category 5

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category 5

i need to write or all of the parts of me
that come from you will disappear
so i ask you to tell me about the cyclone in ‘91
when it was just the five of us, in the chittagong police barracks
because all i can remember is sea air
and palm trees twisted, gnarled
(they are always the first to go)
and i need to know what a first responder does
when there is his family
and then there are 140,000 corpses?
and i need to know where you took us
when the winds were at 260
before you took us to new york where there are no palm trees.

(and here is my attempt at a french translation)

catégorie 5

je dois écrire, sinon toutes les parties de moi
qui viennent de toi, vont disparaître
donc je te demande de me parler du cyclone
en 1991,
quand il n’y avait que nous cinq dans la caserne du chittagong
parce que tous-ce dont je me souviens
c’est de l’air de la mer
et les palmiers tordus, noués
(ils sont toujours les premiers à partir)
et je dois savoir ce qu’un premier intervenant fait
quand il y’a sa famille
et lorsqu’il y’a 140 000 cadavres?
et je dois savoir où tu nous a emmenés
quand le vent était à 260
avant de nous emmener à new york où il n’y a pas des palmiers.

 

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Iceland #mystopover

I’m in the US after three days in Iceland.  I managed to get tickets that were quite inexpensive from Paris to NY (365 euros!) so I took advantage of the opportunity to stay in Reykjavik for a few days.  There are many reputable tour companies in Iceland that pick up in front of your hotel so it was very convenient to get around.  I signed up for a Northern Lights tour, a horseback riding and Golden Circle day trip, and a stop at the Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport on the day I flew out of Iceland.

A few tips:

Scratch the Northern Lights tour.  The northern lights are visible during the fall and winter months, however, it was quite rainy and cloudy during my stay so I wasted my tour fee and over four hours to stare at a cloudy sky.  I’ve been told that it’s better to not plan for the lights…but to take it as a nice surprise if you happen to see them!  It’s possible to see them even from the capital on a clear night, so next time I’ll just cross my fingers instead of driving out to the middle of nowhere for hours.  Another option would be to stay in the countryside for a few days.  That way you don’t waste time getting to an area without light pollution.

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Do try horseback riding.  It’s a great way to see the landscapes, from mountains and lichen to streams.  The Icelandic horse is known for being kind and gentle with beginners.  My horse (Þyrnirós, Icelandic for Sleeping Beauty) was the most adorable horse I have ever been on.  They’re quite fuzzy and cuddly!  If you’re a girl, bring a sports bra.  I was regretting that.  The horse farm offered a delicious traditional soup with different types of freshly baked breads and cakes for 1400 ISK (11.5 EUR) afterwards.  You don’t really have a choice as you are out in the wilderness but it was worth the price.

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If you’re short on time, the Golden Circle trip is an interesting way to see the main sites in the countryside: Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur with several geysers, including one that erupts every 10 minutes.

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If you’re looking to visit the Blue Lagoon, it’s best to schedule it on your way from or to the airport.  The Blue Lagoon is only about 25 minutes from the airport but 45 minutes from Reykjavik, so pairing it on the way to or from your flight will save you time.
Admission is pricey (in the 40 EUR range) and there are different options and add-ons for drinks, slippers, bathrobes and such.  But I think it was worth it!  And the mineral rich water has several benefits for the skin.  Just don’t let it touch your hair if you’re a girl as it will dry it out for days.  Speaking of hair, there are excellent changing facilities with Blue Lagoon gel and conditioner, blowdryers, make-up mirrors and the works!

The city of Reykjavik itself is very safe and walkable for solo travelers.  Just be wary of the cold and daylight hours as even in November the sun was rising after 9AM and setting quite early.

Here’s a little video compilation of my trip.  Feel free to contact me for any questions!

1 day in Florence

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Hello!  I’ve been meaning to write a short and sweet entry on how to make the most out of 24 hours in Florence, Italy.  When I was in Milan for Christmas I hopped on a train to Florence in about two hours and stayed Saturday morning into early Sunday afternoon.
Here’s the very walkable itinerary I planned.

The timing I offer below takes into account the opening hours of each sight or museum on the list, so if your hours will be different don’t forget to research the openings!  Text in red indicates that a reservation is HIGHLY recommended.

Day 1: Arrive in Florence (late morning)

  • 12PM– Have lunch at Mercato Centrale.  There’s a wide selection of everything from antipasti to pizza and fried mozzarella.  When you’re there, check out the Eataly store as well- cute buys at cheaper prices than the NYC counterpart.  I picked up some great soaps for my mom.
  • 1PM– After lunch, head to the Piazza del Duomo.  I did not climb to the top (I opted for the view at the Palazzo Vecchio- little to no line!  And you can get the Duomo in your pictures of the city).  Take in the square and have a gelato!
  • 2:30PM– Walk to the Piazza Signorina to see a copy of the David where the original David once stood.  Purchase a ticket for the Palazzo Vecchio, tower included and climb to the top.  You’ll be rewarded with views like this:Spend another hour or so exploring the galleries of the palace.
  • 4PM– Walk to the beautiful Basilica Santa Croce and people-watch on the square.  Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli are all resting here!  Stay just long enough to leave enough time to walk back to the Arno River.
  • 5PM– You should have reserved your Uffizi Gallery tickets for this time, leaving two whole hours for wandering the galleries.  Be aware that your reservation is not your ticket.  Upon arrival, you will be sent to the reservation office to pick up your ticket and then wait on the reservation entry line!  I waited up to 30 minutes even with a reserved ticket.  Don’t miss the Birth of Venus!
  • 7PM– Walk from the Uffizi to the Ponte Trinita and Ponte Vecchio and take in the various shops and views!  The bridges are sometimes illuminated at night.
  • 8PM– I had dinner at Osteria San Niccolo which I absolutely loved.  It was a bit of a walk from the bridges (20 minutes) but definitely not out of the way.
    The service was great and the food absolutely delicious.  Some other well noted dinner spots are Trattoria Cibreo and Trattoria Casalinga.After dinner I headed back to my apartment for some much needed sleep, but dropped in the Mercato Centrale once again to see the vibe at night.  It’s open till midnight!

Day 2: Morning in Florence

  • 9AM:  Head straight to the Academia Gallery with your reserved ticket!  Once again, a reservation still necessitates a visit to the office to pick up the ticket.  I waited 45 minutes on line with a reservation on hand- without a ticket I suppose you could easily wait two hours!  Be efficient inside.  It’s not as large as the Uffizi so you can be out in an hour.  Most of your time will be spent admiring David, anyway.
  • 11AM:  If you have the time, it’s worth taking a look at the Medici Chapels, but I opted for San Lorenzo Market.  Leather goods are cheap and of decent quality here.  You can always haggle.  I had a quick bresaola panini afterwards before heading to the airport.

    TIP: There is a bus to the airport every 30 minutes, for about a 30 minute ride.  It leaves from the Autostazione Busitalia- Sita Nord, not so far from the main train station.  I did not have a smooth trip back as my flight had been diverted to Pisa due to foggy weather.  After arriving in Florence airport, I had to take a one hour bus ride to Pisa (provided by the airline) to catch the diverted flight.  In hindsight, if you’re looking for a cheaper flight to Florence, you could always fly into Pisa as well.  It’s about an hour away and there are frequent bus services to Florence.  You can catch the Leaning Tower as well!

    TIP:  Star each location in bold in Google maps when you’re connected to wifi and load the full map of Florence when you’re connected.  Then you can easily plan out your walking routes and orientation even when you don’t have internet access.

Hope this helps!  Feel free to ask any questions.

buon natale

I spent my last two Christmases in London with my friend Rosemary.  It was almost starting to become a tradition!  This year I was invited to my friend Paola’s family home in Bellinzago Lombardo, just outside of Milan.  I had been there earlier this year for some homemade ossobuco alla milanese (veal on the bone with risotto, yum!), but I still wasn’t prepared for the 10 hour eat-a-thon that followed this Christmas.

I arrived in Milan on a VERY chilly Christmas Eve morning.  With a few hours to kill, I had decided to visit the Novocento Museum (housing an impressive modern art collection, although that’s usually not my thing).  The museum ended up closing early so I decided to have lasagna and orange-chocolate cake instead.  I followed that with a quick stroll around the Duomo and then headed out to Gessate, the train stop near Paola’s town.

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I was greeted by her parents and their dog Golia – an energetic little hot dog that took a bit of time to warm up, but then eventually let me take him for a walk (to our mutual delight!!).  Golia is Italian for Goliath, by the way- cheeky name for the little guy.Photo 24-12-15 22 57 57After dinner, Paola and I headed to the midnight service at the town church.  Along the way, I was given a few glimpses into Paola’s childhood: her middle school just across from her home, the gymnasium past a water storage tank where she played games, a small side street where she used to come for haircuts.  When we arrived at church, EVERYONE and their mothers stared at me as we walked in because a) I wasn’t from the town b) Asian or c) both.  The service was in Italian and the choir was absolutely beautiful.  I have to say that Christmas in Italy (or Catholic Europe, for that matter) reminds me more of our Eid celebrations than Christmas in America.  The solemnity of the service followed by wishing everyone around you a good holiday; the long robes and modest dress followed by a change into fancier outfits to eat.

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Everything was already prepared on Christmas morning thanks to Paola’s parents.  Her sister Sara arrived and everyone helped with a few remaining tasks such as making creams and sauces and setting the table.  I have to say, her parents went above and beyond (even calling people) to make sure that items were pork-free for the visiting Muslim.  In Italy there’s an extreme sense of hospitality that we’re not as accustomed to as Americans.

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Lunch began at one and there were too many courses to name.  Here’s an attempt: zucchini and meat appetizers, a savoury variation on panettone made by Sara, pumpkin ravioli with a crunchy amaretto sauce, beef ravioli with tomatoes from their garden, capon with sweet and salty stuffing, various nuts, breads and chocolate, lemon ice cream, and finally- panettone baked on Christmas Eve with fresh mascarpone cheese.

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We took a break in the middle to go for a walk along the canal that goes to Milan.  There are fields stretching along the pathway, and although you could smell the countryside it felt much better to be breathing fresh air instead of pollution!

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When we came back, it was almost time for dinner: meat ravioli in a simple broth, followed by more dessert.  Apparently the traditional way to eat ravioli in Milan is in a soup.  The eating went on until past 11pm with tea and coffee and card games.  There was a language barrier at times but I was able to pick up some words here and there.  I would love to learn some basic Italian one day.

I had an early train to catch to Florence, so I was in bed by midnight.  I’ll be writing a follow-up entry with tips on planning a quick Florence trip.

A huge thank you to the Manzonis for hosting me!

saag – chingri / bangladeshi spinach and shrimp

I’ve been meaning to blog some of my mother’s recipes.  This is one of my favorites and it’s the only way I can eat spinach: saag (pronounced shaag, the bengali word for spinach) with aloo (potato) and chingri (shrimp).

I always have an issue with my potatoes taking forever to cook so I suggest maybe boiling them a little beforehand if you’d like.
You can use fresh or prepared shrimp and fresh or frozen spinach.  Frozen spinach gives more of a creamy texture.  I’ve used both fresh shrimp from the supermarket and cooked shrimp from Marks & Spencer and I didn’t notice a huge difference in taste.

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Ingredients:

Olive Oil
Salt
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon extra hot chili powder (up to you)
1 medium onion
2-4 cloves of garlic
1 potato, diced
About 20 medium shrimp (cooked or frozen)
1 box frozen spinach or 1 bag washed fresh spinach (about 500 grams)

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan and fry onions, garlic and spices until onions are clear.
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  2. Add the shrimp and salt and cook for about ten minutes in the spice mixture on medium-low heat.  Once the shrimp are well-seasoned, you can throw in the potatoes.
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  3. Add the spinach, mixing well then covering the saucepan until the spinach reduces in the heat and releases water.
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  4. Salt to taste.  The potatoes should cook in the moisture of the spinach, but this can take up to a half hour if you did not boil them beforehand.
  5. Serve with white rice!
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This is a very easy recipe on a weeknight as it doesn’t take a lot of preparation and uses basic ingredients that are always on hand for Bangladeshi cooking such as turmeric and coriander.

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Good luck!

light upon light

I didn’t know if I was Sunni or Shia until I was 14, and that’s because I asked.  When I asked my father what the difference was he just told me that it didn’t matter and that back in Bangladesh everyone Muslim is just Muslim.  So I guess I was raised with a moderate version of Islam – the women in my family didn’t cover our hair or go to the mosque, and although we cooked halal meat at home, we didn’t eat halal meat outside of the house.  I don’t think I even knew what “sharia” was until the media forced me to confront it.  For my family, Islam was as simple as the five pillars: believe in God, observe the daily prayers, give to charity, fast during Ramadan and make the pilgrimage to Mecca when able.

Raised in New York, I moved to Paris over a year ago to surround myself with art, châteaux, and the language of writers.  My first Ramadan in France was spent mostly at my kitchen bar by myself- frantically calling my mother and then-pregnant sister for advice on making ginger garlic paste. I was lucky enough to have met a few French-Arabs (they don’t do hyphens in France, but the American in me adds them anyway) that adopted me in their friend circles and family tables for a few iftars. But regretfully, I never went to a French mosque. I think I was too self conscious to go by myself, not belonging to the local community.
This Ramadan, my Palestinian-American friend Enas came to stay with me and I thought the Grand Mosque of Paris would be a great place to finally visit with her. We had spent a good part of the day taking selfies around Paris and along the Seine and we made it to the mosque in time for Asr prayer.
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We were a bit taken aback by the crowd outside the mosque when we arrived. First, there were two French military guards in front of the door. A bit intimidating, but necessary after all of the backlash against Muslims since the attacks in January. Second, there were several women in headscarves sitting in the park across from the door, yelling out at us. I would later find out that they were in fact a crowd of Romani women, perhaps waiting for the iftar meal or to use the mosque’s facilities. The Romani or Roma (referred to as gypsies in the US and not to be confused with Romanians) are a traveling people with origins in India. They have mostly Eurasian features as they have spent hundreds and hundreds of years traveling westward across Europe. They have quite a bad reputation here where they are seen as thieves and pickpockets but there are Roma that try to integrate into society as well.  Their religion varies and is based on the area of their adopted country.  There are both Christian and Muslim Roma, for example.
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We stepped over the mosque’s threshold to face a beautiful oriental garden. During the day, the garden is open to the general public for Moroccan tea. There was a West African man at the entrance and we asked him where the women’s section was. He told us we would have to head out to the back garden and then take the stairs down. Yup, the sisters were in the basement again, even in Paris!
We crossed a few women on our way and gave our salams, only to end up a little lost in the garden. We passed the men’s prayer area and asked a gentleman for help.  He was either busy on his phone or not that enthusiastic…you know, I never quite know how to interact with the opposite sex in a mosque! There was a second man in the garden who chuckled after seeing us walking in circles and led us downstairs.
One of my favorite duas is the dua for going to the mosque. I didn’t think to read it on our walk over, as I don’t have it memorized, but I told Enas to wait for me at the doorway to the prayer room as I googled it.
اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ فِي قَلْبِي نُوراً، وَفِي لِسَانِي نُوراً، وَفِي سَمْعِي نُوراً، وَفِي بَصَرِي نُوراً، وَمِنْ فَوقِي نُوراً، وَمِنْ تَحْتِِي نُوراً، وَعَنْ يَمِينِي نُوراً، وَعَنْ شِمَالِي نُوراً، وَمِن أَمَامِي نُوراً، وَمِنْ خَلْفِِي نُوراً، وَاجْعَلْ فِي نَفْسِي نُوراً، وَأَعْظِمْ لِي نُوراً، وَعَظِّمْ لِي نُوراً، وِاجْعَلْ لِي نُوراً، وَاجْعَلْنِي نُوراً، اللَّهُمَّ أَعْطِنِي نُوراً، وَاجْعَلْ فِي عَصَبِي نُوراً، وَفِي لَحْمِي نُوراً، وَفِي دَمِي نُوراً، وَفِي شَعْرِي نُوراً، وَفِي بَشَرِي نُوراً، » [« اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ لِي نُوراً فِي قَبْرِي.. وَنُوراً فِي عِظَامِي »] [« وَزِدْنِي نُوراً، وَزِدْنِي نُوراً، وَزِدْنِي نُوراً »] [« وَهَبْ لِي نُوراً عَلَى نُورٍ »]
O Allah, place light in my heart, and on my tongue light, and in my ears light and in my sight light, and above me light, and below me light, and to my right light, and to my left light, and before me light and behind me light. Place in my soul light. Magnify for me light, and amplify for me light. Make for me light and make me a light. O Allah, grant me light, and place light in my nerves, and in my body light and in my blood light and in my hair light and in my skin light.
[O Allah, make for me a light in my grave… and a light in my bones.]
[Increase me in light, increase me in light, increase me in light .]
[Grant me light upon light.]
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SubhanAllah I actually felt my body glowing- that’s never happened to me before. It felt like a sort of « divine validation » for being there, for making me feel like I belonged.
Basement or not, the women’s room was huge. Not Blue Mosque huge, but bigger than most NYC mosques I’ve been in.
After the prayer, a Tunisian woman said « taqqabal Allahu, » (May Allah accept it) to which I stared back blankly.  Luckily Enas came in for the save and taught me « minna wa minkum » (from you and me both).
They had a brief conversation in Arabic and apparently the Tunisian dialect was a bit difficult for Enas, who speaks the Palestinian/Jordanian dialect. The woman was in France seeking eye treatment for her daughter, a toddler we had passed playing on the steps in the room. We wished her well and headed out, stopping in the bathroom where there was a Roma woman washing herself.
At the exit, we ran into a small man holding what looked like a gazillion baguettes (maybe for iftar?). He asked us our origins, to which Enas replied « Palestinian » and I « American. » Enas looked at me surprised- « but he asked us our origins, right? Not our nationalities. »
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I guess ever since moving to France, I’ve felt the need to break stereotypical ideas of what an « American » is- for both white French and the minorities. It’s really only in America (maybe Canada and Australia as well on a lesser scale) that we have the concept of a nationality and culture built by immigrants. As a minority, if you try telling anyone in Europe you’re American you’ll almost always get a follow-up question on your « real » origins!
Exhausted from our day,  we still managed to trudge on and take a stroll through the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg before heading to a very French iftar in Montmartre, where Enas read up a bit on the history of the mosque. The Grande Mosque was in fact the very mosque that gave Muslim identities to French Jews to save them from Nazi persecution! We also found out that we had missed the whole front view of the mosque as the back entrance was so fancy we thought that was basically it. #fail
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But the day ended well-  Enas finally got to try her first real creme brûlée!

onde de shoc

So here’s a post that I wasn’t going to make, because to be honest, it didn’t even occur to me what day it was. Today was a Thursday where I was glued to my screen, rushing to put together a Powerpoint on gas margins on one day’s notice (when usually it would have taken me a few.)

At 7PM I was out of work and at La Defense with a coworker who was headed to Gare de Lyon.  In conversation, I was trying to explain something completely random about the crowd on the platform and asked him to translate « shockwave » for me in French. 
He wasn’t understanding, and I was running out of French synonyms, so out of nowhere I went, « well you know, on 9/11, when the towers fell, there was this force that went through lower Manhattan…how do you describe that in French? »
The sun sets late in Paris, and in my head I was still in August.  When I went home and finally logged onto Facebook, I saw the barrage of photos and updates and checked my phone for the date.  
I briefly thought of my 14 year self, how my little sisters are 14 now, and how the lights at school flickered when the shockwave came through.  
And I thought- how lucky I am to not have lost someone, to have been evacuated safely, and to be able to leave the day in my subconscious as I did today.

petit déjeuner avec un libyen

So it’s been nearly a month that I’ve moved to Paris and I’m finally starting to feel less lonely and getting the hang of things (even though I was here for a few months in 2012). This morning I sat down for breakfast at my hotel at what I thought was an empty table, but turns out there had been someone sitting there already.  It was an older Arab man, probably in his 60’s.  I asked if I could sit with him and we ate in silence for a good ten minutes before he asked if I spoke English.

He asked what I was doing in France and after a brief discussion about my job, he explained that he was here for medical treatment.  He mentioned that today was his lucky day because in the two months since he’d arrived at the hotel, I was the first person that had spoken to him.  He speaks only English and Arabic and doesn’t understand French.

To pass time, he explained, he takes walks around the neighborhood (not a very vibrant one, as the hotel is in the business district here), or he takes the metro into the center.  I couldn’t imagine being somewhere for two months and not having social interaction.  My second day here I was crying because I missed my sisters!

He was happy to learn I was American (and Muslim) and asked a few questions about life in the States, my family, etc. At the end of breakfast I mentioned that I would pray for him and his illness, to which he replied he’s not actually sick…but here for medical tests, paid for by the Libyan government.

Turns out he had been walking on the street one day during the war when he saw a tank fire at a group of people.  They were motionless, so he ran in to take them into cover with a group of other bystanders.  The tank fired again, this time at the rescuers…and everyone was killed, except him.  I was pretty much speechless as he rolled up his sleeve and showed me the bullet scars…definitely not what I was expecting when I sat down that morning.  
I hope his last month here goes well and I’m glad I was able to provide some sort of friendship!

Summer Cooking Shortcuts: Pancakes, Pizzas and S’more!

I’ve been experimenting this summer with all the food channel I’ve been watching- I started with mexican lasagna (seasoned beef, peppers, jalapenos, tomatoes and beans layered with tortillas and monterey jack cheese).  I never follow the exact recipes since it’s very rare that I have everything on hand, and I refuse to spend a lot on buying tons of ingredients I’ll only use a little of.

So I won’t post the recipes here, but summarize how I made them with a simple description and the shortcuts I used.

Turkey Pepperoni & Veggie Pizza
Google a simple pizza crust recipe- you’ll need flour, a packet of yeast, salt, etc. and not much else.  I used Ragu Pizza sauce but you can make your own if you have the time.  Then go crazy and top with whatever you’d like.  I used mozzarella, turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes.  I threw on a couple eggs during the last ten minutes of baking, but I wouldn’t do it again- turns out I’m not a fan of eggs on pizza!

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
For when you have mushy bananas you want to use up.  
I used a mix here, and added in Milka bar chunks.

Fourth of July Pancakes
I used a pancake mix and added in the sliced strawberries and blueberries when my cakes were on the griddle.  The secret to getting them fluffy, round and not runny is to make the batter extra thick.  It should be fluid, but not enough that it would splash.

Gnocchi & Spinach Salad
I bought the gnocchi at the supermarket and made the sauce by experimenting with melted mozzarella, parmesan and butter since I couldn’t find gorgonzola.  I recently picked some up so that’ll be my next experiment!  Spinach salad on the side with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, pumpernickel croutons and balsamic vinaigrette. 
American Chop-Suey
A New England tradition, I cooked the beef in tomato sauce, added chopped cherry tomatoes, and seasoned to taste.  I tossed with rigatoni afterwards, but you can use any type of short pasta you like.  Serve with grated parmesan.
S’mores Bars
I googled S’mores Bars recipes until I found one that required basic ingredients (Hershey’s Bars, Marshmallows, flour, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, graham cracker crumbs).  
If you have all that and you know how to layer, you’re good!  It takes about a half hour to make.
S’mores Pancakes
I wanted to make a quick and fun breakfast for my little sisters AND use up all of the bulk kosher marshmallows I ordered.  So, I used regular pancake mix and added in crushed Hershey’s bars and marshmallow pieces right on the griddle.  Remember to keep the batter really thick to make it easier to work with on the griddle- and don’t forget to grease it well.  Flip when you see all the bubbles come through.  Be careful cause the griddle will get sticky from the marshmallows, and you’ll need to clean it between batches.