The earliest I was able to really process what was happening on a global level with the COVID-19 pandemic was Saturday, March 14th, which seems like yesterday and also a million years ago. I had just been told by my sister, who is a doctor, that I was not to leave the house for any reason whatsoever. Panic began to set in when I hung up the phone. For some reason, at that moment, the vision that flashed before my eyes was a scene from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is swirling through the skies in the eye of the tornado, tables and chairs flying, and the witch is riding by on her bicycle cackling, when all of a sudden, a thud sounds as Dorothy’s little house plunks down in the magical, Technicolor land of Oz.
What was going to be my distraction–my magical land of Oz that day? My first instinct was to go into my office and spend the day pulling out dozens of old photo albums. Believe it or not, they were well organized and catalogued by year. I began to thumb through them and access the safe and happy times of my life. It was soothing, time-consuming, and rewarding. I was re-visiting the childhoods of my children and uncovering cherished memories of my own childhood. All of a sudden, I was enveloped by the warmth of my parents, and my grandparents and I felt whole. I was once again standing in my Italian grandmother’s kitchen attached to her hip while watching her cook…and, at that moment, I knew we were all going to be okay.
My Happy Place: The Kitchen
I vividly remember my Nonnie’s kitchen. It was a mecca for laughter, swirling aromas, and the enchantment of Puccini’s La Boheme arias. I still can see Nonnie’s apron, her brown leather shoes, the bun in her hair, her arthritic fingers, her swollen knees–but most importantly, I can still feel her love that envelops every fiber of my being.
Nonnie’s kitchen was my Oz. I watched her hands knead the dough for the Italian rolls, mix the crust for spinach pies, roll the homemade pasta while it dried on the kitchen table, stir the sauce, bread the chicken, sauté the escarole, and on and on. There were always multiple pots cooking on her stove.
We can’t even begin to understand the tireless energy and the sacrifices these women–our grandmothers–made in order to care for their families. They were stationed in their kitchens, mixing and pouring the emotional foundations that their children and their children’s children would rely on–never imagining it would be the secret sauce of survival for life and its many challenges…this global pandemic in 2020 included.
If there is one thing I recommend during these slower days at home, it is that parents and grandparents use this precious time to cook with their children. Focus on the simple joys of life–the simple pleasures that money cannot buy. Instill these warm memories that will never be forgotten in times of sickness or financial loss. Gift your family with the kind of nurturing that will create the emotional “safe and happy” place they can rely on as life takes them through its many twists and turns.
Piatto Semplice, a favorite of mine, is one recipe I invite you to try in your own kitchens. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions…I am only an email or phone call away. In the meantime, I’ll be in my kitchen…
Piatto Semplice: Chicken, Tomato and Spinach on Spaghetti
This dish has an abundance of flavor and very easy to serve for a dinner party with some crusty bread and a fresh salad.
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, baked and shredded
1 14 oz containers of red cherry tomatoes
1 bag of prewashed spinach
3 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 cup red balsamic vinegar or enough to lightly coat tomatoes
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pecorino Romano to taste
Prepare at 375 degrees
- Cover the chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees
- Let it cool and shred the chicken with a fork or your hands and set aside
- Cut up all the cherry tomatoes in small pieces – in half or thirds depending on their size and place on a flat baking pan that is covered with foil. Tomatoes on top of foil
- Add the pressed garlic, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil lightly coating the tomatoes and make sure the ingredients are well mixed on the foil
- Place in oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes–check frequently to make sure it is not burning
- Boil spaghetti so that it is cooked and ready when the tomatoes come out of the oven
- Have bag of spinach ready
- Place spaghetti in the serving container
- Add the chicken into the spaghetti along with the tomato mixture and the spinach. The warmth of the chicken and pasta will wilt the spinach perfectly
- Mix well and quickly so pasta does not cool off
- Add the Pecorino Romano to each serving as you plate it
Wishing you health and life’s simple joys, from my table to yours.