Category Archives: summer

Passing along Southern Italian Foodways to You

**Announcement!**

I would love to host you at my final cooking class of the summer in August, so email me now to reserve a space!

This class will focus on Southern Italian foods and cultural foodways, which, as you’ll see below, I learned a lot about while in Naples, Sorrento, and Sicily this spring. It was gorgeous. In fact, this was the sight that greeted me from the window of the hydrofoil as we docked- quite amazing.

Pozzuoli and Napoli held their own charms- views of the sea and charming locals high among them- but the next stage of my trip launched me into the independent mode of travel. From the seaside you see above, I scaled the cliff (ok, climbed the stairs) with my suitcase, and getting some advice from the tourist office, I scouted out a few small hotels before deciding on one.
The night of my arrival I wandered around the small town of Sorrento, glimpsing citrus trees in every yard, people in every cafe, and a bustling center of town, which included this gated corner alcove, apparently an ancient men’s club (so unfair).

I walked and walked until I was so hungry I had a hard time making a dinner decision… ending up with this spread, so I didn’t end up too badly…
Whole fried anchovies (unless they were sardines? I can’t find a good way to tell them apart when battered and fried), octopus, shrimp, and more- all celebrated the generous gifts of the Mediterranean Sea. Perfect for my sampler nature.

After a couple days like this, I went to see one of the most famous historical sites right nearby: Pompeii. Having gotten a good look at Vesuvius on the hydrofoil journey crossing the bay from Naples to Sorrento, I was excited to see this city that was buried in an instant, so long ago.

What bowled me over about the site was not the professionalism of the preservation or the views of the countryside (although the site was well managed, the surrounding suburb was rather scrappy), but the unbelievable detail brought to us whole and untouched from that distant culture. Here is a frescoed wall from a bath house. Such colors, thousands of years of ash and dust later!

I recently had “atavism” explained to me in an online course, and it was connected to the idea of a discontinued past, that past which is not linked to our present because we perceive it to be too different. Pompeii was nothing of the sort- the people living here had road ruts under repair, were building extensions on their houses, and had decorations lovelier than many expensive ones I’ve seen  in our own time.

Mosaics laid so precisely.

Signs lettered so carefully
and in recognizable script!

It made the tragedy of the deaths in the settlement all the more real. Here, the archaeologists had left their mark, finding the bodies burnt to ash, essentially vacuuming them out, and making plaster casts of how their bodies were found. It was both eerie and compelling to see the models, composed of some of the ash of the bodies themselves, on display in their final, frantic positions.


But since the one plaster model I saw was placed near the entrance I used, I had a couple hours after that of wandering around the narrow streets and peeking through other courtyards to sweep out the sad thoughts. Marvel at the art and society of this little town was the foremost emotion, and by the time I finished, I was ready for switching gears.

What did I jump to? My cooking lesson with Chef Lucia!

She had a menu planned and printed out for me, and we mixed it up a bit as we went along. Chef Lucia took me through an immense amount of details as we made our way through rolled beef, stuffed eggplant, and rolled eggplant (I requested the eggplant- love it!). One of the highlights of the class was the ballet dance of languages we all did, as her son translated for me, I tried to understand Lucia’s Italian, and she mostly understood my English. It made 2+ hours of standing on my feet in the little kitchen fly by, and that is saying something!


Chopping.

Tearing.

Mixing.

Heating garlic in oil!

There are proper ways to do everything, and traditional ways, too, as in whether you peel your cucumber completely or in stripes- one way gives you the Napolitano version, the other, the Sorrentino.


One of the add-on items on the menu was fresh pasta from potatoes, usually known as gnocchi (that is a link to an excellent tutorial with step-by-step pictures- go see for yourself!).

We used a pasta machine, the kind that clamps on the counter and cranks by hand, which led to some more ballet-like hilarity among the three of us. We also used a tool like the one shown  in the linked tutorial above, which looks like a miniature washboard. It is obviously a skill learned through repetition, to drag two fingers with a dollop of gnocchi dough over the wooden board in such a way to create the classic shape. I tried, but my pasta didn’t win any beauty contests!
It was a lot of fun, and even though setting up the class was stressful at the last minute, and finding the place was another adventure, it was all totally worth it.

Now I have this precious experience to share with you!

Have you taken cooking classes on vacation? How did it give you a different view of the location and the region’s people? Did it help you connect the region’s past with its, and your, present?

It’s magic!

Let us hear about it in the comments…

Highlights of Home in October

Highlights of October, after the Road Trip
Peach-Rhubarb Crisp with Walnuts and Pecans, riffed from this very good recipe, sharing counter space with the walnut fudge I picked up at Dakin Farm in Vermont, which has the byline, “What Vermont tastes like.” Good, apparently.

Egg whites whipped a little too stiff for Orangette’s Salted Peanut Butter Cookies recipe. I guess the hand mixer made things a little too easy…

These cookies were pretty different from others I’ve made: for one, salted peanut butter instead of unsalted, PLUS salt, PLUS milk chocolate. I typically trade that stuff out for dark chocolate, but for science’s sake, I stuck with the spirit of these cookies.

For another thing, they were HUGE. Instead of a dainty teaspoon or a rounded tablespoon, Molly had us taking big 1/4-cup handfuls (I actually just used my hands and rolled it off like play-doh; it wasn’t too sticky for that, thankfully).

And the third thing, as you saw above, was the separating of whites and yolks before combining. Now I’ve done that for cakes and things, but for a cookie? My efforts, while a little too enthusiastic, were not made in vain. As always, my touchy oven needed to be cut off in its cooking 25% earlier than the recipe said in order not to overcook the beauties, but then they came out, and I had way too many big, gorgeous cookies to hand to deal with!

So I took them into work, and two dozen disappeared in 2 days (I brought them in in two shifts, since we always have people working from home, and it seemed only fair to give everyone a chance). The other half dozen might have disappeared from the counter in that time…
Finally, returning to the savory world, I made this concoction- my first steamed (poached?) egg from Judith Jones’ recipe for Steamed Egg(s) Nestled in a Bed of Greens. I really like her recipe-writing style. Something about it is so comforting, warm and reasonable. This felt great to eat, being so healthy and homey, and using up the last of summer produce I had stashed (tomato) plus the rare bit of fall bounty that had arrived (maitake mushroom, sprinkled on after this photo was taken). Happy Fall!

Fish Tea, Stravaigin, and a See’s Candy look-alike

Scottish Food, Installment 3 of 3
And here I’ve got my final three food experiences, all in Glasgow, and all pretty positive (2 out of the 3 also had some annoyances associated).
These first couple pictures are of the “Fish Tea” I ordered at The People’s Palace. And while it might sound like a bad Asian packaging description of tea, it actually meant ‘tea’ in the afternoon-meal sense, and an afternoon meal that included fish. With chips, of course.
I ordered a caramel shortbread along with the ‘Tea’ and boy, was I rewarded. The little annoyances here were that 1) the greenhouse felt like it had heat piped in from somewhere, and was uncomfortably warm, such that my shortbread got all melty (which was fine, but so did I), and 2) that they lost my ticket for the fish and chips part, and I had to go back up and reinstate my order. They felt bad for losing it and so gave me a free bottle of water (and I was already carrying one, so my backpack got pretty heavy, but I’m not looking any gift horses in the mouth). The caramel shortbread was dee-lish. And very worthy of being reproduced in the States- Go To!

The second experience catalogued here was undilutedly fantastic. I went to a restaurant called Stravaigin (the original, in the Kelvinbridge neighborhood, I think; there are two). If you visit their site, right now at least, they have a picture up of the very same entree- the hake fillet salad! But mine shows the architecture a bit better, I think…

 The restaurant, servers, lighting, other eaters… all was lovely and relaxing and amiable. I liked the iron stairs up with lights, the fun second story that overlooked the first, and the fun architectural finishes that made the place seem magical and whimsical, not modern or sleek or posed. It was a great place, and has a fitting name for one like me: ‘Stravaig’ means ‘to wander’ and that is exactly what I enjoyed doing while in Scotland.

The final experience was part of an homage to Charles Rennie Macintosh, an architect famous in his hometown of Glasgow, and an artist well-known internationally for those interested in art history. I liked the part of his work that was all about an organic whole, form serving function (Arts & Crafts), natural forms being used (Art Nouveau), nothing thrown in for no reason (Modernism but not the Jetsons kind). It’s like smart growth for buildings and furniture!
Anyway, he’s famous for designing the Glasgow School of Art and the Willow Tea Rooms, which of course I had plunked on my list as a Must-See. Tea? Scones? Art Nouveau? Yes, please.

This is the dining room, accessible weirdly through a jewelry store on the ground floor…
And look! As I was leaving, this is the line that lined the whole stairwell! (Pays to be an early bird…)
I had the choice of the open-center room or the Room De Luxe, so guess what I chose? Why not, after all. It didn’t cost any more. It had the windows out onto the street, which I thought would be nice, but… I was plagued my whole luncheon by a very bad saxophone player busking across the street. Grr. He had no rhythm, which made his rendition of Moon River very jarring. Ah well. After I exited, I got to hear a very talented bagpiper… and the tea was lovely: finger sandwiches (crustless!), a meringue tart, jam and double cream for a scone. Yum.
Why can’t we get cream like that here??