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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

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?

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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

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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.

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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!

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Misguided

Milan's funky Navigli neighborhood at night. Photo by Matteo Carrasale, taken from the great article in La Cucina Italiana on Milan's aperitivo scene (click on photo to be taken to article)

Translating a guide book serves as a pretty good yardstick for measuring how well you know your town. I’ve been working on translating a guide to Milan for the last couple of weeks, and it makes me realize not so much that I don’t know my fair city (of the recommended activities, I’d done them all except for visit one out-of-the-way gelateria – OK, and I haven’t technically done a “walking tour of Art Nouveau architecture” but I have passed by and admired the buildings referred to in the guide), but that since I had a child, I just don’t get out enough.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I had a rare bambino-free Saturday night. The pressure was on to come up with something amazing to do. It felt like this was our ONE BIG CHANCE to have a social life. I looked through restaurant reviews and show listings and nothing really caught my eye. In the end, I told my husband that we should just go out for a nice aperitivo (Milan is famous for its aperitivo, which is like a happy hour but with large buffets of food that end up being a free dinner – read more about it in La Cucina Italiana magazine), which is something we haven’t done in a very long time. His response? “I think we are too old for aperitivo…”

It is true that aperitivo is also popular with a younger crowd, but I wasn’t planning on going to a place frequented by the hair-gelled 19-year-olds who throw back the Negronis while still seated on their scooters outside the bar. I was sure there had to be a place for us. Then in translating this guide, I came across a different kind of aperitivo. The Terme Milano (a spa and wellness center created inside some of the city’s old Spanish walls) near Porta Romana offers sparkling wine and a light buffet to those who enter the thermal baths after 5:30 p.m. As it says at the end of the video below “You bring the bathing suit. We will take care of the rest.” In fact, the price of admission (35 Euros after 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday) includes towels, robes, flip-flops and courtesy kit full of bath products. We haven’t tried it out, but since “taking the waters” is popular with the age-spot set (though in this era of plastic surgery and high-tech dermatological treatments, does anyone even get age spots anymore?), I don’t think there is any fear of being the oldest people poolside with our complimentary spumante.

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Remember how I was extolling the virtues of my son’s preschool a couple of weeks ago? I’m still very happy with it, but the one major downside of preschool is that the kid picks up (and brings home) germs. Next to the lunch menu, the school posts the illnesses going around. About a month ago, it was scarlet fever (check, he got it). Then it was lice (dodged that one). He hadn’t been back at school but a few days when he got a nasty case of bronchitis, which he shared with the family and which has brought us all to our knees. I had a high fever for four nights straight and am still feeling all weak and wobbly.

This is all my way of saying that unless we want to talk about how many of those little packets of Kleenex I’ve gone through in the last five days (about 16 packs – I counted!), I have very little of blog-worthy to report. Yesterday while my son was playing with Play-Doh, and I was shivering under a blanket half supervising him and half reading the local weekly newspaper, a story caught my eye.

Apparently, for Mother’s Day the local McDonald’s opened up its kitchen so that mammas could come in and see how the food was prepared. Accompanying the article was a grainy photo of a group of women in hair nets and white chef’s coats standing in a sterile fast-food kitchen. I’ve noticed that McDonald’s here goes way out of its way to point out that the ingredients are 100 percent Italian and that the portions are smaller than in the U.S. As of yet, my son is not that interested in fast food (doesn’t really eat hamburgers and can take or leave french fries). We bought him a Happy Meal once, but he was more taken with the toy and my husband ended up eating the food.

Appealing to Italian mammas is probably another smart move on the company’s part. I’ve seen how the mothers pick apart the meals at preschool that I rave so much about and those are all fresh and cooked on site. The other day I heard one of the mothers complain to the teacher that that day’s lunch of lasagne and roasted chicken sounded too “heavy” for kids so small. You can’t please everyone, I guess. So, that’s all I’ve got. Can someone pass me the Kleenex?

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Many Italian mammas got this azalea plant for Mother's Day. The plants were sold in piazzas all over the country and could be picked up on one's way to Sunday lunch. A gift not requiring much thought but at least proceeds went to a good cause!

On the weekends, we have a sort of breakfast non-routine. I eat cereal and drink hot tea while my son drinks his bottle of milk. My husband usually checks his email and eats nothing. Mid-morning, those two head out to the bar in the piazza and have “cappuccini” (a real cappuccino for my husband, “milk foam” for my son) together while I get things done around the house. For Mother’s Day, I wanted the three of us to sit down together for a “real American breakfast.”

Here there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as mother being treated to “breakfast in bed” or sent off for a spa day. It seems kind of like “business as usual” with mamme cooking a big Sunday lunch and then cleaning up after it. I told my husband, “Whatever you do, don’t go to the local piazza and buy me one of those lame azaleas that they sell to people who left it to the last minute to buy something for their mothers.” My husband quickly pointed out that the proceeds go to cancer research, so I assumed that was the gift he had in mind. Oh well, at least it would be for a good cause!

I recently bought a waffle iron on Italian eBay so my plan was to test it out for Mother’s Day. When I got the waffle iron, I realized it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. It makes thin waffles (calling them “gaufre” in the recipe book) that are slightly thicker than an ice-cream cone. I decided to go ahead anyway with a banana waffle recipe I found on the Internet. The plan was to serve them with whipped cream since maple syrup isn’t readily available here, and I didn’t have time to track it down.

Mother’s Day morning I woke up and began the preparations for making waffles. My husband had his computer on the kitchen table checking his email, and my son was immersed in cartoons. Anticipation for the “big, American breakfast” did not seem to be building.

“Can you move your computer? I am making waffles and want to set a nice breakfast table,” I said to my husband.

“Waffles? Pesante…” said my husband. Since he normally doesn’t eat breakfast, a cracker would be “pesante” (heavy) to him.

I made the waffles and finally got everyone to the table. After a couple miniscule, very thin gaufre/waffles, my husband started holding his stomach dramatically and saying “I don’t know how I’ll eat lunch.” My son was more interested in playing with the spray can of whipped cream than eating his waffles.

This was not the Mother’s Day I envisioned, and it made me think of a post I’d read recently on Rebecca’s blog about raising children as an expat parent. Rebecca is an American married to an Italian. They live in Umbria (and rent out holiday apartments on their farm) with their two young sons. Recently, Rebecca’s eight-year-old son worked up the courage to tell her that he – gasp – does not really like peanut butter.

This got me thinking that today my two-year-old prefers cappuccino to waffles and tomorrow it may well be Nutella to peanut butter. And then what? Barbera to Budweiser? Mmm, in that case, I’d have to agree with him.

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