The Weekend List 11/09/2013 (Italians don’t drink wine anymore, tradition vs. innovation)

— Italians are not drinking wine anymore. The Associated Press reports that it is more likely for certain Italian wines to be enjoyed abroad than in Italy itself. Well, that is just sad. Why would I care about this if I don’t even like and drink wine? Because beer is replacing it.

Italians’ change of attitude is going hand in hand with the increasing popularity of other, more casual alcoholic drinks — above all, beer, particularly among the young. While the average Italian’s consumption of wine is only a third of what it was in the 1970s, beer drinking has doubled.

But most importantly, the “made in Italy” brand is losing its grip on a society that is painfully unaware of its potential. (I am referring to a lot more than just wine.) I have been feeling blue about the state of Italian commerce, innovation and overall well-being for a while now. It’s true, I don’t live there anymore, but that country is still my home. I see and hear things from relatives and friends, and read the papers…every day. I am bitter that my beloved land is suffering in all facets of its delicate life. Italy is a complex and sophisticated dame who is surrounded by scandal and mockery. She is trapped in a tower, desperately waiting for her prince. I, for one, am scared shitless that this prince may bring Italy’s uniqueness to an end. More on this topic later. I have LOTS to say and ain’t afraid to say it.

Back to wine. I don’t know anything about wine, but I know that Italian wine is freaking delicious – so say the millions of people who think so, and coincidentally, my husband and father, two wine aficionados. Good enough for me.

With interest ebbing at home, more than 50 percent of Italian wine is currently exported, up from 28 percent in 2000. The biggest buyers are the United States and Germany. But sales are rising quickly in many new markets. In China, for example, they grew by almost a fifth from 2011 to 2012.

See what I mean? There are some people who still think we are worth something.

— Ah, the battle between tradition and innovation. I was SO glad to see The New Yorker’s Food Issue at my door step this week. New trends, new restaurants and…OMG… Massimo Bottura!

GetImage.aspxImage: The New Yorker

The magazine highlighted the century-old schism between traditional mores and the spirit to advance in thinking and in practice. Bottura is a renowned chef of one of the best restaurants in the world: Osteria Francescana. (It consistently places in the top 5 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants). He is reinventing Italian cuisine with his wit and creativity.

Take Black on Black, his tribute, by way of squid ink, katsuobushi, and a black cod, to Thelonius Monk. Or Camouflage, his nod to Picasso, with a civet of wild hare “hiding” in custard under a blanket of powdered herbs and spices.

I have never eaten at Osteria Francescana, but I have been a fan of his cultural and culinary avant-garde for some time. I think there is so much more than spaghetti al sugo, or lasagne, or pizza to symbolize my country. Bottura, of course, has plenty of critics who believe he is destroying the very core of Italian cuisine, and by default, the fabric of Italian society. Give me a break. If there is anything Italy needs is a big kick in the ass and a bunch of people at its helm who know that the future is here, now.

— Be still my heart. This guide to Italian cuisine is priceless and oh so needed. Not to be a snob or anything, but there are certain ways in which people treat Italian food and food culture that drive me crazy. Let’s list a few:

Ketchup on pasta. This really shocks Italians.

Spaghetti Bolognese? No! Probably Italy’s most famous dish, yet there isn’t a restaurant in Bologna that serves it.

Red and white checked tablecloths. They don’t exist in Italy, even though countless Italian restaurants abroad use them.

Pasta with chicken – never in Italy. Americans regard this as “typically Italian”, says the report, “but we have to tell you: no one in Italy would serve such a dish”.

“Caesar salad”: unknown in Italy, even if its inventor, Caesar Cardini, was Italian.

Wow, I sound really bitter. Time for hot cocoa and some knitting. Happy weekend.

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

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.