How many times did I see my mom and my aunts holding a small spoon up in the air, twirling it like an airplane coming in for a landing? There in the highchair sat a chubby cheeked child who just didn't want to eat. "Ecco il treno! Choo, choo!" The train, the airplane...look here comes the truck (brmmm! brmmm!) to park in the garage. Those little mouths would open wide just to hear their exhausted mammas teach those games and tell other stories. Spoonful by spoonful those little ones would get fed. To me, it seemed to take hours. I used to sit on the sidelines; watch and listen, often enjoying my crusty bread and chewy hunk of parmesan cheese.
As those bambinettes got older, mammas who had used up every ounce of their patience offered up this story instead: "O ti mangi sta minestra o ti butto dalla finestra!" Which, roughly translated the Clara Cannucciari way means: "Eat this mush, or I'll throw you out on your tush!"
By the time I became a mom, those stories were long gone. But the message of getting kids to eat what's good for them was as clear in my mind as a bottle of San Pellegrino. High tradition had arrived in my kitchen and I felt the pull to keep it alive. Thinking back, I'm not sure if I spent more time looking at my kids growing faces in those early years or at the insides of my sink and fridge. Like most moms, it is a lot of a blur.
Which reminds me, before I offer my recipes, check out blogging mama Lady Goo Goo Gaga's story called Beach Mode, but please don't judge her http://www.ladygoogoogaga.net She is wickedly funny and her honesty takes my breath away. Her stories remind that most young moms are exhausted because raising kids is a job that requires many helping hands. Sometimes those helping hands aren't there but we need to take a break anyway. How many of us look back in wonder and ask: "How did I do it??" We all know it takes a village to raise a child, but knowing it and finding it in your everyday life are two different things.
Bambino breakfast: slices of apple taste buonissimi when topped with a thin layer of fig jam followed by a thicker layer of ricotta. There's something about the apple-ricotta combo that hits the spot. I like fig jam best for this because it's mellow enough to not overpower the apple but try other jams and see what you think. Top with walnuts.
Kids who won't eat their greens at lunch may eat them in the form a pancake. Hey, it's worth a try.
- Chop up rapini and boil with a little fresh garlic. I set aside about 1/2 a cup for the pancakes you see here. Squeeze excess water out; let drain and cool in a colander, but if you have leftovers, awesome.
- Scant onion (whatever kind you have on hand is a good kind)
- A little chopped red pepper
- 2 eggs
- A little milk (roughly 1/3 cup)
- 4 tablespoons flour (I used buckwheat but any flour will do)
- A splash of olive oil
- A pinch of baking powder and a pinch of salt
- Grated cheese. I used about 2 tablespoons of parmesan but whatever you have on hand is good. (I gave up running to the grocery store to make exactly what the recipe said years ago. I've made lots of mistakes and no doubt there are whoppers to come but most days it manages to come together.)
Brush a little olive oil onto your skillet. Cook on medium to low heat and, like regular pancakes, turn when the edges start to look cooked. Makes about 6 kid-sized pancakes.
My mom's mom was a great cook and my favorite nonna. I call her Nonna Greenlight because she told us to "Go for it!" whether "it" was wearing pants (no woman would dare in her day) or climbing trees and swimming far out into the lake. My Sicilian grandmother was much older, always dressed in black, and couldn't accept the new-country's ways. She was my Nonna Redlight.
Though Nonna Greenlight had lost many of her material possessions by the time she came to Canada, I saw her make the best of what she did have. She taught us to do the same. Waste nothing. Be frugal. Start with bread and tomato, then ask yourself: what next... based on what I have today? We'll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. She's has been gone for 15 years now and I still miss her. If we get one wish at the Pearly Gates (as jokes say we will) I'll be asking St. Peter for a day with her. We'll have an espresso or two and sit and talk like old times. I'll tell her about Bruno Mars' song and we'll laugh til the tears roll down our faces.
Today's Pizza di Nonna:
Broil a whole-wheat bun til it's toasty brown. In a bowl, mix some chopped up tomato, fresh parsley, 1/2 clove of garlic and olive oil. Add a little salt and parmesan cheese. Place on top of toasted bun. Add three or four small diced shrimp (from a bag I have in the freezer this week) and top with a little more finely grated parmesan. Tomorrow it may be something completely different. What will it be in your kitchen today?
For a wonderfully creative kids' pizza idea, check out http://gattinamia.blogspot.com/2011/05/tortilla-home-made-pizza-cone.html Nice for parties if you're looking for something new. If you like baking, these kids' cookie ideas are so sweet, it makes me wish mine were little again so I could pinch their chubby little cheeks one more time. Visit http://www.glorioustreats.blogspot.com/2011/07/happy-sunshine-cookies-cookie.html to see what I mean.