Jersey love: Italian family.

I'd like you to meet my Italian family: the most hilarious, silly, fun, generous, loving, rambunctious bunch of crazies you will ever meet.   I love them with a passion. 

Luci Belle and I with cousins Colleen and Paula

My first cousin Paula (whose mother was my Aunt Lucille, Luci Belle's namesake), her husband Steve, and her children Colleen, David, and Brian, all live just a few towns over from Madison.  After a short 10-minute drive, you pull into their driveway that seems to be crammed with cars at all hours of the day and night.  Open the screen door on the wide covered front porch and feel yourself exhale as you walk into their inviting home that's always welcoming friends, their kids' friends, relatives, and neighbors.

Together, we are mostly smiling, laughing, generally being boisterous, and, of course, EATING.   Feeding people is one of the ways they love, and they do it well.  A casual weeknight dinner?  There's no such thing at their place - every meal is an occasion.  And it makes you feel special to be cooked for, to be fussed over, and to be fed their very best - carefully prepared, delicious comfort food.

And did I mention there's a lot of silliness?   Paula and I don't look alike or anything...

We were thankful to have several amazing dinners at their home while we were in Jersey - grilled meat and eggplant and peaches slathered in honey and sprinkled with almonds; a full Italian spread with an antipasto platter, bubbling homemade sauce and Aunt Lucille's meatball recipe, lasagna, eggplant parmagiana, Italian cookies and cannoli for dessert, espresso with a twist of lemon; and finally, a birthday dinner for Luci Belle with sausage and peppers, a chocolate birthday cake, and of course, coffee with Sambuca.

Every bite, every taste, was amazing.  I think they actually inject love into their dishes.

Paula's husband Steve at his manly-man grill

Mother/daughter lasagna-making

A good Italian girl

So many people showed up for dinner that Steve had to extend the length of their already long dining room table and add a card table at the end.  Sitting around their table eating, laughing, everyone talking over one another at high decibels - one of my very favorite things...

A very typical Steve pose

Cousins Brian and Colleen

My daddy

And here are some moments from Luci Belle's Italian birthday party.  Even though the poor baby was cutting a molar and had a 102-degree fever, I think she still had fun...

Playing with cousins Michelle and David (my godson)

Cousins Michelle & Julia helping her blow out the candle

I know you want to be a part of my family now.  And they would probably adopt you, set a place for you at the dinner table, and ask you to stay all weekend.  Because that's just what they do.