Monthly Archives: October 2014

When do you experiment with food?

Years ago, I remember my mom being horrified when she found out I made a dessert for a dinner party that I had never made before. That’s just crazy. “Never try a new recipe when you are having guests! What if it doesn’t turn out?”

And she was right the time I trying one of those “easy no-knead” breads one night and my husband had to run out at the last minute for a loaf when mine failed to rise.

Despite the bread flop, I will often experiment with something when having guests or taking a dish to a party. If I am dying to try a decadent chocolate pudding or lemony bundt cake recipe, I am certainly not going to make it for only the two of us. And I hardly ever make appetizers unless entertaining — so when to try all the new ideas for them?

I generally do not, however, experiment with main courses. I will usually make something I have made before, something well-tested. And if I am cooking for omnivores, it will be somethng (perhaps heavy-ish) that I think they will like and not “miss the meat.”

Lately, I am thinking I might want to change my practice. Some of the best meals I have made in the last year were, I think, completely random, quite veggie-centric experimental dinners. Of course, there are things that don’t turn out (and wouldn’t that be a bummer for guests?!). But mostly, the experiments and first-trys are delicious.

If you are an upcoming guest at our house, consider yourself warned.

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Pici cacio e pepe

On our recent trip to Italy, we drove from Florence to Montalcino. On the way, we passed through a town called Buonconvento. We were ready for a little break from driving so decided to stop when I saw a flea market set up near the side of the road. It took a while to find a place to park, as the market was evidently a popular one. The market was a typical collection of tents and mobile vendors selling everything from socks to housewares to delicious pecorino cheese made in Pienza. We wandered around there and then discovered, behind the market, the walled portion of the city of Buonconvento. Here, the annual harvest festival was taking place!
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Some food experiences in Italy

I hestitate to share my thoughts about the food we have had in Italy when I am “pescatarian,” and mostly vegetarian. Generally, Italy seems very veg-friendly with its pastas and pizzas. I found the choices more limited in Tuscany with its emphasis on wild boar and beef … and limited by my own long-standing aversion to mushrooms. This is mushroom and truffle season, and it seems many non-meat choices feature these fungi! If you like truffles and mushrooms, head to Tuscany in late September/early October.

Despite these limitations, I have eaten well!

Some highlights:

– Tiny sandwiches at Bar Refolo in Venice. Small, whole-grain-looking buns filled with cheese, eggplant, zucchini, and then pressed in the panino grill. Eaten with Prosecco or Campari spritz for lunch.

Tiny sandwiches at Bar Refolo, Venice

Tiny sandwiches at Bar Refolo, Venice

– Peppers stuffed with a savory bread crumb mixture with a slice of grilled scamorza cheese on the side at Da Gignone, Florence.

– Appetizer with anchovies, chickpeas and pesto crostini at Taverna del Grappolo Blu in Montalcino.

Anchovies and chickpeas

Anchovies and chickpeas

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In the garden now… late October

It is a good thing I was too lazy/busy/sick after our Italy trip to pull out the tomato plants. Because, at this late date, I harvested some tomatoes. I believe this is the latest I have ever had tomatoes here in Western Oregon.

A downside to being gone/being lazy is that the aphids have moved in. Approximately a zillion of them have made their home on my kale plants. I sprayed them off with a blast from the hose and am thinking about a soap spray to try to contain them. Unfortunately, I think they may have done so much damage to one of my Tuscan kale plants that it might have to become chicken food.

Another by-product of being gone/being lazy is that some of my pole beans dried on the vine. This will be my seed stock for next year.

And collard greens? They are happy and need to be eaten.

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St. Agnes in Agony, my mom, bad tourists, Rome 2006 and 2014

We came to Italy in October 2006, on our honeymoon. Is it actually called a honeymoon, though, if you take the trip before the actual wedding (which was in November)? In any case, Rome was where we started and ended that trip and it is where we ended our recent trip.

My first impression is that Rome seems a lot more crowded this time. Are more people travelling in general? Or are more people travelling to Rome? In any case, the streets seem much more crowded with tourists this time — lots of tour groups as well as individual travellers/families. The crowds on the narrow sidewalks tend to get to me, make me tense. And what is with people who can’t figure out how to walk single file on a narrow passage, instead forcing others (us!) into the street? Bad tourists!

One day, we walked up to the forum/colosseum area. In 2006, we went into the colloseum, and thus didn’t feel compelled to do so this time. Thank goodness, given the crowd. I was also shocked to see that Rome is excavating right next to the forum for a new Metro station. It seems to me like it will spoil the view of the ancient ruins. The ancient ruins, which are now no longer free to walk though, evidently. Everything fenced and ticketed. Perhaps how they are raising money for the new station? In 2006, we had a lovely leisurely (and free) walk through the ruins. No longer.

Still we enjoyed our day of walking. In 2006, the Bernini fountain in Piazza Navona was under renovation. I was excited to see it this time, and it did not disappoint. Beautiful! On that piazza, we went into the church of St. Agnes in Agony, where I observed all the tourists taking photos despite the large mulit-language NO PHOTO sign, and where I lit a candle and thought of my mother, Agnes…who, incidently was referred to as St. Agnes in our family. I miss her and think she would have loved Rome in the days when she was young enough to walk long distances. I can picture her, young, in a pencil skirt, smoking a cigarette with her coffee in the piazza, much like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Though my mom would have been too timid to get onto a Vespa with a strange guy. At least I think she would have.

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