my italian kitchen
Ciao! It has been awhile, I know.
I confess, I have been blogging more on our family blog (www.familyfrolics.com) than I have here. Mostly because my chatter has been more about travel---from our year abroad---than about food. Most of my posts on this blog function as a means to provide you stellar recipes and simple techniques, tips for taking command of your kitchen experience and excerpts on my means to tempt my boys' palates. But since I was cycling across Holland/Belgium/France this summer, my kitchen was more or less the rear basket of my bike. And my 'cooking' was no more than assembling garlic butter, fresh bread and local cheese.
Not that I didn't soak up food---I did, and loved [almost] every bite---but snagging pastries or snacks at a nearby grocer/baker/festival was more about soaking up the moment than about what would be useful to your/my kitchen. That and quite often... ... ... internet connections were sparse.
Excuses front and center, I know.
We landed in Florence mid-August. It was steaming hot, and we sought out pools and plodded through numerous apartments to pick one for the coming year; all in all, my kitchen focus was not its usual self. I was distracted by my boys' soccer tryouts (2 a days at the beginning), where obtaining Gatorade and cranking the air conditioning was key. Although food was not front and center, all was not lost as I was busy memorizing the city. Each walk or ride, every foray into Florence I was scoping grocers and markets, pollerias and salumerias. I noted where to find bakers, eye-balled restaurants and cafes and sipped espresso while standing at numerous bars. I was doing my kind of homework!
Beginning of September, we landed in an apartment and promptly became consumed with obtaining Italian paperwork for our residence. (Unfortunately for us, the laws became more stringent during our summer cycle). We stood in countless lines, researched stuff online, talked to numerous public officials and submitted thick files of paper. The end result? Not enough t's were crossed or i's were dotted: we had to fly home to obtain further permissions from the Italian consulate in America. So for the first 3 weeks of October, we were back in the Pacific Northwest. Add on a week of being sick and jet-lagged and you have me somewhere around... today!
How about that for excuses?
But lets talk about my kitchen in Italy. I love the apartment we picked because it is in the center of the city, near the Arno River. Of course I poo-pooed any apartments where the kitchen was closet-sized. One place was quite lovely but the kitchen had no oven and just a stand-alone burner. Now granted, I can make that work. Not too many years back we renovated our house soup-to-nuts and it took us a few weeks to remodel the kitchen. My temporary 'kitchen' was a microwave-on-a chair in a bedroom, a bathtub (for running water and washing dishes) and a fridge in the basement (which I could access only by going outside, around the house and yep: down a ladder).
But that was then, and this is now.
I wanted a kitchen I could stretch in. And by that I do literally mean 'stretch out my arms' and fit in the said space, and I also do inherently mean 'stretch myself as a cook.' You may recall: I went to cooking school last year. I started April 2008 and ended April 2009. We left on our cycling trip May 2009. Which means I cooked and cooked and cooked at school, graduated, then hopped on a bike sans kitchen for 4 months. No cooking. I will say by the end, I was craving a kitchen: to walk into my own special place of cooking and stretch. To practice what I had learned at school, to commit it to memory, to work on my knife skills and my cooking smarts. To create and play and wonder.
And now I have one, and am back stretching and prancing in my kitchen, with knowledge of where to go to buy wild boar, delish prosciutto and good Parmesan. I love the kitchen I have---with plenty of counter space and the dining table nearby. It has gas burners and a small fridge; every morning we percolate espresso on the stove top. I don't have a good knife, but I am making it work. What I find most interesting, though, is how little I use recipes. And how I am cooking increasingly by instinct: by look, feel, taste and method. It is what I had hoped to gain from cooking school, and I am thrilled to see it stayed with me. (It isn't to say I don't use recipes: I most certainly do. And I need to write new ones down if I aim to share them with you!).
A few final thoughts before we move onto food:
1. Much like when we were in graduate school, my Italian cooking experience will be budget-forward. (We had planned this trip on a monthly budget; the flight home for four was unexpected and pricey).
2. One of my goals is to teach myself to proficiently make from scratch: focaccia, pasta and pizza. I haven't spent a lot of time learning the nuances of yeast breads, but am determined to learn.
3. Beyond recipes, I will also share things like what I am learning about Italian meats (aka Tuscan salami is considered more mild and sweet than Genoa salami), wines, my favorite chocolates, food culture (little cookies for dessert), worthy cafes and outdoor markets... and my growing appreciation for seasonal foods.
I am excited to have my kitchen bursting again: with produce, and enthusiasm, new ideas and noteworthy recipes. Now that some of the circumstantial dust has settled, I can again turn my attention to cooking, to enjoying Tuscany with all its foodie goodness and once again talk of tomatoes.