May 16, 2013
I have a list of fears I am trying to come to terms with.
I hate phone calls from and to strangers: I hate calling my GP clinic, I hate calling to book a table at a restaurant, I hate calling to set a meeting. I hate doing them and receiving them, and I much rather send an email and communicate facts in a written form. It seems somehow more controllable and less stressful. It gives me the impression of grasping the message better and having less room for misunderstanding and mistake.
Answering the door makes me anxious. I never feel appropriately put together for the task. Rightly so.
Going back into a grocery store to say that they charged me full price for something which was on special is another hated situation. It makes me feel cheap, although I am right. If I am with J, I beg him to do it in my place. He's good at saying no and making me do it. I would just walk away if I were by myself.
I hate calling waiters' attention. I much rather have them coming to my table. Waiving my arms in the air to grab their glance makes me feel idiot, and the fact that I am a small person doesn't help. Once again, I look for J's support to do it. My attempts are rarely successful.
Saying no to people is a huge problem for me. I have always been that kind of person who tried to please everybody and be liked by everybody, which is per se a sizable source of stress, much more than having the gut to say no. If I really feel like "no" is the right answer, I try to give convincing excuses not to hurt people's feelings, only to feel guilty a minute after.
And then, I hate scales, changing rooms, and bright artificial lights.
I have never thought to be a shy person. In fact, I have always felt fairly self-confident, but these traits revealing nothing but weakness in my personality are way too many to keep ignoring the issue. The problem is I yet have to find a strategy to overcome these fears. Maybe meditation would help. Maybe I just have to stop caring for everybody's feelings and opinions and consider mine first. Any suggestions?
Gnudi. They have always sounded terribly appealing and intimidating at the same time. What if I made them wrong and they disintegrated in the boiling water as soon as I dropped them in? What if they came out tough or too doughy? But then, it happened that I bought a huge bag of fresh spinach on special, and that the organic ricotta in the fridge had one day before expiring (this is how my meals come together most of the time, far from any romanticism). Gnudi came to mind: it had to be then or never. I made them, and they were good.
In the kitchen, overcoming my fears is way easier. Maybe this is the key to everything else.
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May 9, 2013
I has been a while.
Life rolls fast these days, and I can barely keep up. The new routine of leaving in the morning and coming back for dinner feels lovely, except some (minor?) cons. Light is not enough for photos in the evening, although it is getting better. I usually feel exhausted and I am keen on bruschette and big salads more than anything else, leaving leftovers for the day after. Time for myself is drastically less: one hour. In on hour, I try to shower, do some relaxation and yoga, read my email and wash the dishes --as that one pot is generally used at each meal. Dinner is only half-ready by the time J comes home. After dinner, we tend to collapse on the sofa in a few minutes. No writing or photo-editing involved.
As I said, bruschetta. Did I mention I don't even make my own bread anymore? I got into this very dangerous habit of hitting Waitrose at around 7pm (I leave work at 6.30, so it's totally casual!) when all the bread left on the shelves gets marked down to a handful of pennies. I usually buy one or two (sometimes three, if it's sourdough from Gail's) loaves for the following days: I am never particularly worried it would get stale, as one loaf tends to last less than one day in this house. My preference goes to good-looking, crusty bread such as spelt boule, seedy bloomers or stone-baked baguette, which surprisingly are always left behind, waiting for me to get the bargain. I must be part of the minority who dislikes the mushy, sliced sandwich bread that is so in vogue here. Anyway, you can see how such easy and cheap access to good bread made me put my home baking spirit on a side. I am a bad foodblogger in so many ways.
Loaded as I am with delicious and effortless loaves, my meal developer imagination these days goes not further than bruschetta, toast, soup and grilled cheese, or panzanella. Quick, easy and filling after a day on my feet is just what I want, and surprisingly I never seem to get tired of such fare. In fact, the late but welcomed explosion of the good season, including sunny days and warmer temperature, and abundance of spring produce ranging from peas to fava beans (no less!) gave a twist to the same old, and made me feel like I was eating a completely different dish altogether.
The rest is history. I found fava beans. I got very excited (as last year I had to cope with edamame instead), and I thought to pair them very classically with some pecorino (cheese is never a problem in this realm), on top of the above mentioned (cheap) stone-baked baguette. Some micro greens for the flashes, as they make everything cute, and dinner was on the table, alongside a big salad with asparagus and the like. Yes, I said big salads before, too. I spare you the details for another time.
Hope you are well. Are you well?
The recipe is very silly: start with about 500 gr of fava beans (in their pod). Remove the beans from the pods, blanch them for 30 seconds in boiling salted water, drain them and let them sit in iced water for a few minutes. If you feel like it, take out the core part of the bean from the tougher, outer shell. Season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, good olive oil and some lemon juice. In the meantime, toast some good bread until fragrant and crispy. Arrange the fava beans on the bread, shave some pecorino romano on top, and serve with some micro greens (totally optional) for a touch of cuteness. Enjoy with a glass of chilled, crisp white as an appetizer.
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April 22, 2013
I became acquainted with foraging at a young age, still unaware of its real meaning. It simply appeared in the list of open-air games alongside Hide&Seek and the like.
My uncle, my mum's youngest brother, was the one who first showed me how to forage. He was nine years younger than mum, and eighteen years younger than their older brother. Age-wise, he was closer to my brother than his own siblings, and you could tell he belonged to a different generation from theirs, the one which came after the economic boom and the cultural revolution of the Sixties. Grandma thought he was never going to marry, as he was too handsome and only liked to flirt around without commitment. Plus, his friends were his only other family. He dedicated his whole young life to sports and leisure, running marathons and playing soccer, and being the fittest, funnest and the most adventurous. His has been a model, a myth and a mentor for both my brother and me. The only one in the family who took time to educate us to music, sport and life like an older brother would, and in a way parents can't do.
He had a vinyl record player and would play Beatles and David Bowie and the best of the Italian music scene whenever we were around. He would take some time on the weekend to teach us how to play tennis, to swim in the sea, to prepare for the school athletic competition by jumping longer and running faster. He would take me on tours along the canals with his old-school motorbike, and on car rides in his amazing blue Renault 4 with the manual shift up higher and the music tape stereo inside, singing along his favorite songs. He took pictures of us with his awesome analog Canon E1 and printed them big to hang in his room just over that charming bongo he would play once in a while for our amusement. I still have copies of those photos: they are the best I have from childhood.
At one point in his life, something happened that had a huge impact on him. He had a really bad accident in the sea and nearly broke his neck. Luckily he didn't, but something else broke inside him instead. After the accident, he could no longer accept some things of his own life he wasn't completely happy with. He stopped trying to fit in. He quit his office job and decided to become a lifeguard. He moved to that village near the sea that was almost deserted during winter time. He became somehow more introspective, and needed to stay in touch with nature at all times. We would visit him a lot during summer, when we would get some vacation weeks at the seaside, and would spend many evenings playing cards (he also taught me that) and eating ice-cream. Growing older, I became more and more aware of the meaning of his choices and admired him for his freedom and courage and happiness. I was grateful for all that he had done for us.
Somewhere between these memories lies the one of riding his cool blue car toward the pine forest just before the shore to go and pick pine cones for pine nuts in the fall, and wild asparagus in springtime. Also, the memory of walking along a canal in search for hop sprouts, bruscandoli, to take home to grandma so that she would make a risotto for lunch. I never foraged with anyone else before or after: no one taught me how to, no one ever took me on a hunt for wild food except for him. And although the value of wild food was still fairly obscure to the child I was back then, the concept remained somehow ingrained in my brain, and came back spontaneously many years later, as a graduate student in food culture. Foraging has remained something I do for fun, something which evokes sweet and fun memories and that gives me that feeling of childish joy. There is something deeply satisfying in eating something free and acquired with time and skill and purpose. The same type of satisfaction we would feel in winning a game or bringing an important project to an end and seeing it in its complete form.
Springtime being the best time to forage wild plants, Emiko, Giulia, Jas and I thought to make it this month's theme for Italian Table Talk. In this episode, Jas talks about wild fennel and its use in a tasty Sicilian pasta dish; Giulia tells us about wild herbs in a soup called Acquacotta; and Emiko makes braised artichokes with nepitella. As for me, what I know and love about foraging is strongly connected to the story, the person and the memories above. I hoped to find wild asparagus and hop sprouts to somehow connect that story to the present, but didn't have much luck. One of the few edible plants I can put my hands on --rather, my gloves on-- here is nettle. Whose sting I could only think of running away from, being the worst enemy of my childhood summer excursions in the fields, but which I learnt to appreciate for its many uses in the kitchen later on.
I think of nettle as some sort of wild spinach, and I cook with it accordingly, with the only preventing measure of always blanching it for a few seconds before use (forget raw nettle smoothie!). Blanched, I used it successfully in soups, frittata, stir-fries, risotti or savory tarts, or turned into tasty dips or sauces for pasta. What I felt most excited about and wanted to share here was indeed the latter use: nettle pesto. The procedure is the same as any other pesto: take a green of choice and puree it together with some garlic, nuts, cheese and lots of olive oil. Here, the green is nettle (blanched), the rest follows the rules: pine nuts, garlic, parmigiano and good olive oil. The doses are fairly flexible, too. Anyway, here's how I did it: I placed one garlic clove, about 200 gr of blanched nettles, 40 gr of parmesan cheese and roughly 2 tablespoons of pine nuts in a food processor. I added some olive oil and pulsed everything for a few seconds. Then, I kept adding olive oil while the blender was working until I got a smooth and creamy sauce. I stored this pesto in a jar in the fridge and froze the rest for future use.
You can use nettle pesto in many ways, but I would mention it as a perfect seasoning for pasta, plain or with some add-ins such as feta (or mussels!); as spread on toast, topped with some stir fried veggies like mushrooms or asparagus and some shaved pecorino, or underneath some avocado slices, or topped with creamy scrambled eggs (2 eggs+1 dollop of labneh/cream cheese/ricotta per person); and finally, as a condiment in legume or grain salads.
Now, all you have to do is wear some gloves and go on a hunt for nettles. Have fun :)
Italian version coming soon!
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April 13, 2013
"You’re living a slow life when you gather seashells along the shore, feed a campfire, visit a nearly empty museum on a weekday morning, talk late into the night, read an ink-on-paper book cover to cover without stopping to do much else, and, I would say, if you take the time to be bored. Part of being civilized is not just being slow but occasionally coming to a stop, establishing a point of reference for the moment when you start moving again. When you stop you aren’t really stopping, of course, because that’s often when good ideas rise to the surface.
Slowness really means living at the right speed for whatever you are doing, living more in the present moment, rather than looking always ahead to the next thing: deadlines, bills, future plans. It’s not about being inefficient or taking too much time. It’s about moving at the right speed.
The pleasure we find in cooking and eating lies not in being either fast or slow but in being both or in-between at different times. Different speeds are part of food as they are of the rest of life. What we need is balance. "
Ed Behr, Slow Cooking, Slow Eating, The Art of Eating
These words ("What we need is balance") are filling my head these days.
I sense I finally found the balance I needed so badly.
Life is still fast. I'm up every morning at 6-7am and on my legs for 10 hours a day, commuting and getting squeezed in the tube carriages twice a day, climbing all kinds of stairs and escalators, queueing everywhere, carrying grocery bags on foot as well as trying to keep everything else going in between --meals, cleaning and some sort of mental and physical health.
Most of the time, at the end of the day, I feel exhausted. But the rituals that I already created for myself give me more energy and more motivation to tackle the next day. Rituals that are meaningfully slow to balance out the rest of the day: a warm shower first thing as I come home, with no lights except for a lit candle. Music. Some stretching and meditation to soothe my ache-y legs and noisy mind. A glass of wine. Cooking dinner. Sharing a meal with whom I love. Chatting on the sofa, reading a book or some open tabs on the computer. Falling asleep on the couch. Going to bed.
Every day, almost. This, for now, is my new luxury life, my long-sought balance.
April 5, 2013
“Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance. Good-by is short and final,
a word with teeth sharp to bite through the string that ties past to the future.”
“Failure is a state of mind. It's like one of those sand traps an ant lion digs.So many things don't happen in one's life for fear, reluctance, sloth, self-pity, dread of failure. We walk in a circle, around and around, without ever crossing the border of our comfort zone.
You keep sliding back. Takes one hell of a jump to get out of it.”
― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
You keep sliding back. Takes one hell of a jump to get out of it.”
― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
I closed my eyes, and I jumped. What I am left with now is fear, and hope.
People look at me and say: "You don't seem happy to be leaving". No, I don't. Only when the positive takes the place of the negative; only when the new improves the old, will we experience moments of bliss. The hardest, scariest moment, is that gray area between the two moments --the transition, the suspension between the time of the jump and the time of the landing. That is where I am. I am suspended, left wandering. I am almost there, and this time, I don't fear the impact.
This winter doesn't want to end. It keeps bringing cold, thoughtfulness, and discontent. I am spending this gray time I have left in contemplation, reading, thinking, reflecting on what happiness would be for me. I try to write down my thoughts, to dig deeper, I try to go beyond what I think I already know, but can't find anything new. The list hasn't changed, and too many things on that list have been long left un-ticked. Now, I want to believe it can only get better.
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