Hey Kids, Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner. The Easter Bunny! Rabbit Anyone?

In many ways my husband and I are polar opposites. He is organized. I am not. I am terrified to fly. He loves it. I am not a foodie. He is a chef. However, in addition to the great love we share for our children, there is another thing we have in common–our love of the absurd and the irreverent. Thankfully. Giorgio’s job provides us with a significant amount of material to keep us laughing and scratching our heads. So rather than blathering on about the usual stuff I blather on about, I thought it would be cool to do something different this week-interview my husband Piergiorgio Nanni, companion, father and chef. Here goes:

Me: So Giorg, errr Chef, would it be inappropriate if I began this interview by stating that you are a remarkably handsome man?

Chef: No, but this will be the only lie of this interview.

Me: Fair enough.

Me: Chef, tell the readers why in God’s name you would marry a woman who had no idea how to cook?  Go ahead feel free to share the vomit chicken story. 

Chef: Besides being very charming, lovely and beautiful.

Me: Go On

Chef: I was actually really impressed by your vomitacious chicken dish, a dish that consists of chicken breast, broccoli, angel hair and a packet of dehydrated Lipton chicken soup overcooked until it looks like vomit.  You mixed it all up, cooked it for what I’m assuming hours and voila!  And the funny thing is that it was not that bad.  The lesson to learn is: don’t judge a dish by its color. 

Me: Now you must admit that, despite her lack of prowess in the kitchen, your wife did invent some pretty amazing dishes.  Dont you remember…American cheese carpaccio (pronounced car pay see oh not that “fancy and proper” way) and Fudgsicles in Pepsi dip?

Chef: How is it that this interview is all about you?

Me: Please Chef.  Let me ask the questions.

Chef: I think the Fudgsicle in Pepsi dip is pretty self-explanatory.  Just dip a Fudgsicle in Pepsi and eat it.  As for the American Cheese Carpaccio, purposely mispronounced…that’s another gem.  A slice of processed American cheese spread with Gulden’s mustard.  The secret is in the ingredients. 

Me: Do you know how I came up with that one?

Chef: No, but please don’t let me keep you from sharing.

Me: Okay then.  It was 6th grade. I was in the cafeteria.  My friend had a bologna and cheese sandwich with mustard.  She didn’t want the cheese.  So I ate it…with the mustard.  And there you have it. If I may say, genius in its simplicity.

Chef: Genius.  Thank you for sharing

Me: My pleasure.

Me: I’m sure the readers are curious about the title of this blog.  Please explain what it’s all about.

Chef: It was Easter week and a chef colleague informed me that he was going to serve a rabbit special.  Seriously.  He wasn’t kidding.  And, at first I thought it was a nice idea.  Not because of the Easter Bunny/Rabbit connection.  I don’t think either of us even thought of Easter.  It wasn’t until I told my wife and she called us both “sick degenerates” that the lightbulb went off.  I think subconsciously he had rabbit on the brain because of the pictures of the Easter Bunny everywhere. Needless to say, my chef friend didn’t sell a single rabbit special, perhaps made with the same little rabbits used in some of the portrait studios at Easter time. 

Me: Sick

Me: Well we might as well run with the gross theme.  Baring anything that includes any part of the human body as an ingredient (obviously, duh), is the brain of live monkey still the only dish in the entire world that you will not eat?

Chef:  I also won’t eat frog.  I find the idea disgusting.

Me: So, dogs and cats.  They’re free game?

Chef: Well, as you know, they actually are free game in a few countries.  My worry, however, is that I may have eaten cats and dogs before.  I just thought it was rabbit in the stew,

Me: Uggggghhhhh

Me: Switching gears now.  Does it ever offend you that your dog, Ginger Josie Nanni, thumbs her nose at your risotto but eats cat shit with gusto?

Chef: What bothers me is that she kisses me right after.

Me: On the lips?

Chef: Yes

Me: Sick. Again

Me: How does a man who was born and raised in Rome, classically trained in Paris, worked throughout Europe before landing in NYC win a chili competition?

Chef: I had a secret ingredient.

Me: Come on now.  Tell us.  Was your secret ingredient Rabbit?

Chef: That’s what the butcher said.

Me: Finally.  With whom would you say you have more in common, Chef Pisghetti from Curious George or the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show? 

Chef: I am Chef Pisghetti.  A loud, not very bright caricature of every Italian chef in the world.

Me: In a half ass effort to  make this worthwhile for our readers, give them a recipe would you.  But remember, give something for parents like myself.  You know, people with dated 1950’s kitchens and no fancy accoutrements who don’t like to cook.

Chef: Here goes.Roasted Salmon. Sprinkle salmon with salt, pepper and some Old Bay seasoning.  Drizzle with butter and pop in a 350 oven for 20 minutes.  While the salmon is cooking, cut some fresh tomatoes and red onion and toss in a bowl with plenty of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.  You can add fresh basil if you like.  When salmon is done, top with salad and serve. 

Me:  Delicious

Chef: Thanks

Me: Well thank you Chef.  This was fun.  Want to do it again?

Chef: Yes.  Now, would you like me to make you dinner?

Me: No need. I’ve got a bowl of Cheetos and a Martini waiting for me.

Chef: Great

Me: Love you

Chef: Love you too

Oh. You Are Also a Specialist? Of What, If You Don’t Mind My Asking?

    A few years back, we were invited to vacation at my husband’s boss’s beach house. One evening we were dining out on the patio, which happened to abutt the path down to the shore, when two ladies from the neighborhood attempted to pass us while taking their nightly stroll to the beach. As the ladies passed, and before Giorgio and I knew what was happening, our then four year old son hopped up and said, “Ladies, would you like to join us for a bottle of wine?” Being the persistent little fellow he is, when the ladies giggled and declined, my dear Jack then continued, “Well then, how about a brandy?” This is the same little boy, who very recently at the age of seven, alarmed us by asking, “What if we don’t really exist? What if this is all a dream?” He has been described as an old soul and free spirit, and, yes, he is in fact both. He is charming and precocious and very intelligent, and he HATES school. He has learning differences and sensory issues which have made his experiences with school quite unpleasant and continue to make finding an appropriate educational setting a challenge. As an educator, it drives me mad to think that learning has become such an unpleasant, onerous task for my bright and curious little boy, and I have made it my mission to find a way to make learning and life, as joyful and wonderous as is realistically possible.

    In fulfilling this mission, Giorgio and I have learned is that there are an awful lot of experts and specialists out there. I mean there are specialists that super specialize in the specialists’ specialities. There are soooo many people who want to help out there. What I also figured out is that “helping” our children has become and industry and a lucrative one at that. I mean one family with one child with learning differences can spend thousands, upon thousands of dollars. We pay the college tuitions of our specialist’s children while we ourselves become increasingly stressed because after we dole out all our money to special schools and experts and specialists, we can’t even afford to register our kids for dance class much less pay for their education, which was our main concern to begin.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical, and I certainly don’t want anyone to think that I believe there is no place for specialists and experts. When our children are struggling it is our obligation as parents to seek help. It’s just that we need to be cautious. We need to be savvy consumers. WE need to determine when our work with a specialist has run its course. We also need to discern when we really need the services of another party and when we as parents can, with time and research, provide appropriate services ourselves.

    When we began our quest to help our son, we dove in a rabbit hole and into a surreal world where everyone is an “expert” and where the only thing “experts” can do for you is refer you to other “experts” (with whom they share an office) whereupon they hand you a bill and where only one thing is certain…all experts charge fees that are staggering.

    Just this past week, Giorgio and I had an appointment with one of the many specialists we have consulted over the past few years. Prior to our appointment, I spent two hours filling out a twelve page questionnaire, which was to be reviewed by said specialist prior to our meeting. Two hours! Twelve Pages! Prior to meeting! Giorgio was immediately suspicious and repeatedly asked me why we were writing answers to questions about topics we should be discussing in person. I reassured him, certain that this was just preliminary “stuff” and that we would elaborate on our answers during our $300 per one hour not covered by insurance appointment, an appointment which required Giorgio to rearrange his work schedule and me to make childcare arrangements.

    Well, Mr. Specialist’s office is an hour plus away from our home, so we frantically raced out of our house, dropped the kids with my parents and arrived ten minutes early. So you can imagine my disappointment when ten minutes after appointment time, our specialist hadn’t come into the waiting room to greet us. I have to say, I’ve got a real “thing” about waiting…it pisses me off. I just believe that we are called upon to wait much too often. For the majority of us, if we are late for an appointment, we are deeply disturbed and apologetic towards whoever we have kept waiting. Yet, doctors, specialists and so many others seem to feel as if our time is less valuable than their time. Anyway, the receptionist must have heard me bitching to Giorgio because she quickly disappeared and promptly returned to tell us that Mr. Specialist was in a meeting and would be with us soon. Five minutes later, he emerged, alone, so I wonder who the hell he was meeting. One thing was for sure, I was going to make damned sure he gave us the full hour, the $300 hour, the hour of gold.

    Since I now have a significant amount of experience, I have changed my approach. While I am always nice and respectful, it is no longer important that the specialist likes me. I make my needs clear up front. This time I informed him that we are not wealthy people and that we are frustrated because everyone we consult refers us to someone else. Well do you know how the meeting turned out? At some point during our visit it became painfully clear that Mr. Specialist never read our two hours worth of paperwork. He perseverated on one topic, of only minor interest to my husband and I, and, in the end, he referred us to an educational consultant who works in his office. With a bit of research we learned that this consultant would charge us a minimum of $750 for her services. Oh yeah, after only forty minutes he started to look at his watch. When he attempted to end the appointment at the scheduled time, despite the fact that he was fifteen minutes late,I kept him talking until the full hour was up. Go girl.

    After our appointment, Giorgio headed off to work, and I returned home, frazzled and anxious. And I got to thinking. All that time lost. I could and should have been home with my kids, teaching, playing, mothering! Instead, I wasted time. And I have wasted soooo much time visiting specialists and special schools.

    I once visited a school, a thirty thousand plus a year school, which is located in a very affluent community in Connecticut. It seemed great. Prior to my visit, I read their website which explained that they incorporate original play into their curriculum. Play! Great! We love to play (I either didn’t notice or completely ignored the word original)! Jack will love a school that allows a little bit of fun! During my visit everything looked great:students appeared happy, teachers seemed nice. There was nothing strange about the place at all…until the discussion turned to original play. Never heard of it? Neither had I. Silly me for thinking it was normal human play because, as it was explained to me, it actually mirrors animal play. The kids roll around on a mat; a teacher facilitates. And guess what? In eighth grade, if they’re really good at this original play thing, the kids get to travel to Florida to swim with the manatees. Are you kidding, you ask? No, sadly I am not. Strange right? Of course when I got home I researched original play and let me tell you, it is very hard to find out anything other than a clip on YouTube where a big bearded burly man demonstrates how it’s done. Perhaps I am a sceptic, but I prefer to think of myself as reasonably intelligent and educated. Evaluating research was a big part of my graduate studies. You know; instruction should be researched based and good research studies require thousands of subjects and a control group and blah, blah, blah. Why is it then that educators are engaging in practices when there clearly is not enough research to support those practices.

    A larger question is how do specialists and educators get parents to subscribe to their practices? The answer, I believe, is that desperate parents are easy to exploit. I don’t mean to suggest that these professionals are intentionally exploiting parents; most are well meaning. Regardless, parents are being exploited. When we as parents see that our children are struggling and are told that we need to do something about it, we desperately seek out those who can help. I am beginning to realize, however, that there may be something fundamentally wrong with our process. Sometimes because our children are different we are made to feel that they are broken and that they need to be fixed and changed and altered by experts and specialists. What would have happened if teams of professionals “fixed” the young Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill, both of whom were quirky kids and bad students?

    Professional educators, therapists and specialists do have an important role to play. They can help. They have helped me. I have met some great specialists. We shouldn’t feel that in order to be good parents or viewed as good parents we need to constantly seek the help of “experts.” We as parents are the only TRUE experts of our children. Sometimes, rather than shuttling our kids from one appointment to another to be evaluated, analyzed and over analyzed and spending hours on the computer and telephone searching for professional help, our children would be better served if we just spent those extra hours with them , learning their patterns, understanding what works for them and what doesn’t. In a world full of experts, we have lost our confidence as parents, and we need to reclaim that. No one will ever know or love our children as we do. Our instincts and opinions count. We know when our children are just different, when they just need another approach or another way to learn and when we need the help of knowledgable professionals. We know. We know when it’s a matter of doing something different or better as parents and when we need to seek outside help because we just don’t know what to do. We know when to say “help” and we know when to say “enough!” We must trust ourselves and know.

I Don’t Need to Bring the Dog In the House. Bigfoot is a Vegan.

I love Bigfoot. The mere mention of his name transports me back to the late seventies. My brother and I are hanging with some kids from the neighborhood in some finished basement. It doesn’t matter whose finished basement; they were all pretty much the same, with the exception of the Ralph’s. You see, for the first ten years of my life, I lived in a neighborhood that embodied all things glorious about being middle class in the seventies. It was a seventies oasis in a desert of well-built 1950’s homes. All the houses were either ranches or raised ranches, cheaply built with what appeared to be a cardboard like material which eventually began to fall apart with the years. During the winter we all used kerosene heaters, since the “modern” electric heat wasn’t efficient enough to heat drafty matchbox houses. And the piece de resistance of so many of these homes (my brother and I were two of the unfortunates that were deprived)…the basement rec room. The design aesthetic was the same in all. Each was finished with faux wood paneling, cheap indoor/outdoor carpeting, an old plaid couch with some sort of velvet like leopard, zebra or dolphin throw blanket to cover the holes in its arms. And yes, in case you were wondering, people did decorate their walls with velvet Elvis. And if painting on velvet a la Bob Ross wasn’t your thing, you would hang up some poorly rendered painting of Hawaii or Puerto Rico or Bora Bora. Now, the Ralph’s basement was another story entirely. Theirs was equipped with a pool table, aquarium which ran the length of an entire wall AND their parent’s bedroom which included a waterbed with a mirrored frame. Anyway, I digress, but I just felt so compelled to convey the setting.

So back to Bigfoot. It was in these basements where many a serious Bigfoot conversation took place. Was he real? Could we catch him? Was there any possibility that he lived in one of our backyards? The beauty of bigfoot was that he wasn’t really THAT scary. I mean, he could be and he was depending on the day or the weather or our mood. He also had the potential of being the motherlode of pets or friends. No one knew. Was he a man-eater? Was he shy? Was he mischievous? Who cared? We’d take Bigfoot anyway we could get him. We just liked him. He was exciting and mysterious and cool. The thing about Bigfoot was that he wasn’t super creepy or diabolical. He wasn’t Rosemary’s baby, but he could, like some of the neighborhood kids, be the giant lovechild of two potsmoking, LSD tripping hippies (although I was too young to even imagine that at the time).

Bigfoot mania was not just a U.S. phenomenon. Apparently, we used to export the worst possible shows television had to offer, and Italy was happy to accept. One such show was Bigfoot and Wildboy. Neither myself nor my brother can recall this show, but my husband, who grew up in Rome, remembers it well. Here’s the plot. A young boy is lost in the dense forest of the American Northwest. Bigfoot finds the young boy, raises him and when the boy grows up, they become the dynamic crime fighting team of Bigfoot and Wildboy. The best part you ask? Well they filmed it in the wooded Hollywood hills and you can actually see the Hollywood sign in the background. Better than that, no one can track down Bigfoot and Wildboy…although they roam the Hollywood Hills. Pure Awesomeness!

Now that my husband and I have grown into monumentally immature adults, you can imagine how thrilled we are with the whole “search for Bigfoot” industry. Once in a while we’ll watch “Hunt for Bigfoot” and be delighted and stupefied by the fact that they ALWAYS search for bigfoot at night. Also the hunters always seem utterly oblivious to the fact that they are in the forest, and that is why they hear noises, that perhaps the sound they keep hearing is acorns falling from trees and not Bigfoot throwing rocks at them. It’s just good stuff, and the people on the show just seem like good eggs. Nothing malicious, nothing scary, just like bigfoot himself.

What’s even cooler than Bigfoot shows? Well, the fact that now my son is into Bigfoot. And over the past couple of days, there’s been some great Bigfoot material. Twice in one week we received BIG Bigfoot news. First, the Sasquatch Genome Project (yes, you read that correctly) claims that they have DNA evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot, which is mind-blowing, considering that after all these years there has been not a single shred of physical Bigfoot evidence, not a bone, not a hair, nothing. Then, a Pennsylvania hiker claims to have spotted two Bigfoots AND he has the pictures to prove it! Eureka!

So all this Bigfoot talk got Jack, Giorgio and I talking. Of course, having a chef in the family, we had to talk about what Bigfoot eats. Now that completely depends upon what exactly Bigfoot is (too bad we don’t have the Sasquatch Genome DNA evidence handy). I always pictured him to be more of a man-bear, which, of course, would make him a carnivore. My husband, however, made the compelling argument that he is more of a man-monkey, and, after pondering the evidence, I have to agree. That said, it is not only plausible but likely, that Bigfoot, given that he is more monkey than man, is not only a vegetarian but a vegan. So that means if Bigfoot found his way into our backyard, assuming that he does not play too rough, our kids and dog could be relatively safe. But that is neither here nor there.

Anyway, once we sent Giorgio off to work, Jack and I continued with our Bigfoot inquiries. In fact, I was able to get my son to do some internet research, which is a miracle in and of itself, given his distaste for anything “academic.” We read Bigfoot articles, looked at Bigfoot pictures, videos…basically we OD’d on Bigfoot. And it was so much fun.

My childhood was not perfect, but it was pretty great. I grew up in an age when the word playdate didn’t exist. We freely roamed our neighborhood, finding ourselves in our neighbor’s subterranean dens, and our parents didn’t worry. They should have, but they didn’t. It was just a different time when the only thing children feared was that there was the slightest possibility that a giant man/monkey/bear could be lurking in their backyard. Our children can no longer roam their neighborhoods freely. They know the horrible reality that things much more sinister than human like animals roam close to home. We tell them. We teach them. We must. But let’s enjoy those silly moments when we can lose ourselves in stories about innocuous creatures like Bigfoot. And let’s hope they don’t really exist. But until we know for sure, let’s bring our dogs in at night, especially if we live in Pennsylvania, the American Northwest or, of course, if we live anywhere near the Hollywood Hills.