The shelves at Eataly New York. Photo by Katie Sokoler from the Gothamist website.

Normally when I go home for a visit to the U.S., I avoid Italian food in all of its incarnations in favor of the ethnic foods I miss so. And I’m typically based in Milan, so I do have access to more ethnic foods than were I in many other parts of the Belpaese, but there are still many, many things I miss and seek out when I am away. This time I was in the U.S. for two whole months so after a while I did get a hankering for pesto and other Italian delicacies. Fortunately, most of the things I miss from Italy are quite easy to make and the ingredients are ever more readily available. On this trip, for example, my husband found buffalo mozzarella that had been flown in from Naples and was fresher than any buffalo mozzarella he’s ever bought in Milan.

The day before flying back to Italy, we went to the inauguration of the huge Eataly emporium that just opened in New York City’s Flatiron district (in the old Toy Building for those of you who know New York). We came (a bit late to avoid the long line), we saw (chef and partner of the venture Mario Batali in his kitchen whites and famous Crocs), we conquered (the crowds). Eataly is a giant market of artisanal Italian products that has ties to the Slow Food movement. There are various other Eataly emporiums in Italy (especially in and around Turin as that is where the Slow Food movement started), but the ginormous New York store is the first one in the United States. The store sells produce (grown in Brooklyn, from what I understand, not in Italy), pasta, oil, gelato, meats, cheeses, coffee, fresh bread and much more. Each area seems to have its own restaurant or “food court” where prepared foods can be tasted.

I went to the opening with a group of Italians and their take on it was that it was incredibly “commerciale.” It was too much of a madhouse to actually buy or try anything on offer, but I do have to say that if I were an Italy lover in the New York area, I might pay occasional visits to Eataly just to hear Italian spoken and get a feel for being in Italy. Inside there’s also a Rossopomodoro pizzeria, which is an Italian chain offering pretty good Neapolitan-style pizza. Eataly even has something I’ve never actually seen in Italy: a vegetable butcher. You buy your veggies and then specify to the “butcher” how you’d like them prepared. A rooftop beer garden at Eataly should also be opening any day now.

I found things to be a bit pricey, but I guess that is to be expected. The boxes of Barilla pasta that normally cost around $1.25 or $1.50 in regular American supermarkets are $2 here, but there is such a wide range of pastas that I’d probably come here and pay that if I were looking for something more obscure than penne or fusilli . And the displays are quite enticing.

If I’d had my camera, I would have taken pictures of the Eataly slogans plastered all over the place, which seemed to poke fun at Italian-style customer service. Near the checkout counters I saw slogans, such as “Italy isn’t perfect and either is Eataly” and “The customer is not always right and either is Eataly.” I didn’t buy anything (I was returning to Italy the day after, after all), but I wonder if the cashiers are as grumpy and demand exact change like they do here?

I’ve been in the U.S. for three weeks now and have my son and my mobile office in tow. We are staying until early September. Unfortunately I have not been able to write because of a “run in” I had two weeks ago with the blade on a food processor while making pesto. My mom called the emergency room to get a quick estimate on what it would cost to get 3 to 5 stitches (she’s a nurse so in these situations she calls up and speaks the lingo). Are you sitting down for the shocking total? After all was said and done, it would have cost anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500. The stitches themselves would have been around $350 – $500 but then you add in the doctor’s fees, the nurse’s fees, the “after hours” fees (though it was 6 p.m.) and the “room charge fee” and suddenly that turns into the world’s most expensive pesto. I do have emergency travel health insurance, but I wasn’t sure if “Cuisinart disaster due to user error” was covered in my policy and didn’t want to risk having to pay out of pocket myself. My mom decided to perform triage on my thumb and “butterfly-ed” it to stop the bleeding. Nonetheless, healing has been going slowly and I’ve been saving my thumb for work purposes or short tweets and Facebook status updates. I removed the last of my bandages today and while my poor thumb is certainly not healed, I think I’m almost there. I even went so far as to make pesto yesterday with the same food processor. This time I took the blade out with a fork and not with my hand. In my defense, the one I used here is a bit different than the one I have at home, and doesn’t have the same sturdy knob to pull the blade out. Lesson learned! I hope to be back blogging sooner rather than later. I have lots to talk about!

To market, to market

This weekend I made it to the Earth Market I mentioned a few posts ago. We got there a bit on the late side (around 12:30 p.m. and it closes at 2 p.m.) so the pickings on some things were starting to get a bit slim, but we did get a chance to sample various products, such as artisanal beer, sorbet and gelato. There was a long line at one of the bread stands and by the time we made our way around the market and came back, all of the bread was sold out, which was a pity. Everything at the market is produced within 40 km of the city, and I liked how each of the stands had a sign listing the origin and distance from the city. But I do have to say that not everything that is organic, artisanal or “slow” is necessarily more delicious. As my husband commented upon tasting one “all-natural” product sample, “Maybe I prefer the one with chemicals that is bad for you.” Because the market was winding down by the time we got there, we ended up eating lunch in a nearby Egyptian pizzeria (yes, Egyptians are famous in Milan for their pizza-making skills) where I had the worst bowl of pasta I’ve ever had in ten years of living in Italy. I guess I should have ordered pizza, but usually I prefer pizza that’s been made in Naples (or within 40 km)…

In the park where the market was held, there were two different areas with stands. This was the first of them.

Stands with Art Nouveau building in the background

There were also picnic tables where you could sit and eat your purchases or listen to various Slow Food lectures

I found this advertisement for McDonald's at the entrance to the park where the Slow Food market was held to be a bit odd

Out of line

How are y’all enjoying this wacky summer weather? Is it wacky where you are? Here it is chilly and rainy – shades of November – and has been like this much of the last week. One thing that pulled me out of my weather funk was an email I received from a Canadian friend from Vancouver. She spent the better part of a decade in Milan and returned to Canada a year ago. She said she is still having moments of “reverse culture shock” and has been unable to adjust to the lack of chaos and the general sense of order in Vancouver. Here are a couple of shots she took to show me what she means.

This is a shot from Vancouver of a line forming for the bus. A bus that is not even there yet. Notice that even the funky hipster with requisite messenger bag (second to last in line) is not rebelling

Another shot from Vancouver. The line on the right is not quite as orderly as the one on the left, but keep in mind the bus isn't even there...

And here is our "study in contrasts" shot. This is what the line (if you can call it that) in front of me looked like at the post office on Friday here in Milan.

A few months ago, I bought some organic milk at the supermarket and only noticed when I got home that it had the tag line “milked right in your neighborhood!” I had to laugh out loud. It was a laughter filled with irony and sadness because at that time there had been a huge oil spill in the river that runs through my town. I know cows don’t swim in the river. It wasn’t the same as buying trout and hearing that it had been caught “right in your neighborhood!” But still the idea of a cow grazing on the banks of a polluted river on the sprawling outskirts of the city was both sad and absurd.

I really like the idea of being a “locavore” or of living all “kilometer zero,” but can you really do that when you live in a city that is, uh, more than a tad polluted? I really don’t know the answer to that question, but I will continue to ponder it. Thanks to Judy’s blog, I read about the big Earth Market in Bologna sponsored by the Slow Food movement. I did some research and found out that, wow, we have one here in Milan as well. I’m going to go to the next one, which is on Saturday, June 19. Apparently, all of the farmers and vendors are local, and you can taste their products and even have lunch in the park where the market is held. It sounds great. You can get more info here.

Below is a video I found with some images of the Earth Market in Milan.

Then I just found out about the first ever Milano Food Week being held this week. There are tons of cool food and wine events going on, and tonight there’s going to be an “American street food tasting” in some old warehouse turned food lab while a graffiti artist does his thing with the spray cans. Could be a weird pairing (like drinking a cappuccino after – or God forbid, with – your pizza) or could be kind of cool! All of the events end this Sunday, and I wish I had found out about it sooner or I definitely would have made a point of tasting Barbera wines on a tram or taking a gastronomic tour of the city’s various ethnic neighborhoods. But, for all my talk of eating well, I’ll probably be stuffing my face with pizza and potato chips and drinking beer this weekend as I watch a few of the World Cup games.

Spaghetti al limone

Photo by {tribal} photography

This is a simple summer recipe that is much tastier than you’d expect. I’ve seen many variations on spaghetti with “lemon sauce” that range from merely squeezing a bit of fresh lemon juice into a bowl and mixing with with olive oil and salty pasta water to others that add ricotta or heavy cream. I have two tips: 1) don’t overdo it with the lemon. A little bit seems to go a long way, and you can always add more if you feel the lemony taste is lacking. But if you use too much to begin with, the lemon will overpower the whole thing. 2) use whole wheat spaghetti. I find that whole wheat spaghetti doesn’t taste all that different from “regular” spaghetti while other types of pasta, such as penne, really do have a different taste that may not be pleasing to all. I happen to like whole wheat pastas, but I know not everyone does.

I’m using Italian portion sizes since the pasta would only be a first course. You may need to up the doses a bit if you like an abundant bowl of pasta.

Spaghetti al limone

Recipe for 4

320 grams (about 10 ounces or so) of spaghetti

1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest chopped into tiny pieces

1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic

3-4 tablespoons of olive oil

parsley, parmesan and salt to taste

optional – a dollop of ricotta cheese or heavy cream mixed in at the last minute; if you are using the ricotta, thin it out in the sauce with a bit of pasta water

While the spaghetti is cooking in salted water (they say to add around 10 grams of sea salt per liter of water; remember – only after the water starts to boil!), saute the garlic cloves in a small pan over low heat for a couple of minutes in one tablespoon of the olive oil. After a couple of minutes, add in the lemon zest until it is all softened. Take off heat, and when it has cooled a bit, add in the lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil. You can add in a bit of the salted pasta water to amalgamate and make it “saucier.” I usually toss out the whole garlic cloves at this point. After you’ve strained the pasta, toss with the lemon sauce. Add more oil if necessary (or the ricotta or heavy cream if you are using them). At this point, add salt, parmesan and chopped parsley to taste. Enjoy!

Giving props!

Thanks again, Cindy!

I mentioned a while ago that I was going to give more information on the designer who made the graphics for my website. Her name is Cindy Loon. We were best friends all through junior high school and high school and were so ridiculously inseparable that people thought we were sisters. We looked alike, dressed alike and talked alike to the point that it was actually kind of scary. Fast forward a decade or two (OK, closer to two…) and Cindy has a successful graphic design and stationery business called Loon+Co. Her stuff has been featured on Oprah and she works with famous names, such as Colin Cowie. Actually, she’s one of Colin Cowie’s Fabulous Friends and if you click on that link you can learn more about her work and see a video of her doing her thing. Brava Cindy! She was always the artsy one. I could never draw my way out of a paper bag, but of the two of us, I was the one with the wicked tongue and pen.

Speaking of exciting ventures, did you know that Shelley of the blog Really Rome is not just back blogging but is opening a B&B and Roman trattoria with her husband in Washington state? Shelley and I became fast friends when we were both pregnant at the same time. She was in Rome, and I was in Milan, but we were in daily contact complaining about things like cankles, the long lines to get treatment at ugly hospitals and wondering where in the hell Italian women bought nursing bras. I was going to post a picture of Shelley and I pregnant taken a couple of Thanksgivings ago (I fittingly was wearing a large, brown maternity tent dress that made me look like the Butterball turkey of the situation) but I thought I should run that by her first. I’m still trying to get my one kid to sleep through the night and Shelley has since moved to the U.S. with her family and, uh, had twins. If she can handle an overseas move, a toddler and twins, I’d imagine she could run a B&B and sling pasta all’amatriciana in her sleep. If, in fact, she is getting much sleep. I hope to make it out there one of these days. You go girl!

Leaving for the beach tomorrow night for the long weekend (veeeerrry long as the holiday falls on a Wednesday; Italians know how to stretch a long weekend out – wee hoo!). Happy Memorial Day to those in the U.S. and buone vacanze to the rest of you!