Teeth. Jealousy. Shanks.

More Italian Than Not Chicken Parmesan


It’s not the incessant and simultaneous wails of two teething babies that have driven me to enact a semi-weekly 5:00 cocktail hour (consisting of two shots of amaretto), but more the straining required to hear the tiny, inappropriately quiet voice of a certain toddler over the racket, and ultimately realizing that the urgent refrain is none other than the jaw-clench-inducing “what are you doooing?” It’s become part of Monk Jr’s routine, and every time I change a diaper or feed a belly (activities which infuriate whoever isn’t receiving the attention), Billy the Kid is right there, inaudibly inquiring about the nature of my distraction from El Dicta-toro. “Well, what do you think I’m doing?” I ask in a sweet but pretty obviously condescending tone. And what do you know, BK offers the correct answer every time.

It’s Friday, and I have nothing left for anyone. No energy, no functioning brain cells, no sympathy. Teeth hurt? Yeah, I’ve been there, too. But guess what. You get Orajel, Tylenol, and eventually teeth. Bored? Why don’t you head down to the basement and see what/who you can rustle up. Hungry? Next scheduled feeding, how about drinking more than an ounce instead of looking around frantically to make sure your sister isn’t happy? Today’s snow was the literal icing on the proverbial cake. The only thing that induces more guilt in me than not taking the underlings out into the world at least once a day is taking them out under sub-par driving conditions, and putting their tiny lives at a slightly higher risk than usual. My serious need for some contact with civilization: denied.

The death of such a bastard of a week should be observed properly, with a seam-splitting meal involving cheese, a casserole dish, and meat, that will have us all unconscious and transported out of the hell that has been February 21 through 25 (with a brief respite on the 24th spanning the length of Jess D’s visit). For those who need it spelled out: Chicken Parmesan. In spite of my insecurities about preparing cuisines of nationalities to which I have no relation, I found a promising recipe on Simply Recipes, a site that has yet to disappoint me (well played, Ms. B). Aside from a smidge too much heat from the red pepper flakes, this is what I hope for whenever I order Chicken Parm at a restaurant, though I haven’t been able to find it outside of Providence’s Federal Hill.

Speaking of Federal Hill, my father, the venerable Mr. S, alerted me of an interview with the locally famous Baby Shanks Manocchio, in which the former Patriarca family boss (and serial restauranteur extraordinaire) was asked about the nature of his name. It turns out that his original nickname was Baby Shacks, an allusion to his success at finding continual transitional housing with charitable women, but that the erroneous “Shanks” eventually replaced “Shacks,” some assuming it referred to his stature, others convinced he must fashion a mean shiv. When asked for the final word, Manocchio offered the entirely unhelpful “what does it really matter?” Seldom does my heart pine so achingly for my state.

Turns out you can’t close up the kitchen when you have a kid.

While I’d love to shirk kitchen duties for a week and ignore all dishes, surfaces, waste and dust, meals must go on. Often, after pulling off the planning, preparation and execution of a challenging and complicated meal, I need a week until I can face buttering up another pan. My two lumberjacks, however, are in no way on board with such a hiatus, so I’m depending on two things to keep my culinary zeal elevated for the post-holiday dulldrums. First, the telepathic Mr. S gave me a new apron and hot mitts, along with a gift card to heaven; I’ve already begun combing through the website, and I foresee a glass dome cake stand in my near future. Second, Mrs. S graciously lent me her copy of Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen after I mentioned I’d like to learn a few Italian dishes as well as the fundamental principals and techniques. I’m unfamiliar with this Lidia, but her book looks promising, and my faith in her referrer is unwavering.

My self-dare for this week is to get my mind around this thing called risotto, and then practice, practice, practice until I produce something that might not infuriate Chef Gordon Ramsay. Oh, and I’ve never had risotto; it’s rice, right? I don’t know that I’m comfortable with the frequently applied adjective, “creamy,” but I admire the nonexistent margin of error. Lidia offers that “there are no two ways of making risotto; either you make it right, or it is not risotto.”

If Lidia’s recipe proves successful, I will post a comprehensive review and the recipe verbatim (and it’s a long one). If not, get ready for a lengthy character assassination of a certain public television figure. Any of my gentle readers who consider themselves masters of this dish are welcome to weigh in, and I would hugely appreciate variations, suggestions, and warnings. I can offer a Fed-Ex box of chocolate chippers and general immortalization in exchange, a rather generous reward if you ask me. And if anyone could advise me as to the best cooking vessel (material, finish, size, depth), I would be beside myself with gratitude.

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