Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Apples and Thyme - Round Up #3

January's Apples and Thyme Round Up is over at Vanielje Kitchen. Grab a cup of coffee, tea, glass of wine, or other soothing beverage and read through a wonderful collection of recipes and memories - all celebrating time in the kitchen with mothers and grandmothers.

Next month's entries will be due on February 20 and will be posted by the end of February. Please send entries to me at passionatepalate AT gmail DOT com, as I will be doing the February round-up.

Just for fun, does anyone out there have specific memories of recipes or food traditions for Valentine's Day? If so, we'd love to read them. If you are new to this event, you can visit here for our original event description.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Passionate Mondays - Italian Language

Today, I am passionate about the Italian language, la bella lingua Italiana.

As I write this my husband is in the other room watching the "Godfather" in Italian. I love hearing Italian, any time, any day, and have since I first heard it. It is comfort to my ears somehow. My first trip to Italy, when I had only one semester of Italian under my belt, it never bothered me that I didn't understand what people were saying. I remember just wanting to sit in public places and soak in the sounds, bathe in the melody of that beautiful language.

I know that I will always be a student of languages and look forward to learning more, but I want to be fluent in Italian more than I have ever wanted to in another language. Through a dear friend in Long Beach who was my Italian tutor, I met Stefania Belli, the founder of La Lingua La Vita in Italy. La Lingua La Vita is an Italian language school for foreigners located in beautiful Todi, Umbria. I have studied languages since 1976 (French, Spanish and Italian) and have had a wide range of teachers. I can honestly say that Stefania is one of the best and most natural teachers I have ever had the pleasure of studying with. She has also created a new innovative way of learning called "Beyond Language", which was recently written about in Yoga Journal.

Lucky for me, Stefania comes to Southern California once a year to hold a month-long intensive Italian course that I take. I dream of going to Todi to immerse myself in the language program there as soon as I can. I must say that despite the terrible exchange rate for us poor people with dollars, her programs are still very affordable, in addition to being very interesting. If you are interested in signing up for one of her courses in Todi, you can visit my website for full details and, since I act as one of their U.S. agents, you can register through me.
In addition to the language classes, students can take cooking courses, do olive oil and wine tastings, visit ceramic studios, or do art classes. You have the option of staying with a family (a further way to strengthen your Italian) or stay in an independent apartment. Studying at La Lingua La Vita would be a great way to full immerse yourself in the Italian culture.
Have a passionate Monday!
Fatevi un lunedi appassionato!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Passionate Friday?

Si amici...I missed my Passionate Mondays post, but alas we must be flexible! I encourage you all to be passionate today, Friday, instead. Oh, I know it's a stretch, but reach, you can do it!

I am nursing a very bad cold, and even with a cold I feel passionate today. It may not be a sexy passionate as my focus is on garlic, red hot chili peppers (the food, not the band), oranges, lemons, tea, soup, blankets, kleenex and good books. All of which are curing what ails me.

Besides those passions, this week I got very passionate about networking and exchanging ideas. It is amazing what happens when you connect people with others, or your ideas with others and when synergy happens. That is happening in my life right now and what I see is that when you plant seeds of ideas, some grow, and some grow in ways you could never have imagined.

Since I have to resume nursing myself back to health, I want to throw the question out there to all of you: what are you currently passionate about? Do tell, as I need some exciting things to read about!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tag, I Am It! Seven Random Things About Myself

I have been tagged with a fun meme by Katerina Fiore of Olio di Oliva e Sogni di Vino (for those who don't speak Italian, that means Olive Oil and Dreams of Wine - great blog name, isn't it?)

I am to describe 7 random things about myself.

I am a Gemini, going in many directions at once, have always lead a very diverse life, and therefore find it very difficult to stick to 7 things.

* I love, love, love to be in Venice by myself. Venice, to me, is like a lover. You can roam the streets anonymously, getting lost in its sensuousness and beauty, devouring it as it devours you.

* Mountains speak to my soul. My favorite range is the Alps which I once flew over in a very small plane, alone with the pilot, in the dead of winter. The feeling of being so close to those majestic peaks was incomparable. I have camped and hiked alone in the Canadian Rockies and was awed at their splendor. I have traveled across and through the Himalayas, and the power and altitude of its peaks are overpoweringly beautiful. (And, yes, seeing Mt. Everest was one of the penultimate experiences of my life!)

* My first real job was on a pig and turkey farm. I'll leave that one at that.

* I studied for one semester at the oldest college in the Western Hemisphere - El Colegio de San Nicolas de Hidalgo, otherwise known as the University of Michoacan, in Mexico, founded in the 1590s.

* I just had a book dedicated to me. China by Herbert Paulzen, unfortunately is only published in Dutch. Herbert is one of the best known travel writers in the Netherlands and one of the most fascinating human beings I have ever met. We met in Kathmandu and traveled to Tibet together. I was moved to tears by his dedication.

* I like being around dying people. I have a difficult time putting into words this feeling, but when I am with a dying person, all pretenses are stripped away, and life is boiled down to what is really important.

* I am a yoga teacher and have done yoga, every day, for over 16 years. I am so grateful to have this practice in my life.

Okay, I'll stop myself there.

If you are reading this and would like to participate, consider yourself tagged. We would all love to read random things about each other, so play along!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Passionate Mondays - Italian Wine

I'm just back from New York and newly inspired about Italian wines.

Since the first time I tried any Italian wine of quality, which was a Barolo and a Barbaresco, I have been hooked on Italian wines. I knew from that moment on that what I wanted to do was sell, or somehow be involved with promoting Italian wines. Yes, it was that simple, like a lightning bolt. I did and still do follow that passion.
I am ceaselessly promoting my favorite Italian wines - like Canella Brut Rose' in this photo.

I realize that Italian wines can be very confusing for the average consumer due to thousands of grape varieties and wine labeling practices that make it difficult for most people to understand what is actually in the bottle. Without getting into a lesson, I simply want to encourage wine lovers out there to not be intimidated by these things and actually experiment with trying a variety of Italian wines. I recommend starting with a knowledgeable wine retailer and getting their guidance on how to buy Italian wines that you will like.

My other strong recommendation, besides taking one of my great wine trips to Italy (see my company website for more information), is reading all that you can about Italian wine. One of the best magazines for that is Gambero Rosso from Italy. Gambero Rosso, the leading wine magazine in Italy, each year gives out their Tre Bicchieri, or Three Glasses, award to the top 100 wines of Italy. They recently announced their 2008 winners, which you can read about here. They also do a Tre Bicchieri road show where you can taste all these top wines and talk to the wine producers or their representatives yourself. It is a wine tasting that I highly recommend.

So, on this Passionate Monday, why not pick up a nice bottle of Italian wine for dinner tonight?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Apples & Thyme ~ a celebration of mothers and grandmothers and time spent with with them in the kitchen

Just a reminder to submit your entries for our Apples & Thyme event. Inge and I normally ask for entries by the 10th of each month, but have extended the deadline this month to the 15th. Seems that everyone, including us, is getting a slow start this year. So, please, search your memory banks for recollections of time spent in the kitchen with your mothers, grandmothers, or whoever influenced you in relation to food. Share pictures, recipes and stories. Keep those old traditions alive with us here at Apples & Thyme!

On a personal note, I am off to New York for some meetings and a little fun for the rest of the week. I'll be back on Monday with Passionate Mondays!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Passionate Mondays and a Meme

Today I am passionate about books.

For Christmas I got exactly what I wanted - BOOKS! Yes, all books, with the exception of one
"Yoga Trance Dance" DVD. It seems that books are at the top of my wish list and have been for years. I love seeing piles of books around my house; it is somehow comforting. There are many books that I have owned for years but never read, but just looking at them brings me sense of pleasure and excitement.

Being that I have many friends, customers and blogging buddies interested in Italy, I wanted to share with all of you a list of some great books on Italy that I own:

OSTERIA D'ITALIA by Slow Food Editore: there is now an English version available and I believe it is called OSTERIA OF ITALY. For me, it is one of the best restaurant guide books. It will lead you only to authentic Italian eateries.

EATING IN ITALY by Faith Willinger: I just got this one for Christmas and I'm sure I will treasure it as Faith has a great reputation in the Italian food and cooking world.

ONE HUNDRED AND ONE BEAUTIFUL TOWNS IN ITALY - FOOD & WINE by Paolo Lazarin: This looks like a nice coffee table book, with brilliant pictures, but the information is amazing and entertaining. It delves into each region of Italy and explores the wine and food traditions of various areas within each.

VENICE FOR PLEASURE by J.G. Links: Here I am showing my favoritism toward Venice. Yes, it's my favorite city on earth, and up until I read this book, I refused to use a guidebook to Venice, preferring to wander on my own and purposefully get lost among its mazes of alleys. This book changed me. I read it from cover to cover, marking pages, planning routes for myself and getting excited about discovering the hidden treasures of "La Serenisima". It worked! The last time I went, I used it as my guide and uncovered a Venice I hadn't known existed.

THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES by Robert Hellenga: This one has been out a while and has many fans. It is a historical novel (my favorite kind) about the young foreigners who came to Florence in 1966 to volunteer to save Florence's relics and art from ruin after the Arno flooded the city.

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN & BELLA TUSCANY by Francis Mayes: Yes, everyone knows the first book, but has everyone read the second? I actually liked it more than the first. And, PLEASE, if you have only seen the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun", do yourself a favor and read the book to see what all the hype was really about. (Although the movie was kind of cute.)

THE RUBY RING by Diane Haeger: Another historical novel, this one about the famous painter Rafael and his lover. Set in 16th century Rome it is full of sumptuous details, loosely based on fact and full of love, politics and papal history.

BIRTH OF VENUS by Sarah Duvant: I loved this one! This historical novel is set in 15th century Florence is also overflowing with historical detail, as well as love, politics, art and betrayal. I particularly enjoyed it as the main female character was able to gain more personal freedom that most women had during that era.

ITALIAN REGIONAL COOKING by Ada Boni: I'm not sure if this is even in print anymore, but I did see it in a used bookstore the other day. It is simply great reading! Ms. Boni did an extraordinary job of researching each region's food and wine traditions, including history about the origins of certain foods and styles of cooking. It was written in the 60s, and much has changed since then, but in reading about these regional traditions makes understanding their current traditions easier. I also believe that through a country, or in this case a region's, culinary traditions, one can learn a lot about the culture, and this book proves it. (Just checked on Amazon and there appears to be later versions of this book available, but I'm not sure how they differ from the original one.)

MARCELLA HAZAN: If you don't own a Marcella Hazan cookbook, and you want to learn to cook (more) Italian food, by all means buy one. To me, she is the "go to" expert for Italian food. Her recipes are classic, as are her cooking methods. I recommend THE ESSENTIALS OF ITALIAN CLASSIC COOKING or MARCELLA'S ITALIAN KITCHEN.

Staying with our book theme, Scarlett over at From the Shores of Introspect and Retrospect tagged me with this meme months and months ago. I did not forget about it, but just hadn't gotten around to it. Since it is a book meme, it fits nicely with the rest of this post.

"By the Book"

1. Total number of books owned: Oh gosh, I never would count something like that, but they are in every room of my house and I am always running out of space in which to put them, so I suppose hundreds...but never enough!

2. Last book bought: IMAGINE A WOMAN IN LOVE WITH HERSELF by Patricia Lynn Reilly. I just started it, and it looks highly inspirational. Oh, and I almost always buy used books.

3. Last book read: I have always had multiple books going at once - I think it's a Gemini thing. These are the books I have going right now-

The book above.

THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin - I can't recommend this one enough! The true story of a mountain climber who devotes his life to building schools for the needy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I can't put it down for its inspiration, story and intrigue.

THINK & GROW RICH by Napolean Hill - I like to call this "The Original Secret". First published in 1937 it is a fascinating and inspiring book about how to achieve and/or get what you want. It is not some light-hearted, self-help book like THE SECRET, but a detailed and well-researched book about how our minds work and how to make our minds work for us.

FIRE by Anais Nin - I have been a fan of hers since college and recently decided to delve more deeply into her life. This is her "unexpurgated diary" of 1934-1937. I have been a "journaler" for all my life, so reading this kind of stream of consciousness life story appeals to me. Of course, being Anais Nin, it is filled with explicit sexual detail.

THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE by Thomas Merton - Merton, a contemplative Christian monk, has a simple, direct writing style that I love. He has written many books all of them coming from what he has learned from years of solitude, about our mind and our spirits work. While I am not a Christian, his beliefs and discoveries are very much aligned with the great spiritual traditions of the world.

WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Berel Markham - a classic that I can't believe I hadn't read before. Extremely beautiful writing about a life well-lived. Berel Markham was an independent spirit and a pilot in Africa.

I warned you, I am a Gemini! Could those books be more different? I really am reading all of them at once, too.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI by Paramahansa Yogananda
AVATAR by Jean Adriel (about Meher Baba)
Any book of Rumi's poetry
SIDDARTHA by Herman Hesse

Now it is my turn to tag. I tag Maryann at Finding La Dolce Vita, Tina at Pecorino e Miele, Erin at The Olive Notes, Susan at The Well Seasoned Cook, and Katie at Thyme For Cooking.

Have a passionate Monday!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year's Thoughts & Gnocchi di Zucca/Butternut Squash Gnocchi

The last few weeks I stepped back from blogging, and I apologize. I always find myself drawing inward at year end and the beginning of a new year. I take stock, analyze myself and my life, look at what I accomplished in the past year, how I have grown and ways that I wanted to grow, but didn't. I don't make resolutions for the new year, but I fine tune the path I have set for myself. It picks up from my frame of mind at the beginning of the previous year and adjusts it accordingly. One annual exercise I do is to write quite a bit about how my life is (present tense) at the end of the coming year. So, for instance, I write: "at the end of 2008 I am more unapologetically Jeni." (Yes, this is one of my main desires.) By putting my path and my desires in the present tense, and committing it to writing, I have always found that it fills me with a sense of already having accomplished it, which is a very powerful tool.

Over the last week, in addition to my introspection, I got my life more organized, my office and yoga/meditation studio more in order and inspiring, and cleaned up some of those old piles of "to do" things that had collected dust for months and months. This type of mental and physical cleaning house makes me feel ready to meet the new year with enthusiasm and inspiration. Indeed, I do feel that way and am working on several different exciting work projects already.

...and now back to my blog...

Today I bring you one of my favorite fall/winter recipes - Butternut Squash Gnocchi. For those of you who read my blog regularly already know that I am a big fan of butternut squash and sage, and recently presented another recipe with these ingredients. If you don't like these ingredients, well, you can stop reading now, or look through some of my other recipes for different inspiration.

Adapted from Biba Gaggiano's TRATTORIA COOKING
Serves 6 as a "primi" or first course, or 3 as main course
1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs) cut in half lengthwise (seeds scooped out)
1 large egg beaten
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for coating and rolling
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (with more for the table)
For the sauce:
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. high quality olive oil
A handful of sage leaves (more or less 30 medium to large leaves)
salt to taste
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush the squash halves with olive oil and bake on a sheet, cut side up until tender, about 45 minutes. (This can be done a day ahead.)
Cool squash. Scoop out flesh and put all of it into a clean, dry kitchen towel. Squeeze out most of the juice, but not all, approximately 1/2 cup.
Put the squash pulp into a bowl and egg, some salt, flour and Parmigiano. Mix well. Place the mixture in a floured bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Freeze for about one hour.
Spread some flour on a baking sheet. Remove the dough from the freezer. With you fingers, take about a teaspoon of the dough at a time and roll into a ball, then roll the ball into the flour. Place gnocchi on a lightly floured cookie sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used. This gets to be pretty sticky business, so you may have to clean your hands off from time to time. Place gnocchi in refrigerator until ready to use, up to several hours.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (I add about 1 Tbsp. of salt to the water.) Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a frying pan and add sage leaves. Cook on medium-low heat until butter begins to brown and the sage gets crispy. (Be careful as cooking this too quickly or with too much heat can lead to the butter and sage burning easily.) Add a little salt to the oil and butter mixture.
Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and boil for about 2 minutes, or until they rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon and add to the pan with the sage butter. Coat all gnocchi well and transfer to a platter or large bowl. Be sure to pass fresh Parmigiano Reggiano at the table for topping these tasty little morsels.
For wine, I find a light red goes well with squash dishes. Try a Dolcetto, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Nero d'Avola or Chianti Colli Senesi.
Buon Appetito!

Happy New Year/Buon Anno!