lasagne bolognese al forno {translation: the best lasagne you’ll ever make}

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Who just up and abandons a stack of Gourmet magazines in mint condition? Who retires a magazine, rich with 65+ years of gastronomic history and the stories traded in the company of our beloveds, to the recycling bin? On my way to the city yesterday, I paused in front of a few large brown boxes filled to the brim with back issues of Gourmet from the years 2004-2007. Perhaps I’m insane but I took as many issues as I could carry and took some on my return trip home. While I have a relatively clutter-free home and I live pretty minimally, Gourmet is the only, worthy exception in breaking my sparsity rule.

Gourmet is the reason you break every rule.

On the subway I rifled through the issues and found myself captivated by the April 2006 cover — an austere white plate showcasing a decadent slice of lasagna bolognese. Clearly I felt compelled to spend three hours on a Sunday afternoon making the grand dame of baked pastas, and as Edith Piaf once so sagely crooned, I have no regrets.

This is the sort of lasagne you want to pull apart with your hands. It’s primal, intensely flavorful and delicious. I’ve no shame admitting that I stood over my kitchen counter and dove right in with a fork and an appetite. Friends, Romans, Countrymen, PLEASE DO THE SAME.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Mario Batali for Gourmet, April 2006
For the Ragu Bolognese:
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp butter
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 pound veal, ground {I used beef}
1 pound pork, ground
1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground
1/2 tube tomato paste
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine {I used red wine, a Montepulciano}
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

For the Lasagna al Forno {you can also use homemade lasagne sheets purchased from gourmet food shops, as I did}:
4 extra-large eggs
6 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed very dry and chopped very fine
3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for dusting the work surface
1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

For the Besciamella:
5 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

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DIRECTIONS
For the ragu bolognese: In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the veal, pork, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Add the meat over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.

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For the lasagna al forno: Combine eggs and spinach. Mound 3 1/2 cups of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the egg and spinach mixture and the olive oil. Using a fork, beat together the spinach, eggs and oil and begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.

As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the mound to retain the well shape. The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands. Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly reflour the board and continue kneading for 6 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions and roll each out to the thinnest setting on a pasta rolling machine.

Bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stove top. Cut the pasta into 20 (5-inch) squares and drop into the boiling water. Cook 1 minute, until tender. Drain well and refresh in the ice bath. Drain on towels and set aside.

For the besciamella: In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside. Your bechamel should be thick and lump-free.

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For assembly: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a brownie pan, assemble the lasagne, beginning with a layer of ragu, a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano, a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel, a layer of ragu, a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano etc. until all sauce and pasta are used up. The top layer should be pasta with bechamel over it. Top the lasagne with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and the sauces are bubbling. Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

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file under wow the crowd: one tray italian bake

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Today I woke to a signed consulting contract and a slew of wonderful emails from old friends and new. I celebrated by toasting a crumb cake and coffee with my business partner as we made our plans for the week. Already the week is off to a magical start, and I plan to design each day and live through it, ferociously.

Speaking of ferocity, this one-pan wonder was a ceremonious HIT at last night’s dinner soiree. I had the boys over, and not only did they love the simplicity of the dish (juicy chicken and tender sausage — hello!), I fixed some millet with sundried tomatoes, olive oil and a touch of cheese, and started off our dinner with a fresh berry salad spritzed with lemon.

Naturally, we closed our meals with chocolate and conversation. If you’re looking for a simple dish that will elicit awe, trust me on this. TRUST.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigellissima, with modifications.
3 large Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 lb of chicken*
1 lb of sweet Italian sausages
6-7 sprigs rosemary
Zest of one lemon
1 tsp kosher salt
Ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Notes in the margins: You can use a mix of thigh, legs + breast, however, ensure that the meat is on the bone. Do not use skinless, boneless chicken breasts unless you want a dry piece of chicken. For my guests, I opted for three breasts on the bone and they cooked wonderfully. Also, don’t use a deep, high rise shallow pan. Initially, I was going to use my turkey roasting pan, however, the chicken wouldn’t crisp up, and the texture will end up rubbery and soggy. Instead, I used a baking dish lined with tin foil and it did the job beautifully.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 425F. Place the diced potatoes into a sheet pan or large, shallow roasting pan and add the chicken and sausages.

Arrange 4 sprigs of rosemary among the chicken and sausages, then finely chop the needles of another two sprigs to give you 2 teaspoons of finely chopped rosemary, and sprinkle those on as well.

Zest the lemon over everything, and season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until chicken skin and sausages are golden and potatoes pieces are cooked through. Let stand at least 5 minutes after cooking, and you can let it stand for up to 30 minutes before serving.

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dispatches from firenze: the finest chicken you’ll ever eat in your life

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We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. ― Joan Didion, The White Album

Last night I slept on pavement, a sliver of concrete that is a terrace that overlooks the Ponte Vecchio. My journey started one way and ended in another. I tossed. I turned. I fluffed and punched pillows. I read Susan Faludi’s searing profile of the radical feminist, Shulamith Firestone, a woman who sought an unimpeded love but would never find it. I tongued pills and spit them out again. Until finally, I made a makeshift bed on my postage stamp of a terrace and fell asleep.

This is what happens when you allow things to consume you. All this anxiety over two bags making their way, albeit at a snail’s pace, to my hotel in Florence. All the while I convinced myself I was fine, just fine, and I’d prove it by going manic on social media. The equivalent of throwing a blanket over a fire, who knew my thumping heart would be composed of kindling? Who knew I’d burn from the inside out? Who knew the whole of the past two months would plague me, like swallows, and I’d drown in the swarm. Water. Fire. One tends to oscillate between the extremes.

But. But. I refuse to let this happen when I’ve made this brave decision to leave a job that was killing me, when I finally pried open my eyes and mouth, and let all the moth balls flutter out. Then I let all the right people in. No way will I be my own ruin. So I did what I know best to do and took some time, and will continue taking it. We often want to create tremendous noise — a holocaust of sound — all because we’re frightened to hear our own voice. We’re terrified of the words we might say, thoughts that give shape and form to our singular experience. When we say it out loud it suddenly becomes real, and can we bear it out? Can we endure the hours after?

So this is what I tried to do. I spent the early morning hours in the Uffizi, wandering the galleries. What a joy it was to ghost the rooms of a near-empty museum, a place free of phones, cameras and the hoards of chattering groups. It was just me, my own footfalls, and a considerable amount of Botticellis.

Later, tipped off by Lauren, I checked out Trattoria Sostanza (read Elizabeth Minchilli’s astute review). Tucked away on a side street, the eatery is nondescript, homely even, but the word-of-mouth on the pollo al burro was too formidable to dismiss.

I NEED TO PAUSE HERE AND SIMPLY STATE THAT TODAY I’VE EATEN THE BEST CHICKEN I WILL LIKELY EVER EAT. IN. MY. LIFE.

Two breasts are charred while butter browns. The meat is dredged in egg and flour and cooks in cast-iron pan in a pool of sweet butter. The result are tender breasts steeped in butter and thawing the iceberg that is my heart. One would think that the dish would be heavy, fatty, but this is not the case. The technique locks in the flavor, and the chicken is neither greasy or heavy, but rather tender and yielding. OBVIOUSLY I DIPPED EACH PIECE OF MEAT INTO BUTTER. OBVIOUSLY.

And can we talk about the butter lettuce salad? Normally, I’m all blase about an appetizer, but the leaves were so fresh and the oil so perfect I nearly cried eating my salad.

The seating is communal, so I queried folks around me and everyone was thick in the business of cleaning their plate. From thick slabs of beef steak to stuffed tortellini to rich soups, everyone was lapping it up with the fresh ciabatta.

I left, satiated and calmer than I was the following evening. The rest of the day was spent napping, walking, climbing 436 steps to the Duomo cupola and reading Joan Didion.

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dispatches from florence: food in firenze {1}

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Would you believe that as soon as I dumped my bags at the hotel and yelled at Alitalia, I ran out into the streets of Florence determined to eat. Typing this now, I’m pining for a green juice as I’ve never eaten so much pasta, focaccia, gelato, and parma ham in a span of three days. Imagine the moment when I set eyes on a chicken breast — I nearly cried. Don’t get me wrong, a woman loves her crudo with the best of them, but I am longing for some virtue. Or for my Tracy Anderson DVDs to arrive in Florence. THANKS, ALITALIA!

But onward! When traveling to Florence, elastic is highly recommended. Leggings, yoga pants, anything that will refrain from reminding you that no sane person should be eating gelato at EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. or BEFORE. AND. AFTER. MEALS. (read: me). I first hit up Venchi, home to artisanal chocolate since 1878. From the cocoa-topped, feather-light cappuccinos to the whipped dark chocolate gelatos to the rows of wrap individual chocolates, you will want to bathe in nougat. Spy on the robust outdoor leather market from the upstairs nook, whilst sipping your coffee.

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Since it was a few scant hours since my last gelato fix, I decided to hop into Coronas Cafe. Located near the Duomo, you’ll find unexpected flavors (figs, passionfruit, coconut creme, mandarine, meringue) along with the usual suspects, and the price is pretty favorable for an ice cream that was creamy, light, luscious and flavorful. The space is open + colorful, and if you’re not keen on cones and sweets, swing by the other side for a bevy of mortadella sarnis, crudos, sandwiches, cookies, cornettos and other Florentine delights. You won’t be disappointed, and since it’s been a few hours since my last gelato, I might slip out after writing this post and tuck myself in an alleyway with some passionfruit. Consider me addicted.

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Usually I eschew all eateries recommended by hotels, as they’re often in financial cahoots, leaving me with tepid greens, suspicious lighting, and an outrageous bill. However, everyone in the free world has raved about my hotel, which I quite like save for the odd smell in the lobby (for another time, friends), so I decided to break my cardinal rule and ferret out recommendations from the concierge. And I’m glad I did, for Caffe Pitti was an exquisite pick. Steps away from the Ponte Vecchio and located on the Palazzo Pitti, the restaurant offers traditional Florentine dishes with a touch of creativity. Their quite known for their truffles from the natural reserve of San Miniato, a true rarity which highlights Pitti as the one and only place where each dish assumes an extraordinary depth. For fifteen euros, I enjoyed a delicious primi of pesto and perhaps the best chicken I’ve had in years. Soaked in lemon and butter, the breast was tender, falling apart, and begged to be consumed, voraciously. And if you’re not keen on a full-on meal, you can opt to order a DIY sandwich from Botteghina, where you can sample local cheeses and meats from the region — all on fresh focaccia.

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Are you surprised that I found a cookie? I stumbled upon Migone, an old-school sweets shop located near the Duomo. Although the prices are steep (I spent $40 for these cookies + a few packages of homemade chocolates), the confections are decadent. You’ll find traditional Florentine sweets including panforte, ricciarelli and cantuccini, as well as delightfully packaged chocolates and candied sweets. Well worth a visit, albeit an expensive one.

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Finally, a former coworker informed me of a sandwich spot I would’ve surely missed: All’Antico Vinaio. If you’re aching for a spot that is purely patroned by the locals, this is it. It’s a proverbial shoebox joint, with a great wine list and a terrific selection of fresh meats and local cheeses. The bread, my friends, is FUCKING OUTSTANDING. I stood outside the eatery and devoured my sandwich. Did I mention that the bread was WARM and YIELDING. I will definitely be back for more.

Would you believe this is only my first day? Clearly I’ll need some Crisco to make it through customs at JFK.

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prepare yourself for the giant…

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Do you know who I am? I’m alive you understand, the life, the life, the life…Are you prepared for the atom bomb, are you prepared for my aching arms? Are you prepared, are you prepared? Are you prepared for serenity, are you prepared to disagree? Are you prepared, are you prepared for meThe Bird and the Bee’s “Preparedness”

We were a family of lottery players. We sharpened our pencils, selected numbers at random, and stood on a line that snaked the length of a city block, because we believed that all we needed was a dollar and a dream. Come nightfall we’d sit on the stoop, still wet from the johnny pump and the spray of Colt 45 that matted our hair to the backs of our necks, listening to the elders trade stories of what they’d do if they hit it big. Sadie said she was going to buy me a house where all the white people lived. Promising us that she’d stand on her lawn, defiant, knowing that they couldn’t get rid of me, even if they tried. Some mused about giant boats settling sail in a blue ocean. No one had ever seen waves swell, seen the beauty of them rise up and warble like a long note held. No one bore witness to the descent, to the waves crashing onto the shoreline. Back then the only water we’d seen poured out of spigots and sprayed out of pumps on the street.

Others hatched plans about taking a trip around the world although they secretly knew that the whole of their world would always be Brooklyn. Their prison was a ten-block radius, yet once a week they’d shuffle to the market with their dollar in tow, plotting escape.

Back then we were naive to believe that money bought you freedom. Back then we wanted the life we saw on our black and white television sets; we raged war with the wire rabbit ears to bring this life into focus. Back then we wanted the giant.

Recently, someone upbraided me for my decision to abandon a comfortable life. Think of all the money. Think about what you’re walking away from, she warned. Shaking my head I sighed and said that what I was running toward was infinitely richer. It was the ticking that was the bomb. Granted, I’m being smart about things. I’m squirreling away as much money as I can. I’m buying only what I need. I’m ridding myself of the unnecessary, the things that only bring me anxiety rather than sustenance. I’m making my preparations for the day when I’ll walk away from security to something other. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t worry about it, fret over my decision, a little. I’m pragmatic, cautious, but then I recall a conversation I had with my friend Kate a few years back. I considered renting a more expensive apartment than the one in which I’d lived, but worried that I wouldn’t have the money to pay for it in the long run. Kate told me that I should always bet on myself. I was my biggest investment and that I should nurture myself. The rent line would be stable and my potential could only grow — all things being equal, of course.

Ever since then I try to remind myself to bet on myself. To believe in myself. To know that I am the ticking that is the bomb. To know that money is actually the prison, not the thing that sets you free. To believe that I can break from third person and rush to first. That I can be the giant.

All this while having lunch at Campo de Fiori.

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the gathering kind {part 5}: the things we carry

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They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried. And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight. It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It’s about love and memory. It’s about sorrow. It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen. ― Tim O’Brien

In the summer we’d race up the stairs, taking them two by two. Back then we were fearless; we never held on to the railing and our feet rarely touched the ground. They called us sisters, told me always that I was a photocopy of you — down to the bone-white skin and the thicket that was your hair. When we cried, which was never, our lips paled down to blue. When we shouted, which was often, our face was flush and hot. I wrote my first poem, a haiku, when I was seven, and in it I likened your voice to thunder. Women on the verge, we colored outside the lines, ripped up the book and made new ones. We were of the difficult variety, our stock and trade were words and how we could use them. Who needed a scalpel? Give us a book and we’d carve out your still-beating heart. Deliver us a pencil and we’d burn your house to the ground. You spoke, I wrote, we ruined.

They tell us we’re strong. Our words made us a fortress and we spent the great part of our lives in construction for we had a lot to protect. But in the end it was me who realized that while we conquered and vanquished, while we were women people always remembered because we shone perhaps too bright, we were always alone. And what we carried was the massacre that we’d left behind. Dragging the carcasses of our former lives behind us. Bearing the burden of those we tried to love on our backs.

Sometimes I want to go back. All the way. Back to when my knees knocked and I wrote about a sky that would never be blue.

Fast forward to another sun, another beach, another year in passing. A storm threatened, and the sun plunged into the waves which had begun to blacken. You asked me if I wanted to leave, to go back inside, into the hotel, back to New York and I said, not yet. In a small voice I wondered why we were always in the business of leaving. In my head I wondered if I drank too much. A week later you drove cross-country and years later you became a woman who impressively lunched, while I gave up the sauce, preferring the desert. We’re from the desert, you see. We like the heat. We carried the memories of all that had come before. The bricks of our fortress encased our ankles like shackles.

Sometimes I wonder if you think about going back. Or whether you regret any of it. Do you think about it at all? Or is the weight of what you’d done too much to bear?

Years later in Malibu we sped through all the flashing lights because the power had gone out. I took a photo of you standing on a pile of wet rocks and you asked that I delete it because you lead an edited life. You asked me what I wanted to do next — because you can do anything, that’s the strange thing about you — and I said I didn’t know. Both of us carried the weight of our options.

This time it’s winter. The bone-white skin becomes a body chilled down to bone. In front of a fire we speak in half sentences, knowing that the other could easily fill in the blanks. You tell me that we’re going to have a time. Quietly I laugh and consider the word time, how it’s something that we never gain, only lose, and I think to myself that we had our time. Both of us now have to carry the weight of the hours that follow.

Today, I sit in Frankie’s 457, quietly savoring a lunch alone. I wonder if you could see me now. If you could see how I’m using words to build a kingdom where everyone could gather. And all we’d care about is the here, the now, and the love behind the words we share. And the fact that the only weight is from one another as we buoy ourselves up, carry us to our new home, our new life.

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the gathering kind: getting surgical {part 3}

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She didn’t finish her sentence because Isabel was running through the cypress trees so fast and with such force the trees were shaking for minutes afterwards. Laura watched the momentary chaos of the trees. It was as if they had been pushed off balance and did not quite know how to find their former shape. — Swimming Home, Deborah Levy

This year we will be surgical. I tell you there’s no other way. Our greatest tool is the scalpel and we’ll need to it excise the unnecessary appendages because we live in a world of barnacles. People who will cleave to you in shallow waters, wrap themselves around you so tight that it becomes difficult to breathe. And by the time you open your eyes and do the maths, they’ve multiplied; they’ve got you boxed in and there’s no way out. The barnacles are tricky, sessile, set on feeding on anything in motion. Determined to drain every bit of you out of you. So there’s you trying to make a life for yourself and there’s them, trying to leech it away. Survival is now predicated on discipline — how we notice the drift, the cleave, the attachment and how we’re able to cut it off and push it away. Because if you don’t you will become lost in the forest that is them, and you’ll never find your former shape.

You may think this bit is about coming apart — antithetical to gathering! — but I promise you there’s more in play. Make no mistake, we live in a kingdom of animals and it’s Darwinian.

Lately I’ve been preaching this conceit of the barnacle and the scalpel to everyone who will listen. Especially those who, like myself, fall prey to unnecessary attachments. People consider us the court jester, prone to performances the peanut-crunching crowd always love (we’re such a sight to see!), or perhaps we’re the kind, compassionate creative who has something — a life, a mind, a heart — of which the barnacles secretly covet. And we book our calendars full of lunches and dinners. We participate in their endless interrogations, listen intently to their latest drama (which is always on the level of the Greek), and dole out advice like dolls. They come away in a fever while we lean against buildings for support. How is it so possible to feel so weak after a single meal? How is it possible that all you now want to do is curl under your covers and sleep?

If your friendships are such that you are consistently and relentlessly carving out pieces of yourself to give to others, then break out the scalpel because this barnacle|host relationship will end up killing you. Imagine yourself weighted down by attachments, unable to flee through the trees, unable to recognize the shape that is yourself because you’re always seeing the others. This clutter, this noise, this feverish motley lot prevent you from gathering with the ones who truly deserve your affection. {Haven’t you found yourself canceling plans with the ones you love because you’re exhausted from so many unnecessary engagements?}

I’m not a “popular” person; I’ve never been part of the “in crowd” {do we even use these terms anymore?}, and I never want to be. I used to be invited to dozens of parties and my calendar was always booked out for weeks, but now I have longer meals with the ones I love and the invitations are more about quality than quantity. From a mean girl where my every exhale was akin to walking on proverbial eggshells, to the married friend for whom my single status was her constant project, to the friend who was always telling the great story that was her life, a life where no one could get a word in edgewise in the midst of a two-hour dinner, to the other friend who grew frightened whenever I was quiet and measured, and only seemed to calm when I was my most boisterous “on” self — these are but a few of the extremities I excised.

As the years press on I find myself endlessly excising. Whittling down to my beloveds — those whose relationships are reciprocal in energy, where both of us leave inspired, refreshed and focused. Granted, this isn’t a call to cut the cord when friendships get difficult by any means — this is more of an examination of how much you’re bloodletting and how much you’re giving of yourself at the expense of yourself. Examining all that is superfluous to refine and carve and hone to all who are essential.

I thought of all this, actually composed this post in my head as I was taking a much-needed respite at Bottega Falai. Yesterday it was cold in the city and I was entirely too early for a date, which is another sort of gathering, I suppose, and I slipped into this small cafe cum retail concept and watched Italian men with their sons, teaching them manners. I watched tourists slip in and fawn over the crepe cakes and pastries and I listened intently to two friends engaging in that barnacle|host exchange. The host’s eyes glazed over and part of me wanted to lean in and tell her about scalpels, but it wasn’t the time and it wasn’t my place so I just listened and composed and thought about sharing this with the ones I love.

Prosciutto sandwich
Crepe cakes
Crepe cakes
bomboloni (donut)
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quick eats: il cantuccio, new york + an evolving blog direction…

Admittedly, the sandwich below might not look like much, but I assure you that there’s real delirium in every bite. So much so that I found myself ordering this sandwich (a symphony of perfect focaccia, prosciutto d’parma and mozzarella) an hour before my spin class without even considering the consequences of this my feckless act. [Note to self: sandwich before spin = BAD IDEA]

When people learn that I’ve cultivated a lifelong commitment to finding and inhaling the best eats I can find, they start rattling off names of newfangled eateries where one pays for the plate rather than what’s actually on said plate. I don’t care for scenery; I turn up my nose on haute reservations or secret numbers because delicious, simple food should be savored by all. So if you crave the swank eateries, you won’t find them on this space. Rather, you’ll find the gems I’ve taken so long to research, sample and evangelize.

Before I rhapsodize over the almond delights at Il Cantuccio, you may have noticed that I’ve been going through a chrysalis of sorts. Over the past few months I’ve worked incredibly hard to create a space that brings you the very best of what I eat, find, bake and cook — all through the point of view of someone who believes that love, that life, is inexplicably bound to food. As the months press on, you’ll start to see food itineraries and recommendations from my travels (the spots that are rarely in guidebooks coupled with some of the usual suspects) and a deeper focus of bringing my passion for baking to the fore.

What you won’t ever find: advertising, sponsorships or anything that deviates from the core of my virtual home.

I have an idea of where this journey will lead me, and I’ll make a bold pronouncement and say that you’re part of it. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for your comments, your thoughtful and heartfelt emails filled with encouragement, and your help in pointing me to new recipes to make, new foodies to meet and new places to explore. I hope you’ll be part of this journey and give me feedback along the way.

But back to Il Cantuccio! I’ve been quietly hitting (translation: pacing in front of the storefront, waiting for it to open) this spot for simple, choice sandwiches made from the finest of ingredients — all breads and baked goods made by hand and imbued with a Tuscan sensibility. From the aforementioned focaccia to the biscotti of Prato, also known as cantucci or cantuccini, to the warm croissants and morning pastries, you’ll enjoy a quick, delicious bite without breaking the bank.

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chow here now: bread, new york city

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Nearly five years ago I sat in a dark corner of BREAD and lamented over my ballooning waistline. I was flummoxed, baffled, perplexed, and other such similar adjectives. I went to yoga four days of work and my diet hadn’t changed all that much — how could this be??! As I sank further into my lamentation, my friend asked me what I eat every day.

Then the stuttering and the shame commenced. Well, I have a blueberry muffin…, to which my friend responded, EVERY DAY?, to which I retorted, Of course not! I have a bagel or croissant on weekends! And after much research I learned that I was hoovering a six-hundred calorie muffin and I was deep in a muffin addiction. My friend staged a successful intervention, and the strange this is this — I’ve never been back to BREAD since.

Until last weekend.

Before the grand Muffin Intervention of 2007, Bread Soho was my favorite chow spot. Although the service was sometimes lackluster, one could consistently rely on a tasty panini and a bowl of warm, delicious tomato soup. Rarely did I ever deviate from the basics, however, I was equally pleased by the tasty meatballs, grilled chicken and tasty salads. And who can beat a sandwich soup combo for $10?!

So last weekend I met an old colleague and we spoke of life in media res. We spoke of making dramatic life-altering changes in our 30s, when our career was supposedly defined and we were on the fast track to something, although we weren’t certain we wanted the journey. We dined outside — me and my trusted panini stuffed with salami, taleggio and olive tapenade, while she savored her favorite shrimp salad — and talked about taking risks. Talked about how we were a programmed generation living amongst another generation that was so free-spirited and ebullient we were flummoxed, perplexed, etc. We were programmed to create a very clear path and follow it without stepping outside the lines.

But as the years press on, I find myself wanting very much to leap outside the lines. Create a whole new shape.

Because, we said out loud, what’s the worse that could happen?

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pasta cosy: aix en provence, france

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When I tell people that I’ve had a lifelong, passionate relationship with food, they immediately inquire about all of New York’s newfangled, au courant restaurants; they ask me my thoughts on famous chefs with television shows; they want to discuss, in excruciating detail, eateries where one has to wait a month to set foot in the door.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Let me make something very clear. I love FOOD, not the fanfare and confetti of securing a coveted reservation, of spending $800 eating off an empty plate, whose contents vaguely resemble a Cubist painting. I don’t have time to be on hold. I have no patience for long lines. I get confused when a plate of pasta cost a million dollars when I can make a pot of bolognese for under $15. Perhaps all of this adventure, the thrill of the chase, might have been appealing when I was 25. But come to think of it, even at 25 I was irritated whenever I spent a considerable amount of money on a night out in a restaurant that had a lot of hype and a lot of crap on the plate.

Suffice it to say, I am a shameless creature of habit when it comes to dining out. Once I find a restaurant I like I’m loyal beyond measure. Why risk my hard-earned money on tepid beef? Soggy noodles? Stringy chicken? Boggles the mind.

So although I’m adventurous when it comes to bakeries, I’m risk-averse when it comes to restaurants. When my work colleague recommended Pasta Cosy, I spent an hour reading reviews online. After booking a reservation, I arrived promptly at opening (7PM — the French tend to take a few hours off during the day between lunch and dinner, so you’re relegated to eating on their clock), and was greeted by the effusive Fabien, who sat down beside me and talked me through the menu. Instantly I liked him because he talked about food the way I do — with passion, a little mania, a lot of love.

Located on a side street away of the pomp of the al fresco eateries, Pasta Cosy is modest in decor but abundant in color. A menu that takes a light-hearted approach in combining French flavor and seasoning in Italian classics, you’ll find wonderful juxtapositions and unexpected flavor plays (Provençal meets Naples). The combinations and ingredients take center stage at Pasta Cosy: chorizo and gorgonzola, truffles and brie, risotto with lavender and scallops, foie gras pasta, etc. I fell in LOVE with the “purse-shaped” pasta stuffed with sautéed pears dressed in a light gorgonzola cream sauce and finished with bread crumbs. Light, luscious and completely filling.

There are so many dining horror stories in Aix (I’ve read them all and experienced a few duds), but Pasta Cosy will not disappoint.

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chow here now: piccola cucina, new york city

pesto pasta at Piccola Cucina
Believe me when I say that I’ve been plotting a lunch at Piccola Cucina for the past year. From the airy decor to the simple two tables perched out front to the menu that offers up a flat-disc pasta nestled on a bed of homemade tomato sauce, finished with a verdant pesto, I’ve been adoring Piccola from afar. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to shy away from pasta during the day or maybe there’s always an egg sandwich craving that needs satisfying, but I keep walking past the eatery, promising myself that one day I’ll go in.

Today was that divine day.

Immediately, I was hooked by the rustic bread basket and spicy olive and roasted pepper tapenade. A green salad followed with sweet carrot shavings, peppery arugula, bitter radicchio and succulent tomatoes — a pure palate cleanser. What followed was unabashed glory. Thin ropes of al dente spaghetti dressed in a deep, enveloping basil pesto. The pesto was so fresh, satiny, but not heavy and daunting as most pestos tend to be. It was just enough pasta for a warm afternoon, and I finished my plate.

From a calming ambience amidst a frenzied Prince Street, Piccola Cucina is a gem of a place, home to delicious food, impeccable service, and an al fresco dining experience unrivaled in Soho. You. Must. Dine. Here.

italian fare at Piccola Cucina
salad at Piccola Cucina
pesto pasta at Piccola Cucina