Sep 26, 2016

His favorite lunch

And so it begins.

My ten year old boy did not hold my hand this morning on our way to school. The dramatic Italian mamma in me is shattered. The pragmatic, forward thinking American half is trying to be all cool about it.

It's an automatism. His hand reaches for mine when we walk side by side, no matter the context. It's always been that way ever since he could walk.


Initially it was support to compensate wobbly toddler legs. Then it was the comfort of protection. Crossing the street. During a long walk on the beach. On the way back from the grocery store. A thing that moms and kids do. At age four holding my hand made him feel safe; at age six his cold fingers spelled that inexplicable knot at the mouth of the stomach that comes with attending grade school. At age nine he held my hand because he was proud to be walking with me. He sometimes even clasps his little sweaty palm to mine while chasing Pokémon.
This morning I let my hand dangle next to his, like I always do.
And nothing happened.
I reached for it and felt no reciprocity. I felt discomfort. There was a touch of embarrassment.
I let it go and chuckled.

"Have we grown out of this now?", I asked. He slanted a sheepish smile and looked away.

The rest of the walk to school was silent. I, oddly heartbroken, aware that the end of something was happening right there and then. He, apologetic. Something quietly tearing inside him? Holding hands for us, I want to make this perfectly clear, is A. Big. Deal. A nonchalant given, yet still a big deal.

I noticed him peering over his shoulder a few times during the walk. Maybe a little girl he likes was walking behind us, or maybe the courtyard bully, and in either case he didn't want to be seen holding his mother's hand. I don't know. I did not turn to look. He's very reserved and hardly ever speaks of his feelings.

I understand now that this is where the slow and painful detatchment begins. It starts with your little boy no longer holding your hand in a routine situation. Coming to terms with it takes lucidity. And stronger coffee than I had this morning.

We climbed the stairs of the school building and he routinely walked in front of me and held the door open for me at the top. As we traversed the large empty atrium, rubber shoes squeaking on the marble floor, I felt his hand slip quickly into mine. A split second. A squeeze and it was gone. His way of saying, 'I feel your pain Mom, but it's time I grow up.'

At the bottom of the large staircase, where I always stop to kiss him good-bye I leaned in for our morning peck. He offered his cheek.
"I'll see you at one", and I watched him lug his big blue backpack filled with bricks and anvils and waved, as always.

At one, when I pick him up, we won't talk about this. I won't say what I'd like to, which is, 'My hand will always be there.'
At home I'll have his favorite lunch ready, risotto and creamed spinach.
Will he notice? Will he say something? Am I exaggerating?

I don't know. We'll see.

Parenting is a mysterious learning experience. You understand things in the strangest circumstances. I just learned my almost-eleven-year-old only child is growing up, and – like growing up kids do – there is no forewarning, it just happens, period. Deal with it, Mom.

The things I took for granted – like holding your kid's hand – are no longer a given.
Better go get that risotto going, or it'll never be ready by one o'clock.


Aug 30, 2016

Italian beverages you probably never heard of

As late summer heat continues pummeling the boot-shaped peninsula, Italians run to their fridges to grab their favorite beverages.

Forget Coke.

Many of these drinks are vintage classics, others postwar staples. None are universally known or widely sold beyond Italy.

Here's a little Italian beverage companion to have handy when offered Italian mystery drinks, as published on The American Magazine in Italia.

Continue Reading ➔

Jul 30, 2016

Pollo alla Cacciatora

I've been verbal in regards to misconceptions about Italian food and how foreigners mutilate Italian food names. I've written a lot about how some dishes change over time and evolve into new recipes after crossing oceans. The usual suspects being fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti with meatballs, chicken or veal parm, shrimp scampi... One that seldom is mentioned in the list of Italian-American dishes is chicken cacciatore.

What Americans call chicken cacciatore is a broiler bird cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with mushrooms and herbs. In Italian, pollo alla cacciatora is a completely different dish. And when I say different, I mean made in a baffling amount of different ways.

With the premise that Italian cuisine is regional,  a characteristic of which is applying twists on many of its dishes, modifying them according to what part of the boot-shaped peninsula they're being cooked in, let me say that there is no correct cacciatora recipe. Each region, each village, even families in the same tenement building cook different versions of a dish. Same can be said for pollo alla cacciatora, which changes enormously according to where it's made.

For example, the people of Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany make their cacciatora with tomato sauce and varying amounts of herbs. Marche, Abruzzo and Umbria cooks omit the tomato element and prepare theirs with garlic and purple olives. In other parts of Italy this recipe is made by not sectioning the chicken in breasts, drumsticks, wings etc, rather by deboning and chopping the meat into small chunks and slow cooking it with in a supple wine, herb garlic and anchovy stew.

Whatever the recipe, the name alla cacciatora – in the hunter's style – denotes a humble, rustic preparation, that requires little skill, lots of patience and good quality ingredients.

I personally grew up eating the "in bianco" version (no tomato) that's traditionally made in Rome. Here is the recipe I learned from my mother and which I like to make for Sunday lunch.

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 whole free range chicken, eviscerated
Sprigs of fresh rosemary
Bunch of fresh sage
1 tbsp all-purpose or rice flour
1 glass of white wine + more for stewing
1/2 glass of white vinegar
Salt and black pepper

Burn away any remaining feathers and fuzz by scorching the bird over a live flame on the stove. Wash the bird, pat dry and section into 6 or 8 parts. I leave the skin on, but you may choose to remove it.

Heat the oil and garlic in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. The garlic should not burn.

Place the chicken parts in the pot, season with salt and pepper and crank up the heat to brown evenly. Add the rosemary and sage, browning the meat for a few more minutes to sear evenly.

Sprinkle the flour, stir and then splash* the vinegar and wine to deglaze the pot.

*The verb, "sfumare" is a great Italian cooking term. In order to add flavor, cooks add a liquid of some sort (broth, wine, liqueur) in the initial phases of cooking to the heated pot. This operation releases steam, and triggers otherwise trapped flavor compounds. Another reason for doing this is to deglaze the pot. The sugars normally released by cooking meat caramelize on the bottom of the pot. They are precious sugars!
Splashing wine and vinegar will melt the sticky flavor bomb contained in the caramelized poultry sugars and do magic to your dish.

Once deglazed, stir the chicken parts to coat with the drippings. Add more wine, enough to drown by half the chicken parts.

Adjust seasoning, reduce the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 20-25 minutes. Should the chicken lose moisture during this time, add 1/2 glass of warm water. The bird is done if when piercing the thigh juices run clear.

Serve immediately after uncorking the vino.

Buon appetito!

Images courtesy of AIFB

Jul 26, 2016

And then there was cheese

I think an apology is in order.

I update this blog irregularly.

The occasional posts I have been publishing are for the most part links to other sites to which I have contributed my writing.

It's not that I've been lazy, though.

Designing, developing and leading food, wine and cooking adventures in Rome, Florence, Sicily Naples & Amalfi for Casa Mia Italy Food & Wine, the company I co-founded, has definitely kept me busy.

And then there was cheese.

Another reason for not being consistent with blogging is that I've been all over Italy filming a cheese show called ABCheese. I wrote a few posts on this topic and an article for my column on The American. The show airs on Italian cable TV, with plans to hopefully sell internationally soon. I will keep you posted when that happens.

In the meantime, if you're interested in learning what the show is about, and watch me make silly faces when I taste amazing Italian cheese, you can click on the link to enjoy episode 1 of season 1 (uploaded in Italian with no subtitles).

Buona visione!

Jul 9, 2016

A day on a cheese farm in Tuscia

The drive out of Rome to reach today's rural destination is just under two hours. The car swerves down soft verdant curves in the heart of the Etruscan Tuscia, a vast area of northern Lazio.

As the car pulls into a dirt road, all worries and thoughts magically seep out of my head and my muscles just as naturally begin to relax.

As I alight my dusty vehicle, I am welcomed by a tall, smiling man who is holding a snow-white baby lamb in his arms. He introduces himself as Giuseppe, the middle brother, and shows me around. He walks with a spring in his step to the pens where the newborns and their mothers are resting and feeding. He’s anxious to show me the newest addition to the flock, a young ewe has just given birth and is nuzzling a bleating ball of white fleece...

Continue Reading "Farm Life: Making cheese and gathering honey" as appeared on Casa Mia Blog ➔