Growing up Italian: My American Family Part 2


Here is what I learned from life: Diamonds are NOT a girl’s best friends. FRIENDS are.

I know, truth can hurt, and don’t get me wrong…I like the bling bling, too. When it comes to real life, though, everybody needs a very close friend. A BFF as they call them now.

I have only  a few very close friends, but I know I can count on them. Next week we will be celebrating the biggest “family holiday”, and I wanted to acknowledge some of the people I consider my adopted family here. Take MJ for instance.

Vacationing in Roatan. Spring Break 2004

I’ve been friend with MJ since 2002. Before then, she was just an acquaintance of mine, whom I had met through a common friend. Then, my life changed.

There was a point where I was “broken”, coming out of an abusive relationship.

With no loving place to be, no home, no self esteem, no positive outlook on life, I remember those days as just “surviving” not “living” days.

MJ offered me help and shelter, and a solid shoulder to lean on. Now, isn’t this better than what ANY diamond would have done for me? I think so! 🙂

MJ is the kind of person that helps people leading them to solve their own problems. She doesn’t just give you the fish (one time solution) she teaches you how to fish (long term solution). A mentor would be the appropriate term, I guess.

Probably, I won’t be the same person as I was before my divorce, but it’s ok. I’m a better person! I don’t take so much for granted anymore, and my “needs” have replaced my “wants”.

MJ taught me that success is the best form of revenge, and the most empowering, and polite, too!

MJ is a self-made woman herself. Raised as a non-working housewife, she can cook, clean and crochet. Then, as life takes funny twists, she was also left alone, raising a child.

She put herself through major schooling, and she became a well known Realtor  and Property Management guru in town.

To this day, even though “semi-retired” her passion on “recycling” houses remains, and she is really good at it. She has vision and a determination that won’t quit! With that she has been able to provide awesome rentals in town for the last 30 years.

When we take day trips to Portland, chances are we won’t stop at Nordstrom’s, but Rejuvenation Hardware, or the RE-Building center on Mississippi Ave  are a must!!

MJ’s philanthropic nature goes back to those days “when she didn’t have two dimes to rub together” but she decided to help other women so they wouldn’t have to go alone through the same hardship. She is one of the founding members  of WOMENSPACE!

Now, her list of accomplishments goes on and on; while she remains  untouched by her personal success, she doesn’t shy away from wanting to help others constantly.

MJ also enjoys life and a semi-retirement. She loves to travel, and she is a great travel companion!

Cruising the Mexican Riviera, 2006

Road trips, Caribbean cruises, Europe…we have done it all over the years. Loads of fun.

When Mom came to visit in 2003 MJ hosted a welcome dinner reception for her. Needless to say : a friendship was born that night, and  a greater bond between the two of us.

My favorite memory though, is of the summer we went to Italy together in 2005. While I had to come back for work a week earlier, she stayed with my mom for a few extra days.

Visiting with mom on the balcony of our house at the Coast . Senigallia, Italy, 2005

Now, my mom did NOT speak English, and MJ did NOT speak Italian. I would call on a daily basis to check in with those two, and see what they were up to.

I would talk to mom who would say “MJ told me that….” and MJ would say “..well…your mom told me that…” ???? apparently a little French, a little Norwegian and a lot of hand gestures can  make the difference. They had a blast!

The connection MJ made with my Mom was something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

MJ and my Mom shopping in Assisi. Italy, 2005

Afterall, she is the closest thing to a mother I have. Someone who lets you make mistakes, but doesn’t judge you based on the outcome, and loves you no matter what. She encourages self-improvement through higher education, and she is there “cheering” all the way. Like when I got a second degree in baking. Also, MJ is the one who brings you chicken noodle soup when you are sick, or comes to the attorney with you to make sure you ask the “right” questions.

When our friendship developed, we started having “dinner and a movie” nights at her house.

She would cook, I would bring a movie. Then the nights evolved to “girls nights in” since I could not afford to go out to restaurants. Eventually, we settled for “pity parties”.

Oxytocin building gatherings, that involve a lot of gourmet food, and -of course- antioxidant grape juice! At the beginning it was just the two of us. New year’s eve lobsters Thermidor, or Thanksgiving take out when she was bedridden because of a back injury.

Now, our parties are well sought-after and we don’t seem to be able to manage to have less than 6 or 8 guests! Maybe is the food, but I like to think it is our shining personalities!!

As I said MJ is a great cook. Our impromptu get together, though, imply that there is no time for grocery shopping. Not a problem,as long as there is Martini on the rocks. Also, there is always something in the pantry we can work with…or the freezer.

The recipe I’m sharing today is one we perfected during our several get- together over the years. It is as simple as it it delicious.

Life’s accomplishment and successes need to be celebrated of course, but  some  “Blahh” days need too!

So, next time you feel down, call up a friend, have a “pity party”. Life is good! Just like that!

[gn_box title=”MJ perfect BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP (aka Pity Party soup)” color=”#253″]

598557_3946803864028_1658855151_n Creamy and delicious: Butternut squash Soup!!

– Serves 6


  • 1 Med. Butternut squash, washed, cut in half, seeds removed.
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 2 T oil and 2 T butter
  • 1/2 C white wine (plus more for drinking while you cook 🙂 )
  • 2 cartons of prepared broth (chicken, or vegetable)
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Sour cream to garnish, balsamic reduction or croutons or….whatever you like!


Pre heat oven to 400F

Cut the squash in half and fill the cavities with thyme, rub the cut side with oil.

Place the two halves face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or-better-a silicone pad if you have one.

Bake for 1 hour. The skin of the squash will blister and will become dark or even black. It’s ok.

Remove from the oven and let cool while you make the base to the soup.

Alternatively you could roast the pumpkin the day before and finish the soup a day later.

In a 4 qt saucepan, heat the butter and the oil. Add the onion and sweat it until translucent.

Add the celery. Cook until soft about 10 minutes on med-low heat.

Deglaze with wine.

Carefully scoop the pulp out of the butternut squash and into the saucepan. If the squash has created a crunchy film on the cut side, use that too.

Add 1 Carton of the stock or more if needed. Enough to cover the pumpkin. Also depends on how soupy you want the dish. Only one carton will make the soup really thick,

Add some thyme and simmer the soup on gentle heat for about 30 minutes.

Adjust tasting for salt and pepper.

Remove soup from the heat, and with an immersion blender (if not available puree in batches in a regular blender) puree the soup. Taste one more time and serve warm.

Garnish with sour cream, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction


Until next time, mangia! and Ciao!






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