So Nice

comments: 70














I had the nicest birthday. Every minute of it was so nice. It's wonderful to have a birthday fall on a Sunday! I loved it. I had a plan to make my birthday cake (I decided, after all, to do the usuals) and then make bolognese sauce and stuffed shells (from Craig Claiborne via my NYT cooking app). Stuffed shells have been my favorite food since childhood. Andy and Amelia went grocery shopping and got some very fancy ingredients, including handmade ricotta cheese, which was delicious. I made the sauce (but forgot to add the basil and cream at the end) and then my back was bothering me from sitting in the wrong chair for too long at lunch at our neighbor's the day before (it seems fine now) so A & A took over and made the cheese filling and assembled the shells for me while I knit and watched ice skating. It was great. Outside it was cold and gray but inside it was warm and cozy. I got sweet presents and cards and texts and talked on the phone a lot. Before we ate the cake, we put the big camera on the tripod and took some timer selfies of the three of us, which was so much fun. My mom had been reorganizing some things in her house and found a picture of my grandpa with me when I was a baby. She found it in his passport, where he apparently kept it for years and years. I was really touched, and I don't think I've ever seen exactly that picture before. The other picture is of my dad holding me above his head while my sister watched. He used to do this with us all the time. We're standing in front of his teal blue Cadillac. My dad passed away on my birthday, eighteen years ago. It's always a bittersweet day. But I was surrounded by love and family and friends and food and animals and light and warmth, which was the best present in the world.

Here's a delicious present for you:

Stuffed Shells from Craig Claiborne/New York Times

Bolognese Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (2 ounces) bulk sausage
1/2 cup onion chopped fine
1/3 cup celery diced fine
1/2 cup carrot diced fine
1/2 pound beef ground fine
1/2 pound pork ground fine
2 chicken livers, chopped fine, about 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste, if desired
Generous grinding of black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups imported canned Italian plum tomatoes
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup heavy cream

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole and add the sausage, onion, celery and carrot. Cook, stirring, until onion is wilted.

Add the beef, pork and chicken livers and cook, stirring down with the side of a heavy metal spoon to break up lumps, until meats lose their raw look. Add the rosemary, nutmeg, salt, pepper, wine and tomato paste. Stir to blend.

Puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender or crush them by hand. Add the tomatoes and the broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer, skimming the surface of fat, 1 1/2 hours.

Stir in the basil and cream and remove from the heat.


Ricotta Cheese Filling (stuffs about 18 large shells)

2 cups (1 pound) ricotta cheese
1/2 cup finely diced Mozzarella cheese
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped prosciutto
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drop jumbo shells into boiling water and cook about 10 minutes or until tender but not overcooked. Drain.

Spoon layer of sauce over bottom of casserole large enough to hold stuffed shells in one layer.

Fill each shell with equal portions of ricotta cheese mixture. Arrange shells stuffed side up in casserole. Spoon remaining sauce over shells. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake 25 minutes.


Beautiful smiles in those family photos!

Oh forgot to add to my comment about how I love the photos of you and your grandpa and your dad. Aren't those old photos just precious? Your dad looks so incredible strong!

Happy birthday, Alicia, and may you have a wonderful year!

A Happy Birthday to you; it all sounds very perfect. :)

Rebecca Clark says: January 09, 2018 at 05:22 PM

Happy Birthday! It sounds like you had the greatest of birthdays, what more can we ask for than our family around us, good food and slow quiet day. I loved the picture of the three of you how happy you all look.


Carmen R Wyant says: January 09, 2018 at 06:59 PM

My Dad passed away on my birthday too. It remains a bittersweet day even all of these years later.

Happy birthday, Alicia! Those shells look incredibly rich and yummy - perfect for a winter birthday. Love the old photos. I'm so sorry that your dad passed away on your birthday. I'm sure your birthday is a bittersweet day.

Question: can you let me know where you got those twin lamps on the furniture piece behind you in the picture of the three of you? I love them and I think they'd be perfect for my buffet! Thank you.

what lovely lovely pictures! love the ones of you 3! darling!!! *** goodness, how hard to lose your Dad when still young! God's comfort to you all! *** I am so glad you have such love surrounding you! **** what a lovely day you described and a yummy meal also!

The photo with your grandfather is priceless. I instantly recognized you as the baby! So moving to think he kept it in his passport all those years. And I agree with the commenter above--your dad looks incredibly strong! I also lost my mother on my birthday ten years ago. I was far away at the time, and like to think of it as her way of sending me a special message...

Wishing you a very happy belated birthday! Love the old photos, what great memories

That looks and sounds like a very happy birthday (next time I bake, I'm deffo wearing a hat!). Hope 2018 is a wonderful year for you all.

Wow! I am so making these! And cream in bolognaise..who knew?! Happy birthday to you Alicia!

Happy Birthday Alicia! My 69th birthday was on the 4th....I think we are both Capricorns but you are much,much younger than I! I love the family portraits and the one from when you were small. You can probably get those ingredients in Chicago (our hometown/birthplace) but down here in Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas...not so much! LOL! I know you had a great birthday and I wish you many more!

Beautiful Alicia, wishing you the happiest of years ahead. You deserve every kindness, every amount of love the world - the multiverse - has to give. Much love, your reader, Katie xxx

Happy Birthday Alicia!!! Your cakes are always a work of art! Wishing you a wonderful new year!

Happy birthday. Such good memories. I lost my dad 18 years ago, still remember the day and still miss him. But I believe missing him is a statement about the good man he was. Take care.

Lynn Marie says: January 10, 2018 at 05:30 AM

Love the birthday celebration photos--it was lovely to see the three of you in the selfies. Also, the one of Amelia on the counter is precious. And the one of your Grandpa and Dad are so special. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.

Happy birthday! How lovely to discover new family photos. :-) And! — the cake looks scrumptious!

My husband holds my kids above his head just like your dad held you! I never thought to photograph it, but seeing how special it is to you I am thinking it might be special to my kids as well. Thanks for the inspiration. Dads and their little girls have something so very special between them!

Pat Sieler says: January 10, 2018 at 08:52 AM

You haven't changed a bit. I knew first off that that was you and your grandfather. He looks perfectly charmed by you, and to keep it special, he put it in his pass port. It brings tears to my eyes. You are so loved !

Happy, Happy belated Birthday! Your cake looks beautiful, you are one heck of a cake maker! So pretty!

Happy Birthday!!

Happy Birthday! As always, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful world with us!

Happy birthday.... and (as we Byzantines say) memory eternal for your father!

Happy birthday! Thank you for sharing with us, and I'm so glad you're taking photos that include you, too many mothers don't. The recipe looks wonderful. But I think I am missing something. How do you put together the sauce?

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.