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Il Campo Cucino, Part 3-Secondo

Secondo

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A secondo is traditionally the heartiest course, sometimes called the piatto principale or the main meal. Foods consumed in this course include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, cod (baccala, salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast).

At Il Campo Cucina, our immersion into cooking and eating with lessons on several main course dishes continued.

Emannuela Giua and Marco Garossi, Podere la Fonte

At Podere la Fonte, we did not cook a meat course, but instead, participated in the making of two very hearty dishes; eggplant parmagiana (Melanzana Parmigiana), and Torta Pasqualina, a traditional Tuscan Quiche, typically served in the spring. Emmanuela's hands once again rolled out a gorgeous sheet of pasta for enclosing a lovely mixture of sheep milk ricotta and fresh chopped, cooked Swiss chard and parmesan cheese, making indents for 9 eggs that would cook when baked in the pastry.

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Marco in turn layered slices of lovely violet eggplant that had been browned in sunflower oil between his sauce and parmesan cheese.

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Francesco Castiglia

Francesco Castiglia taught us the art of deboning a chicken to make Pollo Arrosto con Zafferano. The chicken was laid open, sprinkled with chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, and was rolled and tied, ready to roast. Saffron from San Gimignano and stock from the chicken bones, sautéed in olive, was used to make a delicious sauce. Each serving of chicken was topped with a presentation of the sauce and sliced leeks. The chicken was fragrant and lovely.

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Luana Vaghegini

Luana’s deboning of a guinea fowl was different than Francesco’s in that the fowl was kept whole for stuffing, which is a feat that does not look simple. The dark-meat poultry was stuffed with chopped, cooked Swiss chard layered over slices of Pecorino Fresco. This cheese is aged only 3 months, and melts beautifully into the Swiss chard.

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Fifteen minutes before the guinea fowl was finished roasting, Luana poured a good amount of Vin Santo over the fowl and put it back in the oven. The dish was further sweetened by an accompaniment of caramelized onions—nothing more than onions, sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Delizioso!

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Sue with our "chef" friends sporting their new Il Campo Cucina aprons! (From left to right, Sue, Debbie and Mary Anne; below, Anlsey)

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Il Campo Cucina, Part 2: Primo

Primo

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A primo is the first course. It consists of hot food and is usually heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Non-meat dishes are the staple of any primo: examples include  risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crepes, casseroles, or lasagnas.

At Il Campo Cucina, our hands-on cooking experiences were each wonderfully instructional and varied, and we generally made (and ate) at least 4 courses, as Italian tradition dictates. This is where we got down to business.

Podere La Fonte - Pici

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Our first day of cooking found us immersed in the agriturismo world of Podere La Fonte, hosted by organic farmers Emannuela Giua and Marco Garossi. This beautiful and self-sustaining farm outside of Radicondoli is home to vineyards, olive groves, orchards, and an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

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We were treated to learning to make a traditional Tuscan pasta dish—pici, or fat spaghetti. Pici are made with just three ingredients—semola flour, water and a little olive oil. After making the dough and letting it rest, we experimented with the pici roller, to make the long, thick strands of pasta. Emannuela’s expert hands worked the dough so adeptly; it took us just a little bit of practice to cut the dough into strands and then keep them from sticking together. The strands were placed with care on an antique embroidered linen and sprinkled with more semola until ready for the pot of boiling water.

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Marco, meanwhile, tended to the sautéing of whole cloves of garlic in olive oil from Podere LaFonte’s trees until blond in color and very fragrant, over the open-hearth fire, for the Sugo Aglione (garlic tomato sauce) that would soon marry with the pici to create an amazingly simple but flavorful pasta dish.

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Our fellow class members (and new friends!) taking notes.

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Gratuitous cat photo ;-)

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Francesco Costagli - Lasagnette and Focaccia

At Villa Anqua on our second day of cooking, we were introduced to Chef Francesco Costagli, chef for Albergaccio Ristorante in Castellina in Chianti, which has one Michelin star.

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With the 16th century grainary at Anqua as Il Campo’s kitchen for our lesson, Chef Francesco took us through several wonderful dishes as we watched intently, took notes, rolled pasta, and drank wine. Especially beautiful were the Lasagnette (Ricotta e Bietole con salsa di Pomodoro). After rolling a gorgeous sheet of pasta thinner than a pie crust, Chef Francesco cut the pasta into 3” squares with a fluted pastry wheel. A mixture of fresh sheep milk ricotta, cooked and chopped swiss chard, eggs, and nutmeg was layered in dollops between the squares of fresh pasta, then sprinkled with shredded Parmesan for baking.

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Francesco checking Linda's work.

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Sue finishing up assembling the lasagnettes.

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Of particular note are the presentation skills possessed by Chef Francesco. Finished with a splash of olive oil and pomodo sauce, the lasagnettes were as delicious as they were beautiful!

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We also enjoyed the Focaccia with tomato, and most of us have attempted this at home with almost equally good results!

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Luana Vaghegini - Parmesan Flan and Risotto

Chef Luana Vaghegini is a native Radicondolian, having grown up on a local self-sustaining farm. She is now a personal chef and caterer.

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We marveled at the efforts Luana put into making her silky Parmesan flan and flawless risotto. These two dishes were perfetto! Luana owned the most heavy duty whisk that we’ve seen! She used it to make an ethereal Parmesan flan that was divine, yet it required strength and stamina to make it that way. Same with the risotto… so much stirring, accomplished with a knowing technique and love. In same the way that the flan was so perfectly smooth, the risotto had the perfect bite, and was dressed with a gorgeous red wine reduction.

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Plating the flan with thinly sliced pears, freshly ground pepper, and of course, EVOO.

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Preparing the risotto.

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Time to eat and celebrate with new friends.

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After a long day of cooking (and drinking wine), we pack up to cook another day!

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Ready for the next lesson...

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Chef Fulvio Tomasetta - Tortellini

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Our last night with Il Campo Cucina was spent cooking at Il Bel Canto with Chef Fulvio and his lovely wife, Claudia, from Bologna.

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Chef Fulvio shared with us three critical lessons, probably the most important of our cooking time in Tuscany:

  • “Cooking must be from the heart”
  • “Armonia perfetta” (perfect harmony)
  • “Mangiare e numero uno”
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This fun and engaging evening was spent learning the art of preparing tortellini. In a friendly competitive atmosphere filled with laughter (and a good deal of wine), we made and rolled the pasta, cut it into squares using a Tagliasfoglia cutter, made the meat filling and rolled it into pea-sized balls, and patiently learned to shape the tortellini by wrapping it around your finger and pressing the edges together.

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Chef Fulvio slaps down some store bought tortellini and ask us, "What is this?" We all respond, "tortellini!". He says, "No, cat food!" Then he proceeds to show us what real tortellini is!

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The tortellini were served in brodo and were just delicious.

We had an incredible amount of fun that evening, learning, laughing, talking, eating. There was even a mayonnaise-making competition! And another beautiful sunset to cook by.

At the end of each day's cooking lesson, we enjoyed sitting down with the chefs and eating our meal together...and usually, it was at a pretty big table! Salute!

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Il Campo Cucina

The Courses of Il Campo Cucina - October 2012, Part I

Italians traditionally divide a main celebration meal into several different courses. As we reflect on our week at Il Campo Cucina, our experiences were as sumptuous as any fully-coursed Italian celebratory meal. It seems only fitting, then, to follow this menu by sharing the food, wine, people, and beauty of Tuscany, Radicondoli, and Il Campo Cucina, course by course!

 Aperitivo

The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne, or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.

There are times when the forces of God, nature, and the world align so completely and seamlessly so as to bring people together to create a perfect set of circumstances. That was our week with Il Campo Cucina. The Italians call it "destino." It was meant to be. From the moment that Marlane Agriesti Miriello pulled an impromptu visit to a thousand-year old grain mill out of thin air, completely off the program, to fill an hour’s time on our way to La Speranza for lunch, we knew we were in for something special. She charmed Giuliano, a man clearly not used to visitors (and especially 9 non-native Italian women) and brought him from a place of skepticism to that of a kindly tour guide, even grinding wheat into flour in his mill for us to see. We had been transported back to an ancient time and were spellbound from that moment, Throughout the week, we got used to Marlane making magic for us at every turn.

No sooner did we arrive at Il Bel Canto, our home for a week in Radicondoli, that we realized this was no ordinary magic. We were surrounded by the palette of beauty and serenity that is the quintessential Tuscan countryside. We had everything we could ask for in our accommodations. Every morning, I jumped out of bed to open the shutter to take in scenery that looked like a live painting, looking out the window often to make sure I didn’t miss a hue or perspective that wasn’t there an hour ago. One morning, there was a vibrant rainbow—how was it that what was already beautiful could be made more so by such a magnificent streak of colors across the sky? We surely had to be in heaven.

Il Bel Canto was so aptly named, because all of the elements in its surroundings created a good song. The trees, grass, sky, the clouds, hills, the village lights in the distance, the olive trees, the lone pomegranate tree, the 16th century stone structures, the vegetable garden, the rooster crowing up the hill--were among the instruments that created this beautiful symphony! Nothing, however, could compare to the magnificent sunsets, that changed as if with a brush stroke, in every next moment. There were chairs set along the ridge just to honor this daily feat of ever-changing beauty with thousands of years of iterations, and the realization was then, that Tuscan’s do not tire of their beautiful surroundings, nor do they take it for granted. Un salute alla vita!

 

Antipasto

The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold (not in all cases) and lighter than the first course. Affettati (sliced meats),  charcuterie, salami, hams, (mortadella, Parma ham), cheeses, (mozarella, scarmorza), sandwich-like foods (panini, bruschette), vegetables, cold salmon, are examples of foods eaten. 

Anqua. Just saying the word emotes the remembrance of another heavy-duty dose of magic. Anqua is a 16th century castle, built on the ruins of a 12th Century castle in Radicondoli. It still belongs to the same family who originally built it, one of the oldest of Siena. On our first visit, we were entranced by our first glimpse of the enormous grounds and expansive vista, but that almost didn’t compare to entering the magnificent rustic dining room, simply and anciently elegant, complete with roaring hearth fire, where once, all the cooking was done.

We were graciously welcomed by Count Andrea Pannocchieschi d’Elci and friends. Could that beautiful table be set for us? Were we the guests waiting to experience a fabulous wine tasting by Level I Sommelier, Luigi Pizzolato. Could this night be any more special? How had we been able to be immersed so quickly into an Italy that most travelers never get to experience? If we pinched ourselves too hard, would we wake up?

The wine tasting was informative and warmly engaging. Italians are very proud of their wine (and that is an understatement). We tasted San Gimignano Vernaccia and paid much homage to the Sangiovese grape, Luigi’s favorite (and mine). “Know the grape, the farm, and the age” and you know a lot. It was sad to learn that due to the summer’s drought conditions in Italy this year, it would not be a good year for Italian wines.

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The jewel of the evening was the magnifico dinner. The jewel of the dinner was the ovuli mushroom. It is more precious than the porcini, and both were at the height of their season. (We often saw cars pulled over at the side of the road, with their occupants in the fields and forests searching for the revered porcini). The ovuli were picked the day before on Anqua’s property. The antipasti of the evening was simply chopped ovuli mushrooms, onion, olive oil and nipotella served on crostini.  It was divine.

We were treated to Andrea’s fresh tagliatelle with porcini as the primo. Absolutely heavenly. Il Secondo was thinly sliced pork.

We finished the meal with a dolce: Vin Santo cake. This simple and not too sweet cake is made with Santo Spirito and ground walnuts. These beautiful and tasty courses and more of Andrea’s wine from Anqua’s grapes, and the warm and spirited company and friends of Marlane that we shared this amazing dinner that evening will stand out as one of our most memorable meals--ever. We were special that night, and we knew it

 

Change...and a Leap of Faith

I don’t like change. It is not unusual that most people don't. But it seems that when I make a change, I do it in a big way. I have moved, not something I recommend for the faint of heart. Especially not after 20 years. And, 75 miles from my old home. I pushed myself daily to keep moving forward, to do this. Three weeks into the new home, I can say I have have no regrets. It feels like home. It is a new beginning.

There were obstacles, of course. But they are in the past. I have a big one yet facing me. But, when I left work before taking 2 weeks vacation to move, I envisioned a parachute as I thought I might be free falling from a cliff without a net. I know the parachute is out there. Every day, I thought of three things some wise people (yet unknown to themselves) said to me:

  • “You can direct your own life, or someone will do it for you.”
  • “Sometimes the hardest decisions are the best ones.”
  • “Change can be a good thing.”

I took these pearls out often, marveled at their poignancy and timeliness in my life at the moments they arrived (this all must be happening for a reason for people, some I hardly know, to shine such wisdom at me at the most appropriate moments, causing me to pause in my tracks as I read the words) and I have held them dear while I moved through the struggle to move.

For the first time in a while, I feel happy and at peace. I have some struggles to go. But when you lose the fear, it’s easier to move ahead.

There are two more recent life thoughts shared with me that will continue to drive me forward:

  • "I am going to win." And...
  • "Write the last chapter."

These two are entwined as I can't do the first without doing the latter. Thanks, SD.

I envision baking in my new kitchen. It will be great fun. It will be a comfort. It will be…everything and anything I want it to be. Biscotti rules. I envision family, brought closer together. Thanks to all for supporting me and believing in me. I envision a glass of wine on the patio. Holidays that are happy. Sharing life. A life to be lived.

And then there is the trip to Il Campo Cucina in Radicondoli…leaving 5 weeks from today. The trip of dreams…cooking in the Tuscan countryside with my sister, my inspiration. Where we go from here is the next dream in the queue.

In the face of what seems like a miserable time for me, there is an awful lot of good going on. I will look back and remember it as a very good year. Sounds like a win to me.

I have leapt with faith that everything will be okay. And life will be good.

New Year's Champagne & a Mini Photography Lesson

If you read my post yesterday, I only posted some of the bad things that happened last year. I promised the list of the good things, but I don't think I need to do that. I'll just share those goods things and how I am applying them as I move forward. This actually wasn't supposed to be a post, but as I was taking (not making, just yet) the photograph, I started seeing things in the photo I may not have been aware of a year ago. I started seeing the things I DON'T WANT in a photo. If you are a professional photographer, you don't need to read any further. You know this already. This is just me, working out what you guys already know. Maybe it will help someone else, maybe not.

It started like this. Today, we finally popped the cork on the champagne we were going to have New Year's Eve. I LOVED the stainless steel label. Gotta photograph it, right? Well, here was the first shot. Please forgive me, I am using a new lens (Canon 100mm 2.8 IS; Christmas present to myself) for the first time and I haven't found it's sweet spot yet for product photography.

I was shooting this in natural light, so I thought. On the left, you can see incandescent light from my kitchen lighting. So off it goes. Next...

Hmmm, that red is still there. Oh, it's my RED Giants sweatshirt on the kitchen chair. So off it goes...

Okay, still some unwanted color elements, but I need to share one of the best things I learned this year. White Cards (and reflectors). It could be white paper, white foam core, aluminum foil, a mirror or even a chef's hat (used recently to photograph a chef). On this shot, just needed to light up the left side of the label. I positioned the white foam core to the left and under the label, which also blocked out the color cast from something in my kitchen. It was positioned pretty close to the bottle, but since I was focusing only on the label, the foam core was out of the frame.

So, the final shot is still not perfect. I was shooting on a tripod but was too lazy to go get my cable release. Also, at f8, I thought it would be in focus, but since I am dealing with a macro lens, I guess I goofed, so please don't berate me too hard.

The moral of this story is... I am not a professional. I am working through things I have learned this year. I am committed to shooting more this  year. You can watch online workshops, like creativeLIVE, which I HIGHLY recommend, but if you don't shoot, you won't improve. After the tough year I've had, I am committed to shooting more and take the (painstaking) time it takes to improve my work. Yes, painstaking. But it will be worth it.

The Year in Review... Or, Be Careful What You Wish For, Part I

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I have preparing this entry in my mind for a couple of weeks now. I haven't been diligent with this blog, so I wanted to play catch up. It might not have been so daunting if I had kept up with blogging as events were happening in my life. It's called procrastination. Yes, many of us are guilty of it, and I admire all of the bloggers that I follow for their tenaciousness for blogging at full speed. My sister and I started this blog to talk about food and life, and I think the first life lesson that I want to pass on is - this is hard! It's work!! I get that now, so I am not going to consider this a New Year's Resolution, I'm just going to commit myself to doing a good job, which means I am going to have to gain confidence in my writing skills and implement practical time management strategies to edit my photographs as I make them. Hmmm... a bit daunting already.

I guess the best place to start for this entry is to explain the latter part of the post title. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. In February, I turned fifty years old and so I wished for myself a year full of adventure and experiences. Of course, when you wish for something like that, you are only think of good things. Well, I got the good, the bad and the ugly on a scale like I'd never experienced before. I'll spare you most of the details on the bad, because then it would sound like I was complaining. The best thing to do with bad things that happen are to turn them around into good things. So to put the good in context, here are the bad things that happened this year.

BAD THING #1 - The Fire

As for my illness, it relates to what I wished for. I set out to have an adventure or two this year. The first one I had to cancel because of the fire. I was headed to Italy with other photographers. Later in the year, I jumped at the chance for another photography trip to Africa. I got cellulitis from a flu shot when I started getting immunizations for the trip. A one in a million occurrence. I was in the hospital for a week. Now, if I chose to sit at home and be comfortable, that wouldn't have happened. If I chose to live my life like that, I would wither and die. That was already starting to happen. I forgot what it was like to take chances and throw myself out there. I accept the consequences for that and I hope that I will continue to learn and pursue new creative outlets. I'm not even quite comfortable writing this blog. Not sure I really have something to offer, but if I don't do it, I'll never know, and I'll never be able to learn from it.

BAD THING #3 - Losing My Eyesight

This is a tough one. At the age of forty six, I was diagnosed with Glaucoma. I had already lost some vision in my right eye, but almost five years later, with surgery and numerous eye drops, it's still a battle. I can't drive at night anymore. It's difficult to focus my vision. At first I thought that it would deter my ability to make photographs, but I am finding that the camera is more like a prosthesis. It can see what I can't. I will probably write more about this in the future as I work it out.

Stay tuned for BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR PART 2 - The good stuff that happened in 2011 (and more foodie stuff)

From Seoul to San Francisco

September was a busy month of travel (for work)...and I got to see a new part of the world I'd never been before; that is, Seoul, Korea, and visited a familiar favorite, San Francisco (one of my top two US cites--the other being Savannah). When I visit a city, I am drawn to two things: markets and churches. I didn't have time to visit palaces, churches, or temples in Seoul, but did have an amazing experience at the Nam Dae Mun market (thanks also to my companions Mary Ellen and Don). So then when I went to San Francisco bought a ticket to Sausalito at the Ferry Building, I was pleasantly surprised with the market inside the building. So, I thought, what a contrast of two worlds--the sights, smells, and wares were amazing, and it is especially interesting to look at the differences and some similarities between the two.

Nam Dae Mun Market
The San Francisco Ferry Building
Lunch at Nam Dae Mun...Photo Don Wright
Dinner at Nam Dae Mun...photo Don Wright

The Nam Dae Mun market was an eclectic and endless maze of shops and vendors crammed into narrow "streets" that sold everything from watches to scarves to gift boxes of mushrooms and giant jars of pickled ginseng. There were every day items, tourist items, and locals buying a fish for dinner that evening, leaving with it wrapped in newspaper. There were many food items that we did not know; we saw local people queueing up as steaming hot dumpling-looking items came out of the tiniest storefront.

Hot and steaming

I thought the cooked (were they smoked?) pork parts in barrels contrasted interestingly yet somehow similarly with the shop Boccalone in the San Francisco Ferry Building, which advertised "Tasty Salted Pig Parts."

Tasty Pig Parts
Parts of Pig, Photo Don Wright

At the San Francisco Ferry Building, I thought I died and went to cheese heaven at The Cowgirl Creamery and wished I'd had hours to sample the many wonderful cheeses. I saw the most beautiful collection of heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen. I ate possibly one of the best cookies I have eaten in my life--a macaroon at Miette that was dainty and delicate and so full of flavor.

Cheese Heaven at the Cowgirl Creamery

The similarities lie in the gathering of people, to shop, to buy, and to take home. Local and fresh ingredients were key in both markets, and while they looked vastly different in most cases, fruit, vegetables, and seafood were common to each. And then there's the pork. And some other indescribables.

Organic Heirlooms

I can't leave out a super fun night in Seoul at Ireland Yuki, yes--an Irish Korean bar. That night was like having a bird's eye view into young Korean nightlife from an anonymous position (okay, well, on a bar stool), while having no worries of one's own, and a few laughs. Thanks, Oleg, that was a blast.

Ireland Yuki

And in between Seoul and San Francisco was a trip to Toronto. There is one food highlight worth noting from that trip: the Coconut Cream Pie at Harbor 60, a top notch restaurant where all the food was outstanding--a most memorable meal. However, that pie was ethereal. It could possibly qualify as the best pie I have eaten. Ever.

In Sausalito, I was on a mission to find EyeItalia, an Italian home goods store that I'd seen advertised in the back of a magazine. Lovely shopping. This fortuitous stop opened a door to another journey to be taken in 2012: we booked a week at Il Campo Cucina, an Italian cooking school in Radicondoli, in the heart of Tuscany next October, to realize another passion and a dream. Stay tuned for wonderful news and photos for the blog next year! Ciao!

EyeItalia in Sausalito

World Famous Family Jell-O Mold

When we were kids, we hated this family food tradition: the Jell-O mold that showed up at every holiday occasion. It was either green or yellow, with lots of chopped up “stuff” in it. It wiggled, wobbled, and glistened, but face it? Who would eat that mixture of fruit and vegetables, encased in a brightly colored glob of lemon or lime? The worst part is that it was served with a large dollop of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise! The worst offender of these ingredients. Most of all, I remember it was made in an opaque plastic Tupperware Jell-O mold, with interchangeable sealed lids that reflected the different holidays and had an indentation with a tulip or a Christmas tree for that awful ingredient…mayonnaise. I still have my pale green Tupperware Jell-O mold, sans indented lid. But my mother still has the original.

My memory tells me that the Jell-O mold was the product of my grandmother, Ethel Haster. Surely she was in her heyday in the 50s and 60s and 70s, when Tupperware and Jell-O were on the culinary cutting edge.  She was and will always be the most creative person I know. She influenced our lives in every way with her amazing talents, whether it be knitting, sewing, needlepoint, crochet, cooking or her every day analytical approach to problems, situations, or opportunities. Her gifts are reflected in the generations that followed her, and there isn’t a time that I don’t pick up my knitting needs that I don’t think we were lucky to have had her, and grateful that we inherited many of her passions.So here’s to Gram, who lived in a simpler, non-technical time but approached everything she did with an “engineer’s mind” and a heavy-duty dose of creativity and “get-it-done” attitude.

The Jell-O mold? I’d give anything to be able to have her bring it for Christmas dinner, and would proudly place it on my table, along with whatever else I was serving, and spend the rest of the night talking to her about all the things I wish I did when she was still with us. I’d even have it with the mayonnaise.  :-)

Haster Family Jell-O Mold

1 small package Lime (or Lemon) Jell-O, if you prefer

1 cup Grated Carrots

1/2 cup Chopped Celery

1 small can or 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Make Jell-O according to package directions, using 1 cup boiling water and 3/4 cup cold water. Add carrots, celery and crushed pineapple. Pour into Jell-O mold and refrigerate until set. When ready to serve, dip mold inwarm water to loosen and release.

Serve with mayonnaise (if you must).

World Famous Babka

A Family Tradition--Past, Present, and Future: Just like we remember growing up.

Polish Babka

3 pk  (1/4 oz) active dry yeast (3 tbsp)

¾ cup warm water (110F)

1 Tb plus 1 cup sugar

7 3/4 cups flour (about)

1 1/2 cup milk

1 ¼ c unsalted butter or margarine

6 eggs

2 egg yolks

1 1/2  tsp salt

1 cup golden raisins

1 egg white

Grease side and bottom of 2 10-inch tube pans.

In shallow medium bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 cup warm flour; stir to combine. Cover; let stand in a warm place 5-10 minutes until foamy. Heat milk and butter or margarine in a small saucepan until melted. Let stand until mixture cools to warm. In a large bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks, and remaining 1 cup sugar until pale and frothy. Add cooled milk mixture, salt, and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Gradually beat in 4 1/2 cups flour. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough into a soft, smooth dough. Divide dough in half. Arrange one part dough in each greased pan. Cover with a damp cloth; let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly beat egg white and brush over top of dough. Bake 50-55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Makes two 10-inch loaves.

A Tale of Two Grandmas

Our two grandmothers could not have been more different than night and day. Our maternal was a pretty savvy woman, who, in our opinion, could do anything. (She was the first woman ambulance driver in her NJ shore town in the 1970s). She was fun. She liked to drive fast and she liked to go places and do things.

So, to Ethel Haster, we honor her with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek humor with a  "family recipe" that we remember her fondly by: a Lime Green Jello Mold. She was also extraordinary at Thanksgiving with a sausage sage-stuffing; her homemade baked beans were awesome, and I will always remember the big pot of crabs boiling on her stove.

Our paternal grandmother was born in Poland in 1900. She game to the United States at the age of 18, speaking no English. (Contrast this to our material grandmother, where the family rumor is that her [our] ancestors came over on the Mayflower). She married (a chef...does that tell you something?), she worked in a factory, she raised two children; she was an early widow. She spoke with a heavy accent. She was a good person. But, she did not venture far in the world after her initial long journey from her homeland. She remained Polish through-and-through, even though she had become a U.S. citizen.

I only remember her making Babka once. Severe arthritis too soon in her life prevented her from continuing to bake. But, I remember her telling me how to make it as she demonstrated. The important part, I remember her saying, is that the dough "must come from your hands" and then you know you are done kneading. After that time, I only remember buying Babka, and only from the remaining Polish bakeries in Passaic. Always at Easter, and sometimes in between. Babka seems synonymous with my Polish heritage.

Many years later, after my Polish Grandma was gone, I remembered the comfort of Babka in her house and searched for a recipe. I finally found one that was just as I remembered eating at family occasions. It is a tradition that I will always carry on in our family, even though there are no Polish relatives left with us. I know the importance of ensuring that my own daughter carries this tradition on...'til the dough comes from your hands.

To Stella Uminska Brodow, may we always remember the goodness of your heart, and think of you each time we cut into an aromatic round loaf of homemade Babka, cherishing a childhood family memory, long gone.

Cheers to both Gram and Grandma! It is fitting that we inaugurate this Blog in your names. Always live in our hearts. And to everyone reading this--Welcome to our Blog!

My World Famous Chicken Francese

This is our ultimate comfort food. I am going out on a limb here and sharing my secret recipe, if you can read it (Don't worry, I can't read it either). It's kind of my recipe, adopted from Lidia Bastianich while I was watching her show on PBS a few years ago. I hastily grabbed a nearby pad (coincidentally, something I bought in Venice) and scribbled the ingredients as I watching. I have to say that my first few attempts were disappointing (strong lemon flavor, overcooked, etc), but absolutely no fault of the recipe that Lidia was demonstrating, but more to my inept ability to take quick notes. I was assuming some things that I thought I may have missed, like adding extra lemon juice when all you need is the lemon flavor from sauteing the lemon slices, and of course not monitoring the heat level that works for my stove top. I never gave up, and finally can make a consistently wonderful francese. Practice. In the near future, I will post the complete recipe.

So, my husband and I have had a difficult year. We had a devastating fire to our family business, and not long after, he became very ill (but recovering well). As we go through the recovery process, food has been a focal (grounding) point for me, and interestingly enough, I have been given a new food challenge... how to make a (homemade) low fiber diet. It's easy to buy the low fiber crap in the supermarket, but when you are used to buying fresh veggies and growing your own, it's harder to manage than you think. It's a good thing that all of the ingredients for this dish meet the criteria. Happy!

I will surely have to post my adventures in flavoring and enhancing canned vegetables for a low fiber diet. Quite a challenge.

Peas, Not Quite Ready for Picking

This is the first year I have grown peas in my vegetable garden. Picked a couple of pods to check their readiness for picking. Earthy and flavorful, but lacking substance. I think they need a little more time. I think I need to pay attention to the information on the seed packets and a calendar. Days to maturity are pretty accurate if you water and feed regularly.

But let me back up a little bit. I have been vegetable gardening for a few years now. A few years ago, I started a calendar that annually marks first and last frosts, and records first blooms of some of my trees and shrubs in the spring, but since I am somewhat a novice at gardening, like anything else in life, you need to be aware of the beginning and end of a cycle. Experienced gardeners are already there. Experience is the key, and you can't gain experience if you don't pursue the failures and successes of multiple attempts at gardening (or life if you have already picked up that metaphor). My previous attempts at gardening have been pretty random, but now that I am pursuing some sort of order (or logic) to the mix, what once seemed complex, is seemingly very simple. Mind you now, it's still a work in progress, but planting for next year, with lessons learned from this year, guided by mistakes from the previous years, will yield simplicity (and food), finding a place in my soul where I can enjoy gardening, rather than worrying about the complexity of gardening.

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