Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Santa Monica Farmer's Market

There are few things I enjoy more than a good farmer's market, and Santa Monica happens to have a great one. This morning, along with my girlfriend Rebecca, I filled my bag with the bounties of early summer goodies. The most difficult thing is not buying everything that looks good!

And, if I may get on my soapbox for a moment here - please support your local farmer's markets. We all need to buy more locally grown and produced food and goods!

I ran across a few unusual greens and was wondering if anyone out there knew about them or had any experience cooking them. The first one is Huanzontle, or Lamb's Quarters.

The other one was Broccoli Spigarello, which looks like the leaves from the broccoli plant, but I am not sure if that is what they actually are or not. Does anyone have any idea?

Very sadly, the Fava beans are almost out of season. At every farmer's market there seems to be a mad rush to buy the fava beans, and they sell out every time. Meanwhile, if you can find them in the grocery stores, they sit until they wilt and become old. If you find them at your market, buy and enjoy them while you can. Remember, they should be firm and bright green. I think - the bigger the better.

Some Italians eat them raw, but I prefer them cooked lightly and simply. Remove the outer pods and put the beans in a pot of boiling water. Cook very quickly, for maybe 4 or 5 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold water. When cool enough to handle, use your finger nail or a little, sharp knife to make a little slice in the top of the casing and pop the bean out in a bowl. Enjoy plain like that with a chunk of pecorino for an appetizer, or drizzle with a little good olive oil and salt and pepper and serve as a side dish.

Buon appetito!

Another Great Italy Travel Idea - Homefood

Have you ever found yourself walking one of the thousands of picturesque streets in Italy and you come upon a woman laden with shopping bags picking up some vegetables or meat from a local vendor and wished you could follow her home to find out what she was preparing? Have you ever walked by an open window of a home catching a scent of something incredible cooking and wished there was some way you could be invited for dinner? Have you ever dreamed of experiencing a real, Italian home cooked meal? (If you haven't by the way, then you should!) Well, now there is a way to experience authentic, home-cooked meals in people's homes in Italy. Mind you, these aren't just any people - these are hand selected cooks who specialize in preparing dishes that are typical to their area. For a very reasonable price, you and your family or group of friends can enjoy a multi-course meal, with regional wines included, in a unique home.

Here is what they say on the Homefood website:

"The Association for the Guardianship and Exploitation of the Traditional Culinary-Gastronomic Heritage of Italy with the Home Food project sponsored by the Ministry of Agricultural Politics, from various regions of Italy and in collaboration with the University of Bologna, emphasises and spreads the culture of traditional food interwoven with the culture of the typical products and the area. In this spirit it is possible to become a guest of Italian families and to taste foods cooked by the lady of the house, the repository of the old culinary ways and methods."

For more information go to:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My Birthday!

Yesterday was my birthday and it couldn't have been any nicer. Unlike some folks, I love my birthday and cherish each one as a kind of a mile marker in life. I truly celebrate the fact that I am alive, healthy, happy and fortunate. My wonderful husband took me to a sweet, quiet Provencal restaurant for a very civilized and relaxed lunch. Being that I have been taking care of him through his physically challenging time these last few months, it was pure heaven to be served and catered to by a waiter! Oh, the simple pleasures in life. The food highlight, however, came at dinner when Antonio rallied enough strength to fix me my favorite pasta - Spaghetti Carbonara. While I feel that this is more of a hearty, fall/winter dish, I can personally indulge in its decadence any day of the year! I thought I would share our recipe for this traditional Roman dish. Oh, and I can't forget to share my opinion on a wine pairing. A hearty rose' or a traditional, light Italian red wine like a simple Chianti or Dolcetto work really nicely with this pasta. Buon appetito!

Spaghetti Carbonara
Serves 2

½ cup of pancetta chopped (if pancetta is unavailable use 3 slices of natural, uncured, unflavored bacon)
Generous 1/2 cup chopped prosciutto (prosciutto ends* are the easiest to chop)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 ¼ cup finely and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano**
½ lb. spaghetti

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous amount of salt. When boiling add pasta and cook until al dente.

While the spaghetti is cooking sauté the bacon or pancetta and prosciutto in the olive oil until cooked. They should still be soft and not overcooked.

In a large serving bowl (which you will use to serve the pasta) beat the egg and egg yolk with generous amounts of black pepper. Stir in the cheese. Add 1 Tbsp of the boiling pasta water and blend.

Drain the pasta (reserving a bit more of the water in case it is needed.) Quickly add the pasta and the bacon and prosciutto with their fat to the bowl with the eggs. Toss it all until the spaghetti is well coated. Add a little more of the pasta water if the pasta appears too dry.

Add extra cheese and pepper at the table if desired.

*Prosciutto ends are readily available in some gourmet markets and are more thickly sliced than prosciutto, making it easier to chop.

**Romans insist this recipe should be made with Pecorino Romano, but many people make it with parmigiano, including us, and thoroughly enjoy it.

Notes: If you are going to make this recipe for more people, add an egg yolk per person, not a whole egg. It's best to use organic eggs as their flavor is so far superior to the others. You can also substitute guanciale for the bacon or pancetta.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Fathers' Day!

Happy Fathers' Day to all the fathers around the world,

but most of all to my Dad!

I am blessed with one of the most wonderful fathers in the world.

He exudes compassion, he has endless patience, he is not afraid to show his humanness, he has a heart as big as the universe, he is funny, everybody loves him, he cherishes family, and he is steadfast in the support of his children.
Here he is with one of his granddaughters, Kate. Playing grandfather is a role he was made for!
You are my sunshine, Dad.

Summer Art Exhibits in Italy

As part of my business, and part of my personal life, I develop travel itineraries in Italy for my clients and friends. I like to think I create the MOST amazing Italian vacations filled with things to do and places to see that give a true Italian experience. In all my years of researching Italy and traveling in that beautiful country, I have collected loads of information and am constantly finding lots of interesting things for people to do. I thought I would share some information about a few art exhibits across Italy this summer that recently caught my eye. I picked out the ones that were most appealing to me, of course there are many more available.

Florence: "Florence and Paul Cezanne" at Palazzo Strozzi through July 29.
There are a total of about 100 paintings on display, 20 of which are by Cezanne, the rest from his contemporaries.

Rome: "Eros" at the Colosseum through September 18.
Something close to my heart - a celebration of eroticism and sexuality. The show sheds light on the "liberty and spontaneity with which the Greeks lived their sexuality" (homosexual relations included.)

"Symbolism from Moreau to Gauguin to Klimt" at the National Gallery of Modern Art through September 16.
About 100 works by leaders of the modern art movement.

Venice: "Venice and Islam" at the Palazzo Ducale (the Doges Palace) July 28-November 28.
I thought this exhibit is timely to try to bridge the cultural divide that seems to be widening between the Islamic world and the Western world. There will be some 200 paintings, glassworks, ceramics, and other objects showing the influences of the two worlds between the ninth and 18th centuries.

Wine is Meant to be Shared

My husband has been undergoing a pretty serious medical treatment for three months now. He is not drinking alcohol during this time, and his diet consists of pretty mild food. It doesn't bother him at all that I still have wine with my meal, or eat different things than him. However, I have found that I don't enjoy my meals or the wine nearly as much as I used to now that I am drinking and eating it alone. I miss sharing the experience with others, discussing the merits of a wine or criticizing it, debating about which wine to serve with specific dishes, then talking about whether or not the wine works with the food or not. Beyond the technical discussion, there is also the conviviality of coming together over food and wine. I have always been fascinated how those two things bring people together. Throughout history and across cultures food and beverage (not always wine) bridge gaps, build trust and create warmth. Enemies have been able to put aside differences over food, strangers are taken in to people's homes to break bread, and families and friends build lasting bonds over meals. If you have ever traveled in a foreign country and had the opportunity to eat in someone's home, you will understand what I mean. Wine is also used to mark special occasions - the christening of a new ship, the celebration of a new marriage, the romance of an anniversary, or the launching of a new business. In other words, happy thoughts and feelings are associated with wine - even if it is the little glass you are sipping while you are cooking your dinner!

This brings to mind a cute story I once heard from a wine maker. He said that he had been at various business dinners over the years dining with people he really didn't want to be with, but they were always drinking very prestigious wines. He never had fond memories of the wine, because of the people he was sharing it with. One day he was in a hot tub with a woman he really wanted to be with and they were sipping their $10 wine, he realized it tasted like the best wine he had ever had!

The moral of the story is: let's celebrate life's simple pleasures like coming together with others over food and wine (no matter how simple they might be)!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Welcome to my life and blog

In starting this blog, I was inspired by another blog that happened to be named one of my favorite phrases - "If not now, when?" Life is what is happening now, not in the future, not in the past. The internet and blogs have become a way to connect with others across time, cultures and political borders. When the internet started becoming popular, almost every sociologist was warning that it would separate us from others; it would isolate people. I believed that. Now, it has become obvious that the internet has done the opposite. We can get to know someone intimately who is on the other side of the planet, we can read about what our friends are doing today in Italy, we can be inspired by someone we have never met nor heard of, and we can share ideas with others with whom we would have never come in contact. Since I have been inspired by others, especially others who are in this struggle called LIFE but who have managed to be true to themselves and follow their hearts, guts and callings, I decided it was time for me to give back to others by sharing some of myself. Maybe by doing this I will be able to keep my attention on those things that are important to me. I don't want to be one of those people who were dreaming of the future as their life passed them by. So, with the inspiration of "if not now, when?" welcome to Jeni's life and blog.