The 52 Week Money Challenge – you game?


I am officially participating in the 52 week money challenge.  Anyone else in?  I’m on week three now and still going strong. (Ha!)  All you have to do is get a jar, print out this chart, and add the indicated amount of money to the jar each week.

Week one: one dollar, week 3: three dollars, and so on.  At the end of the  year you’ll have $1378 in your jar!!!  That’s at least one trans-atlantic plane ticket!

And while you’re looking around the house for large empty jars, put one aside for this other fun idea: A Year of Fun & Good Times.

Every time something especially funny happens throughout the year, write it on a little piece of paper and stick it in the jar.  You could write happy memories, funny stories, or other things you don’t want to forget.  On New Year’s Eve, open the jar up and read about all the great things that happened to you this year.



Well, I’m guessing your stockings are no longer hung by the chimney with care since Christmas has been over for about a month now.  I usually post about what I’d like to find in my stocking BEFORE Christmas, but this year I’m writing about my stocking wishes after the fact.

Actually, in Italy, we do the stocking thing on the night of January 5th, not December 24th.  So I’m not all that late for the Italian holiday, which, fyi, is known as the Befana.

I made my stocking list on Pinterest this year and think that it’s a fabulous way to keep track of these kinds of presents.  Why?  A) You have a picture that gives you an immediate visual and 2) You have a link that (usually) takes you to a site where you can buy that item or at least find out more about it.  If you’re playing Santa for someone and they have a list like this, it makes your “job” so much easier!  Plus, Santa’s helpers can leave comments like, “I heard through the Elf grapevine that this stocking stuffer has already been accounted for.”  (Disclaimer: I’m currently rather obsessed with Pinterest, so my opinion here may be slightly biased)


Summer Vacation 2012

Here are the pictures from our trip to Greenville, SC & Tybee Island.  Carrie & Oak came to visit us at Mom & Dad’s new place in Greenville.  They brought a ton of awesome summer sausage, artisan beer, cheese and fancy mustard with them too, which we totally pigged out on for days!  After exploring Greenville for a week we drove over to Savannah and had a family reunion on Tybee Island, GA.  Ben flew in from California, Phoebe came down from New Jersey and Seth met us there since he was living nearby.  A week on the beach!

Among the  most memorable highlights were an amazing impersonation of Tiny Tim performed by Dad (please see video), paddle boarding in the ocean, boondoggling, daily pool games in our very own kitchen, hours and hours on the beach, and plenty of family bonding.  Read on for pictures and anecdotes!

THE Ultimate Stocking: 2011

It’s that time of year again!

Ultimate Stocking time, of course. This is a tradition I started in 2003 (can you believe it?!) and it’s still going strong (at least in my heart). The Ultimate Stocking is a space for you to share with the world what you hope to get in your stocking this year.  Just leave your list in a comment below and rest assured that your prayers will be answered (mine always have!)

I was reading over previous years’ stuffings and discovered I almost always hope for the same thing, so I’m going to try and mix it up a little this year.

Santa, if you’re listening, here’s what I’m hoping for:

  • A magnetized pin box
  • A roller cutter like one of these
  • Sewing chalk (for marking lines and tracing patterns)
  • An attachable light for my kindle (All the best places to read seem to be dark corners…)
  • The broken part on sewing machine (Since you’re all-knowing, I guess you can figure this out, it’s the thing that makes the thread turn.  I’m improvising with a chopstick right now)
  • A gift certificate to World (just a few  months)
  • A  yard stick that has the metric system on it too
  • Tickets (anywhere, to anything, surprise me)
  • Something to make my jewelry not tarnish anymore (maybe a jewelry box would help too…)
  • Gift certificate to shoe and/or clothing store
  • Magnetized notepad for the fridgerator
  • A purse hook (this one’s really tacky, but this is the idea)
  • One of Aunt Cindy’s pecan pies
  • A jar of Aunt Carmel’s homemade sweet pickles
  • Seeds for next year’s garden
  • Little pinzer hair clamps
  • Pedicure gift certificate
  • Sewing lesson (how to read patterns/take measurements…)
  • Homemade Christmas tree ornaments
  • Christmas music
  • A bottle of Opi nail polish
  • Fresh White Musk body spray (Lori Bennett gave me some a couple of years ago and it’s lasted forever without getting that nasty old perfume smell.  I love it!)

As usual, everyone who shares their stocking hopes will be entered in a contest to win a fabulous MoltenChocolate prize!  Merry Christmas!

Weird Italian Food: Part I

You wouldn’t believe the strange animal parts that Italians bring to the table (and expect people to savor, with gusto).

After 3 months 4 years SIX years of first-hand experience, I can assure you that squeamish eaters won’t last long in this country.

In Piedmont, which is where I live, THE most traditional and frequently consumed antipasto is carne cruda.  That’s right, raw hamburger meat on a plate (when you say it in Italian it does at least sound more appetizing – pron: kar-nay kroo-dah).  You’ll find it on just about every menu in every restaurant in the Langhe Roero area.  The people go crazy around here for a good carne cruda, they even drive all the way from Torino just to eat a plate of the stuff.

What makes carne cruda so special?  Well, let’s break down the ingredients….uh  ingredient.  The veal comes from a race of cows known as the Razza Piemontese (the Piedmontese Race). These bovine fill the hearts of the Piedmontese people with pride and joy, and are NOT your run-of-the-mill variety.  This extra special race is principally raised here (and by here I mean HERE, the city of Alba and the surrounding Provinces of Cuneo and Asti – about 3,000 square miles) .  In fact it’s often referred to as carne cruda albese: carne cruda from Alba.

Two hundred and eleven years ago.   That’s when the Piemontese started breeding this variety in the region.  And we’re not the only ones that think these cows are special.  The Razza Piemontese is known on an international level for its fantastic nutritional characteristics.  It has a particularly low fat content (.5% – 1% as compared to the average 3% of most bovine), less cholesterol than many white meats and even a lower fat content than many fish. (Maybe I should start a new fad diet based on these white beasts!   They’re so darn cute I wouldn’t even have to pay a super model to be the face of the fad.)

Carne cruda was originally chopped by hand (battuto al coltello) and in fancier restaurants you can still find it prepared this way.  Home cooks and average trattoria usually grind the meat in a meat grinder or purchase it already ground from their macellaio di fiducia (faithful butcher).  Once you’ve acquired your meat, always fresher than fresh (you never hear of anyone getting sick after eating carne cruda) and usually eaten the same day it’s purchased, you dress it with some salt and pepper, a little olive oil and garlic.  Adding a bit of lemon is optional and there are opposing schools of thought for and against the use of lemon in this dish (some say it hides the true flavor of the meat, others argue that it “cooks” the bacteria out a little bit and like the subtle lemon flavor).  Every family seems to have their own way of preparing carne cruda, some add just a few whole cloves of garlic and take it out before serving, others grind the garlic and mix it right in with meat.  Some slice the meat in carpaccio fashion instead of grinding it.  It is often served with a healthy grating of truffles in season, but they deserve an article all for themselves…  If you come to Alba this is one of the dishes that you should DEFINITELY try!

Note from the author: This is one of several articles in a series that I started writing in April of 2005, just a few months after moving to Italy.

In those first months  I forced myself to eat carne cruda so as not to seem rude and to avoid promoting the negative reputation that Americans have as been wasteful.  One of my first (and most memorable) experiences with carne cruda occurred shortly after the famous Meat Shopping Adventure. I offered to help Carmela, the woman who ran the local hangout in Sinio, to help with lunch.  She had me mix the meat with the garlic, oil and lemon with my (thoroughly washed) bare hands. I’m sure you can image the satisfying feeling of squishing and squeezing a huge bowl of ground meat between your fingers (we’re talking ground meat for 30 here folks).

But sometimes it’s hard to eat food you’ve prepared (ever killed and plucked a chicken, cooked it and then eaten it?  Cleaned chicken livers of their stringy bloody veins, prepared them in fegatini style and then savored every last morsel?)  Sometimes I love eating the things I prepare, and sometimes it just can’t stop thinking about the original product or the process.

If the thought of eating a whole plate of raw hamburger meat makes your stomach turn (seconds, anyone?), remember that this meat ISN’T like the normal hamburger meat we Americans eat on a regular basis.  These bovine are raised in a very natural way so to avoid the growth of connective tissue that makes meat tough.  Moreover, these cows have less of this connective tissue than most other varieties of cows to start with. In fact a good carne cruda has very little of that white stringy stuff in it, but is almost completely red.  (I just hate getting connective tissue stuck between my teeth, don’t you?)  Nowadays, as long as there’s plenty of fresh bread to go with it, I actually enjoy a plate of the Piemontese delicacy.


Stay tuned for more weird foods that you never would have imagined were typical Italian dishes.

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