cooking ragout + time with friends

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Nothing pleases me more than spending time with friends. I bury the cell phone and make a point to listen to my friends, really listen, instead of waiting for my turn to speak. Over the years I’ve learned that time is perhaps our most precious commodity, and the moments I spend with my friends are sometimes infrequent, but always, always, important. These are the times when can be our most naked selves, when we can say all the things that we’re frightened to say out loud.

This past weekend, I had a couple over for a roast chicken dinner, brunch and yoga with an old friend, and spent Sunday hanging upside down in aerial yoga {more on that to come} and making delicious Italian food with my friend, Hitha. Having just returned from a very dee-luxxxeee holiday in Italy, replete with wine tours and cooking classes, she recreated a vegetable ragout that had me lapping up my dish in a way that was too shameful for type. I’m also tickled that she plans to document her family experience for my burgeoning magazine, Kindred Spirits.

Already excited for 2014…

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luxe firenze find: roberta leather factory

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It’s rare that you’ll find my talking about fashion or clothing on this space, as it’s not a huge part of my life anymore, however, I do believe in making smart investments on beautiful, quality items that will go the distance. Truth be told, I actually loathe shopping. From the crowds to the nauseating dressing room lights to brands who change their sizing annually, I experience nothing short of vertigo whilst trying to purchase a shirt. To that end, I’ve spent this year editing my wardrobe to have only the things I love, only the things I need, only the things that fit.

Then I went to Florence. Initially, I was set against buying anything beyond truffle oil and some antique cups, but then I met a very chic, elderly French woman who had the most sumptuous leather bag. She whispered that it was from Roberta and it was only $110 EU.

How fast plans change.

If you’re in Florence, you must stop at Roberta. A small shop just over the Ponte Vecchio, you’ll find excellent leather at extraordinary prices. I picked up a black leather tote, lined in suede, for $100 EU. Scored lambskin gloves for $25 EU. Not once have I used my Celine, opting for this simple, label-less tote that holds EVERYTHING.

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where we are headed {firenze outdoor markets + a meditation on self}

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Quite often during the past several years I have felt myself a sleepwalker, moving through the world unconscious of the moment’s high issues, oblivious to its data, alert only to the stuff of bad dreams, the children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot, the bike boys stripping down stolen cars on the captive cripple’s ranch, the freeway sniper who feels “real bad” about picking off the family of five…Acquaintances read The New York Times, and try to tell me the news of the world. I listen to call-in shows. — Joan Didion, The White Album

Today I sit next to a pregnant woman who smells of blood. It mattes her hair, sullies her packet of tissues and brings her to shuddering tears. For some reason this puts me to thinking of my father and the horses he cared for, and how he told me years ago that they could smell the blood right off you. You don’t want that kind of trouble, he said. Rummaging through my bag I procure a tissue and the woman shakes her head no, and says, I’m fine. Behind her, a man that appears to be her husband whispers, be quiet, don’t make a scene, and I wonder if this is the equivalent of equine trouble.

On a television screen, a man says that it’s humane to dole out fresh works to heroine addicts. He talks about providing a controlled environment, a community of compassion, while a three-decade heroin user shoots not to get high, but to not get sick. He’s deep in the nod when he shakes his head and says he doesn’t remember what a life without junk was like.

A great woman falls to blight in her East Village apartment, is dead for days before anyone discovers her. It’s not the smell that gets you discovered, it’s the unpaid rent. This is a woman who shone too bright despite herself; she invited us to question not only our confining gender roles, but posited that nature itself should be questioned. Put on a jury trial and convicted for crimes against humanity. Children and women were shackled from birth. Before she died, friends found her wandering the streets, swathed in wigs and costumery, and speaking in tongues. Her plumage was her mask because all she wanted was a love that would not alter.

Last night I woke drenched, stirred out of slumber by a dream that unnerved me. Surrounded by the people I once loved, they speak only to a former version of me, a lesser one. A woman who was determined to ruin. A woman who would boomerang out into crowded thoroughfares just to get a rise out of you, who pushed you out into the street and pulled you back and yelled, Suicide! A woman who had her first nosebleed in front of her boss, but said she was fine, just fine, and could you give her a minute? No one wants that kind of trouble.

It occurs to me that randomness does not exist. Signs are deliberate, appearing only when you’re ready to see them. Didion notes that, Maybe that is one true way to see Bogota, to have it float in the mind until the need for it is visceral. It’s as if I’ve slept the sleep of children and have now only just woke, groggy and confused. Lately, I feel the need to protect, mother and be in a way I hadn’t before. Friends email me and say that they haven’t seen me this alive (Had I been dead this whole time? Had no one thought to dig me up from the earth? Or was it easier to continue planting your harvest over my cold body?) in years. I don’t know how to respond to this. Acquaintances talk about my chrysalis. I don’t know how to respond to this. Strangers cheer on my blooming. I don’t know how to respond to this.

All I know is this. This moment is mine. And the more I share it or allow you to navigate it, it becomes less mine. It becomes explained, defined, and put in a box. I’ve been figured out, understood, and suddenly resolved. But all this time I still haven’t figured out where I’m headed. Know what I mean?

I also know this: I’m following the signs. I’m playing out this hand and seeing where it takes me. And oddly enough it took me to two places I never thought I’d go.

MARKETS THAT DO NOT HAVE FOOD.

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Normally, I’d run screaming from a vintage fair or a crafts booth, simply for the fact that I’m probably the least creative person when it comes to reinventing the old or creating the DIY new. I don’t know what to do with a gramophone or how one would don a tutu without evoking Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? commentary. However, I found myself wandering two on Sunday and feeling inspired by the books, linens and the patina of another era. First I visited a small market for local artists located on Piazza SS. Annunziata, adjacent to the Museum of the Innocents, and the second was the monthly antiques market on San Spirito.

Granted, I didn’t think about how I would incorporate these items into my home or life, rather, I felt inspired by the items in and of themselves. A slew of Italian medical books from the 1920s made me want to return to books I own at home on psychiatry. Trays and baskets of silver inspired characters that are confined by their masks of money, whose dolorous existence is only brought to bear by the accumulation of finery. A barking dog made me long for my cat. English china had me thinking of brunch parties in the spring.

Chandeliers have served as odd guideposts in Italy, reminding me that in my reflection there is always light. That there are always signs.

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dispatches from florence: food in firenze {2}

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First off, we need to talk about La Carraria, the most exquisite gelato known to mankind. We need to talk about the silk texture, the creaminess of the whipped cream and the litany of exotic flavors. Then we need to talk about how a 20-minute line wait is worth the first taste of this magnificent dessert.

To say that I’m deep in the gelato game would be a grand understatement. My feeding is problematic, and I’m actually thrilled to leave Italy because I need to fit into my clothes for the duration of my holiday. It’s become such that I need to take alternate streets to avoid this fine gelateria, because it’s truly stellar. Many of my friends have recommended this spot, and it’s worth a visit should your travels take you to Florence.

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While the service may be lacking (the insouciance reminds me of the French stereotype, where customers are treated with a certain brusqueness), Trattoria 4Leoni redeems itself in flavor. To be candid, I don’t really need my waiters to engage me in dialogue — I very much prefer my own company — so as long as they take my order, bring me my dishes and said dishes are fine, a woman is GTG (good to go). I dined here twice during my time in Firenze, and on both occasions the dishes were quite good. I ordered the very verdant arugula pesto and devoured the pear ravioli. Within the same piazza — away from the bustle of the main squares — I also sampled the gelato (simply ok) and the cappuccino (quite good) from the other Leoni establishments.

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Finally, I believe I may have found the finest pizza in Firenze, and it is at Gusto Pizza. You will marvel at the in-house brick-oven and the charred, bubbling hot creations that are unearthed in minutes. While the joint is understated, reminiscent of mediocre New York pizzerias, the creations are ANYTHING BUT. For $7, you’ll savor buffalo mozzarella, homemade sauce, fresh basil — all draped on a chewy, tender crust with bits of burnt edges. I LOVED THIS PLACE SO MUCH I WENT BACK FOR DINNER.

If it’s pizza you crave, look no further than Gusto. Snaps to Daniel for the tip-off.

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tuscany in a day: pisa, san gimignano + siena {a story in photos}

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Pisa: Images (1-15), including the Leaning Tower, the Baptistry, and the Cathedral. | San Gimignano: Images (17-23 – Tenuta Torciano Wine Vineyard, of which the truffle oil is highly recommended!; Medieval town centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (24-45), and home to 17 towers. | Siena: Images (46-end), including Piazza del Campo, Piazza del Duomo, and the magnificent Cathedral and its interior.

dispatches from firenzi: il mercarto dei sapori {the market for flavors}

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Right now you should know that I’m distracted. Today I spent the day traveling through the Tuscan countryside, and I started jotting down notes on an essay on masks. So far I’m calling it: “A Disturbance on One Face.” The essay is a fusion of personal narrative and cultural madness. From Joan Didion’s “White Album” essay to the Susan Faludi profile of Shulie Firestone to the Clark Rockefeller trial, from Picasso to Dostoyevsky, the The Red Shoes fairytale and an episode of The Twilight Zone, I’ve become fixated on the mask that is one’s face. The internal fissure, the external cracking. So it’s hard, as you can imagine, to turn back the clock and talk about what happened yesterday when all I want to do is get on with the work.

Hemingway once said that one should never write until the well is bone dry. You still need to tread to the deep, so lay down the pen and walk away, and come back when the well swells and threatens to drown again. Or something to that effect.

But I digress.

On the way to find the Mercato Centrale, a place that has been known to send foodies into ecstasies, I discovered a “pop-up” market of sorts, Il Mercarto Dei Sapori. A highly-curated affair, the traveling market features tastes and traditions from all over Italy, including Liguria, Piedmont, Lombardy, Tuscany and Emilia. You’ll find fine leather goods, hand-carved soaps, local wines, oils, honeys, truffles and vinegars, and more importantly the abundance of cured and smoked meats, cheeses, handmade pastas, sweets and breads. I spent two hours sampling chocolate covered dried fruits, focaccia, cantucci and so many flavors of Italy and fell madly in love.

One extraordinary stand-out: Antico Forno Santi. Their cookies were arranged in grand baskets veiled in cloth, and they were tender, crumbly, sweet and baked to perfection. I secured a mixed bag of typical biscotti, bruto bruno (!!!) and hoards of other treats. As I type, I keep slipping my hand in this forbidden bag, itching to get on with my essay.

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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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dispatches from europe: there’s always a test

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To say these past two days have been trying is a grand understatement. Remember when we talked about this trip changing me in some way? Who knew that a day later I would sit in an airport in Rome while a woman tells me that my luggage has gone missing. That all I have for a three-week holiday are the clothes on my back and the purse in my hand. Who knew that it would take two days of calls and tweets to three airlines in two countries to make it whole again? Who knew that this brief experience would reveal a lot about myself and my unheimlich relationship to possessions, and how I sometimes need to tell people to back the fuck off and figure it out.

When I was a child I didn’t have much in the form of possessions, but my mother was a hoarder of abundance. From stockpiling dresses from the 1970s to cooking a dinner for eight when there was only three seated at the table, the notion of a barren closet or refrigerator would set her teeth on edge. As I grew up I saw how possessions affected her, and I swore I’d never be her photocopy. But we’re human, prone to mimicry, and there I was hoarding sweaters like a woman jetting off to the arctic. Sometimes you can’t help but fall prey to your worst self, no matter how hard you architect a person that is polar opposite. No matter how many times you clean out a closet, there’s always a part of you desperate to fill it back up again.

Fast forward to yesterday where I was kind of a whiny asshole. A woman oscillated wildly. I moved from confusion to anger to ambivalence to denial to rage to heartbreak to despair with such velocity I wore myself out. All of this over two pieces of luggage. I cancelled plans on a whim. I moped in my 400-year-old apartment. Then I realized that I had two choices: I could either moan about the things that I no longer carry or I could revel in the fact that I’m privileged to be in Europe. For three weeks I gave the gift of quiet to myself, and here I was manufacturing all this internal noise.

In a span of a few short hours, I had become my own wrecking ball.

I chose to get out of my apartment and walk around Rome. I purchased some shirts and toiletries. I had a horrible meal (don’t even ask me about raw sausage because I will commence with the gagging, I promise) and a delicious one. Copious amounts of gelato were consumed. Come evening, I phoned my friend, calmer, and we spent three hours in a perfect restaurant devouring plates of pasta.

When I came home, I resolved that I would focus on savoring every moment of this stolen bit of time without possessions. Regardless of my anger toward ambivalent and insensitive customer service representatives and emails from people who don’t understand the word holiday, I chose to accept this test and move forward.

Apparently, my luggage is en route to Rome.

Test #1 and counting…

For all of those interested in checking out my travels in real-ish time, follow me on Instagram!

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the journey that will change you

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It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety. ― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

A few weeks ago, a friend folded my hand into hers and said, This trip you’re about to take, it’ll change you. You’ll come back changed in some remarkable way. As someone who shies away from an abundance of touch, I laughed and said, I’m not already remarkable? To which she responded, You’ll be remarkable in a way that you can finally see. Since then I’ve been thinking about what my friend said and how the strange and unsettling — Germans call it das unheimliche, the sense of the uncanny, the opposite of what is familiar can have the capacity to make you see what has been in front of you all along.

Every few years I return to this quote from Orwell. Over the years I’ve developed a fondness for it, because I’ve gone to the dogs; I’ve endured the war, the carnage and wreckage, and have come out on the other side victorious. Shaken, but a survivor still. I don’t know how that is, really. How I always have the capacity to rebound, how I’ve been so resilient all these years, but this year I challenged myself to abandon the comfort that I had known because I wanted to feel unsettled. Never have I sought out war, summoned it like a fakir, but my head and heart are the clearest they’ve ever been and I found myself whispering, now.

So here’s to getting lost and finding myself away. Three countries, three planes, countless trains, new friends and old, and all the miles in between. Things will be quiet here for the next few days, but watch for oodles of photos, eats, and everything in between.