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Food Reads: Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone”

4 Nov

What better way to spend a rainy day than to read a good book, under the covers surrounded by my kitty cats? Not much, really. I have been reading a lot of food-related books lately, and it has only increased my appetite for more. This time, it was the great Ruth Reichl.

Reichl has had a pretty sweet life – full of passion, happy and sad memoriesI have read a few of her books in the past and for every single one, I found myself wanting to be Ruth Reichl, the food writer. Perhaps, one day.

Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the table was all I wanted and more. I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I was transported to the places Reichl visited (summer camp in France!), her cottage, her room, and especially her kitchen. At 7, she was already cool. Actually, at 7, she was already cooler than I’ll ever be. By the time she was a teenager, she could do no wrong in my book. There are so many instances where I wanted my life to mirror hers…to be her – from her life in a New York City apartment accompanied her trials and tribulations of a creative roommate, to just cruising through life with experience, grace and fierceness.

Her mother must have been hysterical, although probably not really easy to live with. The queen of “mold,” as Reichl calls her –  the failed parties, failed dishes, the 70’s…those were the days.


Her adventures as a summer counselor on Ile d’Oleron, France, brought back so many memories of hot, sticky Italian summers spent playing in the muddy grass and traveling around in my family’s RV.
Reichl’s spontaneous trip with Madame and Monsier Deveau to an isolated farm to discover the best berry tart on the planet was mouth watering, literally. But, why, Reichl asks, was that tart so my better than any other tart? “Good butter from fat cows and wild berries grown in the island air.” Wow. Doesn’t that make you want to get on a plane?

Her voice is unmistakable. Reichl’s wit is present at every turn: during her school years in Canada, in Manhattan apartments, in a commune in Berkeley, California. It almost makes you wonder whether you, yourself, are experiencing life at its fullest. Are you actually doing what you love? Sure, it may sound like a clique, but it’s probably the hardest question you will ask yourself and when you find that you indeed are not doing what you were intended to do in the first place, well…life can suddenly appear much brighter.

Food for thought.

The Weekend List 04/12/13

14 Apr

All day Thursday, I thought and lived as if it were Friday. Disappointment ensued when I finally figure it out. It has been THAT kind of week. I am looking forward to the next few days, chock-full of events and exciting beginnings.

First and foremost, the Charlottesville City Market celebrated the opening of its 40th season last Saturday! I happen to be on the board of Market Central, a non-profit organization that supports the market, its vendors and customers, and the farmers market is a big deal for us. Personally, perusing the stalls at the farmers market makes me giddy like a school girl: fresh produce, accessible food. It is really an educational tool for society.

1) In keeping with the social aspect of food and its production,  In When Eating is an Economic Act, interviewed Frederick Kaufman who has a new book out called Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food an important look into the politics of our food system. Give it a read.

2) There is something about celebrities and cookbooks that I find amusing. I can’t decide whether I am annoyed or revolted, but either way, it’s got to stop. Yet,  this take on Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in a while. Hilarious does not do it justice. It’s so much more. had me at “hello.” She gets it.

This is my favorite excerpt:

While waiting for my pre-breakfast Best Green Juice to finish draining — “Just about as energizing as a cup of coffee,” Gwyneth has promised — I begin the recipe for my actual breakfast: Millet Fig Muffins. I dutifully measure out my gluten-free flour, my raw millet, my unsweetened almond milk. I grind flax seed, pinch fine sea salt, toss chopped figs in a spoonful of the dry ingredients, line my muffin tins with paper liners. It’s only noon, and I’m almost done cooking my first meal of the day.

Time to settle down with my green juice, which has acquired a bright emerald color and tastes like a cross between a lemon and a lawn, and wait for the timer to buzz.

Meanwhile, we have 20 to 25 minutes to ponder the meaning of Gwyneth Paltrow.


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I like Paltrow as an actress, and I even like the fact that she has taken the lead on the über local, fresh, no dairy, super healthy. But I can shake off the feeling that they, these celebrities, are all in for themselves. I know, I am naive.
Look at this list of celebrities with cookbooks:
Trisha Yearwood, Valerie Bertinelli, Stanley Tucci (ok, he is beyond awesome), Eva Longoria, Sheryl Crow, Gloria Estefan, Victoria Gotti (!!!!) and my favorite, Teresa Guidice from the Real Housewives franchise – wait…she has 3 cookbooks????? I rest my case.

3) Speaking of celebrities, Antony Bourdain sat down with Andrew Zimmern for a friendly chat on the eve of Bourdain’s new CNN show, Parts Unknown. The thing with Bourdain is that you either love him or hate him. No way in between. I love, love, love his bombastic, foul-mouthed persona. And he is a terrific writer.

In this piece, they talk about the writing process, mainly, Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, being called a gonzo journalist, to which Bourdain replies, “I’m an essayist”, and his hosting duties on that weird (very bad) show called The Taste – and the best part, both Zimmern and Bourdain recall reading children’s books to their offsprings and shed a few tears.

The Weekend List 03/30/13

30 Mar

What a week. Snow. Wind. Stay off dairy for 2 weeks (what???). Busy life. Not much time to cook. What is going on with the universe? At least I have you, blog, my nifty friend. Almost immediately after we ringed in the New Year, I made myself a promise: Chiara, get your blogging duties under control and re-start The Weekend List for crying out loud. So, here we are.

I love reading about food as I do cooking it. I have a running list of my favorite articles, profiles, recipe books and chef biographies that I have yet to share. But I will.
Let’s start with what captured my eye and brain this week.

1) Mary Roach‘s brilliant study of the mechanics of eating. ( The Marvels in Your Mouth in the New York Times. Roach is the author of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.) Have you ever thought about how your mouth chews the food your ingest? She does just that, focusing on a study of the “human food processor” (your mouth) and how the chewing action or how you use your mouth tells something deeper about you. She writes:

Think of a peanut between two molars, about to be crushed. At the precise millisecond the nut succumbs, the jaw muscles sense the yielding and reflexively let up. Without that reflex, the molars would continue to hurtle recklessly toward one another, now with no intact nut between.

To keep your he-man jaw muscles from smashing your precious teeth, the only set you have, the body evolved an automated braking system faster and more sophisticated than anything on a Lexus. The jaw knows its own strength. The faster and more recklessly you close your mouth, the less force the muscles are willing to apply. Without your giving it a conscious thought.

I certainly have never given this much thought. Do you?

2) Richmond’s Style Weekly has turned the tables of a customers and interviewed chefs about what makes them tic (Cuts Both Ways). The results are not really surprising, but they certainly made me do an attitude check. Chefs apparently really dislike coupons and actually consider them “devaluing” their work. For one chef, free Wi-fi has become a “money killer”: customers come in, buy the least expensive items and plop their lovely behinds at a table and won’t move for hours. It’s not a coffee shop. It’s a casual eatery, and when you take up space the staff could be using differently…well, he has a point there.

My favorite quote: “Be a little more open-minded when ordering,” Doetzer also suggests. “That’s the only way Richmond can make any real progress. We’re not going to get anywhere serving crab cakes, but people expect them.” Completely agree – and not just about Richmond, everywhere.

3) This is a sore subject. I heart Trader Joe’s, but I have asked myself the same question. Where does Trader Joe’s Food Come From? As the Chow.com article points out, there are no TJ factories where the company could be producing food. And they are uber secretive about their product and marketing – I found out the hard way when I worked at an alternative weekly and rumors ran wild that a J was coming. They didn’t judge. Back to the article, this is chilling:

Those private-label products are made for it, in factories owned and operated by what is essentially TJ’s competition: name brands that can be purchased in other grocery chains.

I am heartbroken. Is it really true? Some of the examples on their list are uncanny. Food for thought?

4) Completely unrelated to food. I have often tried to pick up running regularly, but I stopped at the first hurdle. I have joined a running training program, I subscribed to running magazines, but nothing worked. The winter in Central Virginia is just too bloody cold for me to strap on any type of athletic gear. But this article caught my attention. The Barkley Marathon: A 100-mile foot race with unmarked trails and runners cannot use a GPS device or cellphone.

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Image: The New York Times

 

The Weekend List 10/20/2012

21 Oct

– Food is always on my mind – what to cook for dinner, what to buy at the grocery store, what to get at the farmers market, how to get fresh produce into every American kitchen. But I never actually sat down and asked myself, as a human being and as a journalist, does food writing really matter? And luck would have it that Michael Ruhlman answered this tricky question for me.

As he writes,

Because food is all around us, everywhere, easy and cheap, we’ve taken it for granted. Do you ever stop to wonder how it is that you can buy pea pods 365 days a year, whether you live in Maine, Montana, or Manitoba? Few do. The fact is, most people don’t think about food until they don’t have any. Then it’s pretty much all they can think about.

And we don’t think about food obsessively until it starts making us sick, which is what has happened in this country. Our food is making us sick in myriad ways. Our toddlers develop allergies unheard of when we were growing up. Children develop a type of diabetes once seen only in late adulthood. Obesity is rampant. And because of this we’ve become so hyperconscious of what we eat that we believe all kinds of nonsense. Dieticians once preached that eggs were bad for you–eggs! People far and wide still believe that fat is what makes you fat and that cutting salt and fat from one’s diet will make a healthy person even healthier. The way we produce food is destroying the land, polluting rivers and oceans, debasing the animals we raise for food and the workers who slaughter and process them. Nothing good comes from shitting where you eat, and this is what America has been doing for half a century.

So true. We have become detached from our primary resource and are now dependent on quick, unsavory meals that are deprived of any nutrient. Processed. Unremarkable. Frankly, ugly. Where did the art of cooking go? How about the art of eating even? We, as a society, should rethink our priorities.

Lots of fresh veggies from our garden.

 

– I have a soft spot in my heart for both of these men and now that they are debuting a new PBS show, well, I obviously cannot contain my excitement. Anthony Bourdain and Momofuku’s David Chang’s ‘The Mind of a Chef” follows Chang during travel and, of course, what is going on in his head. Chang is a visionary. I cannot wait to set my eyes on Season One.

 

 

– Speaking of another man I adore, The New York Times recently asked Jose Andres to show off his library. With more than 1,500 books, there are a few gems: 1825 first edition of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s “Physiology of Taste;” (his favorite) and a notebook that belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s chef, Honoré Julien, that dates back to 1795. Reading Andres is always a pleasant experience.

Any interesting food read you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

Back with a vengeance!

30 Apr

I’m back and I am here to stay. It has been quite a while since my last post and boy, things have changed in my life. I left one job, found two amazing jobs, bought a house, painted every room (thanks to Francesco and my dad) and moved…all in one month. Whew! Of course, there are still boxed everywhere, but the kitchen….arguably the most important room in the house, is all set and ready for some cooking!

The hardest thing to decide was the color of the walls, and not just for the kitchen, but for the master bedroom, for the dining room, the bathroom, because once it’s painted…it’s permanent…at least for a year (that was and still is a deal I made with myself). So, we went from this…

To choosing a sage green color that matches the granite!

We absolutely love our kitchen! We can both cook uninterrupted and have already made a few of our favorite dishes: gnocchi, pizza and even a cheese souffle. We have been hard at work. Now, instead of wishing a bigger, better kitchen, I wish for better cooking skills! That, however, can be fixed.

Although the house is still in a state of disarray (boxes and bags in the entryway, my clothes and shoes in suitcases) and are still missing some key components: i.e. dining table and chairs and a bed for our master bedroom!!!!, the short drive home from work is one of the happiest moments of my day. I get to open the door and run to the kitchen to prepare lunch or dinner. (Maybe now I can try new recipes?)

By the looks of it, even Diego is liking it here.

Food Reads: “In a War Zone, Finding Solace in Food”

17 Feb

Once in a while, an article speaks to me. It’s not the images, it’s not the famous byline. Rather, it’s the story that captures me and doesn’t let go. I don’t complain since I want to be taken and transported in a different dimension.

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Tonight, I found that article. I was doing my nightly news routine, checking my favorite sites (once a news junkie, always a news junkie) and stumbled upon Alissa Rubin’s moving tale of finding comfort in food while on assignment in Afghanistan. Recalling T.S. Eliot, Rubin survives with more than just dry soups and flavorless, pre-packaged so-called food, but learns the way of the land. Although daunting, the unfamiliar becomes the norm.

There was so much I did not understand that first winter about how important it is to carry reminders of home when you go to hostile places. The hardest part was never the bombs, it was the lack of the familiar, a sense of the predictable, of even the most mundane pleasure. War zones are stripped down. Usually there are no choices — about what to eat, or much else. The food is mostly cold and functional. The kind you can shove into a pocket or throw under a car seat: protein bars, raisins, a box of potato chips. These are calories, not cuisine.

One more passage…one that touched my heart.

The Parmesan had personal resonance: it was a reminder of the year I lived in Italy and decided to become a foreign correspondent and learned to cook by living in a community of working-class women from Campania. They grew rosemary and sage on their windowsills; as I grated my Parmesan in my Kabul kitchen, I would smell rosemary although none grew there.

Oh, and for the record, she has my dream job.

GQ’s Best Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: Brookville Restaurant

29 Nov

It’s not every day that a chef from a small town in Central Virginia makes the same list of super chefs of the caliber of Thomas Keller. Brookville Restaurant‘s Harrison Keevil made a grilled cheese sandwich so good, that it landed him on a national spread of GQ Magazine.

I’ve eaten at Brookville before and I can honestly say that it is one of the best new restaurants in town. Sure, the decor is simple, yet sophisticated, but it’s the attention to details that makes Brookville stand out from the rest. Local produce and meats, frequent menu changes and a hint of molecular gastronomy are the right combination.

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Picture: the first layer is The French Evolution by uber chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. The second is the brain child of Brookville’s chef Harrison Keevil and is called Southern Comfort and the bottom one is The Crispy Caprese from Artisanal in NYC.

From GQ:

The French Evolution
Chef Thomas Keller, The French Laundry, Yountville, California, and Per Se, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices brioche
2 oz. Gruyère, thinly sliced
Southern Comfort
Chef Harrison Keevil, Brookville Restaurant, Charlottesville, Virginia
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices rustic bread
3 thick slices high-quality pre-cooked bacon
3 thin slices Granny Smith apple
2 Tbsp. Duke’s mayonnaise (optional)
2 oz. Swiss cheese or Gouda, thinly sliced
The Crispy Caprese
Chef Terrance Brennan, Artisanal, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices pagnotta (Italian country bread)
1 ripe tomato, sliced
Several sprigs fresh basil
3 oz. fresh burrata or mozzarella
Brookville made it on my list of most decadent desserts in Charlottesville (something I wrote for my paper’s Food and Drink Annual – scroll down to the very end of the page). I had the really hard task of going around town tasting desserts and deciding what made my nose tickle. Brookville’s Maple bacon waffles with grilled peaches were right at the top. Do yourself a favor, go try it.

The Weekend List 11/12/11

12 Nov

I’ve decided that this weekend is going to be pure relax. After the week I’ve had, all I need is time to actually think. Tuesday was election day in Charlottesville and as a reporter for a weekly newspaper, my day—and the week leading up to voting day—was consumed by all things political. Not that I mind. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy following the day-to-day of local government and I have to admit, I loved live tweeting (is that how you write it???) from the polls—140 characters of pure spontaneity, and you can read my work twitter feed here. That said, here is the list.

–As you may know, I am an obsessive fan of Top Chef. I’ve followed the show since its first season when Harold took the prize home. Two weeks ago, the highly anticipated Top Chef Texas finally hit the airwaves with a slightly new format (on-the-spot eliminations…and the Bubble Room!) and two new judges: Emeril (bam!) and Hugh Acheson of Top Chef Masters fame. What I love most about this show is the competitiveness of each contestant, their quirkiness and loud mouths…and let’s be honest, head judge Tom Colicchio. He is not kidding around, especially this season.

–Thanksgiving issues. I always look forward to the monthly arrival of my favorite food magazines: Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and the always impressive Real Simple. This month, unsurprisingly, they are all about creating the most perfect Thanksgiving feast. Being Italian and all, I have never really celebrated this particular holiday. Sure, I’ve gone to dinner where turkey was served, but really never tried to do it myself. Of the three, this month’s favorite is Food & Wine mainly because they touched on all some of my favored things: Southern food, Dave Matthews, how to make chicken stock and David Chang.

–Florence Fabricant’s “The lost art of buying from a butcher” piece in the New York Times. My parents used to regularly buy meat from the butcher when my brother and I were youngsters. I still remember entering the shop and being amazed by how knowledgeable was the person behind the counter. My mom or my dad would tell him what they intended on cooking and he would direct them to the best and most appropriate cut of meat. Since moving to the U.S., and Los Angeles to be more specific, I’ve lost that. Charlottesville is home to The Organic Butcher, an amazing resource of good and hearty meat. I guess I’ll be stopping by more often.

Buying some pork or most other meats is not as simple or as cheap as picking out an apple. Do not tweet your friends for advice; consult the butcher.

–All things Anthony Bourdain. After reading both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw and seeing his show with chef Eric Ripert, I decided I can’t get enough of him. It’s true what they say…you either love Tony, or you hate him. I definitely fall into the love category: his sarcasm, crass, ego, loud mouth. All of it. I consider it a breath of fresh air. While waiting for his new show, The Layover to premiere in a couple of weeks, here are some interesting Q&A that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

Happy weekend!

Food Reads: My article on healthy school lunches in Charlottesville

8 Oct

Charlottesville City schools to add fresh recipes, work towards centralized kitchen

The movement to bring more from-scratch meals to Charlottesville City Schools is alive and well.

One year after Charlottesville Cooking School owner Martha Stafford designed a black bean and brown rice taco recipe for school lunch menus, the meal is in rotation and recipes for hummus and granola are in the works. To make the process more efficient, the school administration is ready to support the creation of a centralized kitchen for the entire district.

The caveat? The reality of a central kitchen is contingent upon the district’s middle school overhaul, which began last year.
Jim Henderson, assistant superintendent for administration services, said the administration is still “in the process” of presenting the school board and City Council with a recommendation to renovate Buford Middle and Walker Elementary schools. Once approved and funded, the design process will begin.

Martha Stafford, director of the Charlottesville Cooking School, says a central kitchen for city schools will help ensure “a consistent, flavorful product.” (Image)

“We are excited to move forward with that,” he said. Henderson added that if the project falls through, “then we will begin looking at our own kitchens and making sure to continue cooking good foods.”

Henderson says a central kitchen could help streamline cooking processes and add more fresh recipes to the menus.
“I think with a central kitchen we can do a better job of training staff, a better use of space, a better use of labor, a better use of making sure that when we bring in local produce, we have the appropriate space to do everything,” he said.

Stafford says a central kitchen will also help improve the quality of the food.

“It’s important when introducing new and fresher food that it be a consistent, flavorful product,” said Stafford. A butternut squash soup she created for the wintertime, for instance, didn’t pass taste tests and ultimately did not make its way to school menus.

Behind the movement’s success is City Schools Dietician Alicia Cost—who along with Nutrition Services Coordinator Sandra Vasquez, received the Trailblazer Award from the Local Food Hub and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Cost has worked tirelessly to get even more produce and local, grass-fed beef into the schools’ kitchens at a price that satisfies the school system’s budget.

“We are still talking with the Local Food Hub and local beef growers to find an acceptable price point of what we can pay, what they pay and trying to figure out how to fit it into our food cost per meal,” she said.

The current price per meal in city schools ranges from $0.85 to around $1.05, plus labor. Students can purchase lunch for $2 in elementary schools and $2.25 in middle and high schools. Both prices increased 25 cents over last year’s cost to students.

For now, no matter the price tag, the goal remains the same. “We are going to continue engaging students and listening to them react to different recipes and maybe survey them more…and really try to put a healthy twist on everything we introduce to them and try to stretch their taste buds,” said Cost.

First appeared on C-VILLE Weekly’s website. For the original story, click here.

Food Reads: 10 Best Food & Wine European Cities (according to TripAdvisor)

6 Oct

I love these lists! TripAdvisor listed the top 10 best European cities for food and wine. Out of 10, 5 are Italian cities. (Though I am just a bit disappointed that Milano is not featured…remember our dish de force?)

WE RULE. Period.

1. FIRENZE

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One surprising thing about Firenze’s food is its bread…no salt! They call it il pane brutto, the ugly bread, but there is nothing ugly, or wrong, about a oven baked loaf of unsalted bread. Oh, and don’t forget the perfect steak, la Fiorentina, thick and juicy.

3. ROMA

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La porchetta, freshly roasted sliced porkloin that can be eaten both cold and warm, is a staple of Rome and a favorite of Francesco. When in Rome, do as the Romans do…eat pounds and pounds of porchetta.

4. SORRENTO

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In the Campania region, where Sorrento is located, one cannot decide what to call its standalone dish. There are too many. First, the mozzarella….fresh Buffalo mozzarella and juicy grape tomatoes make for an unbelievable Caprese salad; the limoncello liquor made from fresh, sunny bathed lemons and all kinds of delicious and fresh seafood.

6. SIENA

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Wild board, salami, pork…that’s the strength of Siena. And the biscuits…almond paste with vanilla. YUM.

7. BOLOGNA

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Ravioli, tortellini, tortelli, ragu’ alla Bolognese…there is so much to choose from!

What is your favorite Italian dish? The most surprising? The craziest? I’d love to know!

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