner, and their bodies.

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This is how I pictured her expression while writing the article. 🙂

Wanderlust with a toddler

Instead of working, I spent the morning dreaming about our next adventure.  Unfortunately, it won’t be anytime soon.  We might be able to make next summer work, but it turns out there are very few good places to travel with a toddler!  Don’t get me wrong; I know you can basically just take them with you wherever you want to go.  But since it’s a vacation, it’d be nice to be somewhere that having a toddler doesn’t make the experience ten-fold more complicated and stressful.  I want LB to enjoy the trip too!

To find toddler-friendly trips, I went to the almighty Google.  But most of what is recommended is for kids 4+.  The best I could find was a recommendation for Disney Cruises, where they’ll babysit your tots for an extra charge.  I’ve never been on a cruise before, but a Disney cruise isn’t my usual idea of an adventure!  I have heard that Amsterdam is baby-friendly.  Plus, they have these awesome bikes you can rent.

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A bakfiets in Amsterdam (taken from MyLittleNomads).

During my search for “Amsterdam kid friendly”, I came across a blog called MyLittleNomads and the front page is titled “Travel with Kids: Why You Should Do It – And Do It Now.”  Maybe it will inspire me to take one of these trips sooner rather than later!  Do you have any toddler-friendly places you would recommend?


Future Adventures

  • Trip to the Galápagos Islands with the kids.  I want to wait on this one until our kids are around 10 years old.  This is one I’d be willing to shell out the extra money to do a National Geographic Expedition.gallery

 

  • Visit southern Italy and then hop a boat to Tunisia.  I’ll have to wait on this one until I’ve improved my conversational Italian (it will be good practice!) and Tunisia becomes a little safer to visit again.  I’ve never been south of Rome even though I’ve spent 8 weeks in Italy (in two chunks), so it’s definitely on my bucket list.  This time, I’ll spend more time taking language lessons and cooking classes and less time trudging through museums.  Tunisia just looks beautiful, like Morocco was!  And I’d love to visit the ancient city of Carthage.

 

  • Visit to Argentina and then a cruise to Antarctica.  I feel ashamed that I’ve been to Europe a good 8 times, but I’ve never visited South America.   PB and I took Argentine Tango lessons for several years – it was actually the first dance at our wedding!  I’d love to visit any country where dancing in the street is not uncommon. (I’m looking at you, Cuba.)  As for Antarctica, well I’m not big on cold, but it’d be awesome to visit every continent!  Plus, I’ve joked that I’d like to get a massage on every continent as a twist on the traditional bucket list (3 down!) and an Antarctica cruise might be able to make that happen.

     

    I’ll have to stop here because I really ought to get some work done this afternoon before I have to grab LB from daycare.  Next wanderlust list will have to feature Germany, Alaska, Yosemite, and Prague.

Erbazzone – a spinach & mushroom pie

Last night I attempted a pasto squisito called “Erbazzone” that originated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy (where the culinary capital Bologna also lies).  I actually first heard of the dish last week while studying Italian using my Babbel app.  Although it costs money, I’ve been loving the lessons on Babbel!  I’ve used DuoLingo for a year which is a fabulous free program, but I’ve finished all the lessons on there.  I’ve also completed all five levels of Rosetta Stone, which is super expensive and the conversations feel so outdated.  On Babbel, they talk about Facebook and lots of FOOD!

Anyway, the way the pretend people described erbazzone in the lesson made my mouth water, and I just knew I had to find a recipe for it on Pinterest.  I decided to attempt the one from Kitchen Joy that is adapted from Mario Batali’s recipe.  The plan was to follow the recipe exactly, but an hour into the recipe with a crying baby in the other room and at least another hour to go before dinner would be ready, I decided to make a few changes to make it go faster!  Instead of putting some of the pancetta, garlic, and shallots to the side, it all went into the pan.  I did blanche the spinach separately while wishing I had noticed sooner that it all needed to be blanched because I would have bought frozen spinach!  I also threw in all the Parmigiano-reggiano I had grated, because there’s no way I would ever taste the pie and think, “this doesn’t need more cheese.”

The recipe was a big hit with PB!  It took too long to try out on LB, but we’re still working on getting him to eat leafy greens anyway.  If you are looking for a (slightly) more complicated recipe than your usual supper, and you have some spare time, I would recommend trying erbazzone!  Plan for 2.5 hours start to finish so that you can take your time and enjoy the process.  There’s some down time in there too, and I would recommend you make a side to go with the pie.  But you can clean the kitchen, sew some drapes, read a good book, or write a blog post instead! 😉

Some changes I would make for next time are to use a different pie crust recipe and less expensive ingredients.  Here is my modified recipe.

Pie Crust (From A Year of Pies cookbook / Design Sponge)

  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour (replace up to 1/2 cup with cake flour)
  • 1.25 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (cold!)
  • 0.75 cup ice water
  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or a fork.
  3. Use a fork to incorporate the water, a little at a time.  Stop as soon as the dough comes together – you might not need all the water.
  4. Separate the dough into two equal parts and make two balls but try not to overwork the dough or the crust will be tough.  Flatten the balls into disks and put into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  You want them to be cold for when you roll them out or else they’ll stick.

Erbazzone

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 2-3 slices of bacon, cut into pieces (If you omit, add 2 tablespoons oil to the pan.)
  • 1 small onion (about .5 cup), diced
  • 0.5 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 20 ounces frozen spinach (two boxes, or 2 pounds fresh spinach to be blanched)
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  1. Start by making your pie crust.  You can work on the filling while it chills in the fridge.
  2. Heat a large skillet to medium-low with the tablespoon of oil.  Add the bacon bits and wait for the fat to render.
  3. Add the onions and cook until they turn translucent or even a little brown (5-10 minutes).  Salt and pepper the onions a bit to encourage them.
  4. While the onions cook, squeeze the water from the spinach using a colander or dishtowel.  The more you can dry it out, the better.
  5. Add the mushrooms into the pan and after another 3-4 minutes add the garlic.
  6. Mix in the spinach and let it cook for 5 minutes.  This will dry it out even more and incorporate the oil and pan flavors into the greens.
  7. Take the pan off the heat and transfer the filling to a large bowl to cool slightly.
  8. At this point, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F, and roll out your dough.  There’s a lot of filling so roll it a bit larger than you would for a standard pie (about 13 inch diameter or as large as you can fit on your pan while not falling apart).  Place one piece of dough on your pan on a Silpat or parchment paper.
  9. After 5 minutes of resting, stir in the Parmesan and the eggs to your filling.  Be careful that it’s not too hot because you don’t want the eggs to cook!
  10. Dump all the filling (carefully) onto the piece of dough on your pan.  Leave an inch border all around.  Wet the edges using a bit of water, and place the second piece of dough over the top.  Press the edges together and roll them toward the center (see picture above).
  11. Cut a few holes in the top, and if you want it to look very pretty, brush the top of the pie with egg wash or a little oil.
  12. Bake the pie for 40 minutes.  Let it cool for 5-10 minutes before enjoying!

Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 if served with sides

Peace comes from within

I’m having a rough day.  I feel guilty even writing that with all the horrible things taking place in the world right now, especially the gun violence against both civilians and police officers in the last week.  But it’s how I feel, and this is my outlet.

Little Bear didn’t really sleep last night.  Or the night before.  Or most nights since January.  And when I say that to people, most of them don’t get it, just how bad it can be I mean.  Even the ones who have had kids have blocked it out.  I hope I do one day, too.

When he was young, he slept great.  He would wake up a few times a night to nurse, which made sense because he was small and would get hungry.  And he would go back to sleep peacefully.  Then he started daycare at around 4.5 months, and he started getting ear infections.  And teething – he got 6 teeth in as many weeks.  Ever since, he hasn’t slept.

On a good night now he will still wake up 2-3 times a night and need coaxing back to sleep.  We only get good nights every now and then, and never more than two in a row.  I go to sleep hoping that I will get 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep, knowing it’s likely that I won’t.

Last night, LB went to sleep quite happily and calmly at around 8:30pm.  He woke up at around 11pm and we got him back to sleep laying next to me in bed.  But then, he woke up at 12:30am and basically screamed until 4:30am.  Nothing we tried worked except me nursing him.  I nursed him until it hurt and I had to stop, and then he screamed some more.  We’re really at a loss, and I have been exhausted and upset all day.  This whole situation with LB makes me intensely frustrated and sad.


That’s not what this post was supposed to be about.  My plans really devolved quickly!  This post was supposed to boost me out of this rut of self-pity.

I have a lot to be thankful for.  On days like this, it’s easy for me to forget it.  So here’s my list, and to make up for the depress-fest above, here’s one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken.

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His name is Jimmy.  He was my camel for an overnight excursion into the Moroccan Sahara.  (Erg Chebbi, Morocco. 2011)

I am thankful that…

  • I have a partner in this world (Papa Bear) who I am still very much in love with after ten years together.
  • I have a family who loves me including living parents and a sister who is one of my closest friends.
  • I have a healthy baby (LB) who is generally pretty happy (during the day) and brings me joy with everything new he learns each day.
  • I have a secure job that I’m usually pretty good at (except for a recent project that I’m bumbling my way through), and for which I get to use my brain and be a lifelong learner.
  • I have a warm and cosy home, a car that runs, decent health insurance, and a retirement savings account.  I no longer have to check my bank account when I want to meet a friend for coffee to see if I have enough money.
  • I may not have a lot of free time (no more reading books for pleasure in a weekend or binge-watching OITNB), but I do have hobbies that I enjoy.  I cook, I bake, I take pictures of flowers, I practice Italian, and now I blog!
  • I get to travel.  Not as much as I used to before LB, but I’ve gotten to visit places in the world on three continents, and I’m planning to visit more.

They say “Un’immagine vale più di mille parole,” a picture is worth a thousand words, and so here are some that bring me joy.

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