Category Archives: Italy

MY MANHATTAN ADDICTION (3 extemporary days of fun!)

Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry

This was merely meant to be a trip to drop off my car to be repaired (by my brother who lives north of Manhattan), and while it was being fixed, I thought it would be nice to take my daughter, who had just escaped from school for the summer, to the city for a quick over-nighter to visit our friend Bird.

Central Park

Central Park

Ide (the sweet daughter!) had been to the city tons of times, but we rarely spent the night, (me always opting for the comfort of my own bed after a day of jam-packed city-ing!). The plan was to drop of the car, take Metro North to Grand Central station, spend the night, and then hijack my friend back with us to rural Pennsylvania for a few days in my newly fixed-up jalopy.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop 30 Prince St. NYC

Little Cupcake Bakeshop
30 Prince St. NYC

Not exactly how it turned out. Here is the story of how this city, (my home for 8 years) lured me into its charismatic arms for 3 whole days and nights! It’s nothing I will ever regret, but more especially, something my daughter will forever remember.

my little niece on a not-so-little zipline!

my little niece on a not-so-little zip-line!

So, dropped of the car and had an amazing lunch with my brother and sister-in-law. I  will wait to wax on about this marvelous little restaurant in Briarcliff Manor, NY, when I go back to eat there again, only this time, with my camera (the one time I leave it in the car – honestly!). Then, it was up to the house to hang out for a few hours with my crazy and cute nieces. In defense of the crazy nieces; it’s not really their fault. I blame a dad who installed a zip-line in the back garden hefty enough for rain forest travel!

whhhoaaa

WAAAHHHH!

As I perused the train schedule to NYC with Jennifer (the sister-in-law!) I mentioned that Pascal (the brother in question) expressed an interest in dinner in the city. My brother loves nothing better than sitting in a nice restaurant being fed, so I harangued him into leaving work early and be our dinner companion, (as well as our transportation!). Off we went with Pascal, Ide, Eve (the most adept at zip-lining and oldest of the nieces) and I to Eataly in Chelsea, the now famous (made so by all the previous blogs about the place) bustling Italian market created by superstar chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich.

The lovely Flatiron building across from the Eataly market

The lovely Flatiron building across from the Eataly market (with Ide)

When you find a restaurant serving a dish that makes you fall in love with the place, it is a mistake to go anywhere else. I wanted pizza and so our destination was La Pizza La Pasta in the heart of this market. Besides the pizza being reminiscent of the pizza I enjoyed while living in Tuscany for 3 months a couple of years earlier (God, I sound like a pretentious, puffed-up bragger – I’m not!!!), I knew it was the perfect place for Pascal. The culinary delights it had to offer would satiate all of his senses, while also distracting my young niece who was ravenous and tired.

The new Nutella Creperia in Eataly

The new Nutella Creperia in Eataly

While waiting to be beeped for our table (very cool idea: get your name on a list at one of the 9 restaurants and then leave to have a drink, shop or people watch until your table is ready!) we drooled over the fresh fish, bread and pasta, as well as hit the newest addition to Eataly, NYC Nutella. I have dedicated a post on my blog (click THIS) to Nutella because it has been my favorite thing to put on toast since I was a teenager (yes, quite a time ago).

Walls of Nutella!!

Walls of Nutella!!

And, I am not the only addict – the Eataly market opened a “Creperia” dedicated to this thick hazelnut chocolate-y spread a month ago, and now here we were standing in the doorway minutes before our dinner reservation. What to do…..try a pre-dinner crepe of course!

Making nutella crepes in Eataly

Making Nutella crepes in Eataly

The walls of the Creperia were surrounded by mod wooden shelving on which rows upon rows of Nutella from the smallest jars to the biggest were stacked from the floor to the rafters. It was a thrill to see such a quantity of Nutella in one place, and of course impossible for us to leave without trying one between us. The crepes are made to order on hot plates and folded into neat steaming triangles. We all got a bite before dinner and it was an amazing appetizer. If you ever make it to Eataly, leave room for one of these (we most certainly did!).

Yum!

Yum!

Dinner was sumptuous and my brother made sure to get a bite from each plate.

The last of my Pizza at La Pizza La Pasta in Eataly (I did finish it!)

The last of my Pizza at La Pizza La Pasta in Eataly (I did finish it!)

That night, Bird, Ide and myself stayed up late nattering on her bed. I felt like I had entered my daughter’s world, the one where thinking about the next day is not important when there are so many more important things to discuss (which we did into the wee hours). That of course meant getting up late and deciding that the only thing to do was go to Pain de Quotidien for Berry Tarts and coffee (a great chain of french cafes, which I have already written about here).

Raspberry tart, Mixed-berry tart from Pain de Quotidien

Raspberry tart, Mixed-berry tart from Pain de Quotidien

The big dilemma for my daughter was whether to have the raspberry or mixed berry tart? As we ate, we made a plan to visit the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side, and we decided that the best way to get there (or most interesting and fun way) was to walk from where we were (57th st and & 7th Ave)  through Central Park until we reached our destination.

Ide & Bird

Ide & Bird

The berry tarts were amazing and the walk through the park was momentous. It had rained earlier making the paths, grass and trees feel luminous and magical. Everything felt worth exploring, down to the trash cans!

Trash cans or art? - you tell me!

Trash cans or art? – you tell me!

We met lots of dog walkers and petted as many as we could (the dogs of course), and climbed on rocks and marvelled at how the city skyline would suddenly appear above the trees and rocks, and the rolling perfectly manicured hillocks of Central Park. We walked winding narrow paths and traversed magnificent tree-haloed avenues until emerging right below the Metropolitan Museum on 5th Ave and 80th st.

The Beautiful Met Museum

The Beautiful Met Museum

The Met steps were, as usual, thronged with people sitting around and it was hard to pass and not scoot in for a few minutes (impossible to leave once inside!). But I really wanted to take Ide to The Guggenheim. She had seen it so many times in pictures and knew that Frank Lloyd Wright was behind its magical turret-like structure and it really didn’t matter what exhibit was on the walls – it was all about the building itself!

The Guggenheim easily recognizable on the Upper East side

The Guggenheim easily recognizable on the Upper East Side

There is really nothing quite like it and it sticks out like the most wonderous sore thumb in a city full of amazing buildings.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The current show was called Italian Futurism, and as cool as it was to see it, the real thrill was winding our way up the spiraled wall to the top. The feeling of intimate space around you disappeared when you looked out from the cement banister across the museum. Looking out gave you the feeling of a vast and never-ending space; a crazy contrast that serves to make us feel both big and small at the same time.

Inside The Guggenheim Museum

Inside The Guggenheim Museum

We were feeling a bit sad when we left as the next part of the day included leaving the city. I called my brother and as luck had it, the car was still not ready. I think he knew that I needed more time with this city and gave me an excuse to stay. When I told Ide that the car was not ready, she jumped for joy and confessed she wanted to go to Eataly for dinner AGAIN – which we did!

Inside The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Another perspective (Guggenheim Museum)

And this time it was more superb than the last. I think this was because last minute we decided to order a sort of appetizer pizza that turned out to be the best thing I had tasted on the menu to date. It was like a pizza salad, and set us up for the robust pasta dishes  that followed.

The best pizza topped with arugla, shaved parmiagiano reggiano and cherry tomatoes

The best pizza topped with arugula, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and cherry tomatoes

So given that we had more time, my daughter figured she could keep us up late two nights in a row and convinced us that going to a movie, which started at 10.40pm, was a reasonable request. Bird and I looked at each other and thought it would take toothpicks (for our eyelids!) and a good dose of caffeine to keep us awake. We managed to get a second wind and rallied.

The Pasta with Short Beef Ragu wasn't so bad either!

The Pasta with Short Beef Ragu wasn’t so bad either!

At 10.25pm we left her apartment and walked to the theatre via the Lincoln centre (which was lit up like a Christmas tree) and saw a movie called “Chef”. Luckily it turned out to be entertaining, and bordered enough on the quirky side to keep me entertained.

The Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry

We strolled home at 1am in the morning and decided right then and there that we needed 1 more day. After all, there was the lower part of Manhattan to explore! We made a plan to take the Staten Island Ferry (great way to see the city, as well as get a great view of The Statue of Liberty)  and have lunch in China town…which we did.

The View of Lower Manhattan from the ferry

The View of Lower Manhattan from the ferry

The Staten Island Ferry is such a part of the city for me. When I arrived in Manhattan in 1986 with very shallow pockets, the cheapest thrill in the world could be had via The Staten Island Ferry. It was from the outside rail on The Staten Island Ferry I got my first view of lower Manhattan, the skyline at that time being dominated by the World Trade Center (or Twin Towers) and also my first real live encounter with The Statue of Liberty.

Lady Liberty gracing New York Harbor

Lady Liberty gracing New York Harbor

I have taken this ferry countless times since with family and friends and the The Statue Of Liberty still takes my breath away each time I sail by her. So many people ride the ferry for just that look, and it is impossible not to think about all of those immigrant eyes sailing to the new world searching for comfort in the face of this giant sculpture standing in the middle of New York Harbor.

Riding the Ferry

Riding the Ferry

Since 1905 the ferry has been taking passengers to and from Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal, the southernmost tip of Manhattan (close to Battery Park) to St. George’s Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. This 5-mile commute runs 24/7 365 days of the year carrying 75,000 passengers per day.

Cozy

Cozy

Last Saturday we became one of the 75,000 waiting for the huge doors at the Whitehall Terminal to open which led to the gang plank of the ferry, and I got to take my daughter on a trip I had made over 20 years earlier. Pretty Special.

view from the window

view from the window

We made sure to get a spot by the rail, and the 25-minute ride was full of famous, unforgettable views of Manhattan, Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, as the wind whipped around us and the plumes of white water from the ferry misted our faces.

Just Ide

Just Ide

Such a monumental ferry ride left us ravenous, so after disembarking we made our way over to China town (via City Hall) for a feast at a delicious hole-in-the-wall that Bird knew about. It is a very handy thing to have a few places in mind when wanting to eat in Chinatown as the hodgepodge of restaurants, fish markets, vegetable stalls and shops selling all manner of trinkets from lucky Chinese cats to fake Gucci watches can bamboozle the most experienced of travelers!

Lunch in Chinatown

Lunch in Chinatown

We arrived back to Bird’s apartment right before most people are thinking about dinner and fell on the bed exhausted and spent. This is how the city beats you up and the idea of another midnight movie came in second place to me cooking dinner and watching a movie in Bird’s cozy little home.

Last minute treat from thecuppcake Bakeshop on Prince st

Last minute treat from The Cupcake Bakeshop on Prince st

I cooked a lovely pasta from ingredients I had bought from Eataly’s market and we settled in for our last night.

Made from food bought at Eatlay's market: Buccatini past with Mortedella and lemon butter

Made from food bought at Eatlay’s market: Bucatini past with Mortadella and lemon butter

The day after we got home we decided that we had to replicate the Nutella Crepes from NYC Nutella in Eataly for dessert for the whole family, and I must say Mario Batali would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between his and ours (I will post the recipe on its own very soon, so look for it if you want to add something easy and different to your repertoire).

Our Nutella Crepe!

Our Nutella Crepe!

All in all, this was something worth remembering, and so worth writing about. I can read this later and know not to envy anyone’s life but my own.

Ide (Central park, NYC)

Ide (Central park, NYC)

Siobhan Asleep in NYC – And John the Charming Baker of Eataly

Happy Christmas Siobhán– This is for you – xx

NYC at night

NYC at night

How do you write an account about being with your oldest friend in the world for 20 hours in New York City of which half of it she spent asleep! This really wasn’t her fault. She was in New York on a business trip for 4 days where her every moment was pretty much booked up with stuff that had nothing to do with fun or being in one of the greatest cities to visit in the world. The work my friend does has always been a mystery to me. All I know is that she has to dress in a “corporate” manner, wear high heels and carry a bag with a lot of papers in it (well maybe now the papers have turned into a computer full of papers!). It is not the case that I have no interest in her work but when it comes to Big Business and my friend, all I can see is my friend, the girl I met when we were thirteen at an all girls convent school in Ireland. The most important part of her work to me is finding out whether she is happy or not, and, for the first time in a long time she was happy to report a resounding “yes” to that question. Okay, she was happy with work so we could move on and concentrate on enjoying the things that have sustained this friendship for decades (too many to admit here!).

"Meek and humble of Heart"

Church in Ireland

I arrived at her hotel on the West Side at what seemed like an ungodly hour to the two of us; 10.30pm for me, a time that I would have been in bed most weekdays and at 3.30am Greenwich Meantime for Siobhán, a time I’m sure she would also have been tucked far beneath the covers. She had arrived from London that morning and that evening and next day was her only free time and so she decided to forfeit sleep and feeling fresh for me! I told her to get some sleep before I arrived because we would be going out when I arrived. She answered the door in a sleepy stupor fully clothed, and after a big hug I asked her why she choose to get into bed wearing a dress, complete with tights and a necklace? “I thought we were going out for a drink?” I had already been rethinking that plan as I was tired from my whole day and the two-hour bus trip into the city, a bus incidentally that was filled to the brim, stuffy, and part of an accident scene (well, our bus was the first on the scene of a car accident, where the bus driver jumped off the bus to help, not before telling me to call 911 to report it. That was a very bad idea considering the fact I am from Ireland and when someone asks your location taking into account the  North, South, East and West of that location it only serves to confuse the situation even more. The best I could do on that count was to try to read the road signs and indicate we were near the Lincoln Tunnel! By the time I had more or less told the 911 operator where we were the bus driver had helped out as much as he could and was getting back on the bus. As the operator was telling me to stay at the scene until the police arrived, we were already driving away! ).

my favorite building in New York: The Flat-Iron building

my favorite building in New York: The Flatiron building at night

“Sure, let’s have a drink somewhere”‘ I said feeling that if we didn’t we would both end up going to sleep and use up our precious few hours together. While I waited for Siobhán to gather herself I noticed her dinner tray from room service so of course had to investigate. There was a piece of leftover salmon and green beans on the plate, along with an enormous hunk of bread. Siobhán saw me and commented on who in the world would eat practically a loaf of bread with their dinner! Yes I know, I thought, but right at that moment I was feeling a little hungry and pulled off a piece, slathered it in butter and felt happy and grateful that this country errors on the side of extremely large portions! And a few hours later when we returned to the room I made myself a sandwich with the rest of the salmon while Siobhan made short shrift of the last of the bread!

Tom brought a giant loaf of bread!

I love good bread!

Our night on the town consisted of us settling into the hotel bar preferring not to deal with traipsing around in the frigid weather looking for somewhere fabulous to have a drink We decided we would leave our adventuring to the next day when Siobhan had gotten a little sleep (by this point she had been up more than 24 hours straight!). The hotel bar was completely cheesy (matching the drab out-of-date hotel in general) but on the bright side, we could drink there all night if we liked and the cocktails were enormous and potent! My friend had this theory she developed while sipping her drink that because she was in a different country she would be immune to the aftereffects of one-too-many. I think she might have been right except for that last one, a mystery shot complements of the bartender.

one of last's night's birthday indulgances

one Hefty cocktail!

The next morning she was dead to the world and so I let her sleep, happy myself that it was midweek and I could laze in bed with no obligations to anyone for anything whatsoever! I finally got her up to meet my friend Bird for coffee around 10am after which we went back to the hotel saying the only “cure” for this feeling of wanting to curl up into a ball and sleep was to eat a greasy breakfast. The hotel breakfast could have fed an army but it did nothing for my poor friend who wondered if she could take a little nap before we went out and about? “Why not”, I said and told her I could explore the pool, one of the reasons she choose the hotel in the first place. There was a rooftop pool, but I found out it was literally on the roof, outside in the elements and closed for the season! What could I do? Well since I was captive to the room until Siobhán woke I decided I might as well take a nap myself and hopped back into bed and promptly fell fast asleep.

The breakfast meant to cure a hangover (but failed!)

The breakfast meant to cure a hangover (but failed!)

We woke around late lunchtime and so decided to skip lunch and opt for an early dinner before I left for my bus home. I wanted to take her to Eataly, the Italian market created and owned by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, two great chefs (read more about the market HERE if you are interested) located right next to the Flatiron building. I figured we could soak in a little of the beauty (and cool factor) of that part of town, with photo ops in front of the Empire State building and the Flatiron; a whirlwind tour so to speak!

photo op before popping across the street to Eataly

Photo op before popping across the street to Eataly

Siobhán LOVED Eataly (even though we both agree the name is wanting!), from the packed specialty food areas dotted throughout the whole market, to the many fantastic-looking restaurants also coexisting the space in a fun hotchpotch fashion. The thing she loved the most was the entire atmosphere and energy of the people strolling, shopping and eating in the market. It felt friendly and welcoming, so much different from the feeling of austerity she got when strolling through London. She loves living in London, but right at that moment she realized why I love New York so much. It has a bold in-your-face quality that invites people to be part of, and to take pleasure in. 

Giant wheels of Parmigiano Reggian stacked in Eataly's cheese shop

Giant wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano stacked in Eataly’s cheese shop

All the employees were beyond helpful and ready to share any information they could on the various foods and other products on offer. I was allowed take pictures of whatever I wanted and the place I was most curious about this particular visit was the beautiful bakery. And, that evening was my lucky day because one of the guys making bread was only too happy to fill us in.

Eataly's bountiful bakery

Eataly’s bountiful bakery

John, one of the bakers in Eataly, was ten hours into his shift and busy as a bee. The bakery was just to side of the bread shop and was in full view if anyone wanted to watch the bread making process (like those places that make fudge on enormous marble tables in front of glass windows facing the street in cutesy seaside towns). I however wanted to do more than just peek through a glass window, I wanted to have an intimate view into the into the inner workings on the floor-laden bakery floor!

John checking the muliple drawers of rising dough (check out the floor)

John checking the multiple drawers of rising dough (check out the floor)

John was only too happy to answer my pesty questions, like, “how much bread do you make here?”. He told me that they make 2,000lbs of dough each day, which makes 2,000 loaves of bread – I just couldn’t believe such a small compact little place could manage to do all that. And at $5.50 per loaf I also couldn’t believe that Mr. Batali and Ms. Bastianich made over $4,000,000 in revenue in bread alone – this dough produced a lot of dough indeed (couldn’t resist!)

John, the charming baker from Eataly

John, the charming baker from Eataly

Eataly’s bakes with a wood oven that was brought over from Spain and painstakingly reassembled in the bakery. Because of the nature of the brick oven there are heat variations according to where the bricks are located in the oven, which means rotating the bread by hand every 10 minutes for even baking. This requires a boatload of diligence on each person working in the bakery (so no taking off for a quick drink to the Birreria to quench a thirst).

John making bread with a fellow bread man!

John making bread with a camera-adoring fellow Bread Man!

As well as this bread being sold in their shop it also supplies the rest of the marketplace whose restaurants and deli shops serve sandwiches, and bread for the table to sop up great olive oil and used as a vehicle for the most wonderful Salumi & Formaggi in the world.

A sample of how the bread is used for sandwiches - yum!

A sample of how the bread is used for sandwiches – yum!

we could have chatted with John all day but I could see that Siobhán was fading again and figured the thing to do was to eat something robust washed down with a nice glass of wine (at least that’s what I was craving). I put our name down at La Pizza & La Pasta and we continued to explore the market until I got a friendly text that our table was ready (clever idea).

This strange lemon is called The Buddha's Hand. it has no pulp and is used for garnishes and zesting. It is also used to make great candied peel.

This strange lemon is called The Buddha’s Hand. it has no pulp and is used for garnishes and zesting. It is also used to make great candied peel.

Siobhán bought some lovely jams for her hubby Philippe and bought me a gift of nougat (I love Torrone!) which I have a healthy weakness for. By the time we sat down we were both ravenous and had a meal I will remember forever. I ate pizza with my friend in a place I love, and it was hard to fathom that this simple meal would be our first and last together for another long time. It is not often that we can manage to do this, living on different continents with our own very separate lives and schedules, so we ate and drank with  immeasurable appreciation.

clean plates all around!

Clean plates all around!

As I rode home on the bus in the early evening I felt tired and a little like my whirlwind trip to the city was more like a dream than reality. But then I rummaged in my bag and found my giant Torrone nougat bar and it quieted the sting of sadness I felt upon leaving my friend, all the way home.

Classic Italian Torrone

Torrone!

What About Bob & Marie’s “Sunday Dinner”

Marie's Sunday Dinner

Marie’s Sunday Dinner

I asked my sister-in-law’s husband Bob to invite us to dinner! I never know how to introduce him; he is married to my husband’s sister and is “Uncle Bob” to my kids. But he is not technically my brother-in-law so do I say” hi, this is my sister-in-law’s husband” or “this is my husband’s brother-in-law” or “this is my kids uncle by marriage” or perhaps just “this is Bob” would be best. Yes, except that when you introduce people everyone needs clarification to feel comfortable. Like, “this is Mimi, my sister who lives in Ireland and thinks her winning dish is corn flakes with the perfect measure of sugar and milk” That way you know that this person is my sister, you know where she lives and that she cooks a mean bowl of cereal! People are more comfortable when they have a little information on someone new. Try going to a party and introducing someone by just saying their name and watch the awkward moment that follows! I guarantee the next question asked by the person left out in Limbo will be: “what do you do?” or “how do you know Tess?” We are odd insecure creatures.

Sister-in-law helping out

My Sister-in-law

So who is Marie now that you know Bob is my sister-in-law’s husband, my husband’s brother-in-law and my kids Uncle by marriage, oh and lives right next door. Marie is a person I never met but someone I have heard about over the course of 20 years, and in that time have pieced together a picture of this woman, Bob’s mother.

Every time I have heard her name it is always when Bob and I are talking about food. I don’t know if Bob and I have that much in common but the things that in the end give us ties that bind are family and food. Sometimes I think we share a sort of secret club of mutual understanding and empathy. We are both living away from what was familiar to us growing up (okay I suppose I win there being from Ireland and him being American). But we both have no family here and we are identified by our spouse’s family. I shouldn’t think of it like this because I love this new family-in-law for want of a better word, but when we are all gathered for Christmas or Thanksgiving, birthdays and sadly funerals, I see Bob and I, and then everyone else. It’s not a complaint and I do see the same thing when I get together with my family and how my husband looks “set apart”

Meatballs smothered in sunday Gravy

Meatballs smothered in Sunday Gravy

It is just what happens, the way that I have a nostalgic urge to continue to cook certain foods my mother cooked and not the food my mother-in-law cooked. It is the root of things that cannot be severed or relinquished. The piece of Bob that is integral to his make-up is the food that his mother made and the food he learned to cook himself through what must have felt like osmosis to him. The day in and day out of just being in the kitchen with her (whether he was helping with the meal or not), taught him how to cook her food. The familiar aroma that seemed to hang in the air of only his house became an association with her and her alone. When you grow up in a house where cooking is a nightly occurrence you can’t help but take that with you when you leave or when the parent who created all the smells and tastes dies. That is a very beautiful thing.

Bubbling Sunday Gravy

Bubbling Sunday Gravy

And it is that part of Bob’s mother that is very much alive for him. She grew up in an Italian/American household, lived in an Italian neighborhood in Newark New Jersey and married an Italian/American man who was from the same town (correct me if I am wrong Bob!). To me, the great thing about Italian food in American is how these expats. took the best of what their forbearers brought with them and held on tightly to those recipes. They made it their own of course but the backbone of certain dishes is very much Italian; like Sunday Gravy. Italy is one of those amazing places in Europe who is stubborn (in a very good way) about their food. They have not been lured by “fusion” even though the world itself has been fused together with people and countries mingling together creating a new kind of food culture and new kind of world in general.

Slow-cooked Italian Sausages

Slow-cooked Italian Sausages

When I lived for a few months in Italy last year the only food I ate, indeed the only ingredients I could find to cook with in the little Tuscan town (Cortona) I lived in was Italian food; all of the meat, the sausages, chicken, lamb, beef and all the mouth-watering cured meats were all local, as were the vegetables and of course the wine – all Italian! You could find a little more diversity in the big cities like Florence and Rome, but even their traditional Italian food reigned supreme. I did not complain (although I did pine now and then for some soy and sriracha sauce!).

The Piece de Resistance (Rigatoni with sunday Gravy)

The Piece de Resistance (Rigatoni with Sunday Gravy)

Getting back to Bob…a few weeks ago I bumped into him when he was waiting for his daughter (my children’s’ first cousin or my niece by marriage who is also my God Child – just to clarify) and I asked if he would make his mother’s Sunday Dinner and invite us. Brazen I know, but after 20 years I felt like I could ask and that he could go ahead and be a bit indignant that I had the nerve but I really don’t worry too much about stuff like that any more. And to be fair, Bob is a pretty easygoing fella so of course he willingly agreed to make dinner for us all! He sort of laughed and said it wasn’t anything special but a week or so later his wife (my actual sister-in-law!) called to say that Bob would be making “The Dinner” this coming Sunday – wow, he took my request as a serious one after all.

Bob and his long-cooked pot of Sauce

Bob and his long-cooked pot of Sauce

When you have the same dinner each and every Sunday for as long as you can remember then I suppose this dish is viewed as nothing special. I mean if I lived in Italy and had a cornetto and a cafe macchiato every morning for breakfast it would also become something ordinary ( I can only dream about that kind of ordinary right now). It is all relative, and since I grew up in Ireland on a diet of meat and potatoes the idea of eating  pork tenderloin, homemade meatballs and sausages that have been simmering all day in a rich red sauce and served with rigatoni pasta and a generous sprinkle of freshly chopped flat-leafed parsley, Parmigiano Reggiano and possibly a dollop of ricotta cheese seemed like a most glorious opportunity indeed.

Marie's Meatball Mix

Marie’s Meatball Mix

I had never experienced anything close to this kind of food growing up in Ireland. Loath though I am to admit it the first time I ate spaghetti with red sauce was from a tin. It never occurred to me that you could eat it any other way. I had never seen dried pasta in the supermarket namely because it was not sold in any supermarket in Ireland before 1983 ish. I’m guessing on the date but to impress upon you how rare it was to find pasta and even rarer to find someone cooking it instead of potatoes, I remember being in a very fancy supermarket in Dublin in about 1984 and in one aisle there was a whole shelf of dried spaghetti with a big SALE sign that said 1 penny! So even the supposed sophisticates of the country had no notion what to do with the stuff!

The Salad

The Salad

When I took some home and cooked pasta for dinner, my father said “this is great but where are the potatoes?” After that I always served pasta with a dollop of mash on the side. Even today, in every Chinese restaurant in Ireland you can have chips with your Beef Chow Mein!

Another combination (meatballs, gravy and rigatoni

Another combination (meatballs, gravy and rigatoni

Which reinforces the idea that even though the world has immersed itself in each other’s food we tend to stick to what we grow up with for the most part. Why do you think that Bob was still cooking a deep rich red sauce with his mother Marie in his kitchen in Newark in the 70’s and 80’s, which of course was handed down directly from some relative who came over from Italy. Preserving recipes is part and parcel of preserving a culture. Sometimes it is the only thing that helps distinguish one culture from another. 

Bob said his mother never made less than 2 lbs of pasta for any meal, even if it was only dinner for two!

Bob said his mother never made less than 2 lbs of pasta for any meal, even if it was only dinner for two!

When I was growing up in Ireland and had the chance to go away on holidays when my friend Siobhan we would either don backpacks and stick out our thumb and hostel around the West of Ireland or go to France. France was easy as you could take a boat from Rosslare in County Wexford to Cherbourg or Le Havre. Getting to Italy required a little more planning and money of which the latter was in short supply. I never made it to Italy until last year (click on “Italy” to the right of my blog to read about my trip) so my introduction to Italian Food was in the States. I knew it had taken on a life of its own, as it should, but the essence was the same. It was all about big robust food centered around family.

Italian parsley - the best garnish in the world

Italian parsley – the best garnish in the world

Bob had talked about his mother’s Sunday Gravy a number of times before I asked him what it was. I felt kind of silly that I didn’t know what it was, because when I thought about gravy it was brown, thickened with flour or thinned out with meat juices. I was very far off the mark as it was Italian red sauce but essentially it served the same purpose as the gravy swimming on my plate every Sunday; it bound the food together and colored the flavor of everything you put into your mouth. I think Sunday Gravy is more important to Italian food than brown gravy is to the Irish kitchen (after all there is also White sauce!) and is the one component that every Italian or American-Italian has an opinion on. Some argue that garlic is imperative while others insist on fresh oregano or it just won’t be authentic. Bob’s Sunday Gravy is something I wondered about and the only way to taste it was to invite myself over to try it!

See What I mean (about the parsley!)

See What I mean (about the parsley!)

Bob did not cook this dinner every Sunday, far from it. It took on a more celebratory status when he made it because he had to be in the kitchen for hours watching the pot, stirring regularly and making the other things that in Marie’s time were part and parcel of the meal; like her meatballs, salad, cheeses and herbs. People don’t spend as much time in the kitchen on Sundays as they used to because there are so many other distractions and obligations, so while Bob laughed at how excited we all were (well me for sure) about a meal he could have prepared with his eyes closed there was no getting away from the fact that it brought everyone together under one roof; the in-laws, the cousins and the Granny!

Dig in!

Dig in!

The conversation drifted from food to family and back to food again. My mother-in-law wondered if having the smells of his childhood in his kitchen and all of the people milling around made him think about his mother and make him miss her? It didn’t seem so and I think he was comforted not saddened while going through the familiar motions of shaping the meatballs and checking the sauce. He was amused by my questions about how the sauce tasted to him, and if the Sunday dinner always has a bowl of ricotta cheese on the table, but I could see that he also enjoyed talking about the food and his mother and thinking about all the Sundays he spent in the kitchen with her. Up to that Sunday I had always wished I had met her, but now I feel a little like I did.

Thank you bob for giving us this most wonderful feast

Thank you Bob for giving us this most wonderful feast

Meatloaf with a “Reservoir” & The Sultry Voice of The Splendid Table!

I don’t like TV cooking programs – there I said it. When I meet new people and they figure out how much I love food, they automatically think I also love to watch the Food Network (or something similar). I have to say that I’m not a big fan.

meatloaf

Marvellous Meatloaf

It’s not because I think I know more (far from it!) or that I am above it all in some way or another –  it’s just that the majority of them are either hokey, annoying, or so formulaic that their predictability is a little insulting  – I mean how many times can you watch the guy on Hell’s Kitchen poke a hole in someone’s food and scream, “this is bleeping slop” I wouldn’t mind but he’s actually a great chef, but somehow, his ratings are better when he verbally insults people than when he cooks something amazing.

Mexican Bush Sage from my garden

Mexican Bush Sage from my garden

The contrived set where the kitchen is pristine and the cook even more sterile-looking does not feel like real life to me. And now we have trendy cooking talk shows like The Chew who boast exposing viewers to “smart and intelligent talk” of “food, life and fun”.  Somehow I can’t help thinking of a Gravy Train (pun was most definitely intended)!

some cookbooks

Some cookbooks in my kitchen

I am however a fan of cookbooks and, while Mario Batali on The Chew doesn’t remotely interest me, I have several of his cookbooks. He is a great writer and his love of Italian food and culture along with his recipes suck me right in.

The other thing I like to do is listen to the radio while driving. When my kids were young I would play those awful children’s songs in the car. I had to, it was the only thing that would lull the crying! When they fell asleep I would switch to something more intelligent, something that would stop my brain from turning to mush. I was desperate for some connection to the adult world as my world at that time consisted of book’s and movies with titles like My first ABC and Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends Have An Adventure.

Cookbook from turn of 20th century with great illustrations (Now sitting atop my piles of cookbooks in the Crappy Kitchen)

Cookbook from turn of 20th century with great illustrations (Now sitting atop my piles of cookbooks in the Crappy Kitchen)

I immersed myself in Public Radio stations and got my news, current affairs and culture throughout the day, but the weekends were the best. This is when my public radio station let their hair down with programs such as This American Life, A Prairie Home Companion, Radiolab and the cooking program which airs on Sundays, and the thing I want to talk about: The Splendid Table.

my new little cookbooks

Little cookbooks which I bought in Tuscany last year

It turned out that most Sundays around noon I would find myself driving somewhere, to the supermarket for that big weekly shopping, to the movies with the kids, to a museum, a park, a day in a city etc and I invariably caught the voice of  woman who literally crooned about food. I couldn’t decide if her voice was annoying or intoxicating, but after years of finding myself not reaching for the radio knob to turn the dial I would have to say it was the latter.

a little white wine

Cooking on the beach in Slea Head, Ireland

Radio voices are either compelling or repelling, and whether you listen to a program or not hinges on how this voice makes you feel when you are listening. A voice is like a book, where you have the glorious opportunity to use your own imagination to fill in the blanks. Like when someone says, “the movie was good, but I think the book was much better”.  And all I have to say to that is “Bravo” to that person’s fine imagination and how the movie playing in their head was a superior version of the story!

My heavenly lunch (truely)

My heavenly lunch on a beach in Wexford Ireland

The voices on the radio are exactly the same for me. I get to decide what kind of person this might be just by listening to them. Of course what they are saying is important too, but how they say it, the tone and their use of the language is what will keep me listening. The “voice” of the radio program The Splendid Table is the voice of Lynne Rossetto Kasper and when she talks about food she makes me feel like I am looking at a person eating something so delicious that they cannot help sort of humming through the entire dish. Well, Lynne Rossetto Kasper hums through her entire show, whether she is talking to a chef who is cooking a dish right beside her or when she is advising a caller on what to do with the boatloads of basil in their summer garden.

As she interviews and talks to these different people you can feel her total passion for the entire food world. She has the power to convince even me that eating a hotdog from a road-side stand in the middle of nowhere should be on my list of things to do before I die! It is the voice of love and the voice of love is a very powerful tincture. I’m sure she has won many a male listener (and hopefully turned them all into the kitchen!)

DONE!

Simple food from the Crappy Kitchen

Now that my kids are older and have inherited my love of food, if we happen to catch The Splendid Table on Sundays while driving to the supermarket there is a very large chance (99%) that I will get a sidelong glance from my son in the passenger seat or a little tap on the shoulder from my daughter behind me when something is described by Ms. Rossetto Kasper with such reverie that I will be quietly begged to stick those ingredients on my shopping list.

Ide's request every year is for this chocolate cake. The frosting color is the only thing that changes!

Birthdays are a great excuse to make cake and have a party (stay tuned as two are coming up!)

As was the case a few weeks ago when she watched the chef Lucinda Scala Quinn make her mother’s recipe for meatloaf. I am really not a big fan of meatloaf, I suppose because I did not grow up eating this ubiquitous American dish, but her sultry voice won me over and I ended up making it to the utter delight of my children (who are now old enough to cook this themselves!).

This is what I made for Tom's Christmas Party

This is what I made for my friend’s Christmas Party

As you can see by the pictures, it is mouth wateringly good-looking, but I am in no way qualified to really expound on how wonderful it is as the voice of The Splendid Table does a far better job than I could ever do, a job she has been doing now for 16 years.

meatloaf from the Splindid Table

Meatloaf from The Splendid Table

  I have never looked her up on the internet to put a face to the voice for the same reason I have no real desire to meet a celebrity or talk to a renowned writer: it would probably not match up to how I see them in my head, and don’t you find that they always seem smaller in real life! I’m being silly of course but the satisfaction I get from reading a book or watching a movie, and yes, listening to the voice of The Splendid Table is enough, is perfect in and of itself.

mix eggs, vanilla, oil adn vinegar together

My daughter is now the baker in the family!

So, if you are pottering around your house this Sunday or driving along some lonely stretch of road, turn on the radio and find the voice of The Splendid Table. It will make you smile, make you hungry and most certainly decide that daily question of “What’s for dinner!”

________________________________________________

*I did alter the recipe a little to suit me better. I added some fresh herbs just because they are in my garden at the moment and I added some hot pepper flakes for a little zing*

You will need:

2 lbs ground beef (use something with some fat content) OR mixture of ground lamb and beef

3/4 cup breadcrumbs (I made them by whizzing a few slices of bread in my food processor)

1/3 plus 1 tbs milk (any %)

1 small onion, grated

1 medium carrot, grated

1 large egg

2 tsp sea-salt

several grinds black pepper

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional)

2 tbs finely chopped Italian parsley

1/2 tsp thyme leaves

1 small sage leaf, finely chopped

“Reservoir”  ingredients:

1/2 cup ketchup

1 tsp sriracha sauce (or other hot sauce)

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish (If you don’t have this, use 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet pickles)

Method:

Preheat oven 375*

1 – . Combine the breadcrumbs with the milk in a small bowl and let sit. Crack the egg into a large bowl and whisk for a moment with a fork. Add the meat followed by the herbs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper flakes, onion, carrot and the soaked breadcrumbs. Mix it altogether with your hands until it is fully combined.

Make meatloaf

Mix meatloaf

2 – Combine the Reservoir ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

make reser

Make reservoir

3 – Place meat in a loaf pan and using your index and middle finger make 3 holes in the meatloaf, going almost to the bottom of the pan. Spoon the reservoir sauce into each hole reserving what is left over for later.

Assemble meatloaf

Assemble meatloaf

4 – Place in preheated oven for 55 minutes. Remove and let it rest on the stove-top or counter for 15 minutes before serving.

Cook in oven

Cook in oven

Serve this with whatever you like. It is traditionally served with mashed potatoes, gravy and a green vegetable but don’t let that stop you from serving it alone, with pasta, rice or even making it the star of a robust dinner sandwich!

Mother’s Day In New York City With My Two Lovely Children!

I find that a bit of planning can go a long way. I stopped ad-libbing my free time when I had kids and my personal time had been reduced to about 0%!

NYC for Mother's Day

NYC for Mother’s Day

I am a planner when it comes to going on day-long outings. The free spirit in me that just wanted to jump into the car and go where the wind took me was no fun when countless times I ended up eating in crappy restaurants because we were just too tired and hungry to find the best place and also arriving at museums or some other “must-see” spot only to find it closed. Additionally, when you take kids on these outings you can multiply your frustration by 100 when things are not going smoothly.

Not Italy, The Metropolitian Museum of Art in NYC!

Not Italy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC!

I can safely say I have attained a balance when it comes to Day Trips, Weekend Getaways, Vacations and Holidays. Balance is a very beautiful thing when you think about it. For me it means (where trips are concerned anyway) having a plan but also having time built-in for the sheer luxury of time itself.

How Central Park looked this past Sunday

How Central Park looked this past Sunday

For example, this Mother’s Day was planned and it was one I will remember forever. I have found that if I make a plan when it involves a holiday about me specifically (like Mother’s Day and my birthday) it is best to plan it myself. That way I get to do exactly what my heart desires and everyone around me is happy for a couple of reasons; they don’t have to kill themselves trying to guess what I would love to do, and they are just glad to tag along on my selfish adventure (sometimes my plan is to do something on my own, like maybe read undisturbed for a couple of hours!).

The MET

The MET

This may sound heavy-handed and bossy but I assure you I am easygoing and easily pleased when it comes to where to go, what to do and what I want! What I really don’t want on Mother’s Day is a big hoopla with flowers and chocolates and my husband being roped in to giving me something extravagant too! I am not his mother and really hate how commercial this whole day has become. All I ask from my children is that I get to be with them if possible and to do something fun if we can manage it.

One of my favorite artists, alexander Calder. This necklace forged in brass is called "The Jelous husband"

One of my favorite artists, Alexander Calder. This necklace forged in brass is called “The Jealous Husband” (at The MET)

I absolutely love being with my kids and enjoy their company to no end. I have spent motherhood working around their schedule instead of the other way around just to get the most out of my time with them. This has resulted in us being close and easy in each other’s company, and there is no one I’d rather go to a movie, stroll a museum or walk a strange city with. This past Sunday was no exception.

My son had a big history paper looming on the American Civil War and this Mother’s Day I had the perfect excuse to work his project into my plan. His assignment was to write about any aspect of the war and after lots of discussion he came up with looking at the war from the point of view of how Photography changed the general public’s perception of the war. Of course I helped sway him in that direction as I thought it was more interesting than just recounting a battle or talking about the president. This is the first year my two children are not being Home-Schooled by me and I’m afraid I cannot let the school have all the fun or leave them to conduct their entire education. In this regard, I will always be a meddling parent, intent on them making the most of their opportunity to spend their days learning!

What my daughter liked in the modern painting Wing

What my daughter liked in the modern painting Wing (The Potato, 1928, by Jean Miro)

This Sunday I planned to drive to the city, park the car downtown and take the subway to each of our planned destinations: The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the upper East Side and afterwards to Eataly for lunch in the Flatiron District. Yes, only two things planned because I knew from experience that it would only take two things to exhaust the three of us. I am the old lady in the group but I can take a lot more of the city’s stimulation than my children. I find I can tune things out while kids feel bombarded by every little thing; subway rides, traffic noise, side-stepping crowds of people, not to mention all the visual stuff.

P

Photography And The American Civil War Exhibit now until Sept. 2nd at the MET

Anyway, the reason for The Met visit was to see a special exhibit called: Photography and The American Civil War.

As I was looking up information about photo journalism during the war I discovered that this exhibit was at The Met. I was so happy to find such a great resource and built my Mother’s Day outing around seeing it. I was happy, as any excuse to go to Manhattan suited me just fine, and I took the opportunity to visit the European painting wing for my own personal treat while we were there.

Making our way to the exhibit

Making our way to the exhibit

The Civil War exhibit was so well done and very moving. To see those famous photographs up close and personal like that made a foreigner like me, who learned nothing about American History in school (save for their involvement in World War I and II) more informed and further curious about American history and the early years of American politics. A lot of these photographs were very  disturbing to look at (battle fields of dead soldiers, amputees) and I was hoping my children would be able to handle some of the more vivid images on display. Suffice to say that there was no nightmare drama that night so somehow the exhibit was also able to achieve that balance I talked about earlier. If you are lucky enough to be in NYC this summer, you should check it out for yourself (it is up until September 2nd).

Trying to catch pink petals on 5th Ave.

Trying to catch swirling pink petals on 5th Ave.

It was a beautiful Summer day and the walk back to the subway on 5th Avenue by Central Park was as good as it gets in New York. We walked under the cherry blossom trees which were loosing petals so fast it was like a pink snowstorm. The wind was whipping and gusting all around us making our clothes and hair flutter like mad. My daughter tried to chase down some petals as they fell but they were too fast and eluded her grasp at every attempt.

Flatiron building, NYC

Flatiron building, NYC

We took the train to Eataly, an Italian market in the Flatiron District that I have been to a couple of times (Click HERE and HERE to read each piece),  but I wanted to show the kids the place. I was more than pleased to visit there again to have pizza and pasta for lunch! They were excited to see the food that they had become familiar with last year while in Italy for 3 months (click on Italy in the right hand column of this blog to read posts about our trip), and to  sample the pizza and robust pasta dishes they had grown to love while there.

Pizza in Eataly

Pizza in Eataly

Eataly (the giant Italian marketplace created by world-famous chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich) was bustling with diners (there are 9 places to eat everything Italian!), food shoppers and curious tourists who had heard about this Italian food emporium.

Pasta

Paccheri con Sugo di Mare (Shrimp, calamari, & scallops with tomatoes. white wine and parsley) While my son really loved this dish he said he did not agree with Eataly’s slogan, “Eataly is Italy”. He said “Eataly is not Italy” and while most Italians would love to duck in here for a taste of home, i have to agree with my son. it’s pretty good though.

We bee-lined it for La pizza and La Pasta and got our name on a list for a table to have lunch. We were depraved with hunger and it was hard to walk around seeing luscious food at every turn, while also smelling it. While we waited I bought pici pasta from Siena (at my son’s insistence since he loved pici so much and we had been to Siena, – click here), cooked ham with rosemary and chewy, stick-in-your teeth torrone with hazelnuts from the Piedmont region.

pasta

Tagliatelle with braised Short-rib ragu

 Our friend Bird, who lives in the city, joined us for lunch and the four of us had a hard time deciding on what to have. In the end my kids had dishes that they remembered having in Italy and wanted to compare the two. I had a robust and strong-tasting pizza with anchovies and black olives. We took a bite of each other’s food but were happiest with the one we had ordered.

clean plates all around!

Clean plates all around!

After lunch it was an absolute must to have gelato and coffee to get in the right mindset for the drive home. The walk back to the car in the late afternoon was mostly silent with each of us only having the energy to hold hands and remark on how wonderful a day we were having.

My son asked me if the person who lives here "is rich?" - hmmmm...

My son asked me if the person who lives here “is rich?” – hmmmm…

We got home when it was still light outside and the first question I got when we walked in the door was, “What’s for dinner?”

Our next big trip is for my birthday, and grand plans are already under way!

Escape To New York and Wildly Good Bucatini al Ragu – Inspired By Pasta Bought From Eataly and Of course ITALY!

Chelsea Area, NYC

The Flatiron district, NYC

I escaped to New york City for 24 hours this week to soak up some much-needed cosmopolitan energy and culture. Being stuck in a provincial town as I am, I need to get away to satisfy that part of my that longs for something other than fields of cows, unexciting restaurants (an understatement!), and generic big box clothing and food stores. To have such a wonderful city so close by is a glorious comfort when I need that jolt of stimulation.

The Flatiron Building at the intersection of 5th Ave & Broadway (completed in 1902)

The Flatiron Building at the intersection of 5th Ave & Broadway (completed in 1902)

This trip was planned around not much more than where to have breakfast and where to have dinner while I visited my friend Bird on the Upper West Side. The worst thing you can do in a city like this when it comes to food is to wander the streets and hope you hit on something fabulous. This is a bad approach when it comes to any city, and yes, while it is true that you can stumble upon something great, you are more than likely to end up somewhere a little disappointing or lacking in one way or another.

Balthazar Bakery in Soho

Balthazar Bakery in Soho (established in 1997 and going wildly strong ever since!)

I lived in Manhattan for 8 years and have been visiting it ever since, and my friend has lived there over 20 years, so between the two of us the only problem we have is deciding between the great places we know and the great places we have heard about that are new. We settled on doing a bit of both, having coffee and sticky buns at Balthazar’s in Soho, and eating dinner at the pizza place in Eataly in the Flatiron District. I had never been to the infamous Balthazar’s and I wanted to revisit Eataly (This giant marketplace is the result of the collaboration between two rock stars in the world of food, chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich – press here to read about my last Eataly visit) to buy pasta and see how the pizza there compared to all of the wonderful pizza I ate in Italy (click here for that story!) last year.

Across from the Flatiron is lovely Eataly; one of my destinations this past monday

Across from the Flatiron is lovely Eataly; one of my destinations this past monday

Suffice is to say that the coffee and pastry from Balthazar’s on Spring Street was divine and I am in shock as to know how I had never been there before? In between lunch and dinner was spent helping my friend shop for clothes in the cool boutiques in Soho before hopping on the R train for my Italian fix at Eataly.

Lovely pasteries to devour with coffee from Balthazar's

Lovely pastries to devour with coffee from Balthazar’s

With time to kill before Pizza I took a gastronomic stroll through the many sumptuous displays of merchandise on offer in Eataly’s Market. I bought some great dried pasta from a company called Rigorosa di Gragnano which hails from the town of Grangnano in the province of Naples. The pasta variety I choose was bucatini, which looks like a thick spaghetti but has a tiny hole running through the center. It is extruded through bronze dies giving the pasta a rough texture which is marvelous for sopping up thick sauces and has a lovely toothsome bite. Of course the next day at home (last night) I had to cook it with just such a sauce, and it was heavenly (recipe below!). This pasta was really great and so worth it ($4.80 for 17.6 oz). My next visit will include more than 1 measly package!

Bucantini

Bucatini pasta by Rigorosa di Gragnano

I also found a pear juice, Succo di Pera, that I had not seen since being in Italy last year, and even thought it was a woefully ridiculous price for a bottle of juice (nearly $7!) I had to buy one as it was the drink my daughter ordered every time we were in an enoteca or cafe  (Which was quite often I’m happy to report). You should have seen her delighted face when I pulled it out of my bag when I arrived home. One would think I gave her permission not to do homework for a week!

Succo di pera Foto,  Succo di pera

Eating pasta in Eataly was delightful. The restaurant was located between the rows of dried pasta and the bakery area of the market. You still got the exciting buzz from the whole place but it felt intimate and cozy at our table (and our server Francesca was adorable!)

Getting rrady for Pizza in Eataly

Getting ready for Pizza in Eataly (the freshly baked bread comes to your table in neatly wrapped parcels)

 The pizza is classic Neapolitan style from their brick ovens, made with fresh mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes. My pizza was scattered with artichokes, black olives and mushrooms, and, as big as it was, I ate the entire pie without a modicum of guilt!

Eataly

Eataly

I returned thinking what I always think when I leave Manhattan: it was too short a trip. However I cannot even think about complaining as I am so lucky to have the chance to go there as often as I do. Stayed tuned for more vicarious visits to this wonderful city!

Wildly Good Bucatini al Ragu

Wildly Good Bucatini al Ragu (Dinner last night)

__________________________________________

Recipe for Bucatini al Ragu (serves 6)

You will need:

1 1/2 lbs sausage meat (I used a mild Italian chicken sausage, but you can use any sausage you like; a mild, sweet or spicy Italian pork sausage would work fantastic too), casing removed and broken into bite-sized pieces (you can break it straight into your pan as you cook this dish)

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, small dice,

2 celery ribs, including leaves, small dice,

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped,

3 tbs tomato pasta concentrate

42 oz of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes (3 14 0z can or 1 1/2 28oz cans OR 1190 grams)

1 1/2 cups veggie or chicken broth (or bouillon cube and water – my bouillon cubes by Rapunzel are large so I only used 1/2)

1 tsp sea-salt (more to taste)

freshly ground black pepper (more to taste)

1/2 to 1 tsp pepper flakes (optional, but great addition!)

1 lb bucatini pasta (spaghetti will also work)

Method:

* About 5 minutes before you turn off the sauce, put the pasta water on and cook according to instructions. Before draining pasta, scoop out at least 1 cup of the water and reserve to add to your finished sauce if need be*

1 – Put large pot or deep saute pan (mine is 3″) on medium heat and add the oil. add the onions, celery and garlic and cook for about 8 minutes. Add the sausage to the pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon when it is all in the pan. Cook for about 12 minutes, stirring frequently and breaking up meat into smaller pieces as it cooks.

cook sauce

cook sauce

2 – Add the tomato paste, tomatoes and broth (or water & bouillon cube) to pan and turn heat up. Bring to a bubble, then turn down to a simmer (it should still “tremble” on top slightly). Add the salt, pepper flakes (if using), and several grinds of black pepper and stir. Cover with lid and cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Turn off sauce and taste for further addition of salt and pepper. Let it sit while pasta is cooking.

cook pasta

cook pasta

3 – Right before or right when you turn off your sauce, cook the pasta. When it is cooked, add drained pasta (not rinsed and remembering to reserve some pasta cooking water) to the sauce and stir. Toss everything together gently. Add some of the reserved pasta water if you want to thin the sauce.

Add pasta adn stir gently

Add pasta and stir gently

Serve in shallow bowls or big dinner plates with extra pepper flakes and Parmigiano Reggiano if you so desire.

serve with Parmiagiano Reggiano cheese if you have it

Serve with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese if you have it

Serve in shallow bowls or big dinner plates with extra pepper flakes and Parmigiano Reggiano if you so desire.

 

The Ides Of March, The Wall of Secrets – And, Soup Of The Gods

Statue of Julius caesar outside the Roman Forum in Rome

Statue of Julius Caesar outside the Roman Forum in Rome

This day last year in Cortona, Italy, my friend Andrea  the papermaking professor extraordinaire for the Spring Semester convinced our friend Mario to don an olive wreath to play the part of Julius Caesar for her Ides of March Tribute. He agreed of course, lest he wanted the wrath of this infamous day brought down upon his very own head (sometimes it is best to do what Andrea says!)

Road above the UGA art school in Cortona

Cortona on a misty morning last Spring

But, in fairness to Andrea, she knew that Mario would enjoy the bit of drama attached to a period in history (in a city he loved, Roma), to be something he would not say no to, and so he put up with her turning his sweater into a makeshift cloak and thrusting a wand of sorts into his hand in preparation for the grand finale of her Ides of March project.

Findng hiding places

Wall of Secrets

Andrea had her students make little paper books to be used for the writing of secrets. And in the early afternoon anyone who wanted to, was invited to gather at the big old stone wall outside of the paper studio to write a “secret” and hide it in the crevices of the rocks.

Little books ready for secrets

Little books ready for secrets

Faced with this tiny blank sheet of paper was a little intimidating. Do I write an actual secret, something I have never dared to utter to anyone, or just write something clever or silly?

My book

My book

As everyone finished their notes they gave them up to the cracks in the high wall and waited until the wall was full of secrets before being allowed the delectable task of finding all of the little pieces of paper, reading the contents and putting them back for the next reader to find.

Hiding the paper

Hiding the paper

It was a little surprising to find that most people did reveal a part of themselves that remained hidden until the opportunity to tell something in anonymity presented itself by way of a small piece of paper and a wall full of fissures.

Finding and reading

Finding and Reading

Things like: “I am the only one not having fun”, “I want to build a place for children to play”, “I am going to break-up with my boyfriend when I get home”, “He has a beautiful body”, “When I am dead my dearest, sing no sad songs for me”

Part of something hidden

Part of something hidden

It felt like Andrea took everyone to confession and we were now being absolved of our sins, forgiven by strangers. The pieces of paper remained there until ravaged by weather and time. If anyone is reading this in Cortona, perhaps they could walk out to the wall by the paper studio and see if anything is left of our moment last year – Let me know!

The Resting place of Julius Caesar

The Resting place of Julius Caesar at the Roman Forum (it is quite something that this great Roman General’s grave is still being remembered with fresh flowers over 2,000 years later)

In the middle of all of this the large window to the left of the wall swung open and there Mario appeared in all of his get-up waving his starry wand and began a passionate speech to the little crowd of us who had gathered around the window in anticipation. This was no soothsayer warning to “Beware the Ides of March”. This was Caesar himself come back from the grave threatening revenge upon his murderers and damnation to everyone else! Trust Mario to use this moment to give a voice to the mightily fallen Caesar. It was a refreshing change from the usual ravings of the beggar warning of impending danger.

jg

Architectural Fragment at the Roman Forum, Rome

On to the food bit of my story: I made a soup last night and was thinking of warming the cold in our souls and bones when I came up with this restorative concoction. It was an evening when the wind whistling around the house and threatened to find its way in under the doors and through the windows. I had to make something searingly hot both in temperature and flavor. When I asked my son what should I call my soup after we had all eaten, he said “Soup of the Gods”. I think it fits quite nicely with the rest of my story.

Godly Soup

Godly Soup

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*This is also a Blood Type A diet Recipe – omit the hot sauce if you are very strict, but all other ingredients are either beneficial or neutral*

Soup of the Gods Recipe

You will need:

2 tbs olive oil

1 1/2 lbs chicken breast fillets, thinly sliced

1 sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced,

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 baby bok choy plants, roughly chopped

1 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots (grated or shredded)

1 cup baby Bella mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 tbs good quality curry powder (I used a special mix from Kalustyan’s, a great specialty food shop in Manhattan. So, seek out the best you can find!)

2 tsp dried herbs (such as oregano, crushed fennel, sage, thyme)

1/3 cup dried mushrooms (optional, but adds nice depth)

1/2 tsp sea-salt (more to taste)

1 good quality vegetable or chicken bouillon cube (I use Rapunzel brand. They make the best stock cube in my book)

12 cups water

3 cups cooked basmati rice (if leftover, take it out of fridge when you begin and add to the soup cold. If cooking from scratch, cook the rice at the beginning of prep)

Condiments & Garnish: thinly sliced fresh lime & Sriracha sauce

Method:

1 – Prep all ingredients before you begin cooking. Put dried mushrooms in cup of hot water until ready to use.

Cook onions, add mushrooms

Cook onions, add mushrooms

2 – Put good-sized soup pot or big saucepan on medium heat and add 2 tbs of olive oil. When it has warmed up, add the garlic and onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

add seasonings

Add seasonings

3 – Add the curry powder and dried herbs stir into the veggies. Next, crumble in the stock cube and ½ teaspoon sea-salt.

Add liquid

Add liquid

5 – Add the water and turn heat up and bring pot to a boil.

add rest of veggies

Add rest of veggies

6 – Next add the bok choy, carrots and dried mushrooms (if using), and stir.

add chicken

Add chicken

7 – Add the chicken and bring the liquid back to a boil. When it boils, turn the pot down to low. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 15 minutes or until chicken is tender. Turn heat off and add the cooked rice. Cover and let pot sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Make sure you taste and season further with salt and/or pepper if you think it needs it.

add rice and let it sit

Add rice and let it sit

Serve with a slice of lime and some sriracha. Of course this is fine alone or with a different condiment of your choice.

ready to eat

Ready to eat