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An Italian in the US

Thoughts, impressions, suggestions, recipes, and more from an Italian in the USA. A bilingual blog which may inspire you to visit and learn about Italy. Pensieri, impressioni, suggerimenti, ricette ed altro da un'Italiana negli States. Un blog bilingue c

Updated: 2017-11-21T23:32:40.830-08:00




Ciao sorella.



tu sei alto
non ce la faccio ad arrivare fino a te
Ma se fossimo in due
chissà, forse insieme a turno attaccando il Chimborazo potremmo
infine giungere a te.
tu sei profondo
non ce la faccio ad attraversarti
Ma se fossimo in due
invece che uno
panfilo e remi
chissà, qualche estate
arriveremmo fino al sole.
tu sei velato
ti guardano
e muoiono
Senza di te
sarebbe cosa ben strana
quella felicità perfetta da Dio soprannominata

Emily Dickinson (1862)


Primo post ufficale dal Canada


The first post of 'An Italian in Canada' will be a short visual summary of just a few things that we learned to like here in Montreal. It's winter, so one has to accept it and take the best out of it. For us, this means mostly going ice skating on the very large frozen pond at La Fontaine park, five minutes from our apartment. Here you can see a small part of the pond, right after it snowed, with people skating on the clear paths. Notice the mom skating with her child in the carrier!Right after it snows, people go out and have fun in the parks. I think I'd love to be a child in Montreal.Squirrels are fine with the snow as well. However, they are so much thinner than the squirrels in Berkeley!When it's not terribly cold, we walk around the city. One of our favorite destinations is Mile End, a Jewish area with three main highlights: two bagel factories, open 24 h per day, 7 days/week, and 'Cheskie', one of the best pastry places in town. I will give more details about Cheskie in a later post, when I have some pictures to go with the explanation.The bagel factories have huge wood ovens where they constantly bake the bagels, after boiling them in water with honey according to the Montreal recipe. It's hard to choose between the two rivals, 'St. Viateur' and 'Fairmount'. They both make amazingly good bagels and tasting them hot right out of the oven is a pleasure, especially after a long walk in the cold. Here is a comparison of their sesame bagels:(left Fairmount's bagel, right St. Viateur's).St. Viateur is a bit cheaper and has a smaller selection of flavors. We tend to like the St.Viateur's warm sesame bagels the best, but the Fairmount's 'bleuet' (blueberry) and 'tout garni' (all dressed) are probably our favorite. I will take a picture of these places one of these days.Another amazing place in Montreal is 'Adonis', a Middle Eastern grocery store that we discovered thanks to a friend of ours. I've been on this planet for more than 30 years, but I had no idea about what Middle Eastern food really is, before going to this store.For example, here are two shots of their fresh cheese counter. These are some of the harder cheese. The feta section is not pictured, it occupies about the same space on the counter.That big braided cheese is an unbelievably dense and salty cheese, with herbs in the dough. We still have to figure out how to eat it exactly. For now we have soaked it in water to eliminate some of the salt and then used it on pizza or inside our kofta sandwiches.These are some of the soft cheeses. The labneh, especially the half goat labneh, is really good and we started using it either with cucumber and mint or just plain during our middle-eastern dinners.The olive selection is as diverse as the cheese counter (no pic, sorry); the Lebanese and the Sicilian olives are particularly good, and they cost ~$4/lb!Their meat counter is also amazing. We've been buying ground and whole Quebecois lamb, much better than New-Zealandese lamb, for a very reasonable price. Not to speak about their delicious hallal chickens for ~$6 each, or their merguez, a lamb/beef sausage, spiced with cinnamon and hot spices.Another amazing discovery for us was the variety of Middle Eastern breads: pita, the one we all know, is really just their most common bread, which they sell for almost nothing ($0.99 for 6 pitas). Then they have long sheets of ~1 cm thick bread from Afghanistan, some discs that are ~1 mm thick and ~1 m wide, soft loaves.. We're trying them all little by little.The honey and molassas aisle is amazing as well. Did you ever have grape or fig molassas? Or honey from rose flowers? We tried the grape molassas, and I liked it quite a bit. It tastes very grapy indeed. The same is true for their juice section (apricot and pomegranate are the less extravagant. We recently got sour cherry and guava juice). And their halva section sports tubs in all sizes coming from many different countries. So far however our favorite is still the halva we bought a few months ago somewhere else in Mo[...]

Viaggio attraverso gli States


Hello dear readers--and welcome to the last official post of the 'Italian in the US'.As I mentioned a few posts ago, I moved to Canada with Matt. I have a new job in Montreal, and we've been living here for the past 3 months. To get here, we decided to take a road trip from California to Montreal.We wanted to take it easy, and have a relaxing trip to conclude our peripatetic summer. We didn't plan much in advance and packed as light as possible, leaving most of our stuff with the movers. We took just some clothes and two bikes, so we could bike around along the way.The plan turned out to be slightly wrong: The day of the move the movers told us they wouldn't bring any of Matt's wine and liquor collection, because they thought they would have a lot of trouble with it at the border. So we ended up driving all the way with two boxes full of buzz, without knowing what we were going to do with it once at the border. We just knew we were not going to pay the crazy duties imposed by Quebec on alcoholic beverages, corresponding to 100 to 140% of the value of the bottles.We left sans itinerary from Berkeley on August 30th. Here is a map of what we actually ended up doing.As you can see, we didn't follow the straightest path, which would have been I-80, because we wanted to visit Matt's mom in Idaho Falls, and drive through Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks.Our last picture from California was from the beautiful Donner lake.Goodbye, California! We hope to see you soon again.We arrived in Nevada at sunset, which was quite pretty, but didn't take pictures of the landscape. We spent the night in Reno, at my dear friend Fiona's. The evening with her was really nice, and the area where she lives is quite nice too. However, when the morning after we visited downtown Reno, I was somewhat disturbed by all the casinos and the consumerist traps. We decided to enter one of them, with the main purpose of changing a huge amount of coins that Matt collected over the years. This procedure turned out to work quite well--no fees, unlike the CoinStar machines at grocery stores!After leaving Reno, we drove all the way through Nevada, up to Idaho Falls. Matt's mom lives there and we wanted to get there in the evening. It was a long drive, especially because most of Nevada is a big desert with just bushes here and there... I liked seeing these empty spaces for a while, as it's something that can't be found in Europe, but after 4-5 hours they started to get boring. When we saw the first mountains at the horizon, Matt felt more at home.Before getting to Matt's mom's, we stopped to take a few pictures at Twin Falls canyon.We arrived to Idaho Falls at sunset. I really liked the sight of the sprinklers in the fields in the evening and I got a few pictures from the car.A rural, peaceful view.We stayed at Matt's mom's for three nights--we kept delaying our departure as we were having a really good and relaxing time. We took our bikes out of the car, and we biked around a lot, among fields of grain.... beautiful sunsets..... and of course a few visits to the town of Idaho Falls, which hosts one of the most impressive Mormon temples I've ever seen in my life.I really enjoyed visiting the places of Matt's childhood and young-adult life. For example, we tried the formerly known 'The Blue Room' burger place (the name changed with ownership, but people still call it by the older name). This dark dive makes the best hamburgers I ever tasted in my life. In fact, before trying them, I never knew hamburgers could be actually good. After this life-changing experience I even find myself craving hamburgers, and being really frustrated because I have yet to find a competitor. What is the Blue Room's secret? In Matt's opinion, a cheap, spongy bun (which emulsifies with the fat on the tongue), warmed on the grill before stuffing it, and very greasy meat.We also tried Reed's ice cream. Made with fresh whole milk and huckleberries, it was a delight after a long day of biking around. All these t[...]

Viaggio in Umbria


In this post I'll describe the trip to Umbria that I took with my family last summer. You may not believe it, but I had never been to this wonderful Italian region before, even though many foreigners coming to my home country add at least a one-day tour to Assisi during their visit. So, I was very much looking forward to this trip.Umbria is also known as 'the green heart of Italy', due to its location and its luxurious vegetation.We split our stay in two cities: Orvieto and Perugia. You can see where they are more precisely here:My mom found some bed and breakfasts in these two towns. I highly recommend this type of lodging if you're traveling to Italy with a group of people. The apartments are usually really nice, and they are unbelievably inexpensive compared to hotels. Plus, they have a kitchen, so you don't have to eat out every meal if you don't want to. This was the main room of our B&B in Orvieto. There were two more rooms, with a single and a double bed.I fell in love with Orvieto--after the whole trip I think it is one of the nicest cities in Umbria and maybe in Italy in general. It's built on top of a volcanic hill and you can see it in its splendor from many hills around. This is a picture I took on a bike ride going towards Bolsena lake. It's been on my computer desktop for the past three months.Orvieto has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy. When you're close to it, you're in awe, anywhere you approach it from. Moreover, it changes color depending on the time of the day.Here you can see it in its splendor over the city (look at the top center of the picture).This is the facade in the morning.....and here it is at sunset.Here are a few details: the eagle and the bull, symbols of the Evangelists John and Matthew, looking at us from the facade.Eve's creation, still on the facade.The central 'rosone', surrounded by sculptures and mosaics representing saints, and with the central Lamb (I took this pic from a store in front of the cathedral).From inside you can see the black and white stones that the whole church is built with, and there is a wooden ceiling, that reminded me of a boat.There are some windows in alabaster through which the sun enters creating a beautiful warm light.The chapels are amazing. One of them is particularly famous, completely painted by Signorelli's school. We spent a long time admiring the apocalyptic murals. No pics were allowed, but you can see some of them on Wikipedia. One could spend months visiting this Cathedral, and still find something new to discover.The whole city of Orvieto is a mix of Etruscan, Roman and Medieval remains. It was originally built by Etruscans, who were able to keep up with a siege by the Romans for three months. They survived thanks to wells that were dug all the way through the volcanic hill, reaching to the water at the bottom. A lot of wells are still visible. Look inside one of them and imagine the people digging out the dirt and going lower and lower, using the holes you see on the sidewalls as stairs.During the siege apparently people survived on pigeons. They dug nests in the underground rock for them, and the pigeons flew out to get food, and came back to rest. Here is one of the hundreds of 'piccionaie', which we saw during a visit to Orvieto underground:The piccionaie are just one of the uses of the hundreds of caves that are excavated under Orvieto. People used these caves to keep animals warm in winter and cool in summer, and to mill grains or store food, for example.One of the things I really enjoyed of Orvieto was its location. Surrounded by hills and lakes, it's the perfect place to start bike rides. I found out that, unlike in Japan, in Italy it's very easy to rent beautiful bikes for weeks at a time for very cheap. I got a carbon-frame race bike for 10 Euros a day, and I kept it for 4 days, as long as we were in Orvieto.I went for my excursions in the late afternoon, after visiting places with my family.I went twice to B[...]

Quest for Katsuobushi, II: "Dashi is Deep"


Dissatisfied with my dashi, I journeyed to Izumo.OK, that's not entirely true, but I like the sound of it. And it's not entirely false either. Once I had felt I had gotten the knack of making dashi, as detailed in Quest for Katsuobushi, I tested my new skill on Marta's friend Keisuke and his family. The soup I made was just as described before: dashi made from kombu and katsuobushi, salted to taste, with small chunks of soft tofu and thin slivers of Japanese green onion. Keisuke said the broth was nice, but then ever so politely wondered why there wasn't any miso in it, or rice alongside.These were good questions, but it wasn't that I hadn't thought of these things. Katsuobushi, according to the food scientists, has one of the most complex flavor spectra of any food. Wouldn't it be a shame to mask its depth of flavor with miso, itself no slouch in the complexity department? And rice. I don't have any problem with rice. It's good when made well, but why not focus on less humble foods when you're aiming to impress?Why not? Because "dashi is deep". It's not simply about its large number of different flavor molecules, its "lactic acic and amino acids, peptides, and nucleotides, . . . , pungent phenolic compunds, . . ., nitrogen- and sulfer-containing carbon rings, . . ., flowery, fruity, green notes" [McGee again]. It's about much more than this, as I was to learn.Let me begin by saying that katsuobushi is not quite as hard to find in Japan as I had thought, even though Keisuke had told me that I was the first person he'd ever seen holding it. Indeed we saw katsuobushi our very first day, simply because we happened to visit Tokyo's Tsukiji, the biggest fish market in the world:Surprisingly, whole katsuobushi was more expensive by weight than flaked. We conjecture that's because the flakes are made from more unattractive specimens. Sometime later, I turned on the TV to see a cooking show wherein they stewed 5mm (!) slices of katsuobushi until soft, then cooked them with bitter melon. Toward the end of our trip, we saw katsuobushi again in Kyoto's Nishiki gourmet shopping district.My first katsuobushi, however, had come from Izumo, and Izumo seemed to be a good starting point for an eastward bike trip from rural to urban Japan. No doubt e-dashi's Hiromi and Haruo, living in Japan's least populous Shimane prefecture, were doubtful that we'd follow through when we said, "Hey, we'll be in Japan. Maybe we'll drop by." But then, we had surprised them already: We learned that ours was the first order, in their 10 years on the web, from gaijin.Given our novelty, maybe we shouldn't have been entirely surprised that we were greeted by more than a simple hello. But then I don't think there was any reason to expect the ensuing full-court press of hospitality. Marta has already described part of it. Here is the rest:After visiting Izumo taisha, we were brought to e-dashi's store, which is built into the front of a 100-year-old house. The inside is a study in restraint. Unlike in America's overflowing aisles, the stock is arranged to fit the room, like museum exhibits. There was everything needed to make good dashi: katsuobushi, of course, but also (giant--see below) kombu, mushrooms, small dried fish, and---here I finally see one---a katsuobushi dezuriki, the plane traditionally used to make the flakes. I was interested, of course. First, though, lunch to a very good tempuraya. Before we leave, Hiromi places two pieces of kombu to cold-steep in a pan of water.When we return, I learn about the dezuriki. Like other Japanese planes, it consists of a block of oak with a slot cut into it, just large enough so that the iron can be wedged in. The block then fits into the drawered box that catches the flakes.The iron is made of two layers of metal, one soft and one hard. The soft layer gives support to the harder cutting edge, and makes it easier to remove metal when sharpening. This is important because[...]

Ultimo post sul Giappone—dal Canada!


Hi everyone! You thought I was lost forever? No. However, I am thinking I should change the title of this blog. I'm not in the US anymore! I moved to Canada about a month ago with Matt.I have now a job in Montreal. After a lot of struggle and indecision, I opted for this job over a few other offers I had, and here we are! I actually really love this new job and I'm immensely happy Matt was able to join me. So, so far so good. But, winter time has not arrived yet. We are still enjoying the last beautiful Fall days and I do want to take some pictures before it's too late and all the colorful leaves are gone.However, before I tell you about our new life, the cross-country move, and my summer trip to Italy after Japan, I want to write the last post about Japan, which will tell you about our last day and a half in Japan, discuss Japanese home food and a summary about what we've learned about biking in Japan.So, let's get started.The morning before we left Kyoto, we biked through the temple area. We managed to see one of the biggest Shinto shrines:.. And did a quick run through the Philosopher's walk, where all the most beautiful temples are. We saw some of them from outside, but unfortunately didn't have time to go inside. However, we met a really nice old guy, who kept trying to show us something in the small canals that border the walk. It took us a while to figure out what he wanted us to see: little frogs! We met him again later, showing the frogs to a kid.This is actually the last picture we took in Japan, showing a little sign of friendliness between cultures and generations.In a hurry, we biked back to Kyoto station, bagged up the bikes, and got onto the Shinkansen. We thought that would have been our last time with the bikes, as Matt found two buyers on the (English) craigslist who were willing to buy them from us at our arrival in Tokyo. However, one of the buyers flaked out, and we were left with Matt's bike. Luckily we found a hotel with internet, and emailed one of the previously interested, who agreed to take the bike. We managed to enjoy at least some of our last day in Tokyo. We took a walk downtown, and saw a South Indian restaurant that attracted us. Without even realizing it, we were missing spicy food! This Japanese Indian restaurant turned out to be fantastic. We had some amazing idlis made with semolina flour and raisin, and one of the best lamb curries we ever tasted. Again, Japan food really never disappoints, whatever cuisine one wants to try. (Though in this case there were at least Indians in the kitchen.)Our last evening in Tokyo was quite nice too. We found a little park in the heart of downtown, and sat on a bench there for a while. We were surrounded by trees and a little further, tall skyscrapers. In the middle of Tokyo, it was quiet.The day after, we sold the last bike about half an hour before we left for the airport. Thanks, craigslist! The flight back went smoothly, and in less than 10 hours we were back to California.-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -Japanese home food-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -As you know, we got to know many really nice Japanese families, either through the Japan Cycling website, or thanks to Matt's interest in katsuobushi. All the people we met showed us what Japanese hospitality is—not only did they share their house with us, but they made us feel part of their family. They showed us around, helped us find bikes, brought us to restaurants, chatted with us, introduced us to their friends, even played videogames with us and their children . . . and of course, prepared food for and with us.Our first night in Japan (my birthday), we were hosted at Yukiko and Carlos'. I was so impressed that Yukiko had organized a cooking lesson for me! Every month she and a friend were taught one meal, and she planned it this month to coincide with our stay.So here we are, four women preparing food.The first dish was cold oden, with chicken me[...]

Due notti e un giorno a Kyoto


Iwao Takizawa, whom we were to meet for dinner, had translated into Japanese 'Letters from Wolfie', a book by Matt's mom about a boy who volunteers his dog for service in the Vietnam War. Over the last several years, the two had conducted a lively correspondence, with subjects ranging from the Iraq war to Japan's buraku. Matt had contacted him before our trip and asked when we might meet. Afterward, we would get urgent-sounding emails from him asking, "When will you be in Kansai?" Well, it was hard to say, since we were playing this thing by ear. In Tottori we finally had our plans finalized, and told him when we'd be in Osaka and Kyoto. Great, Iwao wrote, meet me in Kyoto at 6 at the City Hall and I'll take you to my favorite restaurant. We had hoped to find lodging by then, but the ride had taken longer than expected. We barely had time to wash off a bit at a public restroom.Iwao was waiting in the dark suit and glasses he said he'd be wearing. (He had just returned from Tokyo from the funeral of a famous professor at University of Tokyo.) After introductions, we started walking. Kyoto is famous for its haute kaiseki cuisine, with some restaurants so exclusive that only known customers are allowed entrance. Though we didn't know it, we were headed for one.We were warmly greeted at Kyoshiki (meaning the four seasons of Kyoto) by women dressed in kimonos. They saw our bikes, and as if this happened all the time, insisted we should leave them in the garden just inside the outer door. We tried to refuse this offer, pointing out that our shabby bikes would be just fine out on the street. But they would have none of it, and Matt ever so carefully wedged the bikes between the even more carefully groomed plants.We entered and were guided to a private tatami room. We left our shoes outside and entered. A glass door separated our room from an interior garden; the room itself was (need I say) tastefully decorated with paintings of nature. Matt thought he would show off the seiza sitting he had been practicing at home, but the okami could probably tell he wouldn't last 15 minutes, much less the entire meal. Saying "please, be comfortable," she persuaded him to sit cross-legged with his back against the floor-level chairs that are typically reserved for old folks with bad knees, and westerners. Here you can see Matt and Iwao just before the meal:Iwao explained that we were to have several small courses, each in a different style. We had read about this type of meal in our guidebook, but didn't really expect to try it. As you will see, we weren't going to be disappointed.We started with some cold appetizers:It's hard to explain exactly what the little cubes were. They were all prepared with fish; the leftmost one contained fish eggs in a gelatin, and was particularly delicious.The second course was sashimi:The white fish in the center of the bowl was hamo (pike eel), which was in season and only eaten in Kansai. Hamo was going to recur throughout the meal. As we later learned, it is a difficult food to prepare---removing its many small bones takes time.A clear soup followed:Clear soups are considered to be works of art, where the ingredients are as carefully presented as a painting. Here konnyaku noodles float underneath hamo wrapped in yuba. (Konnyaku is a jelly made from the root of a plant, often known as devil's root tongue. An interesting post about this can be found here. Yuba, or tofu skin, is made by skimming the dried top layer from a vat of hot soy milk.) Oishi!The next course was yakimono, or grilled food. Here is anago served with okra and seaweed. Anago is a salt-water eel, less fatty than regular eel.Then, a baked dish:Iwao explained to us that the most elegant way to eat this fish was to take small pieces off it with the chopsticks (easier said than done), and dip them in the sauce we were given. I ate all the bones, too, an[...]

Cicloturismo in Giappone III: da Osaka a Kyoto


We left Tottori for Osaka by train. This leg of our journey involved a difficult decision, because we were supposed to meet another family from Japan Cycling in Takashima, on the beautiful Lake Biwa north of Kyoto. The original plan was bike there from Kyoto, but we realized that we wouldn't have been able to do this and still have time to visit other cities we wanted to see.(For American tourists there's a metric conversion pitfall one should be aware of: One converts the kilometers into miles, but then thinks to oneself that things are metric here, so the unit becomes kilometers again, e.g. 50km => 30 mi => 30 km--hence our surprise when Tetsuo told us that the ride from Kyoto would take the better part of a day!)So in the end we declined Tetsuo's hospitality, hoping we hadn't been too rude, and sad because we knew how wonderful it would have been to spend another day with a Japanese family.We knew from Tottori that the best way to get a cheap hotel in Japan was to find a tourist office and ask for a Japanese-style hotel, specifying precisely what you want to pay. (If you say, "We're looking for ¥10000 or less," you'll pay precisely ¥10000.) These offices are usually very close to train stations. The nice English-speaking officials at Osaka's told us to go south to an area with lots of cheap hotels. We biked south, and after crossing some huge intersections, we started really enjoying the city. Our ride was going to cross almost all the city, and we went through very different parts of it. Closer to the station there is the financial district, with elegant bridges, very tall buildings, and rose gardens along the river. Then we noticed some fancy districts, with expensive restaurants.Here we stopped at an intersection to look at a map, and a young man stopped and asked us if we needed help. After he gave us directions (again, in English: it turned out that most Osakajin speak some English), we started chatting and asked him about his favorite local food. He asked if we had some time, and invited us inside of the restaurant he had come out of. He invited us to sit and gave us cold barley tea. While we drank and watched the sous-chefs work, he printed out maps for us, to show us where we could find Osaka's famous okonomiyaki and kushikatsu. Finally we asked him what his favorite restaurant in Osaka was. He answered, "Mine!" We hadn't realized he was the owner of the place we were in. He told us his restaurant made mostly beef dishes, of high quality. He warned us that it might be too expensive for us, most likely because he saw our dress and transportation, and he knew we were headed toward cheap hotels. Unfortunately, when we stopped by the restaurant later that night, we saw it was completely full, and thought our shorts and T-shirts weren't exactly appropriate for such a place. Nevertheless, we were impressed that he had been so helpful to people who weren't even potential customers.We kept biking south, and crossed more and more very lively districts. Lots of people were walking and biking everywhere. The bikes especially seemed to follow no rules, going from sidewalk to road, with or against traffic: However, no car ever honked, and somehow we never saw an accident.The cheap hotel area was, as expected, a poor one. An interesting detail: the first hotel we asked in told us that they allowed only Japanese people! Perhaps they were tired of westerners, not knowing which shoes to use to enter the different rooms, and leaving crumbs on tatami mats, etc. Anyway, we did find a cheap Japanese-style hotel to stay at (¥6000), where the friendly desk clerk quizzed me about Italian football.The area close by was a maze of small streets filled with places selling street food and (mostly) old men playing shogi. The most popular food sold there was kushikatsu, exactly what we had been told to try. We entere[...]

Cicloturismo in Giappone II: da Sakaiminato a Tottori


We left Sakaiminato with a medium-heavy rain, which stayed with us for about one hour in the morning. It wasn't cold, so it wasn't too bad---it just made us wet and somewhat dirty. We stopped for breakfast at a fast food place recommended to us by Keisuke. The chain, called Mos Burger, makes Japanese variations of burgers. We tried one made with a bun of rice, teriyaki beef or veggies, and nori:Quite good!We kept biking for a while along highway 9. This wasn't as pretty as 431, but it was very well structured for biking, with large shoulders or ridable sidewalks:At some point, however, we didn't realize that highway 9 had branched (just before a largish climb) onto a divided highway where bikes weren't allowed. A car pulled over, and the driver was very worried we were on such a dangerous road (70 km/h speed limit). With gestures he got us to understand that we had to go back. We didn't want to backtrack, and it seemed from the map that there might be direct path back to highway 9. Indeed, Matt found a small road that brought us through verdant hills, with orchards.This road in the hills turned out to be the best part of the trip that day. It brought us down to this beach:And on the side of the road, we saw one of the many small cemeteries that we met a bit everywhere during the trip:Every small group of houses in the countryside had one of these graveyards nearby. This is quite different from both Europe and US, where there are larger, centralized cemeteries. I liked this idea of looking at life and death as two inseparable aspects, instead of segregating the dead, almost as if we were scared by them.From there we kept going east, passing some rural villages like this:In the evening, we arrived at Tottori. The timing would have been good, had we known where we were going to sleep. It took us a while to realize that Tottori sand dunes wasn't as commercialized as my guide book said, and there were no hotels there. In the end, however, some very nice people reserved a hotel for us, after some struggles solved by an electronic dictionary. So around 8 pm we headed to downtown Tottori, looking forward to a long shower.Tottori surprised us with its lively nightlife. Many young people were out, and there were lots of places to eat. We really liked it.Here and there, we saw an Italian restaurant. Matt thought we should try one.I resisted: Why go to an Italian restaurant in Japan, where the food would probably be bad? The point, Matt said, was to see what would happen if an actual Italian showed up in an Italian restaurant in a city where we had not seen any westerners. It did seem like an interesting idea.So we randomly chose "Il piatto doro" (yes, unfortunately misspelled; it should have been "d'oro"). The restaurant was on the second story of a building and there was no plastic pasta outside, so we really had no idea about how it would be inside. When we arrived, we saw a small room, with seating only at a long, wide wooden bar, behind which there was a blackboard with the daily menu and shelves and shelves of wine bottles. It was run that night by just two people, the chef and a host. Just the right atmosphere for a small enoteca-like restaurant. The kitchen was at the end of the bar, separated from the dining area by a glass window.When we sat down, I said, "Watashi wa Nihongo ga sukoshi wakarimasu. Demo, watashi wa Itariajin desu". This generated lots of surprised 'ooooohh', which are so typical of the Japanese expressive way of speaking. A habitue of the restaurant immediately ordered a bottle of wine and offered us two nice glasses of a really good barbera (a red wine from Piemonte!). Then, we had some grissini (breadsticks), and when I mentioned that they were made in my hometown we were given a lot of them as a gift for the trip.After a small consultation, we decided we would [...]

Cicloturismo in Giappone: da Izumo a Sakaiminato


The stop in Izumo signed the beginning of our biking tour in Japan. We left in the late morning, after the adventure of the missing key, heading East. The first stop was Matsue, where there is one of the most intact castles in Japan, built between 1607 and 1611. The ride to Matsue was quite pleasant: the air was cool thanks to a strong rain from the night before, and we biked along the northern side of the very big and pretty lake Shinji, on highway 431.(My helmet is in the front of the picture.) The ride is only about 40 km, which was good for us to get to know and adjust our new bikes.At the castle, we left our bikes and walked around. One of the advantages of biking in Japan is that people can be trusted. We left our bikes unlocked, and the backpacks on them while we toured the castle. The castle is very different from European Medieval castles.Inside, everything is in solid wood.The castle was never touched by war, so everything is very well preserved. Outside there is a beautiful, large garden.And a few shrines. Here you can see the entrance to one of them.We spent several hours in the castle, and then went back on 431, heading still northeast. We realized we were hungry, and started looking for food. Matt spotted a stand selling what we later learned was called 'takoyaki'. Takoyaki is a typical street food from Osaka, consisting of balls of eggy dough with a piece of octopus inside. Ours was prepared by this guy:As you can see, he fills some hemispherical molds with batter.When the batter starts congealing, he folds the dough and makes balls using just two metallic skewers. He was really fast! allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Takoyaki is served with sauce and toppings, and is a delicious small meal.After this break, we resumed biking on 431. The landscapes were really pretty, and somewhat eerie. Pictures hardly capture the atmosphere created by the fog, the dark green, and the few houses with blue mountains on the background:We enjoyed this ride so much that we actually missed a turn we meant to take:We biked past this bridge, onto a quiet peninsula. Luckily Matt realized that we should have crossed the bridge before it became too dark.We stopped for the night in Sakaiminato, in a small hotel downtown, after looking for a place for a long time. Looking for a hotel always turned out to be harder than we thought, so we often spent about one hour at the end of a long bike ride just to find a place to stay. A big part of this was due to our difficulties in communicating with people. Everybody was very nice and tried to help in every possible way. However, it was frustrating not to be able to understand and say what we would have liked to say, so we really want to learn more Japanese for the next time we visit.Because of this delay, we ended up looking for food in Sakaiminato late at night, and we ended up trying bar food in Japan for the first time! We enjoyed it very much, but unfortunately I didn't take pictures of it. The best thing was a huge pile of cabbage, covered by eggs, with bacon on a side: Matt dubbed it a 'deconstructed okonomiyaki', which is a savory pancake made with the same ingredients (to be described in later posts). Does any expert in Japanese bar food know what I'm talking about?Here is the route for our first day of cycling:The second day in a future post![...]

Quest for Katsuobushi: Intermezzo Anacronistico


[Another guest post by Matt.]

Miso soup, onigiri with rice cooked in dashi, and gobo and ume/shiso pickles around said rice atop an aromatic bed of kombu, topped with a Möbius band of nori, swayed by a breeze that has passed over freshly shaved katsuobushi.

[While the Italianintheus is in Italy, the boy will play.]

Viaggio in Giappone: da Tokyo a Izumo


I've stopped blogging for a while for some good reasons. At first, I was finishing up some stuff from my work at Berkeley. Then my mom came to visit me for 12 days. It was really nice to have her here, and I could write a few posts about what we visited in that period. Finally Matt and I just came back from a wonderful trip to Japan, lasted 13 days. We had so many diverse experiences that I want to write down a few of them before I forget. So, I hope you'll enjoy this series of posts about Japan (some of them may be written by Matt), and please bear with me if I still haven't posted the roundup for the last Fresh Produce of the Month. We landed in Tokyo, Narita Airport, on July 15th -- my birthday! For the first two nights we were hosted by a Japanese family (Yukiko & Carlos), living in the Shinbuya district of Tokyo. We found this family through the really nice website 'Japan Cycling'. This is a great resource for anybody who's interested in biking in Japan. There are many suggested bike trips, a forum where you can post questions, and lists of people who are available to give you information, guided tours, or even host you for a few nights during your trip to Japan. We were hosted by two different families, and were going to be hosted by a third, had our trip plan allowed that. We found these experiences incredibly rewarding, and received much more than a bed to sleep.So, for the first night in Tokyo, Yukiko had planned a Japanese cooking lesson for us! It was a wonderful birthday present for me. More details about this in a dedicated food post. The morning after, she brought us for a bike ride in Tokyo. This was a great experience, part of the 'Tokyo Great Cycling Tour' that she runs together with a few other people, highly recommended if you want a guided 1-day bike tour in Tokyo. We started at 4:30 in the morning, in order to get to see the tuna auction at the famous Tokyo fish market. At this time of the day, lots of frozen tuna arrives at the market.And at 5 am, the auction starts. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />I had never been to an auction before, but Matt told me that it was quite similar to auctions in the US. Shortly after, we had our first really good sushi. The sushi at the Tokyo Fish Market is one of the best you can have, and apparently early in the morning is the best time to try it. Here is our proud sushi chef, holding a shiso leaf.And here is some of the fish he used for sushi. It was definitely the best sushi we ever had, and still is.During our bike ride through Tokyo, we discovered how multifaceted this city is: small canals running between skyscrapers.... Hidden shrines.. .. And very tall buildings with lots of signs on them (we just found out these particular ones are ads for bars, on the left side, and loan companies, on the right side).This is a typical shot of old, sacred Tokyo, together with modern Tokyo:Later, Matt and I walked through downtown Tokyo, again wandering through a mixture of small alleys.... and large boulevardsjust a few blocks away from each other.On the third day, we rode a train to Yokohama, where we met our second host family, Yoko and Hideo. Yoko brought us around Yokohama all the afternoon looking for bikes. The quest for bikes turned out to be a lot harder than we thought, and it will be the subject of another post. Anyway, after many hours spent both in Tokyo with Yukiko and in Yokohama with Yoko, we finally got the two bikes: a red Louis Garneau that I usedand Matt's first Corvette.The evening wit[...]

Quest for Katsuobushi


[This is a guest posting by Matt.]First, thanks Marta for granting me this indulgence to hold forth on an obsession.Anyone who has had any Japanese food has tasted the flavor imparted by katsuobushi, but I first became aware of the ingredient itself through its description in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: "The most remarkable preserved fish is katsuobushi, a cornerstone of Japanese cooking, which dates from around 1700 and is made most often from one fish, the skip jack tuna [bonito]." Katsuobushi is produced through a three to five month process involving boiling, weeks of hot-smoking, and finally a series of fermentations. "At the end, the meat has turned light brown and dense; when struck it's said to sound like a resonant piece of wood," McGee continues. "Why go to all this trouble? Because it accumulates a spectrum of flavor molecules whose breadth is approached only in the finest cured meats and cheeses."Since I read this years ago I've kept my eye out for whole katsuobushi. Of course, in powdered form, it is a basic ingredient in Hon-Dashi, used to make instant soup stock, or dashi. It's also not hard to find in flakes; these are the shavings of katsuobushi that are an intermediate in making dashi.Indian food tastes better when the spices are ground fresh, because the aromas dissipate rapidly after grinding. Same goes for coffee. Might the same be true of katsuobushi? What if the pre-flaked katsuobushi has but a shadow of its full flavor? I wanted to find the whole stuff.Once I set to the task in earnest, it was surprisingly difficult. Locally, the best bet was Berkeley's Tokyo Fish Market. Plenty of instant dashi and bonito flakes, but a clerk there told me that whole katsuobushi is almost impossible to find in the United States. Without much hope of success, I also inquired at Japan Woodworker. They sell a lot of Japanese planes, and the Japanese use a special plane to making the katsuobushi shavings. Their kitchen section has expanded a lot in recent years, so I thought this would be a nice area of intersection between woodworking and cooking. (Indeed, I planned to dust off my underutilized planes when it came time to make my own shavings.) Unfortunately, they didn't carry katsuobushi or the plane for it. However, I did have an interesting talk with one of the owners, who had inherited a kastuobushi plane from his father, together with a now 60-year-old piece of katsuobushi.To the internets! As expected, the web has a lot of good information about katsuobushi. I recommend wikipedia and this article from the Tokyo Foundation. The latter Japanese slow food site has a number of other interesting articles as well. However, when it came to finding whole katsuobushi for sale, the English-speaking internet had nothing. We did find instructions in Japanese about how to make katsuobushi. According to google translate, one step is this:これで裸節のできあがりです。 I finished the section in the nude.We like our food to be natural, but maybe not that natural.Googling did yield a promising site written entirely in Japanese, e-dashi. After weeks of waiting, hoping I guess that katsuo would fall from the sky, we decided to make an order in a language we couldn't understand. The strategy was simple: use google translate and try to divine the original meaning. Do we really want to order "sections of this blight," we asked ourselves? Yes! Confirm buttons were a bit tricky. For that you have to paste the html source (Control-U) into google translate and look for the form fields.Once the order process was completed, we realized that we had never typed in a credit card number. That happened only after several emails. The first was an auto-reply.[...]

Fresh Produce of the Month - Roundup and Announcement


May is over, and the Fresh Produce of the Month roundup is here for you to enjoy. The chosen produce for May was... Rhubarb!Indeed, quite a few people told me about how many rhubarb plants they had in their garden, so I'm glad it turned out to be a good choice.One of these lucky people having an abundance of rhubarb was Ferdzy, from Seasonal Ontario Food. Ferdzy had 15 rhubarb plants in her garden, and sent me two recipes for this month event! Thank you so much, Ferdzy. One of them was this wonderful looking 'Coconut macaroon tart with tart fruit'. This cake can be made with different tart fruits, or with rhubarb, thus showing a not well known but I'm sure really good combination of this produce and coconut.The other recipe from Ferdzy is 'Sherry stewed rhubarb', a simple and delicious stew made with a special, small type of rhubarb stalk, less tart than the big stalks. Maria from Seasonal Desserts sent an amazing variation that she invented on the theme of 'Sbrisolona', a traditional Italian crumbly cake. She used rhubarb as a filling for this cake. Trust me, sbrisolona is something absolutely amazing, that everyone should taste once in their life. This rhubarb variation seems like a wonderful idea, and I have this recipe bookmarked for the near future (before the rhubarb season ends. :) ).Happy Cook from My Kitchen Treasures gave us a recipe for 'Rhubarb soup with strawberry ice cream'. It's a soup made with a rhubarb base, and the addition of fresh strawberry and strawberry ice cream. It sounds really good! Thanks, Happy Cook :)Simona from Briciole had an amazing idea and made a 'Rhubarb marbled vanilla ice cream'. Can you imagine? The goodness of vanilla ice cream (and in Simona's version, it's made with real vanilla beans, a delight that's hard to imagine if you never tried it), mixed with the interesting flavor of rhubarb. I'd love to try this!Finally, my (or, ehm, Matt's) entry for the event was this 'Strawberry-rhubarb pie', with homemade crust with lard! Really good, said by someone who thought didn't like pie crusts.. The filling is really delicious. Strawberry and rhubarb are usually paired for a reason!So, we've arrived at the end of the roundup for this month. Thanks to everybody who took part and I hope you all will enjoy reading and maybe trying some of these recipes! For next edition, I have decided that the Fresh Produce of the Month will be dedicated to... peas!In this picture you see two types of peas: sugar peas and snap peas. Every kind of pea is accepted, they are all delicious in my opinion! I'm very happy they are now in their full season, and they are going to stay in season throughout early summer.If you want to participate to this month's edition, publish a post on your blog with a recipe involving peas. Add a link to this announcement and mention that it's an entry for the Fresh Produce of the Month event. Feel free to place the logo on your post if you like it.2. Send me an email with a link to your post, your blog homepage and your name at chemcookitATgmailDOTcom. Specify 'Fresh Produce of the Month: Peas' as subject. A photo is optional, though helpful.3. If you don't have a blog just send me an email with your recipe and, if you have a picture of the food you made, that's great: I will add it to the roundup as well.The deadline for entry submission is June 30th, 2009. I will post the roundup soon after.Note: If you don't receive an answer to your email or a comment on your post within two days of sending me the email, please contact me again: sometimes email messages get lost in cyberspace.[...]

Grasso, strutto, sego


A long mysterious title for this post... All these words relate to fat! As I mentioned in the previous post, we started being interested in lard some time ago. We got a first jar of 'manteca' in a Mexican store, which was the closest thing to lard we could find. We were both surprised it wasn't in the refrigerated section, and in fact it turned out that the box did not really just contain lard, but also a variety of hydrogenated fats, and most likely preservatives. Anyway, that was a good start, and we made really good tacos fried in lard, and pies such as the one I described in the previous post. Good stuff! However, shortly after these first experiments, we also bought a huge amount of pork meat, and proceeded to cut it and freeze it as usual. Some pieces of fat scraps were left out, and Matt decided that instead of throwing them away, he would try to render them and make lard. So, here are the first two words of the title: grasso is fat, and strutto is lard. He cut the fat into cubes and boiled them with a little water, till most of the fat came out. Then he removed the solid pieces of fat leftover, and refrigerated the liquid. The fat solidified and the water remained below. After another round of boiling and solidification, he siphoned the water away and was left with nice looking, very bright lard. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of this first lard attempt. Another strawberry-rhubarb pie came out with the homemade lard, and the result was really good.Excited by this success, we went to our favorite grocery store in the area: 99 Ranch, a Chinese grocery store in El Cerrito, where we get all our veggies and the best seafood in the area. Considering that they sell all sorts of meat (as you will read in a next post), we were sure we could buy pig fat there. However, at the store, the butcher, slightly embarrassed, told us that he didn't have any to sell us. Apparently the Mexicans in the area buy it all! Evidently, Mexicans know how to cook :). However, the butcher said, we could have some beef fat, instead. So, he just gave us completely for free 4 pounds of beef fat. Why couldn't we transform that into lard, we thought, going home. I read online and on the food bible 'McGhee' about the difference between beef and pork fat. It turns out that rendered pork fat is lard, whereas rendered beef fat is tallow: strutto, in Italian, the first one, and sego the second one. I didn't know the meaning of sego or tallow before this experience. It also turns out tallow is used for cooking, however more for frying than for making pies. The reasons I found about this are contradictory: some people claim tallow has a stronger, beefy taste, than lard, whereas other people claim tallow doesn't taste like much, and therefore it just adds fat but no good flavor to pies. So, this was interesting to begin with: who was right? Matt started the rendering process right away. This time he tried to follow some more detailed recipes that we found online, such as this, on a new blog I found I really like (Homesick Texan). He cut the beef fat into pieces and cooked them with water, similarly to what he did previously with pig fat:However, this time the cooking went on much longer, with the goal of having all the pieces of fat sinking at the bottom of the liquid, and all the water evaporating. This way, a lot more fat is extracted from the meat, and the remaining pieces are cracklings, supposedly quite good to eat. The problem of this longer process was that the initially innocent looking pieces of fat were transformed into a bomb on our stove. They started exploding, making really loud noises, and most dangerously, jumping out of the pot and[...]

Torta di fragole e rabarbaro


Pies have never been my favorite dessert, mainly because I never really liked the crust. In fact, I know quite a few Americans who eat the filling and not the crust.. which of course, makes you wonder why they don't just bake the filling in a pan (and yes, I know somebody wisely does that :) ). However, Matt thought that the reason I never liked pie crusts is that I never had a really good one. Traditionally, pies crusts are made with lard, and the flavor that is given by lard is impossible to imitate with butter or shortening. So, we had the perfect reason to try making a good lard-crust pie: prepare a strawberry-rhubarb pie using the freshest ingredients in season, and use the recipe for the Fresh Produce of the Month event centered on rhubarb. Recently we experimented a few times with lard, mostly to fry our homemade tacos in it. When I told people I had a few things cooked with lard, I got two possible reactions: disgust, or appreciation and nostalgic memories from childhood. My mom's reaction was the latter, and she told me about these fantastic 'bugie' that her grandma used to make for Carnival, by frying the dough in lard instead of oil, and how much more airy and fluffy they were compared to anything you can find nowadays. So, this will be the subject of another post, when I will try to repeat the bugie that I made some years ago, using lard instead of oil for frying. Here comes the moment for the recipe of.. La vera torta di fragole e rabarbaro/ The real strawberry-rhubarb pieAs you can easily imagine, the most important part to get right for this authentic pie is the crust. To make this small cuty pie, you have to use 1 cup flour and 1/3 cup of lard, no less than that! The secret is in cutting the lard into the flour: use two knives and literally cut the lard while mixing it into the flour. Add also a pinch of salt. Once it's all in, add ~1 tbsp water, just enough to make it stick together: the smaller the better. Also, work the dough with your hands as little as possible, just to make a ball with the dough in the end. Divide the dough in two parts, one a little larger than the other, and roll down in two thin disks. The larger disk will be the base of the pie. Place that in your pan. Add the filling, prepared by simply cutting 2 stalks of rhubarb, 8 large strawberries, and letting them sit in a bowl with a little bit of lemon juice and sugar to taste. Cover with the second disk of dough, and punch holes through it. A "Pi" decoration is optional, but particularly fashionable. :) Bake at 450F for ~45 minutes. Let it cool down before cutting the slices.. And enjoy!The lard does give a different taste to the dough. It took me two slices before I got used to it, but once you have trained your taste buds not to expect the flavor of butter, it's very addictive :)If you still haven't done so, please send me your recipes centered on rhubarb for this month's Fresh Produce of The Month event! The deadline is May 29th.[...]

Torta di fragole e mandorle


For the first time in a while, I'll be able to participate to a blog event that's not the one that I started myself (which I would feel too bad not to take part to :) ). This is an indication of the fact that I still don't feel too pressed to start looking for funding for my new position at McGill, even though I've been told by a few people that I should start spending all my waking time doing that. So, since I'm sure shortly I'll be completely overwhelmed again, I want to take advantage of this blessed period and do something not completely work-related all weekends!

Therefore, my dear readers, here is my entry for Meeta's Monthly Mingle event, this month centered on spring cakes.
(image) I made this cake specifically thinking about her, who requested a spongy, fruity cake for this month. And, I love both strawberries and almond, so.. here it is:

Torta di fragole e mandorle / Strawberry-almond cake
(image) The recipe for this cake is almost entirely the same as you can find on the beautiful blog 'Fior di zucca'. This blog is mostly in Italian, but Fior translated almost all the recipes also in English. It's beautiful, and I invite everybody to check it out. The main difference between my version and Fior's is that she uses also cinnamon, whereas I didn't (I'm not too much of a fan of it), and hers is sweeter than mine (this was due to the fact that I completely ran out of sugar when I made the cake :) -- however, I thought the cake turned out really fine as for sweetness).

So, to make my slight modified version of the cake, grind 1 cup of almonds, and add to it 1 cup of flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2/3 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 2 eggs. Mix all in a food processor. Spread half of the mixture on an 8" baking pan. Don't worry if the mixture is very dense and quite hard to spread. It will work well. Wash and cut in halves or quarts ~1 lb strawberries, and place on top of the batter in the pan. Then cover with the rest of the batter, trying not to leave uncovered strawberries. Bake for ~40 minutes at 350 F, until golden, and let cool down. Decorate with powdered sugar and strawberries.
This cake is very nice. Don't overcook it (40 minutes are enough, imo), so that it stays moist. This is the perfect season for strawberries, so if you want a strawberry cake that's a bit unusual, with almonds and a nice layering, try this one!

Fresh Produce of the Month: Fennel -- Roundup


Hello everyone! Quite an easy roundup this time: only two recipes :) Oh well, I guess fennel is not in season very much anywhere, although I did see it listed as one of the in-season ingredients on a few websites. Anyway, here are links to..Simona's really nice 'Fennel and leek soup with fennel greens': as she said, "a deeply flavored soup that will enchant your palate". And she grated her own homemade cheese on top!And my 'Fennel and lamb curry', a pairing that I found out to be common in Italian cuisine and never tried before. I added some spices to make it more curry-like, et..voila' :) A really delicious meal was ready.For the next event, I have actually looked quite extensively on at least the US peak season map that you can find at and have chosen.. rhubarb! I actually really would have wanted to have strawberries, but we already had a FPOM dedicated to this fruit, so I thought about its less known companion of the famous strawberry-rhubarb pie. There is a reason if the two are paired: they are both in season at a similar time!(Image from I hope this time many will join in the fun, and will follow these simple rules:1. Publish a post on your blog with a recipe involving rhubarb. Add a link to this announcement and mention that it's an entry for the Fresh Produce of the Month event. Feel free to place the logo on your post.2. Send me an email with a link to your post, your blog homepage and your name at chemcookitATgmailDOTcom. Specify 'Fresh Produce of the Month: Rhubarb' as subject. A photo is optional, though helpful.3. If you don't have a blog just send me an email with your recipe and, if you have a picture of the food you made, that's great: I will add it to the roundup as well.The deadline for entry submission is May 29th, 2009. I will post the roundup soon after.Note: If you don't receive an answer to your email or a comment on your post within two days of sending me the email, please contact me again: sometimes email messages get lost in cyberspace.[...]

Agnello al finocchio


Hrm.... Once again, I'm late on posting the recipe for my own blog event.... Probably not too bad, though: so far I didn't receive any submissions! I guess fennel is not in season in many parts of the world. So, this is a good occasion to send out a reminder to anybody who could be interested in participating.
(image) You can find the rules for submission here. And, the deadline is now officially extended till April 25!

So here is the fennel-centered dish that I made tonight. I thought about the pairing of lamb and fennel after reading a few online recipes on, and I decided to add some spices to the dish to make it curry-like. It turned out quite good. I wonder if there are any real Indian curries using fennel as a vegetable.

Curry di agnello e finocchio / Fennel and lamb curry
(image) Ingredients
One onion
Three cloves of garlic
Two fennels
One pound lamb, cubed
Half a pound small tomatoes (romanitas)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
4 dried spicy chili peppers, cut into pieces

Prepare the ingredients: finely mince the onion, the garlic, cut the white bulb of the fennels in thin slices, separate and finely cut the stems and the leaves, and cut the tomatoes in quarters or halves depending on the size. Dry roast the spices, except for the garam masala powder. Grind them.
Sautee the onion in abundant olive oil and add the ground spices. Add the pieces of lamb and brown, about 7 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan, and add the fennel slices and some salt. Sautee the slices for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently to coat with the oil, onion and spice mixture. Remove from the pan and add the rest of the pieces of the fennel and the tomatoes. Cook for 3 minutes and place the meat back in the pan. Cook for 5 more minutes, add garam masala powder, and salt and pepper to taste. If your pan is large enough, stir in the fennel slices, otherwise assemble the dish by placing the fennel slices and the meat, fennel and tomatoes mixture directly in serving bowls, over some boiled basmati rice.

If you try it, let me know what you think about it. I thought it was quite nice, even though I never had a curry containing fennel.

Giro di vite


Finally, the moment has come. I have officially decided what to do for at least the next few years of my life. As you know, my long absence from blogging was related to job hunting. At last, last Wednesday, I had to make up my mind, and decide among the many really good offers that I received. It was a hard choice, but in the end, the verdict is.. professor in Montreal! I still have trouble visualizing myself as a professor, but hopefully I will be good at it. I will start there in September, so I have a few more months to enjoy the beautiful Bay Area, with its wonderful weather and scenarios. Anyway, I want this post to be a small photographic summary of some of the wonderful places I visited during this interview period. In particular, I want to share some pictures from Australia, which I visited in February.First Australian stop: AdelaideAdelaide is a one million people city, somewhat spread out, with wonderful weather, beautiful hilly surroundings where most of the best Australian wine is produced, and great beaches just a few miles away. Here you can see some of the nice hills of McLaren Vale..And one of the wineries: this was a very small family-run winery, producing wonderful wine.Here are the impressively long beaches near Adelaide, easily reachable by public transportation.However, maybe what touched me the most in Adelaide were the people. Together with some of the professors of the department I was interviewing at, we went for a tour of the wineries, and then we had dinner altogether, cooking kangaroo meat! Yes, Australians do eat kangaroo meat, and I must admit it's delicious. Read the labels on these sausages if you don't believe me..These are the 'roo' steaks we made: they taste similarly to beef, but they are amazingly tender.You can see why it was so hard for me to choose where to go. I think I left part of my heart in Adelaide, and maybe at some point of my life I will decide to go back there.Second Australian stop: SydneySydney is an amazingly beautiful city. Its charm is hard to pin down, maybe due to its many different facets. Matt and I stayed in Glebe, a very lively neighborhood, with lots of small restaurants. We loved it, it felt like being in a very genuine part of the city, instead of a typical touristic hub. Here is an example of a beautiful house in Glebe's neighborhood.Glebe is also very close to the fish market, which is the best fish market I ever saw in my life. Here you can see the port that faces it:And here is just one of the many stands selling wonderful fish of amazing varieties.The fish is delicious. We tasted some of it at a small place in Glebe, where we had grilled fish prepared on the spot and fried fish burger and chips for as little as five dollars each.Of course, the touristic spots have a reason for being so popular, too. The Opera house is an amazing building, that looks like something different from every angle. Is it a sailing boat?Or a butterfly?Or a solemn church?Or two eyes looking at the horizon?Or a huge bug?You pick. :)Very close to the Opera House is the impressive Sydney bridge. Here you can see it in its beauty from the sea. I took a picture of it while going back from Manly, a beach easily reachable by ferry boat.People climb on the top of the bridge. Pretty impressive!Another amazing thing of Sydney is its port. The largest boats in the world go through here, and we had the honor of seeing the Queen Victoria here. It's a cruise ship that holds about 3000 people. Its size is impossible to imagine without seeing it.The first vi[...]

Fresh Produce of the Month


Hello everybody! March is already half gone, so we'd better hurry and publish the announcement for the new Fresh Produce of the Month (FPOM) event! However, before doing so, let me direct you to Simona's blog, where the wonderful roundup for the last FPOM is held. Last version was centered on 'Citrus fruits -- all but lemon and oranges'. Give a look at the delicious recipes she has collected.

For this next event, we switch back to vegetables, and before it's too late, we'll catch the ending part of the season of.. fennel! You can choose any part of the fennel you want to showcase in your recipe -- everything is valid, from the bulb to the leaves to the seed! It is a very common plant here, and it grows so well that you could almost consider it a weed. However, it is not that widely used as it would deserve to be. So, give it a try!
(image) (picture of the fennel from

If you are inspired to participate (and I hope you are), here are the simple rules:

1. Publish a post on your blog with a recipe involving fennel. Add a link to the announcement (either this one or the one on Simona's blog) and mention that it's an entry for the Fresh Produce of the Month event. Feel free to place the logo on your post.
2. Send me an email with a link to your post, your blog homepage and your name at chemcookitATgmailDOTcom. Specify 'Fresh Produce of the Month: Fennel' as subject. A photo is optional, though helpful.
3. If you don't have a blog just send me an email with your recipe and, if you have a picture of the food you made, that's great: I will add it to the roundup as well.

The deadline for entry submission is April 15th, 2009. I will post the roundup soon after.

Note: If you don't receive an answer to your email or a comment on your post within two days of sending me the email, please contact me again: sometimes email messages get lost in cyberspace.

Qualche esempio tratto dalle mie cene del mese...


The second and last post of the month that just ended is meant to show you some pictures of the food that Matt prepared for me in the past evenings. I take pictures of almost every dish he makes, with the idea of posting a recipe for it at some point, and I never have time to do it. So here is a collection of a few pictures, just to show you the terrible life I have to deal with.Thai green curry with eggplants and chicken. The green curry is made with a mix of galan-galan, shallots, green chillies, coriander seeds, shrimp paste, lemongrass, and fish oil.. a true delight. He made a lot of it, and froze some for later use. Good idea.This is ground pork cooked with a lot of Sichuan pepper corns, served with baby bok choi. Did you ever try Sichuan pepper corns? They don't taste anything like pepper: instead, they have a lemony flavor and they make your tongue numb if you chew on them. They are used in the '5-spice' Chinese mix. This was an Indian-style lamb curry, with tomatoes and red bell peppers, inspired by what we had the night before at an Indian restaurant. It came out amazingly well, not sure which dish would win in the comparison with the restaurant food.Last for this small series are the dumplings that he prepared one evening -- and for once I can say that I did at least help make the dough.. They look as good as they tasted. :)I have a lot more pictures, but I'm hoping to have time to post at least some of the recipes for the other dishes. If you're wondering if I have completely stopped cooking, the answer is for now, almost yes! I think at some point the Chef will allow me to make something.. we'll see :) -- for now, I just prepare presentations for job interviews. Not as tasty, but hopefully, they look good. :)[...]

"Limata" in stile vietnamita


Hello dear readers! As predicted, my life is super hectic again, and still will be for a few more weeks. So, I'm going to have only two posts for this month (mmm -- I just realized it's past midnight, and it's already March! Oh well :)). So, the first post is my entry to the 'Fresh Produce of the Month' event! This month the event is hosted again by my dear friend Simona at Briciole.
(image) The theme was citrus fruits, all but lemon and orange. This month we prepared two very good drinks involving citrus fruits, but unfortunately I have a nice picture of only one of them: a Vietnamese-style limeade!

Limata in stile vietnamita / Limeade Vietnamese style
(image) This is a very easy drink to make, and it doesn't differ much from a regular limeade, except for the fact that it doesn't contain much sugar, and instead, it has some salt in it. It's very refreshing and a good thirst-quencher. However, I'm going to transcribe here Matt's version of the recipe, since he's the one who prepared it.

Squeeze a fresh lime, add a pinch of sugar and a of scosh of salt, shake it for 20 seconds in a Martini shaker with some ice. Prepare a second Martini shaker by rubbing lime peel in its interior, and pour the limeade in it. Shake. Finally, pour some whiskey in a third Martini shaker, burn off the whiskey, and shake the limeade in it for 13 more seconds. Pour the drink in an appropriate glass, add a piece of cilantro, and serve.

I hope you enjoyed this recipe. :) I am going to post the recipe for the second drink in the next few days. It's a lime-lemoncello flavored with habanero. A true delight, but I'm afraid this will be after the deadline for the FPOM.. we'll see if Simona will give me an allowance for it. :)

Fresh Produce of the Month


Simona at Briciole just put up an absolutely wonderful roundup for the past 'Fresh Produce of the Month', which was centered on cabbage. Go look at it, because it's really inspiring. Thank you so much, Simona, for doing such a great job!

Simona said that she was willing to do two editions, so I took her word for it, and she's also hosting the next edition of the 'Fresh Produce of the Month', which will be centered on citrus fruits-- everything is ok except for oranges and lemons, which were already featured (here and here) for this same event some time ago.
The idea is to try to be as creative as possible, find the most interesting looking citrus fruits you can, and make something interesting with them!
(image) For the logo I took a picture of a Chinese pomelo, which we bought at a Chinese grocery store, as we were suggested by a Chinese person seeing our interest in it. To be really honest with you, this pomelo smelled better than it tasted, but it was definitely worth a try. :)

If you are inspired to participate (and I hope you are), here are the simple rules:

1. Publish a post on your blog with a recipe involving citrus fruits other than oranges or lemons. Add a link to the announcement (either this one or the one on Simona's blog) and mention that it's an entry for the Fresh Produce of the Month event. Feel free to place the logo on your post.
2. Send Simona an email with a link to your post, your blog homepage and your name to me at simositeATmacDOTcom. Specify 'Fresh Produce of the Month: Citrus Fruit' as subject. A photo is optional, though helpful.
3. If you don't have a blog just send Simona an email with your recipe and, if you have a picture of the food you made, that's great: she will add it to the roundup as well.

The deadline for entry submission is February 28th, 2009. Simona will post the roundup soon after.

Note: If you don't receive an answer to your email or a comment on your post within two days of sending me the email, please contact us again: sometimes email messages get lost in cyberspace.