Cooking Italian

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Have you ever missed something so much, you could almost taste it???

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This week, I called in reinforcements to bring me back to the place that I love. He is a dear friend and was born in Italy and he showed me how to make an authentic, homemade Italian pasta dish.

One thing I realized when I was in Italy is that I have been cooking Americanized Italian food. It was quite devastating actually. I bought several cookbooks while I was there but nothing beats being taught in person.

That morning, I was in the grocery store with my list that he provided. All of the ingredients for this meal were different from what I would have used in the past. I found all of the ingredients I needed and then thought to get some extras to have a nice little tasting of some of the things I brought back.

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He started off making the sauce. He used his hands with the tomatoes. The Italian cook is not afraid to get their hands dirty, that is for sure. He told me I should buy a food mill… I have never heard of a food mill before but I will be sure to purchase one. As he combined the ingredients in the sauce, and it started to boil, I smelled it immediately. This kind of Italian cooking smells different from the Americanized versions.

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Then came the pasta…. The flour is made into a ring on the countertop an the eggs go inside the ring. So, as it mixes (again, with your hands), the flour is added very slowly and you can keep track of the texture.

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When the dough was finished, we wrapped it and let it sit, stirred the sauce and then sat at the table for tasting!

First, I made a Caprese salad with tomato, mozzarella and basil. We split it into two on our plates to try two different versions of balsamic, one an 8 year and one a 30 year. This brought me right back to the vineyard in Italy where I first tasted both of these. I know that I’m here in my home , in my dining room, in Pennsylvania… But my mind is back in Tuscany with every bite. I remember waking up the morning that we found that vineyard and looking out the window thinking that it looked like a painting on the wall, like that view could not be real but something created only in someone’s beautiful mind and translated with a brushstroke. I remember that view creating a calm in me that I’ve never before felt. The fact that I had the opportunity to see that view with my own eyes is still amazing to me. A struggling, lost, poor, 21 year old girl with a dream of what life would be like at 30 created this opportunity. Today, I thank that young girl… I think my 21 year old self knew that at 30, Italy would be the beginning of my future beyond the challenge and hurt of my 20’s.

Next, I got the rosemary focaccia and two kinds of olive oil from two different vineyards we visited. I poured two bowls and we dipped. I remember the smooth taste of the bottle from the Casanova winery. This olive oil is wonderful and what we are using for the pasta and sauce too. The next one brought back the familiar, unique spicy accent in the oil. I really enjoyed this one but I remember Karrie didn’t care for it. I went back for more.

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So, now it’s time to make the pasta. These tools belonged to my grandmother. I clearly remember rolling pasta in these tools when I was a little kid. My mom’s kitchen was full of women including my mother, grandmother and great aunts. The island had a removable countertop and it became a huge wooden block to be used for pasta making on those days. It was loud and full of personalities. Today, there are just two of us and I am so excited as the pasta comes out. You have to bunch it but spread it out so it doesn’t stick. Each piece of dough is a process. Then, it goes in the boiling water. Pasta made from scratch does not take long at all to cook, which is nice because at this point, your mouth is watering.

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The pasta gets tossed with the sauce, you grate fresh Parmesan over it and get ready to enjoy!!!!

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What a great reminder of my trip, I could smell and taste it in my kitchen and I went right back to that special place!

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Happy Places

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Do you have one?

I love finding happy places. I can go to these places when I’m stressed out and immediately feel calmer.

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These days, it is Valley Forge park. Today was one of the days I needed a happy place and it worked. I took a long walk and found a spot under a tree again. There was hardly anyone in the park because the afternoon wasn’t quite over so it was just about silent.

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It is one of my most peaceful happy places.

When I lived in Birmingham, my happy place was Vulcan. It’s a big statue overlooking the city with a viewing tower at the top. I remember sitting up there and feeling like I was above everything. I liked being on top of the world. It has been some time since I got to go to my Birmingham happy place, but I do have it hanging in my house.

I love that place so much that my friend got me a big picture of the view from the viewing tower at dusk as a housewarming gift. It was such an amazing gift.

I had my staff Christmas party there last year. That was a great memory! I also took my little cousin there last year and went through the museum.

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I’m known to do a Laura twirl in happy places! The next happy place was somewhere in Oklahoma that I’ll never know how to find again.

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We just wanted somewhere to watch the sunset. I asked a Park Ranger. As soon as I got out of the car, I fell in love with it. I spun! I watched the sunset and I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

Of course, I was in my happy place all through Italy… But it was Venice that got the twirl.

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My next one is Niagara Falls.

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Of course I enjoy my time there as I’m always in good company with these two incredibly special men. Something else too though, it is larger than life. I just stand there and watch the water falling over that drop in the horseshoe falls and I am in awe. It has always made me happy and is one place I keep saying I need to go to more often!

I think everyone should have a happy place… For me, it is somewhere I go to escape reality. It is a swing set in a park or a bench on a hill or a boat!!!! I love boats!!!

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Sometimes it is just as simple as a place that holds a good memory, or a place where you catch a scent of
something you like, or a place where you can escape from the world.
No matter what it is, I think everyone should have one!

SUMMER TRAVEL

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It’s coming very fast….

The flights are booked.  So far, it looks like I will be staying in Philly until June 27.  First stop is Las Vegas to celebrate my almost-new sister in law.  There is a set itinerary that the girls set up and it looks like it will be a nice weekend getaway for us.  From there, I will head to Denver to work for a few days and then return to Philly.

I will spend the month of July gearing up for my August travels.  This is the plan so far:

July 30 – Flight to LAX in time for dinners and rehearsals for my brother’s wedding.  August 1 is the big day and then I will spend the weekend with family in Malibu.  From there I will hit San Diego, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles and then I will work my way up the state (by car), ending in the San Francisco area.  I will fly from there to Portland, OR and then Denver, CO.  I will return to Philly after 16 days of city hopping!

This should make for some interesting blogging…

Relevance?

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There are some people who can live life fairly care-free, can go with the flow and make me completely jealous.

Until recently, I was a complete over-analyzing, head spinning, over-thinking, anxiety ball most of the time.  I think I am learning to be a better balance of these two types of people.  However, when it comes to writing, the latter has haunted me.  Over the weekend, I went for a jog at Valley Forge park, when I say “go for a jog,” I mean run for two minutes and walk for 58.  Anyway, I found a tree.  The tree looked good.  The view from the tree looked even better.  So, I sat.   I am not sure I can say that I ever would have spent an hour of my life under a tree in the park, staring into space, but it happened and I loved it. 

I had a phone call with my brother who challenged me to keep writing the blog.  He was not the first one to say something about it but he was the first one to really challenge me on why I wasn’t already doing it.  The conversation was good.  I was able to talk about why and why not and really think about it after.   The result of that was a recent tweet saying this: 

     Never think you are irrelevant, or you will be… 

That is what I learned from this time exploring my thoughts about writing.   I just kept asking myself who would care about what I write now that Italy is over.  Why would I keep writing or why would people care what I think.  Well, since that time under the tree, I have had so many people say or write about ways that I have inspired them.  They all think I am relevant. Why don’t I?  Writing is about personal joy and release anyway, why would it matter if it is relevant to others?  There is always going to exist a part of my brain that will tell me I can’t, or I shouldn’t but this time, I just don’t think I am going to let it work. 

Interestingly, I recently joined a football team.  Now, I am no good at football, I am out of shape and I have horrible asthma and bad eye-hand coordination, so what am I thinking?  Well, it’s time to just go for it and that is what came up.  So, in the store buying cleats and I hear a mother asking her child (about 10) if there was room in her cleats for her foot to grow. I remember that… the time when I had to worry about my foot growing.. That is when you should be buying cleats!  I thought, I will never be that young again… is this how this feels, am I old?  I literally had to do brain exercises in the store to prevent myself from saying nevermind, leaving without cleats and quitting before I started.  I guess we have to fight our brains sometimes, especially when they are so used to working a certain way.   My first game is tomorrow, and I AM playing!

Overall, I think the lesson goes back to what I said on twitter… If I convince myself that I am irrelevant, I will be. 

I am not okay with that!

Life Goes On

I was interviewed for a radio show this week and was asked what I learned from my trip in Italy…

Well, first, I learned to stop and smell the roses.  This is about so much more than a flower.  It is about the little things that I know I like, the things I know will make me smile and the things that I constantly miss.  The anxiety and chaos of life kept me from enjoying the little things like the scent of a rose for years.   I want to say that I am going to keep fresh cut flowers in my house at all times from now on, but I think we all know that is unrealistic.  However, I can have them as much as possible and I can notice them where they are, outside of my home.   Today, I went to the cemetery to visit my Aunt and stayed on my knees until I no longer had any circulation working in my legs. As I talked to her, I noticed the overwhelming number of flowers around me. I have been there hundreds of times and I was just always so focused on getting to her grave, talking to her, saying my prayer and moving on to the next task of the day.  First of all, the thought of that is just sad to me now, but second, I just never noticed all the beautiful flowers.  I guess that was a good example. 

Next, I learned that I should sit and enjoy my coffee.  This was one of the top things that stood out to me while on my trip.   That girl at the winery said something like, why get coffee if you aren’t going to sit and enjoy it? Although she was speaking English, this was like a foreign language to me.  I have to say, I have not really enforced this in my coffee grabbing trips.  However, there have been a few coffee visits from someone special since I returned that have reiterated the point that she made while I was sitting in that winery in Chianti. Happy interactions in the morning make me chipper!  This is one of the things I missed when I moved back to Pennsylvania from Alabama.  I had to train myself to stop talking to people and saying, “good morning,” when I went into the store. In Alabama, everyone talked to me, everyone was pleasant and everyone was smiling.   The East Coast is very different. Everyone is in a rush, most are looking down at their phones and if you try to talk to people, they look at you like you are crazy.  Anyway, I have this hope that the smile will be contagious and people will be more happy and encouraging to strangers in the morning.  I’ve seen crazier things happen!

Last, I learned to listen when the birds are chirping.  This could fall into the concept of stopping to smell the roses too.  It is a little thing that most times we overlook and ignore.  Last week, I had the hardest time getting back to Pennsylvania’s time zone so I was waking up around 3:00am and starting my day.  So, one morning, I was sitting at my dining room table trying to get ahead of the day’s work and at some point, the birds started chirping.  I literally stopped working, closed the computer, grabbed my coffee and went and sat next to the door and just listened for about 20 minutes.   I’ve never actually appreciated the birds chirping before Italy. While doing that radio interview, they said that a study was done that showed that the sound of birds chirping makes people happy.  Well, yeah, it does!

Life after Italy has been so interesting.  It is almost like my body came back but my brain is still in Italy mode.  I think that is a good thing but we have a joke lately about my head being in the clouds.   I think I like it.   There is no anxiety and stress, there is no lingering frustration, there is just life… and it goes on.  So, things that would normally bother me, just don’t.  That is not to say I have not run into challenges, I will always have challenges. I just have a new perspective.  I just go with it.  We only have one life and we are meant to live it and love it!  I plan on doing just that.