Showing posts with label food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 12

Can you say Yummy in Italian?

Italians are so serious about food, I never in my wildest dreams thought they would debase themselves to critiquing cuisine as 'yummy'.  But this word is so cool that I can’t believe I never knew nor used it prior:  gnam-as in gnam-gnam meaning yum-yum.  
Perhaps this is for kids, and, not having any Italian tots handy, maybe it just never crossed my radar.

Which brought me to think about food (doesn't everything?)  I've been doing a lot of that lately -- most likely due to hanging out with all the right people -- those Slow Food folks who I admire down to the very pit of my stomach.  So, as I chomp on an almost delirious piece of aged cacio (as in cacio cavallo cheese) - so yellow, it seems a bar of gold is occupying my fridge - I’ll share a few of my most recent palatable adventures.

I purchased the cacio cheese along with organic wines & olive oil from TusciaGnam - I know, an impossible name to type let alone remember, so just bookmark their site and never regret it.  Tuscia, is the Etruscan-ish area around Viterbo, just outside Rome.  Thankfully (for us tourists, not for the tourism providers), it's oft neglected by the crowds to their detriment; Tuscia is brimming with gorgeous foods, remarkable sights, and serious farmers who want to ply you with only the best.  It has, indeed, captured my heart straight from my stomach.  The area boasts plenty of food festivals or sagre, and Viterbo is home to an amazing annual foodie extravaganza, a two-week event called Caffeina.

A recent trip to Civita Castellana, a proud land of porcelain has a gorgeous Duomo and a wonderful relais, Falisco, where we were treated to more TusciaGnam tasties, including pasta from farro (an ancient grain I believe someone once named spelt - but thankfully, according to google, it's farro from now on), made with that scrumptious cacio cheese; my favorite right up there with Sardinian aged pecorino.  
At their ceramics museum, we were also enthralled by the skill of molto simpatico Mastro Cencio who showed us in minutes the technique behind Etruscan pottery and their decorations [Click on his site here & Cue in: music from Ghost].  His terra-colored paints when heated, turn black on the pots.  Gorgeous.  From here, the Etruscans would be pleased to know that the area gave us our toilets (or, bathroom fixtures, if you prefer).
Back in Rome, I happened upon a fab new Gelateria Romana (a funny misnomer, as it was founded in Rimini in 1947 so now coming to Rome!)  They’ve done it up nicely, with an all-white atmosphere, gorgeous windows, gelato-filled crepes and sauces flowing non-stop from faucets; the stuff ones usually dreams about (or, that I always do...).

Just around the corner, I was treated to an all-day outrageous buffet at Porto Fluviale, one of the many hip bars & restaurants opening in this funky area (viale ostiense) that used to house flour mills along the Tiber, along with the gasometro and the Electric Company, now my favorite museum in Italy.

With all our balmy weather, the Gelateria was packed with the dopo-pranzo crowd, so, it’s a bit stressful to actually eat there, but worth the pushing & shoving; an experience not unlike the one across the way at Eataly.  The area also boasts about 5 sushi restaurants - I’m not sure in what state of sushidom…but one day, I’ll set out to try them on for size.

And, not to disappoint my readers without offering “the flipside of the frittata," I’ll mention that we have heard about the fake Italian virgin olive oil confiscated at the swanky Herrod’s Dept Store in London; looks like the Tuscan "import" comes from the fair green hills of Gran Bretagna - a sore subject taken up in the fine tome, Extra Virgin.  [And which also provokes the query...they have olive trees in the UK?]

And while on the subject of imposters, I had my personal bizarre moment, when my package of Pettinicchio ricotta turned out to be fucsia; not a color you want to see in nature's whitest product.

So, I’m going to check out if I can get Tusciagnam to deliver ricotta fresh from the sheep (even better than from the cow) but until then, I'll happily enjoy my golden brick of cacio cheese.

Sunday, February 9

Blood Red Oranges: As good as it gets

Picture and all the nutritional info
you would ever want from 
One of my long held stances on Life in Italy is that much of the country is marketing-challenged.  You can imagine my dismay when I first heard about blood red oranges.  But in reality, the name fits.  By my calculations, the only reason vampires don't exist is that they went vegan and started going for this sweet nectar instead.
But, trolling the internet, you find plenty of nay-sayers. most likely turned off by the name.  Or the looks.  Somewhere on twitter I turned up a whole community of no blood-red orange people. I was shocked.
But this caused me to recall my very first interaction with this strangest of fruits [after all, I came from the Orange-Juice-from-a-can USA DNA strain].  Heck, it was a miracle for me to know that oranges grew on trees.

So there I was in Parma, at 19 years old, sweating it out in one of the hottest summers ever experienced by homo sapiens.  I was holding down the challenges of a summer internship in a place where everyone heads for the cooler hills for the summer, leaving the sad sacks behind to shut the windows so the heat wouldn't come into the building. My workload was so challenging that I actually experienced carpal tunnel from the mass of papers they had me staple - as my only job requirement - for three straight sweltering months.
After one particularly staple-stress-filled day at the office, I headed out to a nearby bar (well, that's not entirely the only bar open in a 60 km radius from my office) and, eyeing a small hill of gorgeous oranges, I asked for some fresh-squeezed juice.  I was so desperate, I was willing to spend an entire week's pay stub to satisfy my need to be both cooled & vitamined up before rickets kicked in altogether.  
The bar tender placed a purplish glass filled with some concoction in front of me.  It looked as if they had taken three rotten oranges, clearly covered over from the heat with a purplish mould, and put it in my glass.  I refused to drink it.  
The bartender started to laugh.  Thinking it was some gag he was playing on me - I looked around for Candid Camera.  I finally said, politely, that I couldn't drink this.  And...what was it anyway?  By way of an answer he produced equally purple oranges - split in two - which only confirmed my suspicions. The fruit was rotten, after all.
By this time, the only other person in the entire town told me to try it.  Not recalling those monitions of 'never accepting strange food from strangers', I tried a tentative sip.
And to this day, I have never, ever, in my life tasted something so wondrous, so stupendous, so over-the-top sweet & sour & sensational.  To top it off, they even served it with a bag of sugar and a tall spoon to stir it all around with.  Since that fateful day, I have never been able to drink what most countries call "orange juice" again.  
But in trying to beat that unbearable Parma heat, I never did get my o.j. with a cube of ice inside.  It didn't matter.  And still doesn't.

Tuesday, November 5

The Mediterranean Diet...All it's cracked up to be?

Check out my latest blogpost from Irreverent Italy on the news of our day.
This one, about why this advert is causing a maelstrom of controversy in Italy...

A picture worth mille words...Where their tomatoes come from...
Not from down south...

Sunday, May 19

Ferrero's NO NUTELLA DAY: Eating Chocolate-Covered Crow

When I was growing up in the food-friendly, marketing savvy USA, field trips weren't always made to cultural sites [although, the Henry Ford Museum & The Stratford Festival were part of the programming, as was a concert in Chicago of - Engelbert Humperdinck no less -- it was the height of Motown, bordering on Bob Segar's Rock&Roll & Patty Smith, so you can imagine how thrilled a bunch of teens were about that choice of venue...] Some of my earliest memories were class trips taken to Detroit's Wonderbread Factory, the Vernor's Ginger Ale factory and even to Stroh's Brewery where we were served up helpings of ice cream, not beer (although the adults could imbibe - even those on the job!)  Companies made sure we were given copious helpings of whatever it was they happened to be making that day.  And it worked.  We were hooked (and anyone who knows me will know that I will walk to all ends of the earth for a cool glass of ginger ale, which one can find in Italy, if you just put your mind to it).
So I was somewhat surprised when, on the World Nutella Day facebook page, two fellow bloggers & Nutella aficionados had posted this picture of their factory visit along with this caption below:
 Guess where we are? Ferrero's factory in Alba, Italy. 
Unfortunately, it's not open to the public--no Nutella tasting on site!

Anyone who follows my blog will know that one of my favorite mantras of Life in Italy is that the entire country needs a crash course in Marketing101.  Here we have one of the most successful companies on Planet Earth, kiddie visits, no free samples, no glorious Benvenuti! from the likes of Guglielmo Wonka.  If I were a marketing consultant, I would send the entire staff on a field trip over to Hershey, Pennsylvania--rollercoaster park and all--but then again, given their global success, perhaps Ferrero really doesn't need the hassle.
Well, this became quite true when founders of the (unpaid) no. 1 Fan Club and probably most successful food fan club at that, having proudly established a worldwide phenomenon of World Nutella Day, were given 30 days to cease & desist.  Basically, seal it up like a heavy glass jar and, leave our brand alone, Grazie (or no Grazie as the case may be).
I cannot, for the life of me, get my head around what a short-sighted and unbelievably stupid move this has been for one great conglomerate.  You want to shut down people who freely profess their love of your product, and all the while for free?  To do what?  Give it to an ad agency who will charge you millions to produce the same warm fuzzies?  If this is not a case of sour grapes, I don't know what is.
It reminded me of the guy who made incredibly sturdy and recyclable furniture out of Fedex boxes.  He, too, was told in no uncertain terms to box it up.  A smart marketing exec over at UPS immediately offered him as many cartons as he'd like to keep production going strong.  Lego, in an effort to protect their brand, just allowed the Rest of the World to dilute it by forcing them to call the Lego's, 'Bricks'.
But World Nutella Day is not a moniker, like Kleenex or Xerox™.  It's an event.  Did I mention a 'free' one at that?  And one that no one involved was making any money out of, besides?  Simply put, it was a fun-filled, deliciously chocolately experience.  So you shut them down 'cuz it's too popular?
It's no wonder I'm not a beer drinker. Not given the samples when we were youngsters, I never got truly hooked (save for during my college years, which I can't truly comment on, because I don't remember a thing)As for Nutella™, once you come out of your sugar-induced stupor, perhaps you can tell us what's really behind all this.  In the meantime, I can't wait to see you in Business School marketing textbooks as a case history on 'what went wrong' - right up there with the change of recipe of Classic Coke, or Perrier's botched response to the chemical scare back in the 1980s. 
In the meantime, for all you Nutella Lovers out there, I propose a boycott.  And, to help you along, here's a wonderful little recipe on how to make your very own chocolate spread delight.  You can even freeze it in ice cube trays and make your very own little Lego Blocks errr...Not Nutella Bricks.
Picture from

Friday, March 8

A Horse of a Different Color

The lastest craze driven by the media to make us all crazy is the “scandal” of - gasp! Horrors of horrors! - finding horsemeat in pretty much every meat and meat-related item in and around Europe.  You would think they found, oh, I don’t know lead in baby and pet food from China.  I am a horse aficionado, I (try, at least to) ride them, and on my palette of palatable plates, horse meat is right up there alongside cow tongue, tripe and on most occasions, Thumper (except when hiking in the Alps and served with polenta).  So, the question on everyone's lips, if not in their mouths is, “Where’s the beef?!” 

I thought the media-driven fear fomenting the public outcry was sort of strange in a place (and by this I mean all of Europe, east, west, and central) that regularly offers up horse meat on menus and in the meat aisle of your local grocers.  I am assuming that people were upset to learn about horses in their stew for a number of reasons, foremost being the labeling.  I imagine it’s because many people, like me, just don’t fancy equine meat as something they feel like sending into their digestive tracts unwittingly and on a daily basis.  If they are going to consume it, they want to know upfront that it is the side of a nice stallion they were sinking their teeth into.  Like Martini&Rossi, people who regularly nosh on Nellie have to ask for it by name, starting with Whoa!
The greater scandal as I see it has everything to do with the food processors, who seem - if you are to trust the reporters - to assume the Lipizzan stance: frozen in mid-prance and caught totally by surprise.
As cute & innocent as it looks, I don’t buy it for a minute.  A collective - “Whoops! How could such a thing have happened?”  As if their in-house butcher can’t tell the difference between a cow carcass and a horse one when they offload them at the factory.  Not to mention that State officials routinely run tests on all manner of food products -- We are lead to believe that there was a sudden overrun of horses so processors decided to cull the stocks and use them for meat filler?  In the last week or so?  I don’t think so.  Like a pedophile or philanderer, if they’ve been caught this once generally means they’ve been at it for a whole heckuva lot longer.

In the very least, if this stinky spate of horseshit makes for better labeling, then great.  I, for one, only hope that people stop their steeple-chase of purchasing pre-fab sauces, meatballs, ragù and other processed products that they just don’t need in their kitchens.  Unless, of course, they need to feed an army of people as hungry as horses.  

*many live links in text above

Tuesday, September 25

Letter from America

The Ice Cream Truck - a feature of the American suburbanscape 
Picture from the YOMYOMF network
(You Offend Me You Offend My Family)
Children of friends traveling thru the U.S. this summer were overjoyed at their very first sighting of the Ice Cream Man.  Putting aside images of John Wayne Gacy and other bizarre pedophiles as seen regularly in B movies, it is, indeed a sight to see, at any age.  As the son of my friend remarked, "How great is that?!  The ice cream comes to YOU!"  We all agreed, it was a pretty terrific invention indeed, if you happen to not want a child magnet wantonly roaming your neighborhood.  In safety first America, I'm surprised that they were still in business.
Going to the USA, food (and its results) are everywhere.  As I posted awhile back, first its the fast food stands on takeoffs and landings -- just compare the fried food festivities with the caviar and coffee bars in Europe's airports.  Food eating competitions are now the main attraction of every street festival and gathering; heck while in New York, even the San Gennaro festival had a whole lot more to do with Neapolitan fried specialties over the Patron Saint of Naples himself.  Ask any New Yorker, and I'm sure they'd tell you that San Gennaro was a guy who first started frying up dough in a deep frier.  I remember growing up, an Ice Cream Social was a special occasion.  Now it's a fried ice cream all-you-can-eat extravaganza with a stuff-your-face contest at noon.   And, judging from the newfangled foods our Burger Kings and McDonalds & Co. are introducing in order to expand the girths geometrically of their clientele, you can now have Any size drink for $1 or a scrumptious bacon sundae; just to make sure your arteries get and stay hard and firm (about the only thing hard and firm in our super-sized country).
With the ice cream trucks bringing food to you, I don't think it will be too long before we've reached the excesses portrayed by the comical cruise ship passengers drinking cupcakes from a cup in Wall-E.  With our drive-thru windows, Jumbo cups and extra-long drinking straws, just stop in at any 7-11 and fill up as you go.  Next stop?  Intravenous feedings.
New York's Mayor Bloomberg wants to change all that.  He's already forced trans-fats off city menus, calorie counters on all fast food and coffee shop boards, and now, he wants to ban the Jumbo cups.  People say it's government meddling in their personal affairs.  But isn't it the government's job to see that we don't kill ourselves?  Thus the seatbelt laws, the traffic lights, and warning labels?
Can't ponder this any further.  I hear the familiar ding-a-ling of the ice cream man coming 'round the corner...

...and for a quick look at 10 Reasons why the world might be running out of bacon, click here!

Tuesday, August 14

Polluting our Pesto

foto from

Some readers will undoubtedly recall the cult Wendy's commercial, Where's the Beef?  from the 1980s.  I'm hoping that in our multi-cultural 21st century, Where's the Pesto? will go viral -- all I need is video footage of a little Italian gramma, dressed in black, tasting the pesto they are currently touting in stores across the country.  Zoom in on her face: she stares at her linguini and shouts it out to the heavens.  Fade out.
Anyone who has ever made their own pesto -- and in basilico bountiful Italy, it's a sin to even think about buying the stuff in jars -- will know that like much of great Italian cuisine, pesto is nothing but the unbelievable combination of a few select ingredients.  He's not Italian, but, we'll take Jamie Oliver's word for the classic recipe:  

• ½ a clove of garlic, chopped
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 good handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped
• a handful of pine nuts, very lightly toasted
• a good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese  [some use Pecorino, ndr]
• extra virgin olive oil

• a small squeeze of lemon juice  optional

That's all you need for a perfect pesto concoction.  My mother makes it in large quantities and then pours it into ice cube trays so you only pop out the small bit that you need that very evening, without seeing the entire contents go bad in the fridge.  But, in a pinch, you could always waltz into the local grocery store and pick up a jar of the green ambrosia, restraining yourself from eating it with your index finger along your way back home.
But in my perfect pesto world, I started noticing that something was awry in my pesto dishes; and it wasn't the sometimes overcooked linguini.  I have a nut allergy, and wondered, if the pine nuts (which, along with a few others like chestnuts aren't really nuts and so don't actually affect people the same way) in my pesto were suddenly causing me miserable stomach aches.  My nose didn't know it, but my stomach could tell that peanuts were not far from my pesto stash.
I went to the store and checked the labels.  I fully expected to see that common and fairly ridiculous warning label, produced in a place that also produces nutty things.  Instead, what I saw was much much worse.  In a country that doesn't even grow peanuts, depriving entire generations of the pleasures of peanut butter (well, until now)...I could not find a single jar of pesto, even in the gourmet selection, that did not list peanuts as a main ingredient.  The labels now sport Gluten Free, as if someone who is in the throes of asphyxiation is going to care about the glutens in their stomach.  For good measure, most industrial pestos also use sunflower oil, and not the olive variety.

Stomach aches aside, I find this bastardization of one of the world's most perfect foods utterly blasphemous.  Italian producers go to great lengths to keep their foods pure and labeling shows it:  prosciutto di parma must be from Parma, wines from specific wine regions, the list goes on.  And while pesto doesn't necessarily have to come from Liguria, you'd think it would in the very least have Italian ingredients, and not some peanut pickin' pot-pourri from America's deep south.

So, how to handle this pesto imposter?  At the tiny corner deli shops, you can still buy the stuff fresh, but, going forward, I'm still going to ask for the ingredients.  And, if you're a traveler to Italy and happen to have a serious peanut allergy, I would just avoid the pesto altogether.  Unless you're sure they're making it themselves, there's no way to tell...perhaps until it's too late.

In the meantime, strike up the call, produce a viral video, do what you can, in order that PESTO, Ligurian Green Gold, stays true to its colors.

Saturday, July 21

The Colbert Report...brings Thought to Food

America the Beautiful...soon to be renamed, America the Big Lattes...Once upon a time it was a special occasion to go out for an Ice Cream Social.  Now, every single event in every town is celebrated by food-eating contests, pig-out sessions, and Super-sized food vendors.  Even at funerals, Americans can't keep away from imbibing for the 40 minutes of the service.
So FIAT and Lavazza, not ones to miss out on capturing the American zeitgeist, just introduced a car that can make espresso while you drive.  Although ask any American who orders cappuccino after their Italian meal, we're not really espresso drinkers.  But, I'm sure they'll come up with a milk steamer in there as well.  The whole thing is truly un-Italian...Italians are appalled by the American way of eating or drinking while - doing pretty much everything and anything else except eating or drinking.  Food is there for your enjoyment, and your digestive track should be treated with respect -- not as some receptacle for gallons of crap.  

This segment from the Colbert Report perfectly sums it all up - hysterical. Just mute your pc until Stephen comes on to avoid the annoying ad...


The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Thought for Food - Caffeine Edition - Funeral Home Starbucks & Car Coffee Makers
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Wednesday, May 30

America...Land of the Free?

It's more like America…Land of the free refills and home of the brazed chicken burgers.

It’s not enough to land in the USA and be met with an army of people straight out of central casting for Wall-E.  America does its very best to tell you straight up that it is an unapologetic Land of Plenty.  Nor more the land of Milk & Honey, it is now the home of 400-calorie milk lattes and honey mustard on your two-patty chili burger. 
As if the weeble-wobbles in your midst weren’t advertising enough, nowadays landing in America is pretty much the closest thing to being one of the flock at KFC’s.  At every airport across the country, you’ll find spiffy food courts where Americans are led to graze 24/7 before being corralled onto planes where they’re plied with peanuts and beverages and yet a few more meals before landing.  Perhaps they're actually being prepped for faux-gras instead.
- Welcome to the USA -
At Detroit Metro airport, I was unable to find my way to the baggage claim, until after I worked my way thru the maze of food vendors.  Dozens of shops crowded out the gates just in case I didn’t have enough to eat on the plane ride over.  Arriving in DC, the unmistakable and impermeable odor of fried fill-in-the-blank greets you in both arrivals and check-in.  Making your way to your gate, you now can enjoy a host of scents from fried Chinese rice to fried burgers and - ah – fries.  They used to study scents to make you want to linger in the shopping malls.  In Supersized America, these have been swapped out for the natural scents of deep-fry peanut oil, char-broiled burgers and oriental-spiced dishes.
Just in case you already imbibed in your third meal of the day before lunch, deep-fried donuts and other less noxious items like ice cream and lattes await you.  By the time I reached my hotel, and in the 90 degree heat, my hair and clothing stunk to the point that I felt I had been dipped in batter and deep-fried myself.  I imagine it won’t be long until Americans are sporting eau de chicken nuggets perfume – just to turn your fast-food guy on.
It didn’t used to be this way (and I’m not talking about the intro of poly-unsaturated fats in almost everything we eat).  When I first tried convincing airports across the country to allow me to place manicure stations near the gates, I was told repeatedly that “The gateways and gate areas were for moving passengers - and only that.”  Little did I know that it would be less than a decade before that meant moving passengers into food courts and moving bellies so far out they block your view and crowd you out of the very gateways you were trying so in vein to reach in the first place.  Not to mention your seats once you board the plane.

Tuesday, April 3

Which Pasta Sauce Are You?

Charming Italy has once again produced one of their charming infographics on all things Italian...Seeing that one of my favorite cookbooks is Roman resident Diane Seed's 101 Pasta Sauces (which come to think of it, I'll be adding to my Irreverent Italy listing of favorite Italian books and things on my blog tab above), I thought you'd appreciate this mashup.  
I'd love to hear what your favorite pasta dishes are.

Just click on the picture & then choose your pasta sauce to get the recipe.  Buon Appetito!

Click image to open interactive version (via CharmingItaly).

Tuesday, March 6

Tante Belle Cose - What's new in Italy

As short as it was, in February lots of new, exciting things happened in the Bel Paese. 

First, was my re-discovery of Calve's Peanut Butter on Roman supermarket shelves.  Brought to you by those trusted purveyors of cheap imitation condiments beloved by junk-food Americans (like Mayo, ketchup & mustard), I don't know how this fell off my radar (although a peanut allergy might have something to do with it).  Or maybe it was because I was keeping a lookout for Burro di Arachidi instead of the real McCoy?

But even better than finding peanut butter would of course be finding Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.  Alas, instead, I found Italy's State-run TV, RAI backing down on its quest for our TV Tax dollars.  They've decided not to send the rottweilers of Equitalia after anyone peering at any transmittable image; meaning placing a user's tax on computers, mobile phones, tablets, and anything that actually shows 'talkies' (or, in a nod to this year's Oscars, even silent films).  They will only expect the tax on computers sold as TVs (think: AppleTV).

And, while things are coming down (except gas prices and taxes), there's talk that the divorce law will finally come in line with normal country standards.  You still won't be able to nab a Vegas divorce, but you might be able to break the ties that bind within 1 year, 2 if you have kids.  In the old days it was something like 7.  Lately, I believe it's three.  Let's hope for the sake of sanity that this is one law that actually gets enforced.

In Aquila, three years after the devastating earthquake, musicians & composers got together and put on an opera in the house.  They've been performing in Teramo & Chieti, but gave a concert for their hometown that had the misfortune of being adopted by Berlusconi & the Italian State just after the G20 show held there.  Let's just say that Berlusca's showgirls Ruby & Co. got a lot more money and a lot more facelifts than nostra povera Aquila.  Check out the foto here.  But what was really terrific about the show, was a piece written by a young composer, Frecciarotta (Broken Arrow), a piece that takes the piss out of the Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) Italian train system.

And finally, anyone longing for days gone by can find real-life emperors being lifted about in their litters while enjoying the sights of Rome right next to the Centurions who want to get your tourist dollar for a nice photo opp.  Well, almost.  I had heard that the City of Rome was inaugurating a service to carry tourists on a sort of litters into the least accessible areas, like the Forum.  It may be on offer, but no search engine could find the news in less than two days after it broke.  Ahhh...some things never change -- like keeping the disabled out of sight and out of mind.