Monthly Archives: June 2011

What are you afraid of?

The dark? Being alone? Saying yes? Saying no?

We all have something. I have noticed that the people who are honest about their fears more often than not end up conquering them no matter the size. Those who claim to be fearless almost always end up hiding from whatever it is that haunts them, and in that processes miss out on the life that comes after overcoming a fear.

What am I afraid of?

Public speaking. I am always grateful for the opportunity to speak, but the very thought of it makes my stomach turn. The room goes quite and all eyes are on you. Your voice is the only one that can be heard and you’ve been doing a mental countdown of how many times you have said  the word “Um.” You wonder if the mic is picking up the sound of your pounding heart and just when you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it your turn is up! You hand back the mic and think “that really wasn’t too bad, but boy am I glad thats over!”

Getting really, really close to people. Most of my girlfriends would tell you that I am a pretty open and honest gal. If you want to know something about me all you have to do is ask. Or if you end up sharing a bottle of wine with me I might tell you more than you’d like to know. It’s one thing to make time for your friends and family, but it is quite another thing to make some of these people not optional to you. I’m talking about not being able to live without that person. If that person were to leave, you would feel it. There would be a hole, it would hurt. Sounds kinda scary huh? I’m hoping that in my honesty about this I will someday get over it and allow myself to really share my life with the people I love. I’ll keep you posted.

Calling myself a baker. For years I’ve been telling people that I do not bake. “I’m just not that into it” I would say. I have even boldly stated that I do not like to bake on this particular blog. Are you ready for this? I just discovered that I love to bake. Baking with yeast to be specific. I love the smell of the yeast when it hits the warm water and I love having a bowl of fully risen dough to punch down and shape up. There is nothing better than tearing into a warm loaf of bread right out of the oven and of course it feels pretty good to know you’ve made it yourself. So If I love it so much why am I afraid to call myself a baker? When a person makes such a statement people start asking you to bring the dessert to a dinner party. There is an expectation that everything that comes out of your oven is a baked good masterpiece and assume your cookies must always come out perfectly. Well not everything I bake comes out edible and please don’t ask me to bake a dessert to bring to the next get together, I’ll only end up buying ice cream. But you know what? I Melissa Vanni am a baker, with a lot to learn.

This particular loaf of french bread is so yummy and easy to make. It is a very basic recipe and it comes out perfect every time. Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. It is wonderful right out of the oven with a bit of butter and it makes a mean french toast if you have any leftover. This bread has really help build my confidence with baking and yeast. I have also learned a good amount by making it just a few times.

One fear conquered, a million to go.

Jun 21

Italy 2011

The thing that blew me away the most on our recent trip to Italy was how far away from home I was. We were so far from our daily lives, our children, my kitchen, my grocery store, my everything! I have been in a different time zone from my boys before, but this felt like I was on a whole other planet from them. We were going to sleep just as they were starting their day and sometimes the only contact we had with each other were short texts hello or a picture of where we were that day. It was too expensive for long conversations on the phone, email wasn’t an option and even blogging to give my family an idea of what we were doing was out of the question. I had to completely let go for a whole entire week and as dizzy and nauseous as that made me it was a very good thing for all six of us. My parents got to really know my boys without me fluttering around reminding them to say please and thank you and my boys fell even more in love with their grandparents. They bonded over my mom’s wonderful cooking, stayed up late with their cousins and enjoyed hours and hours of swimming at the pool. Needless to say there were tears when they had to say goodbye, but thankfully it’s summer time and for the moment we have all the time in the world to head back over to grandma and grandpas house and continue to raid their fridge.

So did we have a good time after we both mentally let go of our responsibilities? Holy smokes yes!

We learned that Italian’s take their espresso very seriously. It is never drank out of a paper cup, you do not order it from a drive thru window and you certainly do not add 2% milk, ice, and 1 1/2 pumps of chocolate to it. Although there is something to be said for that kind of drink as well.

Prosciutto, salami, cured meats of any kind, Italian’s can’t seem to get enough of the stuff! I know it sounds like a stereotype but it is 100% true. There is really no such thing as fast food in Italy but a panini filled with a bit of salami, cheese, and maybe some tomato reigned king at lunch or snack time. Even at the Autogrill, the only place to stop when you are on the road to eat, grab a quick espresso, or even a bit of wine if you like. They always had a beautiful assortment of this particular sandwich or little plates of prosciutto ready go.

Speaking of being on the road we also learned that the Autostrada is no place for the faint of heart. Driving in Italy is very scary to say the least, but when you decide to brave the Italian highway you better be ready for the drive of your life. My husband is kind of a terrible driver so I figured he would be right at home speeding and swerving with the best of them, but even his nerves were tested with every speeding Fiat that whizzed by us. Not really knowing where we were going only added to the stress, but we got through it together and laughed it off over a couple bottles of wine when it was all said and done.

Even more than the food, the beaches, and the wine, my favorite part of this trip was spending so much time with my husband without any distractions. At one point I realized it was simply him I am madly in love with. Not his drive, his charm, or even his sharp way of dressing. Just him. I was reminded of the young man I fell in love with within the first 5 minutes of our first date 13 years ago. When our boys have grown, when our lives have quieted down, and when it’s just him and I waking up together I know I will happily live the rest of my life with this amazing man.

Ok, ok enough of the mushy stuff. Aside from gazing into each others eyes every night Ryan and I shared some pretty amazing meals. There were so many moments that we wished we could transport our friends and family to where we were so they could also experience what we were enjoying. Instead I did the next best thing and took a bunch of photos just for you! I can not wait to try to recreate some of these dishes, but I know the reason they were so good was partly due to the fact that Italy has an intangible magic that cannot be wrapped up and taken home.

So I have not mentioned this yet because I don’t like to brag, but at the end of this week my husband and I will be traveling to Italy for the first time. Just him and I, no kids, zero laundry, absolutely no chores for a whole entire week!

Ok now I’m bragging.

It has always been a dream of ours to be able to get away and explore Italy together. With the last 12 years of our marriage being filled with having babies, starting (and closing) businesses, moving 8 times and everything else in between traveling to Europe has always felt completely out of reach.

Last fall we played with the idea of trying to go this summer, but being the worry wart mother I am I shot it down almost immediately.

“No way” I said. “The boys are just too young to be without us for a whole week. Maybe next summer” I argued. My husband knowing me all too well knew I would think of a million good reasons not to go then. So he took matters into his own hands, talked to my parents about watching the boys, booked the flights and found a romantic villa for us to call home for our week in Tuscany.

We’ll spend one night in Rome, take a couple of days to explore the Italian Riviera, and visit the small town of Lucca where my husband’s family is from. With these seven days our main objective on this trip is to enjoy each others company, slow down to experience the Italian country side and eat gelato everyday.

The catholic school girl in me is excited to visit the Vatican and hopefully see St. Peters Basilica, but the foodie in me is a bit more excited to enjoy all of the food and wine this magical region has to offer.

In honor of our upcoming trip I’ve decided to make the most Italian/American dish I could think of, the meatball sandwich.

Meatballs simmered in a garlickly red sauce served on a crusty french roll, topped with a slice of melted provolone cheese. I felt like this was the perfect dish to get our taste buds ready for the week long food tour we are about to embark on. I am hoping to come home newly inspired and full of stories, but if I start to drive you crazy by going on and on about a pizza we ate in Rome please feel free to bring me back down to earth. I have a feeling this adventure will leave me with my head in the clouds for quite a while.

Even though my blogging career has been short, I’ve already had to refocus and remind myself why I wanted to do this in the first place. It’s easy to get sucked into the blogging world and concentrate on google analytics and what recipe received the most traffic.

Did I start this to be respected by top dog food bloggers such as or Nope and honestly I didn’t even know who they were up until a few months ago. Is this my attempt at launching a new career into the food industry with the hopes that someone from HarperCollins will read my blog and offer me a chance to write a cook book? That would be kinda cool but no. I’m not that savvy nor do I have any “connections”.

It all started when I hesitantly posted this recipe for bolognese lasagna on Facebook. I mentioned that I had made it for dinner one night and a few of my girlfriends asked for the recipe. I typed it out, tagged a few people in it & prayed that no one would laugh at me. The response blew me away! People made it for their families, brought it to dinner parties, and sat with the ones they love to enjoy a meal they had prepared themselves. I soon discovered a good amount of people I know were never taught how to cook for their families. If your mom, grandma, aunt or uncle never took the time to introduce you to a kitchen learning when you now have a hungry family to feed can be incredibly intimidating. I wanted to take the mystery out of everyday cooking. I wanted my friends to feel the pride of watching their children scarf down a meal they themselves had made & have the confidence to throw a small dinner party without having to serve take out to their guest.

In return I have discovered a new love for food photography (not that I claim to be a photographer) and have remembered my passion for creative writing. I have also been frustrated by my terrible typing skills and my atrocious spelling. I totally had to look up the word “atrocious” and “frustrated” and for some reason I can never remember how to spell the word “special”. Sigh…

Thank you for giving me the courage to write this blog. I have enjoyed every minute of it so far and I hope I don’t run out of things to cook or say for a long time.

An old friend of mine asked me to post that lasagna here so she would always have a place to find it. I was happy to oblige and my boys were even happier to dig into this rich pasta dish before summer hits and stirring a pot of hot pasta sauce will be the last thing I want to do. Bolognese is a traditional italian meat sauce made with simple ingredients simmered for at least 2 hours and is hit with a shot of heavy cream at the end to bring it all home. This sauce is amazing on it’s own served over a bed of penne, sprinkled with a bit of parmesan but I thought “wouldn’t it be even better in a lasagna”? I am so grateful that I made it, posted it and discovered a few of my friends enjoyed it as well.