Simple Meals MVY-Style

Note: This is the 5th in a series of posts about Community Supported Agriculture. Today, we tackle cookbooks, one of the most crowded markets in publishing. Here, we review Susie Middleton’s book Simple Green Suppers. For more on Middleton, visit her website at


With all the new cooking books, where do you start? Here’s just a sampling of the latest offerings at my hometown bookstore Breakwater Books in Guilford, CT.

I have a little thing going with my sister-in-law Ann.

We often exchange “gifties.” I’d love to take credit for the term, but it’s undeniably Ann. She’s the type of gal who spends hours wrapping Christmas gifts in her impeccably equipped wrapping station. She’s the kind of woman who wears a turtleneck and black skirt and makes you think, “How elegant.”

My mother-in-law had a term for her: “Our Ann.” Those who know her know what I’m talking about.

Ann and her husband Ted, who live on Martha’s Vineyard, stayed overnight last spring en route to New Jersey, and she presented me with a fantastic giftie. It’s a signed copy of Simple Green Suppers: A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Susie Middleton.


The front cover of Simple Green Suppers by Susie Middleton. All of the meals are vegetarian, but the book leaves lots of room for improvisation.

Inside, Ann wrote: “I hope you love this as much as I do.” Yes, I do. I really do.

What I love is it’s the best of Martha’s Vineyard – plainspoken, down to earth, relatable and breathtakingly beautiful. (We won’t talk about the worst of MVY, one of which is referring to it as MVY.) Leafing through the recipes and Randi Baird’s stunning photographs, you feel closer to the land. Middleton’s voice is casual and comfortable – like a friend who stops over for coffee and helps you rearrange your pantry.

It’s a primer on quick healthy meals with plenty of room for improvisation. It also advocates shifting to one-dish suppers rather than putting three different foods on the plate. Where has this woman been all my life?

At the Kale Queen’s suggestion, we decided to dive into Middleton’s 4th cookbook and test drive a few recipes. What I enjoyed most is mine required no cooking except for the pasta. It keeps the kitchen – and the cook – cool on hot, steamy nights.



Some people like their tomatoes diced finely, but I like larger pieces. Here, I topped off the dish with some Parmesan cheese.

I made this dish a few weeks ago when I got about a dozen beautiful red and yellow tomatoes in my CSA share. The hardest part was keeping tomato juice from dripping down the cabinets while slicing and dicing. I made it again last night and put a small cutting board in a rimmed cookie sheet to catch the juices.

I eat a lot less red sauce, or what my Italian grandmother called “gravy,” these days because I have a problem digesting acid in canned tomatoes. This dish allows me to indulge in one of my favorite meals. You can serve the olives on the side, but don’t skip the capers. They make the sauce.


1/4 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil

2 TB orange juice

1 TB finely chopped capers

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

2 tsp chopped fresh garlic

2 tsp honey

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 cups diced ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cored but not seeded or skinned, juices included

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut lengthwise into quarters

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1/3 cup torn and packed fresh basil leaves

8 ounces (I used a full pound) gemelli or other twisty or curly pasta shape

  1. In a large wide mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, capers, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, honey, red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, and several grinds of the black pepper. Add the tomatoes, olives, feta, and half of the basil and toss well. Let sit for 15 or 20 minutes while you cook the pasta.
  2. Bring a small stockpot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente (about 12 minutes). Drain well in a colander but do not rinse. Transfer the warm pasta to the mixing bowl with the tomato mixture. Season the pasta directly with a big pinch of salt, then add most of the remaining basil and toss gently but thoroughly. If needed, season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Transfer to a large, shallow serving bowl or individual bowls or plates. Garnish with any remaining basil and eat warm.

Serves 4



Roasted cherry tomatoes and butternut squash combined with lentils and corn make a quick and satisfying dish.

This recipe’s initial appeal was it incorporated several ingredients I had on hand: cherry tomatoes, butternut squash, corn, cilantro and a can of lentils from one of my favorite purveyors, Bioitalia, an Italian brand.  But, I had some concerns.  Combining butternut squash and lentils? Their affinity for each other didn’t seem obvious.  And would the end result look pleasing or like random ingredients thrown together?  Some quick research revealed that butternut squash and lentils are often paired in Mediterranean cooking.  Since it’s one of my favorite cuisines, I decided to proceed.

Assembly was easy.  The butternut squash and tomatoes roasted quickly.  Corn was blanched. Garlic and cilantro minced.  I put everything in a bowl with the drained and rinsed lentils and added a little lemon (I didn’t have the specified lime) and orange juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Time to complete took about a half hour.

The salad was terrific! The roasted tomatoes add a special sweetness and for those who like cilantro, it adds an intriguing zip. I liked using Bioitalia’s canned lentils—I think they are Umbrian. They are perfectly cylindrical and stay intact.  Even though it’s easy to make a batch of lentils, I’d worry they would be mushy and unappealing in this salad.

Although this cookbook is about simple, green “suppers,” I associate supper with an evening meal. I think this recipe is better for lunch or as a first course.  I’m not sure it would satisfy my hungry guinea pig (a human being, not an animal) by itself as a meal, but as a side, he gave it a thumbs up.

(G Sandwich: I didn’t have any lentils so I substituted quinoa. It was delicious.)


8-9 ounces ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 TB extra virgin olive oil

10-12 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices

2 cups cooked lentils

1/3 to 1/2-cup fresh corn kernels, blanched or microwaved for 30 seconds or frozen corn, thawed

1 TB plus 1 to 2 tsp lime juice

1 TB orange juice

1 tsp minced fresh garlic

2-3 TB chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl toss the squash with 1 TB of the olive oil and a big pinch of salt. In other medium bowl, gently toss the cherry tomatoes with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and a big pinch of salt.
  2. Spread the squash in a single layer over one half of the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully tip the bowl of cherry tomatoes onto the other side. (If most of the halves can be side up, that’s ideal.) Bake for 22-24 minutes, until the squash is tender and browned and the cherry tomatoes are shrunken and a bit charred around the edges. (You can flip the squash once with a metal spatula, but don’t mess with the cherry tomatoes.) Let the veggies cool for 10 minutes or so on the baking sheet.
  3. If the lentils are cold, microwave them for 45 seconds to 1 minute to take the chill off.  Put the lentils, corn, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the lime juice, the orange juice, garlic, a big pinch of salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of the cilantro in a large bowl. Toss gently but thoroughly. Taste, then add more salt and/or the remaining teaspoon of lime, if needed. (Be aware that all the flavors build over time.)
  4. Using the spatula, gently scrape the cherry tomatoes and squash off the baking sheet and into the bowl with the lentil mixture. (Don’t worry if some of the tomatoes fall apart, just be sure to scrape the bits off the pan-they are full of flavor.) Toss gently again. Transfer the warm salad to a serving dish or three serving bowls, and garnish with the remaining tablespoon of cilantro.

Serves 3.


Get Thee To A Nunnery

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A slice of heaven: the Virgin Mary shrine at Our Lady of Grace.

“To a nunnery, go, and go quickly too.”

The words are William Shakespeare’s and the play is Hamlet. But Bernie Triche took them literally when he got three auction pieces inscribed in Latin that needed translation.

Entrusted by a 90-year-old woman with the 19th century framed pieces, Triche wondered where to find a Latin translator. His search brought him through the heavy wooden doors of Our Lady of Grace, a tiny Dominican monastery in North Guilford, CT.

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Doll depicting a nun in the Our Lady of Grace gift shop. The nuns there wear white habits though.

“I was hoping one of the nuns could take a look at these and tell me what they say,” Triche said as he carted the pieces inside the basement gift shop. “When I was a boy, I remember Catholic  masses were said in Latin. I’m hoping someone here can help me.

Triche hit the proverbial jackpot, receiving typewritten translations a few weeks later and putting the pieces up for bid at his auction house, Lotus International Auctions LLC.  He made a small donation to the monastery to thank the sisters for their time and trouble.

Triche could have Googled the verses to translate them, but he did it the old-fashioned way. That’s becoming a rarity these days. Everyone’s in a hurry, demanding answers in split seconds. We get mad or concerned when someone doesn’t instantly return a text. We fret when medical test results don’t come within a day of our blood draw, mammogram or MRI.

I’m one of the worst offenders, so I get it. But I think we all need to chill out. Instead of the information age, I’m beginning to think it should be called age of impatience. We’ve all lost our ability to wait.

Back when I wrote for newspapers (sound the violins), the average story was 10-12 inches. Today, the average attention span is eight seconds, and people prefer pictures to words. “It’s a visual society,” my crazy ex-blogger boss told me. “And I don’t like what you wrote. It’s too newspapery. People don’t want to read this.”

Yes, she did a number on my ego and confidence until a friend advised that getting fired was a good lesson for my kids. “Now you can tell them you were fired and it wasn’t the end of world,” he said.

Our need for speed is everywhere. A friend confided that when she launches into a story, her husband begs, “Can you just give me the Twitter version?” My mother was chastised by a physician’s assistant when calling her (former) gastroenterologist: “Hurry up. I have a waiting room full of sick people in here.”

It was upsetting for my mom, who was married to a cardiologist for 53 years, to be treated so poorly. More than anything, she lamented that my father would never treat a patient so brusquely.

A surgeon and medical school professor I know complained that some medical students use Google instead of reading and research. That’s a terrifying thought. I want a surgeon (well, any physician) who didn’t cut corners. I bet everyone else does too.

I guess this is why I’m heartened there are still guys around like Triche. A New Orleans native who moved to Connecticut 25 years ago, he still has his distinctive Louisiana drawl. It’s the kind of accent that transports you to the bayou and convinces you to finally book a flight to the Big Easy.


Dominican nuns were happy to translate these Latin verses for Guilford, CT.-based auctioneer Bernie Triche.

Though the Dominican sisters spend most of their time in prayer, they often get requests from the public and do their best to accommodate them. As one of a posse of volunteers who run the shop, I run interference for them most Thursday mornings.

Seated behind an old wooden desk, I’m off the grid for two hours. There’s no internet, cell phone or computer service at the enclosure. Being there is like stepping back in time:  there’s a lazy Susan called the “turn” where we put notes to the nuns. We use an adding machine, handwritten receipts, and a metal cash box. We don’t take credit cards, to the consternation of many customers who dash out to find the nearest ATM.

One of the things visitors comment on most is the serenity of the setting, which includes rolling farmland, beautiful hiking trails and rooms for personal retreats. The birds’ calls are sharper and the wind rustling through the trees is louder there. One of my favorite spots is an outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary and life-size stations of the cross near a pond.

People who come through the door are often searching for a miracle or peace of mind.  Faced with the reality that they’re utterly out of control in a situation, they come to pray and maybe buy a trinket or two. One of my favorites  is a small Jerusalem stone that reads: “Relax, God is in control.”

What I enjoy most about being there is the sense of peace and meeting people I wouldn’t encounter under different circumstances. Some people assume everyone, including yours truly, is a nun, which will amuse those who know me. I could never do their work, not even for an hour, but I  admire them tremendously. I’m happy they’re there for me, and anyone else who needs them too.

To visit Triche’s website, click

To visit the monastery’s website, click










Lavender Fields Forever


Some of about 9,000 lavender plants at Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth, CT.

Sometimes you just need to get out and smell the lavender.

In this corner of Connecticut, we’re lucky to have Lavender Pond Farm, a place where your heartbeat slows and blood pressure drops as soon as your tires hit the gravel driveway. There’s something magical about this bucolic oasis, where the sweet scent of lavender washes over your frazzled nerve endings with every breeze.

Instead of sweating over your schedule or commitments, there’s a gentle yet unwavering tug to slow down. You watch honey bees and butterflies do their thing in impeccably groomed beds. You sniff the air for more intoxicating lavender, wondering why you don’t light lavender candles every night in your home.

You plunge your hands into dried lavender, hoping that’s OK, and sniff lavender pillows and sachets, wondering how many you can buy without seeming obsessive. You pay $4 for homemade bottled lavender lemonade, noticing it’s just slightly less intoxicating than wine.

Just being at the farm – where you won’t find a single weed – makes you want to go home and tackle rumpled flower beds. You consider – and then ask – if they need any counter help, knowing you’d be a different person if you were around lavender all day.

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Butterflies, honey bees and lavender.

I went to Lavender Pond Farm last week with a friend. Though we didn’t have any plan for the afternoon, I’d been thinking about visiting the farm for some time. Peaceful places call out to me in stressful times. Sometimes I know enough to go, realizing they always improve my mindset and outlook on life.

“Whatcha want to do today?” I asked my friend.”What do you think about going to this place called Lavender Pond Farm?” she said. “It looks interesting.”

Don’t you love when that happens? You have exactly the same thing in mind as another person. It doesn’t happen often, but enough that I’m convinced it’s no accident. So off we went, turning onto Roast Meat Hill Road (always makes me think of mutton) in Killingworth, CT., in our search for tranquility, or a reasonable facsimile.

You know you’ve arrived when you spot the white gazebo at one edge of the farm. Turning in, you’re awestruck by the thought, planning and care that goes into this place. Roughly 9,000 lavender plants are arranged in circles and orderly rows across 25 acres, giving the appearance of a formal English garden. The order is punctuated by whimsical touches – huge chess pieces like sentries on blue stone slates; brightly colored Adirondack chairs near the fresh water pond; handcrafted stepping stones, and all manner of animals created from rocks and forged metal.

Walking the grounds, you sense it’s a special place. The owners acquired the land in February, 2014, and set out to create a farm to make the world a more beautiful place. The farm was inspired by two women, one fictional and the other very real.

The first is “Miss Rumphius” from the children’s book by Barbara Cooney. It chronicles the long life of Miss Alice Rumphius, who, despite all her adventures traveling the world, felt she hadn’t solved the mystery of “why are we here?” Recalling her grandfather’s advice- “to make the world more beautiful” – Alice lives the remainder of her life trying to do just that.

Remembering the joy that flowers, especially lupine, brought her, she decides to  scatter lupine seeds wherever she goes. Soon “the lupine lady” has completely transformed the rocky landscape around her so that everyone can enjoy its simple beauty. She has finally found fulfillment and solved life’s mystery. The story ends with Miss Rumphius passing the message onto her great-niece so it continues with the next generation.

The second lady is the owner’s mother, who fought breast cancer for 10 years before her death in September, 2011. In her final weeks, the owner read some of her favorite children’s books, including “Miss Rumphius,” to her mom. The farm is a tribute to her mother, who always maintained her sense of humor and purpose throughout her illness.

The farm was surprisingly uncrowded when we visited, allowing the space to walk, sit, sniff, reflect and just be on a sparkling fall day. We had lots of fun browsing the gift shop, slaking our thirst with the lavender infused lemonade that had lines out the door over the summer. I’m not sure I could deal with lines at such a tranquil place, but who knows? I once calmly waited with thousands of other people to see an American Idol and didn’t flinch.

The woman behind the counter was as lovely as the setting. She told us times to come when it isn’t crowded and about upcoming items, including lavender-infused cider. Sounds great, doesn’t it?


A gazebo with a view: it’s no wonder this place is popular for weddings, professional and amateur photo shoots and family outings. It’s glorious.

Zapping the Cooking Rut


Note: This is the 4th in a series of posts about Community Supported Agriculture.

A woman and her 6-year-old son are sitting on a couch at the YMCA at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when it comes out of nowhere.

“What’s for dinner?” The mom continued scrolling her I-Phone, but the kid persisted. “What’s for dinner” “Um, I don’t know, Daddy’s making it and he’s figuring it out.”

Ah, the eternal question. People don’t much care what’s for breakfast or lunch, but dinner? It’s a question on most people’s minds. Maybe it’s because it’s the last meal of the day or the one time the family gathers around the table. Or maybe it’s just the anticipation factor – something to look forward to at the end of a long day.

I’m convinced dinner becomes a preoccupation with age. I learned this as a teen-ager from Granny, who quizzed about us dinner options as we stumbled to the breakfast table while our parents cavorted in New York City. “Geez Gram, give us a chance to wake up. How can you even be thinking about dinner at 7 a.m.?” (I just realized that sounded a little like the Beaver.)

Now that I’m a little older, I understand. Granny wanted ideas so she didn’t have to wrack her brain. She wanted a plan so she wasn’t rushing to the store at 4 p.m. She wanted the dinner quandary settled so she could relax and enjoy her day.

Consider that meal preparation is one of the first things to go when a person is sick or injured. (The other is mowing the lawn.) Some of it’s physical, but I think it’s just as much mental. Sick people don’t have the interest, motivation, energy or resolve to think about dinner, let alone make it. Illness pretty much kills the desire for alcohol too, though some people drink (and smoke) under any circumstances.

When my mother-in-law was suffering from a mysterious illness that we eventually discovered was Lou Gehrig’s disease, she immediately surrendered her role as cook. She watched me from a living room chair as I made dinner one August evening, a mixture of awe and sadness in her eyes. She had always made dinner a party, sipping white wine loaded with ice as she marinated chicken or made spaghetti sauce.

Now she was confined to the sidelines, too tired to know or much care what was cooking.

Leaving the kitchen was the first in a long list of things she abandoned in her very swift decline, but I think it was one of the most difficult. Her days as a cook, which began when she married at 19 and continued through four children and eight grandkids, were over after 53 years.

My dinner dilemma began when I began shuttling my kids to sports and other activities from 3-7 p.m. Instead of being home browsing cookbooks or oogling Take Home Chef’s Curtis Stone, I was driving to soccer, tennis, band concerts and CCD. Some mothers served dinner in mini-vans, but I couldn’t. There is something sad about eating dinner in a vehicle (breakfast and lunch are OK). Besides, I didn’t have a van. I had a cool SUV the kids trashed about a year into the lease.

I know some moms are crockpot queens, but that requires organization and forethought. I have neither, which means instead of preparing meals, I threw them together when I got home. I settled into a rut the size of the Grand Canyon, making hamburgers, spaghetti with sauce, chili, tacos and all manner of chicken. I feel I should apologize to my family for the monotony, but I was in so deep I didn’t realize it.

I had some high moments: the time I declared “Diner Week,” when I made moussaka, chicken orzo soup, turkey clubs, pancakes, hash browns, shakes and plated frozen pie slices under a glass dome. But I couldn’t keep it up. I think all moms eventually reach this point. I was at a playground when the kids were little and a mom begged, “Just tell me what to make tonight.”

“Hamburgers!” I declared. This wasn’t rocket science, but she was out of ideas. I’ve been there. Which is why I’m enjoying our new CSA feature. Instead of feeling alone in the kitchen, I have comrades in arugula. I talk to my sisters often, exchanging recipes that have rekindled my interest in cooking.

I love the sense of kinship. It brings me back to the early days of my marriage, when I talked to my family and friends about food instead of college tuition, obnoxious teens, natural disasters, terrorism, fur babies, ingrown toenails, bad neighbors and political buffoons. Cooking is finally fun again, but I’m not getting cocky. Like most things in life, I’m taking it one day at a time.




The Discipline Dilemma


My dog Cali was better behaved and more respectful of the priest at the Blessing of the Animals Sept. 30, 2017, than some kids are in church. If animals can behave, shouldn’t kids?

When is it OK to scold kids who aren’t yours?

I was sitting in a pew at confirmation orientation for my daughter (who was on the other side of the church) when three teen-age girls behind me began talking. It wasn’t a stray comment or two. It was constant and it was loud.

Between their chatter and laughing, I couldn’t hear the priest say how impressed he was with everyone’s behavior. I considered turning around and telling them to be quiet, or motioning them to join me in the vestibule for a dress down.

But I chickened out. You know how mean girls can be. I knew they were by themselves – no mom would tolerate their behavior – but I was unsure what, if any, role I had. Did I have an obligation to tell them to be quiet and respectful in a house of worship? Or was understanding and keeping my mouth shut part of being a good Christian?

Instead of focusing on the Mass, I was wrackeIMG_1904.jpgd with indecision. My shoulders stiffened a few times and I nearly turned and then . . . nothing. I decided to keep quiet. But I was thrilled when the Smart Mom in front of me calmly turned around and gave them a look that said, “Are you serious? Shaddup already.”

I forgot about the Mom Stare. With a turn of the head and narrowing of the eyes, it conveyed the message. After the MS, the girls stopped talking – for about two minutes. When they started up again, Smart Mom calmly turned her head again. Genius.

The thing about teen-age girls is the things they find funny are idiotic by anyone else’s standards. You try to be patient and remember you were once their age and then boom – something pushes you to the brink. In this case, it was one of the girls walking backwards on her way back from communion.

A friend said it was just as loud in her corner of the church, but noted, “Look at the bright side. At least they’re here.”

True. It’s not all their fault. Somebody dropped the ball. It’s up to parents to tell kids it’s not OK to talk in theaters, scream in stores, climb on restaurant tables, talk in houses of worship, fool around in class, scroll I-Phones in class and argue with coaches.

I took 6-year-old twin boys (long story) on a Target run last week. Though adorable, they were screaming in the store. It didn’t take long for customers to give me the “shut those kids up” dirty look. Keep in mind that my daughter hated shopping as a young child and I stayed home for nearly five years rather than inflict her screaming on other shoppers. Yes, I’m that considerate.


Faced with stereo screaming, I immediately found myself quoting Barney: “Let’s use our indoor voices!”  Somewhere in the recesses of my brain was the purple dinosaur that my daughter loved so much. Say what you will about Barney, but he teaches the basics: Keep your voice down inside. Clean up after yourself. Please and thank you are the magic words.

When I was growing up, you didn’t challenge adults. My mother didn’t yell, but my father screamed so loudly you could hear him in the front yard. No, make that the street. Let’s just say you didn’t want to annoy him. As my nephew once said, “That’s one scary dude.”

I don’t think a lot of kids respect adults today. I’m shocked by some of the things that come out of my kids’ mouths. I’ve done my best to discipline them and command respect, but I get some pretty horrendous back talk. So do other authority figures. When my son called a serve out in a recent college tennis match, his opponent began throwing F-bombs at him and his coach.

The coach marched up to to the kid and said, “Who do you think you’re talking to? I played for a top 10 college team. I could beat all of you with my left hand.” I understand his rage. As a coach, you expect some respect.

Kids need authority figures to set them straight. We had to tell our college kid that online gambling isn’t a good idea, nor is sleeping in the dorm hallway when you stumble back at   5 a.m. We had to tell my daughter that it’s not OK to watch Netflix in study hall even if everyone else is doing it and the teacher doesn’t care.

A few weeks ago, I was playing golf with three guys when the twosome behind us drove a ball within two feet of us. We politely told them to cut it out. Two holes later, they almost hit us again. A guy in our foursome pulled out his best Dad voice, screaming “That’s twice now. Don’t let it happen again. This is completely unacceptable.”

We speculated that he was in the military, most likely the Marines, to have such a scary  Dad voice. We decided to toe the line for the rest of the round, just to be on the safe side.


The Blessing of the Animals celebrates St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and ecology. Among the animals blessed on the Town Green in Guilford, CT., was a chicken. Here, Cali gets her first of two blessings.











The Best Boss Ever

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Just because you’re not writing doesn’t mean you’re not still a reporter. When Nick Fradiani won American Idol, his hometown of Guilford, CT., had a parade and was treated to a free concert on the Green. With a budding celebrity in our midst, I couldn’t miss the event.

The pressure’s on.

My former editor is following my blog.

After three months of silence (bliss) on his end, he dropped me an email sharing his thoughts and insights. It doesn’t sound like much, but I value his opinion. A lot. “No need to thank me. Just keep doing the blog. I enjoy reading it,” he wrote. Do you love this guy or what?

Though most reporters have love/hate relationships with editors, J is the kind of boss you want to please. He trusts you. He doesn’t hover, direct or insert his own voice into the story. He’s there if you need him, but likes when you figure things out yourself. He’s got lots of underlings, but makes you feel like you’re the only one.

At one point, The Curmudgeon pronounced J the only person in the universe that could be my boss. I agree with him.

You see, I don’t really do well with bosses. I’m the independent type (attitude problem?) so when a supervisor bosses me around, I want to run. I was fired for the first time in my life last year by a boss who took herself and product way too seriously. She wanted me to write in her voice and tore me to shreds with her vitriol. I took it (and her paltry wage) because I felt lucky to find a job at my age, but I was miserable.

She did me a favor firing me. As a friend advised, “Now you can tell your kids you were fired and it wasn’t the end of the world.”

I’m at an age where I’d rather volunteer or pound rocks than work for someone I don’t respect. I cringe when middle-age workers share horror stories of being jerked around by bosses half their age. I understand their humiliation and sense of defeat. It’s never easy being bossed around, but it gets harder with age. When one of Lyndon B. Johnson’s (yes, I’m watching the Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary) daughters admonished him for lighting a cigarette after a 14-year break, he said, “I’ve now raised you girls. I’ve now been President. Now it’s my time!”

We all have our breaking points. Back in the Dark Ages, an editor told me she wanted me to wear a beeper. Since I was a conscientious reporter for eight-plus hours every day, I told her I’d prefer not to wear an electronic “leash.”

I balked and eventually won, but she wasn’t happy. I did my best for her, but she wrote in my yearly review that my production could be better. I refused to sign it and complained to the managing editor that I felt “unappreciated.” “Hey, now you know how I feel every day with my wife,” he said. Uh oh. How did we get on this subject?

Another editor reminded me that she was my supervisor, not my friend. I didn’t want to be her friend, but I did expect her to be cordial. She was excessively cold for our tiny newsroom, where we joked and bantered all day. We were a chain of small daily and weekly newspapers (rags?). I made $12,000 per year. One photographer joked that our piddly funeral benefits would cover a wooden casket and a case of beer.

We were there because we wanted to be, not for the money or glory. After her “friends” proclamation, I was halfway out the door. I didn’t want to work for her. There’s more to life than work. If you doubt it, consider that no one from my mother-in-law’s working years came to her funeral. Only a few of my father-in-law’s former colleagues showed up for his, a fraction of the folks I expected.

J is an entirely different animal. Blessed with an incredibly acerbic wit, he’d proffer story ideas in a wry, sarcastic tone that bordered on whining. He’d get mad and frustrated with reporters and bureau chiefs, but I never saw him lose his cool or berate anyone. He was always a gentleman.

Perhaps his best talent was coming up with offbeat story ideas. He’d scour the newspaper, including the classifieds, looking for anything that caught his eye. He’d throw a lot of them my way, pitching with the best possible spin.

Some highlights:

  • A story about people paying to light virtual candles instead of going to funerals or wakes. We had no idea that this, online obits, guest books and condolences would become the standard.
  • A piece about a parakeet laying eggs after looking at herself in the mirror. Yes, I agreed to write this gem. I think it may have been the last story I wrote for him.
  • A story about the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere at Yale University. Gere was my major celebrity crush since “An Officer & A Gentleman.” He wore an impeccably tailored Armani suit. I covered the press conference, but my knees shook for hours.

But most importantly, J was my lifeline to my former life when I was home with my kids and thought I’d lose it. I’d call him up to ask if he had anything for me and he’d deliver. I think he realized that as much as I love my kids, I missed writing, the newsroom chatter and the adrenaline rush that comes with breaking a story.

I emailed him last year when my son went to college and I had a lot of time on my hands. “Please sir, can you spare a story?” He wrote back a few weeks later to tell me he was retired. Yikes. When did we get old enough for that?

Being the kind man he is, we went out to lunch in New Haven, CT., to catch up and plot job hunting strategies for senior citizens. Since he lives on Wooster Street in New Haven, CT., home of world-famous Pepe’s Pizza, I suggested Italian. “Anywhere but Pepe’s,” he said. “There’s no way in hell I’m standing in line for pizza.”

I told The Curmudgeon that J’s now on a blog blast. “You’ve come full circle,” he said. I guess so.









I’m a Liebster, You’re a Liebster

liebster2.pngRight about now Chrissy from Chrissy’sFabulousFifties ( must think I’m a slug. The kind woman nominated me for the Liebster Award almost a month ago, and guess what? Squat.  It’s one of my problems. I start things, but don’t finish.

Run a half-marathon? (Not) Swim twice a week? (Chlorine is doing a number on my hair.) Remove the junk from the garage? (Maybe Christi wants to walk the dogs.)  Yard work? (Does anyone want to walk the dogs?)

The Curmudgeon has relentlessly hounded me for years to “complete your tasks.” OK, so he may be right about this one thing.

This inability (tragic flaw?) to complete tasks has almost convinced me I need planner. I know people (Waking Up on the Wrong Side of 50) who swear by them, but I’ve never used them. There’s a little rebel in me that abhors schedules. Perhaps it’s because so much of a mom’s life revolves around other people’s schedules. We cherish our “free” time.

So here you go Chrissy. Many thanks for the nomination. I love your blog because you take readers into your heart and mind with every post. You’re honest, direct and funny. You truly are bold, sassy and fabulous. Never change. We need more of you in the world today.

Here are Chrissy’s 11 questions:

  1. What do you like most about blogging?  I write about whatever I want. It’s mine, so I’m accountable to me. So much of newspaper reporting hinges on what editors deem newsworthy. Blogging gives a platform to write about the people I meet, issues that concern me and silly things that happen in my life.
  2.  What is your favorite season: June (spring/summer) is my favorite month. The days are incredibly long, school’s ending, flowers are blooming and the grass is lush green. June is the promise of summer adventures, fun and freedom.
  3. What is the one change you would like to make to your blog and why? I wish I had gone with the premium package so it had a few more bells and whistles. I didn’t want to spend money on something that I wasn’t sure I’d stick with. You know, like a gym membership you drop after 6 months.

    4. What is the main theme of your blog? That’s the $1 million question. I guess it’s a little like Seinfeld, a blog about nothing. It’s very stream of consciousness. It’s the people and lessons I’m learning along the way.

    5. What is your favorite hobby? Golf. I played when I was a kid, and just picked my clubs back up about three years ago. I love it, and I’m calling it a hobby rather than a sport because I can’t score to save my life.

    6. What is your dream job? Parenting a 4-year-old. They’re potty trained, past the terrible 2s, think you’re the best and give tons of hugs.

    7. How many blogs do you follow? This is a little like someone asking you what you got on your SATs. You’re a tad embarrassed by the number so you inflate it. I’m going to be honest and say 30. I’m new and just getting the hang of it. If I read a post I like, I’m quick to follow a blog. I’m that way with Facebook too. If I like something, I let you know. It’s the least I can do.

    8. Who is the most important person in your life. My husband. I adore him.

    9. What is your favorite book? Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. While reading it, I was completely blown away by McCourt’s writing. It was like looking at a piece of art, and I wondered how anyone could write so beautifully. I’ve loaned it out to friends who don’t feel the same way. That’s OK.

    10. Are you a morning person or a night owl? I like mornings, but it takes me awhile to get going and don’t even talk to me before I’ve had a cup of coffee (50 percent decaf these days.) I admire people who are perky in the morning, but I don’t understand how people can be chatty at 7 a.m. For a study of morning vs. evening people, go to a Hampton Inn breakfast and look around. People either look raring to go or dazed with bedhead.

    11. Do you write your blog at morning or night? Morning, often in bed immediately upon waking. It’s when my brain is rested, fresh and not bogged down with the stuff of the day.


    My nominees: Quirky, honest and self-deprecating. A New Zealand mother decides it’s time for her family to follow their dreams. Can I come along for the ride? A blog written from the perspective of a dog. I love it. I wish I had thought of it. A young mom of three shares her journey after a spinal cord injury. Gripping, honest and a rare glimpse into the everyday challenges of moving on after a life-altering injury. The title says it all. And I like her because she told me in no uncertain terms that I’m a bad ass. I like having her in my corner. You got a problem with that?

    11 Questions for the nominees:


    1. Why did you start blogging?

    2. Do you have a writing background?

    3. How often do you post?

    4. What’s your favorite dessert?

    5. Coffee or tea?

    6. Favorite movie?

    7. What makes you laugh out loud?

    8. Best place you’ve ever visited?

    9. Something you like about yourself?

    10. Best way to spend your spare time?

    11. Who’s had the most influence on your life?

    The Official Rules Of The Liebster Award 

    If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you:

    1. thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

    2. display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

    3. answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

    4. provide 11 random facts about yourself.

    5. nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)

    6. create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

    7. list these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:

    8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)


Of Tomatoes & (Wo) Men

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What do you do with hundreds of ripe cherry tomatoes? Start making sauce.

Note: This is the third in our Wednesday series Our Life in the CSA. Today, the Kale Queen and Rainbow Chaser share their favorite tomato recipes.

But first, a word from yours truly:

It’s great having a gourmet cook – and I don’t mean “Foodie” – in the family.

My brother-in-law (California Boy, CB for short) joined our clan in the early ’90s when he married Rainbow Chaser and always wows us with his culinary prowess. A Long Beach, Calif., native, he learned to cook before it was fashionable for boys (or men) to don aprons and launch kitchen wars.

Like most things in life, men bring a fierce competitive spirit to cooking and baking. I recently attended a University of Connecticut football tailgate party where a guy insisted I sample his baked flan. He professed to being a baked flan pro. I didn’t know such people exist, but I’m happy they do. Hail to all men who cook.

CB is the one who told me about Epicurious, poured my first cup of Starbucks Christmas Blend and introduced me to the wonders of balsamic shallot reduction. So what if he exclaims”Oh My God!” when he samples it? He’s not bragging. It’s that good.

He’s the only guy I know who brings his own (sharpened) knife to carve the Thanksgiving bird and is willing to wear a frilly ruffled apron for the job. (Note to self: buy a basic chef’s apron for the dude before this year’s feast.) Everyone knows the carving process can’t be rushed. CB takes upwards of 45 minutes, deconstructing the bird with surgeon-like precision and cutting the breasts into thick juicy slabs.

When I asked the Rainbow Chaser what’s on tap this week, she suggested Roasted Eggplant Tomato Stacks.  Apparently, CB is smitten with the robust side dish since an escape to Paris over the summer. I can’t say I blame him. I made them with white eggplant and tomatoes from my CSA share and topped them with some Parmesan cheese. Magnifique!


From Paris with Love: Roasted Eggplant Tomato Stacks.



The CSA’s heirloom tomatoes, ripened to deep yellow, purple and – of course, red hues, are ideally consumed uncooked. But the summer bounty exceeds our ability to eat them fresh, so I’ve been forced to get creative.

My family discovered this side dish in Paris. On our last night, we went to a popular bistro that was on our radar for two weeks. The dashing French waiters delivered succulent meals produced by their middle-aged father, who wore a paper food service hat. Every so often, the father circulated through the cramped bistro to ensure his guests were happy.

One of the best take-aways is a simple yet succulent eggplant and tomato side dish. It’s on permanent rotation on our dinner menu since our return. It is a delicious way to use some of the flavorful tomatoes that are so abundant now. The intensity of flavors is enhanced by the roasting process, which improves even bland store-bought varieties.


2 medium-sized eggplants (as cylindrical as available)

3 – 4 ripe tomatoes

6 garlic gloves – pureed with extra virgin olive oil

2/3 cup EVOO

1 TB Dijon mustard



Finely chopped fresh basil or pesto


Cut eggplant into ¾ inch thick slices.

Cut tomatoes into ½ inch thick slices.

For garlic puree – chop 6 (or more if you’d like) garlic cloves, add 2/3 cup olive oil and 1 TBS Dijon mustard. Puree in food processor or blender until mixture is smooth (about 1 minute).

Salt both sides of eggplant and layer on baking pan on top of paper towels to absorb moisture. (Putting an extra baking sheet on top of paper towels promotes moisture absorption).

Wait 10 minutes for moisture to be absorbed by paper towels. Remove paper towels and place eggplant on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake eggplant for 20 minutes in 350-degree oven.

Remove eggplant from oven and glaze with garlic puree and place basil on top. Place tomato slices on top. Glaze tomato slices with garlic puree and place basil or some pesto on top. Salt and pepper to taste. Return to 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes until tomatoes bake down into the eggplant.

Serves 6



Simple Supper: Fresh Cherry Tomato & Basil Sauce (served here with Ricotta).


I have a confession to make. I didn’t get my CSA share this week. My husband asked me not to.  We’re drowning in produce from our garden and can’t make a dent in our CSA share. Or we could, but then our harvest might go to waste and Nice Guy doesn’t want to freeze anything. He wants to eat what’s in season.

NG is accomplished at growing green beans.  In past years, we’ve eaten them every day for weeks—multiple helpings of dinner-plate sized servings. Last year, he extended his growing expertise to cucuzza, Italian zucchini.  For weeks, we ate it in every imaginable configuration and the precious fiori di zucca, squash blossoms.

This year, he discovered an Italian seed company and ordered what seems like every seed imaginable. Tonight, he was planting perfect rows of seeds in the dark with a headlight to guide him.  In short, he is very competitive, making the most of square foot gardening.  I think he is trying to outgrow Christina, our CSA maven (and good friend).

Back to the Italian seeds: earlier this summer, he planted a number of pomodoro seeds around the asparagus. They took a while to get going, but we now have hundreds of cherry tomatoes in the queue in the kitchen and hundreds more awaiting harvest.  This week, we’re working our way through the tomatoes and lingering Romano green beans.

A fresh cherry tomato sauce will get us off to a good start. Many associate plum tomatoes and San Marzano in particular with Italian cooking. However, on our first visit to Campania, the region in southern Italy that includes Naples, I noticed that cherry tomatoes were used exclusively for many pasta sauces.  I ordered a cherry tomato sauce for my first meal there and was so captivated I ordered it again—and again.  When I returned home, I researched recipes and found that cherry tomatoes are often used for fresh sauces in Campania and Sicily because the tomatoes have good flavor year-round.

This recipe is based on one from Anna Callen, a favorite Neapolitan food writer.  It’s great served with a plate of steamed green beans on the side and a glass of chilled Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio.


Dresses one pound of pasta

¼ cup EVOO

2 cloves garlic thinly sliced

1 sprig Italian parsley, chopped

2 lbs fresh cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped

Salt and freshly milled pepper to taste


In a sauté pan, heat olive oil and add garlic.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on low heat (do not burn). Add the tomatoes and cook covered for about 10 minutes.* Add the basil, parsley, salt and pepper to the sauce. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes longer. Do not allow liquid to evaporate.  

Cook one pound pasta of your choice according to package directions.  Save ½ cup pasta cooking water.  Drain pasta and return to pot. Pour sauce over pasta together with reserved pasta water and stir gently to combine.  Serve, if desired, with a scoop of ricotta and freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. We prefer ricotta with the fewest ingredients possible. One good local source is Cutrufello brand, which is gluten-free. For this dish, I used gluten-free penne (Jovial brand, which is a Connecticut importer of Italian gluten-free pasta).  It’s also good with spaghetti.

*The original recipe calls for cooking the tomatoes 10 minutes uncovered.  I prefer a more cooked tomato sauce, so I cover the pan and cook at low to medium heat.  If you prefer a result with tomatoes that are more intact, cook uncovered for the first 10 minutes.


This week’s CSA share was heavy on tomatoes, spurring us to get creative in the kitchen.


Space Odyssey


Note: Today marks our 34th wedding anniversary. It’s been quite a ride with The Curmudgeon. Today’s post is in honor of him and our marriage. Though he never reads my blog, I made him read this. “Oh no, not another one! I’m your subject too often. I want a cut of the action,” he said. When I pointed out I don’t get paid for blogging, he said, ‘Yeah, what action?'”

Like a lot of couples, my husband and I have a fairly strict division of labor.

He’s the primary bread winner, pays the bills and buys salt for the well. I handle the house, grocery shop, cook, outfit the kids, manage transportation and deal with the dog. It’s way more traditional than when we first got married and both worked full time, but kids change things. At least they did for us.

A few years ago, my husband and I formed our own corporation. He’s president/treasurer while I’m vice president/secretary. We have our own checks and a stamper with our corporation’s name on it. I do the bulk of the work, which is fun and rewarding.

I receive no salary, a reality that my brother-in-law David wants changed. He told my husband that I should be compensated. When he called to find out if I had been paid, The Curmudgeon responded, “No. We’re one unified body hurtling through space.”

Huh? I had no idea he thought of us as space junk.

To bolster his argument, he pulled out the most recent credit card statement and went over my expenses. “I see you played golf three times,” he said. “And what’s this?” When I explained that I bought a baseball cap because I left mine home, he said, “You just bought a baseball cap a few weeks ago. Are you starting a collection?”

The thing about not pulling in a salary is there’s always some  justifying going on. When I was employed, I had cash in my pocket and bought whatever I wanted. Now? There’s always a tinge of second-guessing and guilt. I know other women who don’t feel it, but I do. (Well, most of the time.)

Though we rarely fight over money, my husband and I are opposites. He’s a typical New Englander: basic, sensible and frugal. He loves his Honda, wears leather “mandals” from 2006, has a briefcase from the ’80s and launders his own dress shirts. He doesn’t care a lick about things, one of the traits I love most about him.

I’m a little more extravagant or what some might call an impulse buyer. I don’t shop often, but when I see something I like I buy it, like the pink salt rock sitting on my kitchen table. Who knew grating salt is next to impossible with ordinary kitchen gadgets?

Several years ago we were having a St. Patrick’s Day party at our house. My mother-in-law died after the invitations went out, and we debated whether we should have the party or cancel. We decided to have it, figuring she (who was 100 percent Irish) would want us to celebrate and be happy. Quite honestly, it was a welcome diversion from a terribly sad chapter in our lives.

With only four days before the party and two kids under 7, my husband OK’d ordering food from a catering place. I ordered a tray of scalloped potatoes without asking the price (silly me). When I went to pick them up, I nearly fell down when I was told the potatoes cost $300. I hyperventilated the entire way home, wondering how to tell The Curmudgeon.

I won’t go into details, but he sternly reminded me that potatoes cost $5 a bag. One of my son’s friends who overheard the conversation asked, “Are your parents getting divorced?”

Fortunately, we didn’t. But we still bicker over money. When I asked if he thought I should buy a dress for a wedding, he replied: “Who do you think you are, mother of the bride?” I didn’t reply, but I did buy a dress.


A Tale of 2 Pestos

Note: This is the second in a series about my family’s participation in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) Stop by every Wednesday for new recipes. This week’s installment is by the Rainbow Chaser and the Kale Queen.

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What do you do when you’re knee deep in kale? Make Florentine Pesto.

My younger sister Janet is the most resourceful cook I know.

When she got married in the early ’90s, she and her husband ate baked potatoes in various incarnations every night for a year to save money. I admired her discipline and resolve, making the most available (and inexpensive) ingredients to make ends meet.

She’s come a long way since her potato days. Today, she’s a mom of three and a teacher working on her Ph.D. Though often pressed for time, she loves to cook and bake on weekends. Drop by her house on a Sunday afternoon and she’s whipping up homemade granola or cutting a slice of crumb cake.

I’m always fascinated to hear what she’s doing with her CSA shares because nothing goes to waste. Today, she shares her recipe for Carrot-Top Pesto.


Carrot-Top Pesto and tomatoes are sensational on toasted crusty bread.


After three decades of cooking, my approach was pretty well set. I worked off recipes. If  I didn’t have all the ingredients, I abandoned the dish until I could source them. I bought the same produce every week, scrutinizing refrigerated, misting shelves in search of romaine, Boston bib, and spinach, eschewing rows of unfamiliar leafy greens. I only threw different veggies in the cart if I needed them for a new recipe. That’s how how I discovered Swiss chard. I felt reckless – and uncertain – when I bought the red variety. I wasn’t comfortable experimenting.

I love the idea of eating the rainbow. I believed I earned my stripes by filling my cart with more volume from the produce department than any other. I had green covered, yellow from zucchini and my RO BIV from the fruits and berries that are so familiar and sweet. I was content with my approach to vegetables when I learned that my sister the Kale Queen was getting pesticide-free vegetables from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Since I’m the thrifty type, I was eager to join the CSA. I didn’t really care about what I got. I just wanted in.

I joined the CSA 14 months ago, and my weekly share has had a profound effect on the way I cook and eat every day. Many people complain about CSA’s because they don’t pick the produce in their share, but I’ve found this to be the biggest boon. Relinquishing control boosts my creativity in the kitchen, expands my palate, and increases my knowledge of vegetables. I have a rutabaga on my counter – I Googled images to figure out what it is, and I’m eager to try it. I hadn’t eaten a beet since the 5th grade and now I love tossing them in salads.

I feel like I live on a farm with my weekly bounty.  I eat what’s in season and sometimes there’s more than my family can consume in a week. Of course, that’s why pickling and canning were developed, but I’ve never done these things until now. I just pickled my first carrots. I had a few weeks’ worth, so I took the plunge. Speaking of carrots, I finally realized that those gorgeous greens on top are not food waste – they make a delicious pesto. I make pesto on Sundays, hours after my share is delivered. I make it very quickly, and it’s a huge relief to have it on hand to top broiled salmon, toss in pasta or combine with tomatoes to crown crusty bread. It has a fresh zip that’s a bit different from typical pesto.

The following is my adaptation of a recipe that appeared in the Sept. 26, 2016 issue of Time:


2 cups carrot tops

3 tbs. walnuts, pistachios or almonds

½ cup of fresh basil

2 garlic cloves

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup Parmesan

Blend ingredients in a food processor, adding more salt or olive oil as needed.

Can be frozen for up to six months.

Note: I omit the Parmesan. I adjust the amount of nuts – usually adding more. I only add salt to taste after blended.

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Maybe the best use of kale yet: Pesto.


We’re waist high in kale. One of my favorite ways to use kale is in pesto. I first had kale pesto in Florence, Italy.  We stayed in a great bed and breakfast and decided to try the small osteria downstairs.  We were intrigued by the pasta of the day.  When I asked about the ingredients, our waitress endearingly told me that it was, as we Americans would call it, “black cabbage.” That stumped us: we had never heard of black cabbage.  We ordered it anyway and it was simple and delicious. Afterwards, I searched online for black cabbage to no avail.  I searched for the ingredients and, I hoped, a recipe, by describing the region where we ate it in Italy and some basic descriptive terms. Bingo: Food & Wine had a recipe for Tuscan kale pesto.  I tried it and it pretty much duplicates our dish. As I gathered my kale last night, I decided I’ll make this recipe once a week until we can see our feet in the kale patch.


  Yield: 1 and ½ cups

 pound kale

½ cup olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 lb pasta (spaghetti or linguine)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the kale.  Cook for 7 minutes.  Lift out with strainer and drain in colander.  Add the drained kale, olive oil, garlic and 1 tsp kosher or sea salt to the bowl of a food processor.  Process until relatively smooth.  Add pasta to remaining boiling water in pot and cook according to directions on box until al dente.  Drain, reserving ½ cup water.  Add pasta back to large pot and toss with pesto, adding reserved water to achieve desired consistency.  Serve in large bowls topped with freshly grated pepper and Parmesan or Romano cheese if desired. Grilled chicken and a glass of Trebbiano D’Abruzzo are great accompaniments.

Note: This recipe originally appeared in Food & Wine.