What We’re Eating: Grifola frondosa or Hen of the Woods
I was having one of those birthdays a couple of years ago. The ones that feel the opposite of the way birthdays felt when you were a kid. I wanted to stay in bed with the covers over my head and ignore everyone and everything until the date had passed. Fortunately, my birthday of gloom fell on a Friday and staying in bed through our weekly Friday Night Dinner date was out of the question. So, feeling and looking more that a little woebegone, I got in the car with Ray and Noah headed to Gina & Stefan’s house up the road (sigh…up the road…). Without fail, simply placing oneself in the company of good friends is a surefire antidote to feeling blue, but nothing is simple with Gina & Stef. These are people who wholeheartedly embrace life and celebration and food and, most keenly, their friends–to whom they are most generous and kind. Upon my arrival, I was handed a delicate glass of something bubbly and presented with flowers and a sumptuous bottle of wine from their wine cellar. And for dinner Stef made the most delicious Wild Mushroom Papardelle. My mouth still waters when I remember the taste of it: rich and glossy and deep.
Ray and I like to (try to) recreate this dish on Friday Nights from time to time and we’ve had some luck tweaking this recipe. Also, I recently learned that my Italian American relatives call Hen of the Woods mushrooms signorina. Gina: what’s the story with that?
Gina: I remember that birthday and lovely dinner, and maybe a couple of motivational calls and texts during the afternoon to make sure you got in the car! Strangely, I think Stefan has made this pasta just once or twice since we’ve been here. It may be because Hen of the Woods were available for just 2 weekends some time this Fall and then, poof! we never saw them again. Ah… the good and the bad of a truly seasonal market. I’ll have to get back to you about the name! Buon Appetito!
What We’re Talking About: A Community Read at Haldane
In America, the public school system has a less than stellar reputation. Teachers have been accused of teaching only to the test, schools of dropping arts education due of funding shortages, and everybody forgetting about the character development of all those young minds they’re tasked with enlightening. Lucky for Noah, our local public school (Haldane) is small and relatively moneyed and benefits from unique administrators and an active parent association. As I mentioned in my post about Noah starting middle school, Haldane requires 6th, 7th & 8th graders to take art and music classes and work with a social competency curriculum during homeroom time. Phew!
To support this kind of teaching and learning, the school and the PTA sponsored their inaugural book group discussion on Wednesday night–a community read of the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio (you can watch the trailer if you don’t know it). The book tells the story of a severely physically disfigured (but intellectually ‘normal’) fifth grader as he navigates through the social minefield of middle school. I know, I know, the premise sounds (is) dreadful and heartbreaking, but the book is as uplifting as it is illuminating. I cried several (many) times because I was so touched by the humanity of the characters and the truthfulness of what it’s like to try to be kind and compassionate and to, ultimately, trust a world that consistently rewards self-seeking and beauty and getting ahead above all else.
We gathered in the auditorium and watched a video that some of the 7th graders filmed & edited in their AV class (they had interviewed teachers and kids about the book’s themes & lessons) and then we broke off into small heterogenous groups (of kids/teachers/parents) armed with discussion questions and the directive to talk about ‘whatever came up.’ It was amazingly moving and encouraging to hear the kids (the boys, too!) discuss differences and bullying and exclusion and what it means (and how it feels) to be kind one another. They were articulate and thoughtful and amazingly good listeners. Who knew? All of the administrators were there (and were part of the discussion groups like everyone else) and most of the teachers which made the energy of the school feel magical and alive–like a place where important topics were being discussed and real learning was happening. I know I sound like I’m overstating things but it really was something!
Gina: Social minefields and “Il Bullismo” as bullying is called here, was our topic of conversation in Italian class today. It came about because there’s a tragic story in the papers this week about a 14 year old Bolognese girl who committed suicide (sometimes Friday night conversation takes a turn…) because of the incessant bullying that she was dealing with, most of it online from school peers. There’s a few mommas in this class from all over the world – Colombia via Spain, Mexico, The Philippines via the US. We were all effected by the news and shared stories from all our home countries of similar problems with bullies It was eye-opening to see that it’s a global problem, and not exclusive to the States. Another thing we shared was our inability to really wrap our heads around what cyber-bullying feels like. We can intellectually comprehend that the public nature of bullying on the web must amplify exponentially all the emotions that come with being a target at just one school or in just one classroom, but it’s hard for us old people to put ourselves in those new shoes. The consensus after an hour, was that, especially since our generation has such little experience with this new brand of torment, constant communication with our kids, at every age, is our strongest (maybe our only) tool in helping them get through those awkward pre-adult years. So nice job, to you and all those Haldane parents, for creating and participating in a community dialog about all of this!
What We’re Drinking: Barbera D’Alba
We drink mostly Italian wines and I’m sure that Gina, as she writes to us from a vineyard, can speak to the individual varieties more eloquently than I can. I actually don’t know much about wine, other than what I like and what I don’t. [What I like: dark, earthy, bold and flavorful reds; crisp, dry and slightly tangy whites.]
I also know this: that Barbera (like so many Italian wine grape varieties) has ancient origins and hails from northwestern Italy. Michele brought us this baby last week and it is de-lish!
Gina: Yum! That Michele always comes through with the goods!