19 hours and 38 minutes. That is how much Harry Potter I watched this weekend, along with a few wonderful accomplices. Two days, no blue jeans (strictly stretchy pants), LOTS of yummy snacks, and four sets of parents probably wondering what the hell was wrong with their offspring.

We made it through the first four movies on Saturday (we might have fallen asleep before the end of Goblet of Fire, but there is no excuse for the haircuts sported by Harry and Ron in that movie anyways), and the last four on Sunday, wrapping the whole thing up by around 9pm. By the time the epilogue started, we all felt very old and more than a little nostalgic, having reminisced about all the midnight book releases and midnight movie screenings we had been so excited for in the past.

Prior to the start of our marathon, we had excitedly planned the snacks. I was supposed to make Pumpkin Pasties, Jordan was going to make Cauldron Cakes, Allyson volunteered to bring popcorn (not technically Potterish, but it’s like crack to her), and Becca said she would bring yummy pumpkin bars.

My Pumpkin Pasties did not get made, due to a can of pumpkin that, when opened, turned out to be very questionable in both looks and odor. Becca, however, totally came through and brought some seriously delicious pumpkin bars, thus fulfilling the Harry Potter Pumpkin Quota. The bars themselves had the consistency of bread pudding (I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it was amazing), and were topped with a sweet and tangy cream cheese glaze. As irresistible as these bars were when we first ate them, we found that after chilling for a while in the fridge, they become positively magical.

Jordan also had kitchen woes, and due to a non-functioning oven, she wasn’t able to bake Cauldron Cakes. She did some interesting improvising though, and showed up with a chocolate panettone (Italian Christmas bread), a can of whipped cream, and some licorice. After demanding that we all leave her to her own devices for 5 minutes, she turned around and presented us with the most impressive (and most delicious) store-bought Cauldron Cake this side of Hogwarts. The licorice was only there for visual effect, and was immediately banished to one side while we tore into the “cauldron”.

My fallback plan was much less creative than Jordan’s. I decided to forego cakes or pastries of any kind, and satisfy my craving for Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips instead. They were low-fat, and pretty quick and easy, but decidedly un-Potterish. As was the unbaked version of my low-fat jalapeño dip, which I also made in an effort to balance the sugar-overload.

In order to make up for not making anything British (or Potter-related) for this weekend, next up I’ll be posting a recipe for Banoffee Pie. It’s completely brilliant (look at me, speaking British).

All in all, we ate too much, laughed too much, and had a blast.

Mischief managed.

Baked Cinnamon-Sugar Tortilla Chips recipe

  • 4 flour tortillas (use less if you want fewer chips)
  • ground cinnamon
  • granulated sugar
  • cooking/baking spray (or butter-flavored spray)

Using scissors or a pizza cutter, slice the tortillas into the desired size for your chips (you can see the size that I cut mine to in the picture above). Spray the cut tortillas with cooking spray on one side (or both, if desired)

I didn’t give measurements for the cinnamon and sugar, because I didn’t actually measure them when I was making the chips. Find a small bowl or container, and add enough cinnamon and sugar (in whatever ratio you want, but you probably want a little more sugar than cinnamon) to toss the sliced tortillas in, a few pieces at a time.

Place the tortilla chips on parchment paper and on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes, or until chips become darker brown and crispy. Remove, cool, and enjoy!

The recipe for Becca’s pumpkin bars is here!

Exactly half a century ago, the world got a little smarter, a little funnier, and a little cooler. It got a little boy named My Dad. Today is his 50th birthday, and since I can’t be at home making him a birthday cake, I’m going to make you all listen while I tell you how awesome he is!

My dad is smarter than you. He just knows everything – a Renaissance Man, if you will. He reads (and owns) too many books and knows the answers to too many Jeopardy questions. He loves music (especially jazz), but he doesn’t discriminate – he listens to everything. I’m sad that I won’t be able to listen to The Puzzlemaster Presents with him tomorrow morning, but he’ll figure out the answer long before I do anyways.

If his cooking were artwork, it would be classified as “abstract”, with one exception. Eggs. The man makes omelettes like it’s his job, always sneaking in a little butter on the pan when my mom isn’t looking. I still can’t manage to make an omelette without the whole thing breaking in half, but his never do.

My dad is also the guy who couldn’t decide what flavor of boxed rice pilaf he wanted, so he made three different ones at the same time. I believe there is a word for that, and I believe that word is “genius”.

My dad also loves to travel, see new places and learn new things. Before any trip, he does tons of research to make sure that we don’t miss anything important, and don’t waste any time. Whenever I talk to him, he reminds me to make the most of my time here in Rome, and take full advantage of this amazing opportunity. When it’s noon on a Sunday and I have yet to get out of bed, it’s his voice in my head that talks me into getting up, going out, and exploring this amazing city. After 4 months of living here, my favorite restaurant is still the place he took us to 5 years ago, on our first visit to Rome.

If there is fun to be had or jokes to be made, he is there. If there is a dance floor, he’s always the first one on it and the last one off it.

Happy, happy birthday Dad! I’ll be eating Spaghetti alla Carbonara tonight and wishing you were here too!

Remember last week, when I said I would put up pictures of Thanksgiving dinners from home that my friends and family were kind enough to send to me? I believe I threw around words like “tomorrow”, which is a laughable promise for me to make. Here we are, one week post-Thanksgiving, and I’ve got so many pictures to share!

My family, in order to make up for the zero dinners that I was attending, went to two Thanksgiving dinners. This meant twice the normal amount of mashed potatoes for my sister, but also twice the amount of vegetable-dodging. Green things are not welcome on her plate. Both dinners were at the homes of close family friends who also happen to be amaaazing cooks.

Here we have A Very Husseini Thanksgiving, which, I’m sure, was full of delicious food, lots of laughs, and probably a few too many urology jokes. (It’s not as weird as it sounds, my dad and Dr. Husseini are urologists. That being said, it’s still not ok when I’m trying to eat, capiche?) As you can see, no turkeys were pardoned around here. The food is always wonderful, as is the company…

…all the company.

The second part of my family’s Thanksgiving took place at the home of Benny and Giuliana Campagnolo. Benny and Giuliana moved here from Italy when they were young – I think Benny is originally from Fondi, and Giuliana hails from Monte San Biagio. Ironically, my parents had a more Italian thanksgiving than I did! Giuliana’s cooking has served to ruin every other lasagna, potato pizza, or bowl of pasta e fagioli for me forever. Even here, in Italy, nothing is as delicious as what comes out of her kitchen.

In the picture above you can see the tiramisu that my mom made! It’s the best. Again, I wrote that from Italy, so don’t question it.

But what would Thanksgiving be without the people we spend it with? A lonely, sad food coma. There is a time and place for solitary food comas, but it’s not the last Thursday in November. I’m sad that I missed spending Thanksgiving with all of these people that I love,  but thank you all for tolerating my mother’s incessant photo-snapping at my request!

Even though Thanksgiving is generally a holiday spent with family, I still needed to know what my friends were eating. Especially this year, I had to live vicariously through everyone. In exchange for sending me photos of their dinners, I promised them the fame and status that comes from being featured on MY blog (check it, over 11 readers every day).

Li Guo. A nice boy. The boy who watches endless amounts of Food Network and Whose Line Is It Anyways with me, and (sometimes) washes all the dishes when I cook him dinner. The Guo Thanksgiving featured the traditional turkey, as well as some vegetables, and SHRIMP. This is a major plus point, especially for people like me who don’t like turkey. I am way more thankful for shrimp than turkey. Li’s mom is another amazing cook – she makes the best dumplings on the planet, and, yes, I know that me writing that from Italy means nothing, but take my word for it anyways. At Chinese New Year dinner, she hides coins in some of the dumplings, and if you find a coin, it is supposed to be lucky. This is the only occasion where I am sad to accidentally find money, because then I can’t eat that dumpling.

Jumping over to the west coast, we have Thanksgiving with the Family Lawless. Sean was my best study-buddy in college, probably due to the fact that we always ended up in literally all of the same classes. I guess he was as sick of me as I was of him, because the minute college ended, I headed to Italy and he made a beeline for California! With regards to his Thanksgiving meal, the turkey was cooked with brown sugar, brine, orange and spices and stuffed with rosemary, and was “un-freaking-believable”. The pies are apple and pumpkin and they look gooood.

Last, but not least, we have Thanksgiving the Abowd way. As you can see, my friend Danny took my request for “a few pictures of your dinner” and ran with it, and I didn’t even have room for all the photos he sent me! Included here are all the usual suspects; sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, stuffing, The Bird (sans dignity), the pies (after Danny took his slices) and the booze. By his own admission, Danny did not contribute much to the cooking process, leaving that task to his parents, sisters and brother-in-law. I forgive him, because when the world tires of discussing Harry Potter with me, Danny never does. And if the pictures are any indication, the meal was a roaring success anyways!

Thank you so much to everyone who sent me photos, I love you and miss you all!

p.s. Next weekend my friends and I are doing Harry Potter Weekend. All 8 movies. Lots of rewinding and re-watching the Harry-Hermione dance scene. And, of course, some yummy things to eat. It will be the exact opposite of our Thanksgiving dinner, in that it will actually happen. So excited!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m sad to be away from home today, especially since I’m in a country that, in general, could not care less about Thanksgiving. I figured today would be a day of work and eating mashed potatoes (the true star of any Thanksgiving table) on my own while watching Thanksgiving episodes from favorite TV shows.

A little depressing.

So I decided to turn it around. I left work at noon, and met my friend Allyson at an American bakery called Sweety Rome, with the sole intent of finding and consuming some pumpkin pie.

They did have pumpkin pie, but it was half the size of a normal pie, covered in crushed pistachios (not OK), and cost €30. Not happening.

To console ourselves, we turned to the case of pastries and, in addition to some questionable cupcakes, I spied a cheesecake brownie. I deemed it a satisfactory substitution (for the moment), and Allyson settled for a coconut brownie, and we sat and ate, while listening to a bizarre cover of Bohemian Rhapsody that was blaring through the sound system.

After putting away the brownies, we still had a little time to kill, and we hadn’t given up hope on the pumpkin pie. So we headed for The Perfect Bun, crossing our fingers that they would come through.

Well, they knocked it out of the park. Not only did they have full-sized pumpkin pies, they had miniature pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies! The Thanksgiving Trifecta. Allyson bought one of each to take home to her host family, but, ever in need of instant gratification, we decided to split a mini pie right there.

Since no one can make better pecan pie than my mom, and I wanted to buy a pumpkin pie to take home and eat later in the evening, we chose the mini apple.

It was so good! The crust was flaky and not too sweet, and the filling was cinnamon-y and not at all soggy. We got our much-needed dose of Thanksgiving and I headed back to work.

Now I’m home and I’ve got a solid line-up of episodes to watch, a glass full of Diet Coke, and a mini pumpkin pie just waiting to be devoured.

I did ask my family and some of my friends to send me pictures of their Thanksgiving dinners, and provided they don’t all forget, I’ll share those tomorrow!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

p.s. My friends and I are planning our own little Thanksgiving meal for this Sunday! I will share the disastrous/delicious results early next week!

Gnocchi (or gnocchetti, as the smaller ones are known) can be made of a variety of things. Potato gnocchi are perhaps the most popular and well-known variety, especially in America. Other options include semolina flour, wheat flour, and ordinary flour + egg.

These are made of potatoes and deliciousness, and although potato is technically a vegetable, there was a mysterious voice inside my head that told me to add another vegetable to this dish.

I lied, it wasn’t a mysterious voice. It was my mother’s voice.

Regardless, I needed a more credible vegetable, and I turned to zucchini. Its credentials include: being green (automatic sign of legitimacy in the realm of veggies), being crunchy, and adapting well to many different flavors. In my kitchen, potatoes and zucchini are like Ross and Rachel. They do sometimes see other ingredients, but somehow they always seem to end up together.

This dish comes together fairly simply. By putting the zucchini in the pan with no oil/butter at first, and letting it cook most of the way, less oil is absorbed by the zucchini overall.

Once the “naked” zucchini has cooked by itself for 6-8 minutes, take it out of the pan and put it aside. Then add 1-2 Tbsp. of oil to the pan, plus a clove or two of garlic, and either a whole dried chili or some chili flakes. Once the garlic is lightly browned and the kitchen smells amazing, throw the zucchini back in, then the pasta, salt to taste, add some cheese, and call it a day.

It is finally getting a little chilly in Rome! Not cold, not mid-November weather by any means, but enough to induce the occasional shiver and demand long sleeves. Of course, the Italians are bundled up like Eskimos, in full-length down parkas and scarves and gloves, huddling for warmth as though they are trekking in the Arctic, when in reality it is 57°F and sunny.

They aren’t the only ones feeling the chill. The birds of Italy seem to have clued in to the impending cold season, and have begun migrating South accordingly. Each evening, I look at the sky and see thousands and thousands of birds swarming in and out of various formations, none of which resemble the “V” shape that I was taught to expect. And because this is happening every day, I can only assume that a) there are LOTS of birds here, or b) they are getting lost and doubling back. Either way, it makes for a pretty amazing sight:

Gnocchetti with Chili-Garlic Zucchini recipe

  • 1 serving of gnocchetti (I hate putting a measurement on this, because everyone eats different amounts of pasta)
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. olive oil (I used a chili-infused olive oil, but extra-virgin would work too)
  • 1 dried red chili pepper OR 1 tsp. dried chili flakes
  • salt to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Pecorino Romano

Sauté the diced zucchini in a pan for 6-8 minutes, or until the zucchini begin to look cooked (but not very brown). Transfer zucchini from pan into a bowl, and set aside.

In the same pan, add olive oil, chili and garlic, and heat on low until garlic begins to brown.

Boil gnocchi in water – be careful not to overcook or gnocchi will become very mushy. (Note: it is also possible to add uncooked gnocchi to the olive oil, and sauté it, but boiling is a slightly healthier option.)

Once garlic is browned, add zucchini back into pan, along with boiled gnocchi, and toss together. Add salt and cheese and combine. Serve while hot!


Rome is beautiful and exciting, but sometimes a little too chaotic for this small-town girl to handle. In situations like this, a day-trip to Assisi with a few friends is just what the doctor ordered. So this past Saturday, Becca, Allyson, Jordan and I headed out to explore this beautiful town.

Assisi is a 2-hour train ride out of Rome, and is known for being the birthplace (and final resting place) of San Francesco (St. Francis), the patron saint of Italy. In addition, Santa Chiara (a contemporary and friend of San Francesco) lived and died here as well. Each of these saints has their own basilica in the hillside town of Assisi, and in fact, the basilicas were built in such a way that they face each other, as a tribute to the friendship they shared in life.

Because Assisi is built on a hill, once you arrive at the train station, you have to catch a bus (or a taxi) to get to the actual town. Our first stop was the basilica di San Francesco.

The basilica was built in 1228, and is divided into two parts; the upper basilica and lower basilica. The upper basilica contains a series of frescos depicting the life of St. Francis. The lower basilica contains chapels, as well as a series of frescos depicting the life of St. Catherine of Siena (the other patron saint of Italy). Below the lower basilica is the crypt, where St. Francis is buried. Visitors are able to walk around the crypt, but photography is not allowed, so if you want to see it, you’ll have to go there yourself!

Once we had had our fill of St. Francis, we turned our attention way up to the fortress at the top of the hill, called the Rocca Maggiore. I should mention at this point that it was foggy and rainy, and for that reason I have no photos to show for our beautiful (and painful) hike up to the top.

From the top of the Rocca Maggiore, you can see everything (or you can take a few obligatory photos and then squeeze your eyes shut and pretend you are not up so high). The above picture is a view of the basilica of St. Francis, as seen from the top of the Rocca Maggiore.

This is one of the remaining outer walls of the fortress. You can actually walk inside this wall to get to that far tower. While you’re doing that, you can take advantage of the fact that the weather has driven every sane person indoors, thus leaving you and your friends all alone in a giant castle. Now is a good time to start pretending you are Indiana Jones.

Our next stop was the basilica di Santa Chiara. When we got there, the whole piazza was completely obscured by fog, as were all the breathtaking views of the countryside. Luckily for us (or probably because of us), the sun came out within 2 minutes, and the views were amazing. Inside the Santa Chiara, you can see the tomb of the saint herself. More interesting than that, however, were the display cases that contained the actual clothes that Santa Chiara and San Francesco wore! They even had a pair of San Francesco’s stockings that had a few drops of his blood on them (according to legend, St. Francis was the first Christian in history who received the stigmata), and a few locks of Santa Chiara’s hair – she was a curly-haired blonde, if you’re curious.

San Francesco, Rocca Maggiore, Santa Chiara. These are basically all of the main things to see in Assisi. But what did we eat in Assisi?

On our way down from the Rocca Maggiore to the Santa Chiara, we were soaking wet, shivering, and starving. We wanted food and shelter, and our standards and expectations were low. We stumbled into the first restaurant we found (I never actually caught the name of it, sorry!), and we were so excited to see pizza margherita for the low, low price of €4.90. Once again, we were all reminded of just how expensive Rome really is. In Rome, you won’t find a pizza margherita (always the cheapest, most basic pizza on any menu) for less than €8. And even then, there’s no guarantee it will be good. This pizza was GOOD. The crust was impossibly thin, and the cheese:sauce ratio was perfect. Well done, Assisi.

With the weather showing no signs of improving, we wanted to linger in the restaurant a little longer. In order to avoid dirty stares from the waitress, we decided we’d better order something else. Enter cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate). I think we were all expecting something similar to the milky, drinkable concoctions we get back home, but what we were brought was completely different. The best way to describe it would be piping hot chocolate pudding, only better. I suppose if you really wanted to, you could pick up a cup of this and drink it, but a spoon is really a better approach. It was rich and chocolatey and amazing – the perfect cure for a rainy day.

After we were done seeing the Santa Chiara, the rain had let up, but it was still a little chilly and gray, and we had a couple of hours to kill before our train. Pastries and cappuccino just seemed like the obvious solution, you know?

We walked a little ways up the Corso Mazzini (which seems to be one of the main streets in Assisi) before we found the Gran Caffè. They had a decent selection of gelati (but that’s not what we came for, people), and a seriously impressive pastry selection. They also had an adorable seating area in the back, and we each picked our beverage and pastry of choice, and took a seat in the cozy back room. I chose a cannoli and a cappuccino, and while the cannoli turned out to have lots of weird neon chunks of candied fruit inside, the cappuccino was perfect.

On our way from the pastry shop to the bus stop, we stumbled upon a free olive oil tasting. Right in the middle of one of the piazzas, a friendly old man was toasting pieces of bread, rubbing them with garlic, sprinkling them with salt, dousing them in olive oil, and handing them out to anyone with enough elbowing skill to manage to get to the front of the crowd. The Italians are good at elbowing. We were better.

Once we had each consumed a disgusting delicious amount of olive oil, we finally caught our bus, only to discover that we had missed our train by a few minutes. Luckily, there was another train in a couple of hours, and we finally made it home exhausted, sore, stuffed, and shivering – all in all, a great day!

Happy Halloween! Here in Italy, Halloween is not really celebrated at all, which is very sad for those of us who view Halloween as an excuse to consume a horrific amount of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the name of “celebrating a holiday.” To make matters worse, my extensive searches all over this city have yielded exactly zero peanut butter cups, so I can’t even sit in my room and eat them by myself while watching Halloweeny movies (read: Harry Potter movies).

There is really only one solution to a problem like this. Step 1: get together with American friends here in Rome. Step 2: Order pizza, eat popcorn, watch movies, and have your own Halloween, Italian indifference be damned. Step 3: find something to replace the peanut butter cups.

Enter chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. It’s not quite the same as the Reese’s cups from home, but since I definitely consumed all the ones I brought back with me within about 72 hours, it was the best I could do.

The chocolate cake part of these cupcakes was amazing. Since there were no cupcake liners to be found here, I had to bake the cupcakes in little tin foil cups, but then remove them before frosting them. Because the cake was so moist, this resulted in a little bit of stickiness when handling the cakes, but again, cupcake liners would solve that problem. The cake itself was chocolatey without being overly sweet, and was even *marginally* healthier than the Contessa intended, because I substituted Greek yogurt for the buttermilk.

The frosting recipe is one that I’ve used a couple of times before, and so far I haven’t had any complaints. It starts like a cream cheese frosting, with peanut butter being the final addition. Because peanut butter can get so dense and rich (and delicious!), I think the cream cheese is the perfect way to introduce a little lightness and tang into the flavor, while still letting it stay plenty peanutbuttery.

This time (as the pictures show), the frosting didn’t come out perfectly smooth and creamy when I piped it, probably due to the fact that I had to mix it by hand, and I was doing so while simultaneously watching the Friends halloween party episode. Despite appearances, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the texture, so it all worked out! Overall, the cupcakes were a success, and I succeeded in eating too many of them. The Halloween tradition lives on.

Chocolate Cake recipe (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

  • 1 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup good cocoa powder (I used Lindt)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease cupcake pan/prepare cupcake liners.

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine yogurt, oil, eggs and vanilla.

While mixing (or while using an electric mixer), slowly add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Once combined, slowly add the coffee and stir to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan/liners. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Note: because this cake is very moist even when fully cooked, the toothpick may have some crumbs on it, but as long as there is no uncooked batter on it, the cake should be done). Cool cupcakes completely (I cooled them overnight, but this is not necessary) before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 10 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (preferably a commercial brand, so that the oil doesn’t separate out)
  • 1 – 1.5 cups powdered sugar (according to taste)

Combine cream cheese and butter and mix until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Add peanut butter and continue to mix until combined. Spread/pipe onto fully-cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

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