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.

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The Weekend List 04/12/13

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

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

— 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!

The Weekend List 03/05/2012

There is snow in the ground. After a week of mild temperatures and sunny afternoons. There is puffy, soft snow on the ground. My grandpa Pietro taught me how to “smell” snow…or, better, how to tell incoming snow by smelling the air. It always work. Milano’s climate is practically twin with Charlottesville’s: summer is hot and winter is cold. Occasionally, snow covers the landscape. So, according to grandpa, once the air gets crispy, wet, snow is coming. Last night, I felt it: crispy wind, perfect humidity and the scent of snow. It’s undeniable. I woke up this morning and what do you know. Snow happened.

– On a snowy day, there are a few dishes that hit the spot. Ravioli in brodo is definitely one of them. Saveur Magazine has a great recipe. Give it a try when the winter blues hit you.

– Elina Shatkin’s exit interview as a food writer at LA Weekly is a pleasure to read. Granted, food writing is something I have always wanted to explore, but knowing how food writers think, what’s inside their heads, is fascinating. There are so many food bloggers out there that I fear the craft is suffering. Although it may seem easy to write about food, the basic principle remains the same: writing, and Shatkin sums it up perfectly.

8. How do I become a professional food writer?
DO NOT quit your despised but lucrative day job, move across the country and expect to get paid writing work based on your Yelp reviews.

Now, it’s simple: WRITE.

My first question to aspiring writers is always: “Do you write?” You might be surprised — or not — how often the answer is no. If you want to be a writer, on food or anything else, you must spend a lot of time alone with nothing but your thoughts and a computer, a typewriter or a blank piece of paper.

In broad strokes, build a portfolio by writing for low-level websites, blogs and publications. Maybe start your own blog. You will make little or no money doing this, but you will have written stories and made connections that you can use to pitch editors for paid writing work. Keep in mind: Reviewing is only one type of food writing, and it is the subgenre for which you are least likely to get paid.

– Jose Andres can do no wrong. The Spanigh uber chef has added to the Washington D.C. food truck craze with Pepe (Andres is behind the truck’s Spanish twist on sandwiches). As the Washington Post reports, Pepe goodies range from $8 to $11, but there are a few exceptions, like the Pepite de Ternera “a thin, crusty baguette stuffed with seared beef tenderloin, caramelized onion, pepper confit and blue cheese.” Ah, two hours to D.C. is so doable!

The Weekend List 02/27/2012

I have had an interesting week and I have spent it reading all kinds of food writing. The great thing about the realm of writing about food is that it follows its own rules. It can be edgy, funny, narrative, and wrapped up into one killer piece.

-I am a uber fan of Lucky Peach, the brain child of chef David Chang. It’s more than a magazine, it’s a dairy, a novel, a notebook, a song, it’s all these things and more. There isn’t a set label to describe it and I have the feeling Chang wanted it that way. And speaking of rules, Jeff Gordinier writes in The New York Times that although the “strict” rules for creating a magazine are still very relevant, being a literary rebel works, too.

You’re supposed to put a sexy person on the cover of a magazine. You’re supposed to lure readers in with a tempting (yet delicately neurosis-inducing) display of hyperbolic phrases about getting a killer beach body in five minutes and embarking on a dream vacation to Costa Rica and making cocktails that rival the ambrosial nectars of the Greek gods.

I highly recommend picking up the third issue. It’s so worth it.

-As you have probably discovered already, I am a cookbook freak. So you can guess my excitement when I found Eater’s Spring 2012 cookbook preview. The added thrill? April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories. Why this particular book you ask? It’s a funny story. Last winter, I picked up The New Yorker’s food issue and found one of my favorite pieces of food writing: a profile of April Bloomfield, the chef at NYC’s The Spotted Pig. Since then, I have been a huge fan of Bloomfield, rooting for her that same year when she was nominated for  the 2011 James Beard Awards. On April 24, you can find me at the nearest bookstore. Other notables:

* Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook by Nobu Matsuhisa

*Pierre Hermé Pastries by Pierre Hermé

*The Southern Italian Farmer’s Table: Authentic Recipes and Local Lore from Tuscany to Sicily by Matthew Scialabba and Melissa Pellegrino.

-The 2012 James Beard semifinalists have been announced! David Chang, momofuku ssäm Bar, in NYC for Outstanding Chef; Kevin Gillespie, woodfire Grill,  in Atlanta (Top Chef, people!) for Rising Start Chef of the Year. The Best Chef: NYC category is a powerhouse: April Bloomfield, Marco Canora, Scott Conant, Wylie Dufresne and Anita Lo.

-Have you liked The Italian Fork on Facebook?

The Weekend List 11/27/11

The week of Thanksgiving is always a strange one, working wise. But this year, we had the incredible treat of being guests at Emily’s parent’s house for turkey day. Amazing. Lots of family, lots of love and of course, lots of food and two words: glow sticks.

–An intriguing article by Thomas Madrecki in The Atlantic about working for six weeks in the kitchen of the world’s best restaurant, NOMA. Located in Copenhagen, Denmark, NOMA voted voted the best two years in a row. In our recent trip to Copenhagen, not being able to dine at NOMA is my only regret. Excuse to go back? I particularly like this passage:

At Noma and at other top restaurants, anything but striving for complete and total perfection is a disgrace. And to be frank, it is still a disgrace even outside of those top kitchens. The lesson here is just as simple as having a sense of urgency: Don’t bother doing anything but your best. Don’t half-ass anything. It’s either perfect — or it’s not.

Led by chef Rene Pedzepi, NOMA perfects Nordic gourmet cuisine while keeping the traditional cooking methods of the region. A reviewer from Scotland had this to say about the restaurant. “I could very quickly run out of superlatives attempting to describe our meal experience at Noma! For me, it was quite simply the best meal I have ever eaten.” Not too shabby.

Buttz BBQ in Charlottesville. I knew the restaurant existed and I knew about its reputation around town—and was the runner-up of C-VILLE Weekly’s BBQ contest, but I never actually took the time to go to The Corner district and try it out. Big mistake. The pulled pork platted was the best I’ve ever had: the right amount of juiciness and spice with a nice and lasting smoky flavor. I am not lover of super spicy foods, so I went with their Texas BBQ sauce, a sweet addition to my already delicious pork. After reading the owners’ explanation of their product, I like them even more.

We aren’t pros… just guys that love BBQ.  We are not your traditional Memphis, Texas, North Carolina or Kansas City BBQ.  In fact, we’ve combined the best of all regions into OUR BBQ.

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–Currently on my nightstand: Tender at the bone by Ruth Reichl. I giddily enjoyed Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires – the trials and tribulations of a food critic, so I didn’t think twice about picking this up. It’s so fascinating to read of Reichl’s difficult relationship with her mother (The Queen of Mold),  her early encounter with French gourmet cuisine via a classmate in Montreal, Canada and her escapades (which somehow end up being  always food related)  as a summer camp counselor in the French countryside. Can’t wait to read on.

Bon Appetit magazine cookie spread. It’s so unbelievably amazing. This particular page is of Peppermint meringues and cardamon crescents, but the spread includes Cherry pistachio nougat, chocolate macaroons with orange ganache, almond-oat lace cookies, butterscotch blondie bars, lemony slice-and-bakes, and chewy ginger cookies. I have plenty to choose from for this year’s Cookie Exchange!