Discover more from Letters from Tuscany
What Livia ate
On Monday, Livia turned 3. Bear with me as this is going to be a newsletter more emotional and intimate than usual.
On Monday, Livia turned 3. Bear with me as this is going to be a newsletter more emotional and intimate than usual.
Livia is a late summer girl, she was born when blackberries ripen on brambles. She is our only child, but she was welcomed into our family by two dogs who had already put us to the test as parents.
It was the first day of winter when we discovered that there was a summer baby who was putting down roots inside me. Our family of four, two human beings and two adored rescued dogs, was about to expand, our life was about to change in unpredictable ways.
She upturned all our beliefs and expectations. She is constantly teaching us how to prioritize leisure time and family moments, and the importance of regular rhythms, rituals, and afternoon naps. She is brave, generous, and wary of new people but friendly as soon as she gets to know them. She loves books (like her mum), Lego (like her dad), dancing, singing for us standing on a stool, spending time outdoors, Spider-Man and Peppa Pig.
To celebrate her third birthday, I collected here something I have written about her on the blog in the past, along with fresh memories about the last year, when she stopped being a little girl and became a little human being with her own temperament, likes and dislikes, new challenges and best friends.
When I became a mum
I had had my last meal the night before when, watching Wonder Woman in between contractions, Tommaso had heated a frozen pizza in the oven. I had been told to stock up on easy-to-eat carbohydrates to cope with labour. We started with pizza and then moved on during the night to spoonfuls of honey – from the last jar left from our wedding reception – which I alternated with hot showers and a few minutes of sleep to recover my strengths.
The hours passed between the frozen pizza and that hospital lunch appeared now vague. Some had seemed fast, others slow and muddy. Tommaso and I, during the skin to skin time with Livia, had told each other about that hours, to relive them and understand them, to savour them, to exorcise fear, to realize that we were indeed the spectators and the protagonists of that miracle.
With unsteady legs, I moved on the red plastic chair next to the table in the corner. Tommaso had gone back home, as for the hospital Covid policies he could only stay a few hours a day. He would return in the late afternoon, the moment when nostalgia and melancholy grow stronger.
Livia was asleep in her cradle. I arranged it next to me, so that I could keep an eye on her, so as not to miss a sigh from that new baby, still exhausted from that long journey that had brought her among us. With one finger I ran along the curve of her cheek, the arch of her eyebrows, looking for similarities that I still couldn’t recognize.
Once I was sure that yes, it was all true, I turned to my lunch tray.
The pasta was now overcooked, with the tomato sauce encrusted on the penne. The roast pork was a pale imitation of what I often do during classes, the mashed potatoes were now glue.
Then there was a baked apple in a white plastic bowl.
It was cooked simply, without sugar. It had still the core. The peel was wrinkled, but the inside creamy, it surrendered to the spoon. I started hesitantly, but then I ate it voraciously, facing the wall, with my hands, holding it by the stalk, licking my fingers. Naturally sweet, soft, comforting.
I found in that tray the food you crave when you are not feeling well, when you need an extra cuddle, a personal comfort food, a childhood memory that welcomed me into my new life as a grown-up, as a mother.
In the following days, I chased that baked apple from meal to meal. Every day I was offered a choice of dishes to make up my menu for the following day, but then an inexplicable short circuit happened every time. I would choose the gnocchi with ragù, and in uncovering the dish I would find a semolina soup. I would ask for grilled vegetables, and instead they would bring me a plain wilted salad. But above all, every time I hoped for the baked apple, and instead three unripe plums magically appeared on the tray. I put all those plums aside and took them home: we ate them a month later, finally ripe.
From Baked Apples. When I became a mum. You can also listen to the episode Food and Motherhood from our podcast, Cooking with an Italian Accent, and, since we’re talking about podcast, don’t miss the Mother Food episode where I talk with Alissa Timoshkina about the experience of being pregnant and giving birth during the pandemic. We also talked about my childhood memories and the cultural ideas around food and womanhood in Italy.
Remembering when Livia was one
Your attempts to walk are brave, fearless, and enthusiastic. You pretend to be speaking on the phone – you are a pandemic lockdown baby after all – and call gnana all your relatives. Sometimes I am mamma for you, and sometimes mamma is a passing cat, a door, or your dad. We have to shower you after every meal, as you like to use pesto as a hair conditioner. You want fruit, especially watermelon – I fear this must be connected to the large amount of watermelon I ate during my last months of pregnancy -, pasta al pesto, chicken, sea bream, and sole. You eat cherry tomatoes with rapture and munch on whole cucumbers for breakfast.
Cabinet doors, drawers, lids, caps, and corks fascinate you: when you enter your small, faded, plastic house in the garden, you love nothing more than opening and closing the shutters, and you do it just like a tiny, Tuscan, Snow White. Your favourite pastime at the moment is reading books: first, you literally devoured them, developing a passion for the cardboard taste, now you take your little books to whoever is sitting on the couch for you to read. You turn the pages, open the tiny windows, and you’re ready for the next one.
From Baking an Italian birthday cake for our one-year-old Livia. I wanted to write a post about Livia for each of her birthdays not to forget the silly little things and the big steps that make our days brighter. Obviously, last year I didn’t manage to write it, so I’m trying to make up for it this year.
My favourite way of sharing something about Livia is through food: the food she eats, the food she hates, the food we cook together.
You can read through the lines and learn a lot about Livia. Obviously, there is so much more about her, nuances and meltdowns and cuddles on a rocking chair, her favourite books, and the fact that when she grows up she wants to be a gelataia (a gelato maker) and make gelato in two flavours, fish and mandarin.
So what does Livia eat now?
She likes pasta, but it has to be bianca (white, with a shower of Parmigiano Reggiano and a sliver of butter), rossa (red, al pomodoro, with a smile tomato sauce, no basil allowed, and plenty of grated Parmigiano Reggiano), or verde (green, al pesto, with basil pesto and, yes, you can imagine now, plenty of grated Parmigiano Reggiano).
As for the pasta shapes, after having eaten mainly fusilli for 2 years—thus forcing the whole family to buy just fusilli-shaped pasta—she finally moved into penne, spaghetti, and—hear! hear!—her mum’s homemade tagliatelle and tagliolini. She loves also rice: and that can be bianco (see above, the same as pasta), or giallo (yellow, with a gentle saffron aroma).
As you might have already inferred, she loves cheese, but it has to be Parmigiano Reggiano and pecorino, aged, not too fresh. She has this thing for textures, so she would refuse anything that is soft and white: no mozzarella, ricotta, stracchino, or whipped cream. Oh, and no holes are allowed in a cheese slice.
She loves vegetables in their bare essence. Even though she is slowly narrowing down her preferences, at the moment she is still enjoying steamed broccoli, boiled green beans, carrot sticks, halved cherry tomatoes, and grilled eggplants.
Fruit is still her favourite thing, along with jam, cinnamon, spinach spatzle, prosciutto crudo, scrambled eggs, hazelnut butter, chocolate gelato, and dark chocolate.
This is Livia at home. After being an adventurous, generous eater, when she turned one she became picky and suspicious (what is THAT thing on my plate?). It might come as no surprise, but at her daycare, she ate everything she was offered, except for the white, squidgy cheese.
Once they were eating food by colour, to broaden their taste buds and turn them into adventurous eaters, and when it came to the white day, she gladly ate pear, pasta, rice, onion, and garlic, but she refused whipped cream!
She drinks her milk with her bottle first thing in the morning, while we’re cuddling on the sofa, but after that, no milk will pass her lips. She is an avid drinker of water, and lately, she wants us to make her a cocktail of still water, on the bottom, and sparkling water on top, don’t you dare mix it up. She loves an orzo (barely coffee, naturally without caffeine and rich in minerals) after lunch when we’re at my parents, or tea in the afternoon with a couple of cookies. That’s a moment I especially love in winter, something I couldn’t wait to introduce her to: my 5 pm tea has brought so much comfort, reassurance, and joy through the years, and I’m so moved to see her sipping our rooibos tea, while sticking her pinkie finger out. ❤️
This summer she fell in love with the aperitivo concept, probably because this is when we finally sit together in the garden, after a long day of work.
While we drink a chinotto or Lemonsoda, she has sparkling water. She asks for a little bowl of taralli, another of her favourite things, or toasted nuts, then she goes around offering us the snack, making sure we’re getting all the same amount.
Speaking of taralli, I have to tell you this episode that made me laugh and cry with tenderness. In July we had to say goodbye to her beloved teachers and to the best daycare we could have ever wished for, as she will move into kindergarten in September. The teachers had the kids prepare a little cardboard suitcase, where they had to put their best memories and what they loved the most to be ready to go to the new school. Well, what would you put in your suitcase along with the photo of your parents and your dogs? A drawing of taralli, obviously, as she cannot imagine a trip without taralli in my bag.
Today, if you are a paid subscriber, you will also get the recipe for taralli, the ring-shaped crackers with fennel seeds typical of Puglia, Livia’s favourite mid-morning snack, an easy, portable tidbit to stash in your bag to nibble on while travelling.
Sometimes, we cook together, too.
We mainly work on easy bakes like banana pancakes or chocolate cake, roasted squash, baked apples, or pasta al pomodoro. But pancakes (that she calls pakki-pekki) are her favourite thing to make together, weighing the ingredients, adding spoonfuls of cinnamon, and cracking eggs with one hand as a pro (we do not care about shells, you can always fish them out).
She spins the salad spinner, sets the table sometimes, and loves to drizzle olive oil on her food, sprinkle salt, and—her favourite—Parmigiano Reggiano. She just started using a knife to cut tomatoes, soft fruit, and frittata.
I can't wait to spend more time in the kitchen together, creating memories and new rituals, that hopefully will accompany her in her life, giving her a sense of love and safety.
We also love to have breakfast together on Saturday mornings at our beloved bakery—in barely two months her preferences moved from jam tart to chocolate cookies to a brioche studded with raisins and a tall glass of blueberry juice— and shop together at the supermarket. She jumps on the shopping cart and holds firmly the scan to check everything we buy.
These are some of the dearest memories I will lock into my heart. Livia is growing so fast, and I love to have a place where I can collect her quirkinesses and her favourites that change as quickly as her mood. As I go through her photos (almost daily), I also love to read these pages again and again, as sometimes what looks indelible in your mind will slowly leave space for new discoveries, challenges, and joyful moments. We love you, Livia! ❤️
Thank you for reading till the end: what I shared is just the real, normal, busy life of normal, sometimes stressed, sometimes blessed working parents with a three-year-old who’s about to enter a new stage of her life. This will force us to find new rhythms, relying on a bit of organization, a lot of good luck, and the unmissable, precious help of her nonni.
I find joy in simple things, ordinary events, and genuine, unassuming food. I hope today’s post gave you a little taste of our life with our favourite sweet and stubborn three-year-old.
You can read more about my love for food and an ordinary life here: