Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spaghetti with clams and roasted fennel* - for my munchkin

Dear Munchkin,
yesterday you climbed onto a doubledecker bus with a big toothless smile and drove away.
Five years ago you were barely a baby and now you are hundreds of kilometers away with your friends, laughing and playing and chatting a mile a minute.
When I got back from the office, I came across the pink mug with your name on it, the one you use to drink your milk at breakfast. I picked it up and held it in my hands and felt my chest tighten a bit. It is normally so easy to just reach out and touch you, but now all I can do is caress its smooth surface.
Don't worry, I am not sad, I know you are in good hands and that you are having the time of your life. A few days ago, when I was kissing you good night and I told you I would miss you, you took my face in your hands and said: "don't worry Mommy, I will only be gone five days and then it will be the week end and we will have two whole days together". When did you grow up and become so wise?

How are you suddenly old enough to leave with your own suitcase that holds 6 plastic bags, one for each day, with your name on it and a full change of clothes (including your cupcake underwear) and an extra bag for disco night, with a fancy dress and tights in it? 
Your brother didn't really seem to notice you were gone and got extra cuddles and attention, but the apartment seems quiet. While I was brushing his teeth I wondered whether you were brushing yours alone or if your teacher was helping you. While I was changing his diaper I glanced over at your bed. It was intact, each and every pillow in the right place. I felt that pang again. That is when the little one seemed to finally catch on. He walked over to your bed and tried to climb onto it, repeating your name over and over. He had a hard time falling asleep, there were a lot of tears. It was the fifth time in his life he was sleeping without you (and the first three he was in the hospital with me and barely knew you - or me - yet).

Did you sleep well my love? Were you homesick? Today I am calling you at 2:00pm. The teachers thought it best not to call the first day, so you could get settled. They strategically picked the afternoon so you little guys would be distracted by all the planned activities after speaking to us.

What are you doing this morning? Are you hiking up the mountain with the secret map? Are you playing on the shores of the lake? Or are you taking that boatride you were so excited about?

Whatever you are doing my love, have fun. Laugh until your tummy hurts, run until your cheeks turn pink and your hair looks even crazier than it usually does. Even if a teeny irrational part of me wants you to be a little homesick, the truth is I know you are probably not and that you are having the time of your life and this makes me happy. Because it means that you feel loved at home, that you know that we are waiting for you no matter how far away you are and that our love makes you feel safe enough to spread your wings and fly.

My daughter is away at a program called Scuola Natura organized by the Italian public school system to take kids on a nature trip for a week. Our school was picked at the last minute so there was not much time to get organized before departure. Which is a good thing if you are asking me, because: a) my daughter would have burst with the excitement of leaving if she would have had to wait even just a day longer; b) it didn't give us parents too much time to agonize before they left (as some of you know, this was the second night my daughter was ever spending away from us). The organizational aspect was quite intricate as you can imagine, considering it involved preparing for a 5-year old to be away for five whole days filled with several activities. Besides the clothes bags I mentioned above with names and hand written notes of their content and an endless list of accessories to prepare, it involved (among other things):

- decorating a treasure box together with your child to take along to store material and souvenirs
- organizing a cell phone card to give the teacher to use for phone calls and calling procedures
- a meeting with the teacher and parents
- writing addresses on adhesive labels and buying stamps for postcards
- preparing an envelope with spending money in small bills
- writing a personal letter to the teacher describing your child' everyday habits and bedtime routines to   make them feel at home as much as possible

Here is a recipe that my little girl really enjoyed the night before leaving. Hope you enjoy it too. 

*For those of you who do not like fennel, roasting it totally erases that aniseed flavor and makes it soft and sweet, almost like a roasted onion. You have to try it to believe it.

2 fennel bulbs
1 1/2 cups small clams
olive oil

Preheat oven to 220°C and heat a pot of water for the pasta. Clean and cut the fennel bulbs into 1/8 pieces. Lightly coat with olive oil and salt and roast until they start turning golden, about 1/2 hour. In the meantime, pour some more olive oil into a pan and sauté some chopped garlic and parsley. Rinse the clams (I used frozen clams) and cook for about a minute in the hot and seasoned oil. When the fennel is ready, blend it with a hand mixer with some olive oil and a few tablespoons of the pasta water for added moisture if needed. Taste for salt and pepper (the fennel will be pretty sweet and can use the extra contrast). After you drain the pasta, mix in the purée and then pour over the clams in their sauce and mix. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh pepper. I would have left some lovely roasted pieces of fennel if my aim hadn't been feeding the kids lots of vegetables without them knowing.

Last, but not least, thank you Manu for your award! 

And thank you so much Pola for yours!

It makes me so happy to know you enjoy reading my blog.


  1. Ohhhhh mi sono commossa... I put myself in your shoes... I know that time will come for me too and I don't think I am ready (are we ever???)!!!!! Such a beautiful letter you wrote, your daughter will love it. :-) I am sure she's having a blast! :-)
    Great recipe as always... there is an award waiting for you here: http://www.manusmenu.com/pumpkin-and-barley-soup Come pick it up! :-) Buon martedi.

  2. This totally made me close to tears. It's so hard to imagine that day for me, but what an adventure parenthood is. What a sweet letter, i hope she reads it one day.

    I will definitely try roasting fennel and see if my husband likes it. We share almost all food likes, but for some reason he's not fond of fennel :(

  3. You have me in tears over this letter! I can't but help but think of my own daughter and all the things that await her! She's four going on 14! I loved this post and hang in there!!!! XO Oh and the spehetti - perfection of course!

  4. Non sono mamma...ma le tue parole mi han commosso e coinvolto!!!
    ...altro primo strepitoso ...

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hi Fiona, my award from last week is back on! Please come and check it out: http://cookingitalianinthemidwest.blogspot.com/2011/05/roasted-tomato-pasta.html

    Hopefully blogger won't crash this time!

  7. I can see why your daughter loved this dish, it looks beautiful (great picture by the way, its hard to take attractive pics of pasta).
    Beautiful post.
    *kisses* HH

  8. sniff, sniff... what else can I say?

  9. Aww... your not was so sweet! She'll be back before you know it! And you'll have to share some more of this beautiful spaghetti together, too =)

  10. Manu - thanks for the award! That time always seems to come too soon, even when they are 15, so I guess "tolto il dente tolto il dolore".
    Nicole - having trouble commenting again, but loved getting to see a picture of you. Who knows what will have become of this blog one day, but I do keep a diary for her. A lot of people don't like fennel (my husband is the same) but it is so much better (or different according to taste) when it is roasted. Do try.
    DD&W - Five was earlier than I expected her first school trip and such a long one at that. Glad it hit so quick I didn't have too much time to think.
    Terry - Grazie Terry!
    Pola - thank you so much, what a nice surprise. Blogger was a real pain last week. Looks like I got luckier than you, just losing a some comments.
    HH - thanks, I am a little frustrated lately with photos. I just don't seem to have the time to learn and take steps forward so appreciate your words.
    Moomser - didn't even manage to get through and talk to her but husband did and she is doing great, barely had time to talk to him she was so busy. I of course was almost in tears when I heard he managed to talk to her.
    Peggy - I can't believe we are already half way through her trip, and am actually sorry for her. She is loving it.

  11. That letter is so sweet. I got a bit emotional reading it. I can't imagine how it feels since I'm not a parent (yet) but it's such a roller coaster huh?

    Love your dish, fennel is one of my favorite vegetables and I'm sure it pairs excellently with the clams.

  12. This was such a sweet post! I loved every word. I'm sure she is missing you as much as you are missing her!

  13. Your post is touching and i can relate to it! My two kids are now grown and I remember those days so well; they will want to be this you even when they leave permanently, because your were such a good mom.
    By the way, this pasta is incredible and I can't wait to make it soon!

  14. I don't think I ever read a post that touched me so much! I have and do have those same feelings for my two children, even when all grown up! Lovely pasta dish; roasted fennel is a great addition.

  15. Oh my- five seems so preciously young to be out there conquering the world on her own! What a beautiful letter. And such a stunning recipe too. Thank you!

  16. The recipe made me hungry, and the story made me smile. Wonderful mix of sentiment and savory!

  17. The recipe made me hungry, and the story made me smile. Wonderful mix of sentiment and savory!

  18. MyLEK - it certainly is an emotional rollercoaster. You never really think of that aspect before becoming a parent. You imagine the happy moments, the sleepless nights, screaming teenagers, but never the bittersweetness or the total and encompassing love you feel every minute of the day.
    Lorraine - I would not be so sure, but I am convinced she will be very happy to see us when she gets back.
    ToB - how do you survive the day they leave?? I hope you enjoy this pasta as much as we did.
    Linda - hi and thanks for dropping by. Enjoyed reading your last posts and look forward to reading more. The roasted fennel really makes the difference.
    Tori - five still seems really small to me too. But she seems to be coping great. I know I would have been a puddle of homesickness at her age. I didn't even like sleepovers when I was older.
    Ashley - hey! Nice to meet you. Loved your brownie recipe.


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