Holiday Cookie Exchange

I have never exchanged cookies before. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but I baked cookies only once before, a long time ago. A good friend organized an exchange party and I couldn’t resist.

I decided to go for a traditional chocolate cookie but add a kick: Nutella icing. Yes, I am doubling up on the chocolate and not looking back. I followed a recipe from a baking cookbook I’ve had for years but never used. I should have practiced. From the start, I knew my creations would come out “interesting.” They looked nothing like the picture…isn’t that annoying?

My beloved cookies looked like big, fat turds. I thought that, maybe, a thin layer of Nutella icing would do the trick. They still looked like turds. And, aside from the unappealing exterior, they didn’t even taste like cookies. The experiment, in short, failed. But I had a blast at the party.

Right before the oven. Kinda sad, right?

Ta daaaaaa. Nutellicious. Still, kinda sad.

This experiment made it clear that baking is not easy. Cooking, for that matter, is not easy. But there is no crying in the kitchen. You get right back into it. (In this case, I am taking a small hiatus from baking cookies …) The actual joy is in learning by trial and error. I promise you, my next batch of cookies will be out of this world.

Vocabulary:

Il biscotto: cookie

Il cioccolato: chocolate

La crema: cream

La festa: the party

L’amica: female friend

Child Nutrition Bill

In real life, I am a journalist. I work for an alternative weekly newspaper and cover a gamut of stories ranging from local politics, education, courts and crimes. My eyes and ears, however, are perpetually directed at what is happening around the world. I follow Washington politics closely, and since I love food and, almost at equal level, people, legislature that will make fresh, local fruits and vegetable available to children (with a 264 to 157 vote, the House of Representatives passed the Child Nutrition Bill) makes me want to jump for joy and shake my head in disappointment at the same time.

There shouldn’t be the need for laws regulating what goes into people’s months in the first place, especially kids. But in a world reigned by bacon and cheese sandwiches made with two fried chicken patties (hilarious take on  the KFC’s Double Down by Joel Stein) and pizza bowls—really? No, I mean…really?—I guess monitoring kids’ school lunches is a good thing.

I, too, had an encounter with the disgusting reality of high school lunches. Before finishing high school in Italy, I moved to Los Angeles. I was 18. In August of that year, I enrolled at Los Angeles High School on Olympic Blvd. I was a senior. Small pizzas from Pizza Hut, fried chicken, tacos, burgers and fries were all lined up, waiting for me to stuff my face with them. And I did, for a while. I thought it was heaven until I began feeling sick, tired and unable to play my usual level of basketball. (And, most importantly at that age, my face was decorated with pimples). It was then that I began bringing panini for lunch…small and made with fresh veggies and good quality prosciutto.

Something is changing, however. Even before the Child Nutrition Bill, a public school system in Charlottesville, Virginia decided to step out in the abyss and try veggies for a change. Here is the tale, written by, well… yours truly. Enjoy and happy healthy lunches!

Viva il pane

Il pane has been one of my best friends since childhood. I used to make myself decadent snacks: ciabatta bread slices loaded with pounds of my other best friend: Nutella…who can say no to that?

All of my memories, turns out, have something to do with food. But with bread, the connection is different, deeper. Bread is the protagonist of every Italian meal. I still remember my great-aunt Cesarina beeming while showing off a smooth, soft pagnotta, loaf, (it was still warm) specifically bought for my grandpa. “Che bonta’!”

I sincerely do not remember a meal at my family’s dinner table without bread. Funny thing is, when I turned 15 and I began thinking about fashion, body image, I started being cautious of how much bread I ate. My grandmother found out, looked straight through my eyes, and said, “Chiara, that’s nonsense,” and she handed me a panino.

Bread can do no wrong in my book: sotf, hard, sweet, savory, yeasty, non-yeasty, French, Italian. With the help of the amazing Joy of Cooking book, I tried making baguettes. Experiment succeeded. Delicious.

Turns out, bread is one of the earliest prepared foods…dating back about 30,000 year ago.

The babies right before the oven.

And here it is. Gorgeous baguette!

Vocabulary:

Il pane – bread

La farina – flour

Il lievito – yeast

La pagnotta – loaf of bread