When I met A what seems like eons ago (aka 1998), he didn’t speak a word of English. I was studying abroad in Venice, he was my Italian adventure, and thankfully my Italian language skills were good enough that having conversations weren’t incredibly difficult.

After we got married, we initially lived in Italy and my Italian improved leaps and bounds…but still, no need for him to speak English. Whenever we visited the U.S., I would dutifully fill the role of translator for 2-3 weeks, turning my relatives’ five minute conversations into a two sentence synopsis. Inevitably, my head would be pounding after trying to translate from Italian to Farsi to English and back again—making the two-sentence synopses into two-word ones—but the trip would be over before there were too many communication break-downs.

In 2005, we made our big move to the U.S., and A couldn’t get by not knowing English anymore. True to his disciplined, practically Germanic personality, he stopped speaking to me in Italian on day two of the move here.

It was, to say the least, difficult.

“Pass the salt please. Pass the salt please. [Wildly gesturing.] Salt. SALT. SALT.” He stuck with it though, rarely faltering. He loved trying out his new language skills on me.

One Saturday morning as we were making our ritual trip to the wonder that is Fairway Supermarket, he turned to me and proudly proclaimed, “This morning for breakfast I eat bread, cheese, and….a lawyer.”

He meant avocado (the Italian word for “lawyer” is “avvocato”). I was gasping for air and practically rolling on the ground laughing.

Amazingly, we now pretty much speak English to one another all the time, although we do still fight in Italian. Because, well, fighting in Italian is so much more dramatic.

We are trying to bring up P to be tri-lingual, though. My parents speak to her (mostly) in Farsi, we speak to her in Italian, and everything else is in English—and she’s got quite the vocabulary now for a twenty-month old.

So as I calculated, there are seven language combinations she can have with these three languages: Italian, English, Farsi, Italian-English, Italian-Farsi, English-Farsi, and all three.  Of course, there are the jumbled together combinations, as well as her own toddler language. The kid is quite verbose.

I’ve been trying to make a list of all the words and phrases she knows at this point. This morning on the train I was feverishly writing them down, but I can’t help shaking the nagging feeling that I’ve still missed a few. But here’s what I remember. P, if you read this when you’re 18 or 20 or 60, I sincerely hope you still speak all these languages, and many more.

And I realize that this will be totally boring except for linguists and maybe the world’s expert on bilingualism, but I just had to make the lists, because there are few things I still remember after a few weeks these days.

All three

  • Numbers one to ten, although she somehow skips over seven and eight in all three languages. Really doesn’t like them.
  • Ball-palla-toop
  • Mama/Mommy

Italian only

  • Farfalla (butterfly—one of her first Italian words)
  • Pesce (fish)
  • Giraffa
  • Fante (elefante)
  • Latte (milk)
  • Uva (grape)
  • Sata (insalata-salad)
  • Caca (poop)
  • Caro (although she really says calo. It means “dear” and she says it when petting things/people she likes. As in, “Calo mama”)
  • Ciao
  • Pera (pear)
  • Papa’ (A would die if she started calling him daddy)
  • Fragola (strawberry)
  • Riso (rice)
  • Faccia (face)
  • Gamba (leg)
  • Schiena (back)
  • Capo (again)
  • Nonni (grandparents)
  • Vino
  • Caffé

English only

  • Bear
  • More
  • Sheep
  • I love you
  • I did it
  • Baby
  • Crab
  • Monkey
  • Boogy (booger)
  • Tree
  • Camel
  • Pretty (which she uses instead of “flower”)
  • Big heavy (always used together)
  • Jacket
  • Yeah
  • Car
  • Hi
  • Hello
  • Toes
  • Up
  • Dolphin
  • Lion
  • Donkey
  • Puppy
  • Chick
  • Door
  • Glasses
  • Brush
  • Paper
  • No good
  • Horsie
  • Itsy-bitsy (initially used only for spiders, but now used for all insects)
  • Beeful (beautiful)
  • Sleepy
  • Perfect

Farsi only

  • Patu (blanket)
  • Gol (flower)
  • Akhei (old lady term to mean something like “poor thing”)
  • Biya (come here)

Italian & English

  • Giu’/down
  • Body parts (most, some only in Italian—see above)
  • Naso/nose
  • Bocca/mouth
  • Occhi/eyes
  • Orecchie/ears
  • Capelli/hair
  • Manine/hands
  • Pancia/tummy
  • Koala
  • Munchy (formaggio)/cheese
  • Pizza
  • Pasta
  • Broccoli
  • Bacio/kiss
  • Penna/pen
  • Apri/open
  • Banana
  • Mela/apple
  • Libro/book
  • Scarpa/shoe
  • Gatto/cat
  • Dentini/teeth
  • Peepee


  • Nun/pane (bread)


  • Didi-look (or as she says, hook)

Made up

  • Dada (to go outside)
  • Nummy (food)


  • Panti (pants & pantaloni)
  • Socka (socks & calza)
  • Scimonkey (scimmia & monkey)

I’ve coined P’s language Farsengtalian. Not quite Esperanto, but we’re working on it.

Food Lessons Learned from My Italian Mother-in-Law

My suocera at home.

A is in no way, shape, or form a mammone (ma-mo-neh). What, you may ask, is a mammone? He would be the stereotypical Italian male who is practically attached to his mamma by the umbilical cord. He loves her above all else (at times, including his wife), loves her cooking and her cooking only, and lives a maximum of five minutes away from her his entire life.

Thankfully, the hubs doesn’t meet this description.

Italians are completely aware of the mammone phenomenon, and the self-awareness shows a variety of forms: TV specials, articles, shocking arrests, and of course, jokes.

My excessively devout brother-in-law (as in, he considered going to a seminary and becoming a Catholic priest level of devotion) told me the following:

Q: How do you know that Jesus was Italian?

A: Because he lived with his mother for 33 years, thought he was the son of god, and that his mother was a virgin.

I may be paraphrasing a rough translation…he told me the joke many many years ago.

I should also mention that the said brother in law is 39…and lives at home.

Anyway, as I was saying, A is not a mammone, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his mamma’s cooking. He even dared to say at one time that his mother made a certain dish—risotto—better than I. GASP! The horror! Well, he was right. I mean, she has been perfecting her risotto for about 45 years now, so she’s definitely got the upper hand when it comes to experience. And darn it, I honestly don’t know what she does, but her risotto is just plain awesome. Beyond good.

As any curious cook would, I’ve tried to learn as much as I can from her gazillion years of epicurean stylings in the twelve years that A and I have been married.  Thankfully, my suocera is not the type of person who hordes cooking secrets, or opinions (that one, less thankfully).

She loves it when we visit and I offer to help her out in the kitchen. She has three sons and a daughter, and only the youngest (a son, not A) ever showed any interest in cooking. My best times with her have been in the kitchen, chopping onions, working some dough, grating cheese. We’ll chat, or not, and we work with purpose. There are hungry mouths to be fed. Hungry, opinionated mouths.

I wanted to share some little tidbits that I’ve learned from A’s mom during our time in the cucina. Here they are in no particular order:

  • A few good ingredients can make or break a dish. At the top of that list are home-made broth, grana padano cheese, and olive oil. NB: if it comes in a green can and is not sold in the refrigerator section, it should not be considered cheese.
  • Good home-made broth is NOT made from chicken bones. It is made with a mixture of meat, namely hen and a fatty piece of beef. Since you can’t find hens in the U.S. for broth-making purposes, you can substitute chicken. With meat on the bones. Only the following ingredients should be used in making broth: water, chicken, beef, onions, carrots, celery, and salt. That’s it.
  • You can make a three to five course meal every week for at least ten people without blogging about it.
  • You can use seasonal, all-natural, local ingredients, and make a home-cooked meal for your family for you entire life without blogging about it.
  • Even Italian mammas use bouillon, but only in extreme situations, and never as a substitute for home-made broth in a broth-based dish (especially soup and risotto).
  • You don’t need a recipe to make bread. All you need is practice.
  • You don’t have to make a big production about making risotto. You make the base flavor (mushroom, asparagus, whatever), add rice, add broth (only the good stuff–see above), and stir. Yes, you can put a lid on risotto as you’re cooking it. No, you don’t have to stir it for 30 minutes straight. Yes, it can be a quick weeknight meal.
  • Quick-cooking polenta is a sad substitute for the stuff that takes an hour to cook.
  • Every special occasion is made even more special with a dish involving fresh-made pasta.
  • Don’t you dare make fresh pasta with store-bought eggs. Find a farm, find a friend who has chickens, anything. Just don’t use store-bought eggs to make pasta.
  • Sitting down together to eat as a family is pretty much the best thing you can do.
  • Every meal should end with a piece of cheese and fruit.
So there’s the list. It’s not Michael Pollan, but we try to stick to the basics of it as much as possible.
Although I must confess, I made some chicken-bone broth a few nights ago. Sshhh….just
don’t tell the suocera.

Unexpected Side Effects of Home Ownership

My little fam moved into the new digs a little over a week ago, and I can already feel a difference. This list will probably be updated pretty regularly as I come to realize what home ownership does to you, but at least it’ll be a start.

  • I have now taken the trash out voluntarily the entire week. No poking, no prodding. Just heading out with the trash, and feeling thoroughly satisfied when it plops into the big bin.
  • I offered to clean the bathroom. A was a bit nonplussed, to say the least. You see, when it comes to cleaning, there’s no beating A. In a former life, he probably scrubbed hospital surgical equipment, and had fun doing it. He’s super clean. So he pretty much does all the serious cleaning in the house, including the bathrooms. But I actually felt like I could show him a trick or two, and I scrubbed the sink, the bath, even the toilet to previously-unknown cleanliness levels. It was incredibly satisfying.
  • I have started nocturnal gardening. My sister gave me four tomato plants (yes I know it’s September, but we’ll get a few more months of sunshine yet!) and I planted them at 8.30 pm on a Tuesday. My reasoning was that it needed to be done, and if I didn’t do it at 8.30 pm on a Tuesday, it wouldn’t get done until the weekend. And that was just not acceptable. I have also watered the said plants after the sun sets every night. I can’t imagine what the neighbors must think.
  • I’m actually looking forward to mowing the lawn. We bought this really cool push-mower and I’m totally in love with it. As a teenager, I mowed my parents’ lawn once in a while with ginormous, heavy, gas-guzzling piece of machinery. A wanted to buy a gas-powered one, but I was totally against it—and I’m so glad we decided to be all “green” and hippy dippy. The thing is silent, powerful, and all-around awesome.

Apparently, before owning a home I was a lazy, dirty mess without a green thumb. But the whole “pride in home ownership” thing actually turns out to be true. So far it’s been great, especially for A, who watches me in shock every time I do something completely unprecedented.

It may completely be the novelty of the experience, a home honeymoon if you will, and we’ll see how long it lasts. I’ll ride the wave as long as I can.