CLOSING TIME

Not really goodbye

It’s with a mixture of sadness and also some pride that I decided to end the Accidental Chef’s adventures. After over 2 years of nearly daily posting, my life has evolved on and off the page.

A little while ago, those who regularly follow my blog, read about my recent decision to leave my job and take my life in a different direction. In the spirit of doing what satisfies me most, this new direction will still involve some cooking (at a friend’s small restaurant) but, above all, it will be filled with writing.

Together with one of my best friends, who literally lives on the other side of the world, in South Africa, we started a blog-azine called Campari and Sofa aimed at women like us, still vibrant, full of energy and ideas and things to do. It’s a project that started during a trip that was widely chronicled on these pages and finally saw the light of  day while in Rome, amidst the festiv ities for my dreaded 5-0.

I hope that those of you who stuck it out with me from the beginning and those of you who just got here through Freshly Pressed will find something that grabs you in my new venture. Yes, there will be food too and, for WP users, my friend Sue and I chose to stay in this community and launch this project on WP again, despite being two avid Mac girls.

Most of all, I hope you will not only join me on this new journey but will also participate in the conversation. And boys are most definitely welcome.

So, it’s not goodbye, just arrivederci!

To check my  new project out, simply click here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DENTAL FLOSS FOR THE MIND

Small wonder that it looks muddy green in the daylight..

There are books I keep in the bathroom, not for the purpose you are all thinking of, but to read while I brush my teeth. Since electric toothbrushes became the norm, with their mandated two minutes of brushing, multi-taskers like me needed to fill that empty space. Two minutes are a very long time to stand by the sink, contemplating one’s wrinkles, or to sit on the toilet at one with one’s toothbrush

The books of choice for this task are small volumes, mostly poetry, that can be opened at random, or short essays that can be digested in a few dental sessions. The current one, that prompted me to sit down and share my thoughts with you, was bought years ago but, strangely, never opened. It’s Joseph Brodsky’s “Watermark” and I say “strangely” because his meditation on Venice and its effects on humankind and himself in particular travelled  with me at least twice, during my pilgrimages to Venice.

My love affair with Venice, the city on water and not its Californian counterpart, started a long time ago and it is by no means over. That I opened this book only now, when Venice’s weather is turning cooler and the city is preparing for another grey, humid and foggy winter while I am still enjoying balmy days in Los Angeles, has turned out to be a gift in disguise.

Short on physical descriptions and depictions and long on literary meditations, personal adventures in the city and metaphysical thoughts on Venice and its place in the collective imagination, every time a particular shade of light, a fondamenta or a feeling are mentioned, images of this wondrous place come alive.

Check out his description of the water:

“[..] For water, too, is choral, in more ways than one. It is the same water that carried the Crusaders, the merchants, St. Mark’s relics, Turks, every kind of cargo, military, or pleasure vessel; above all, it reflected everybody who ever lived, everybody who ever strolled or waded its streets in the way you do now. Small wonder that it looks muddy green in the daytime and pitch black at night, rivaling the firmament. A miracle that, rubbed the right and the wrong way for over a millennium, it doesn’t have holes in it, that is still H2O, though you would never drink it; that it still rises. It really does look like musical sheets, frayed at the edges, constantly played, coming to you in tidal scores, in bars of canals with innumerable obbligati of bridges, mullioned windows, or curved crownings of Coducci cathedrals, not to mention the violin necks of gondolas. In fact, the whole city, especially at night, resembles a gigantic orchestra, with dimly lit music stands of palazzi, with a restless chorus of waves, with the falsetto of a star in the winter sky. The music is, of course, greater than the band, and no hand can turn the pages.”

It is such clarity and poetry that make me run into a hole and never want to write another word and, conversely, push me to express things as my truth makes me see them.

If you have never travelled to Venice in winter, Brodsky will make you pine for a void in your life you didn’t even know was there. If, like me, you are thinking of Venice as a future place of residence, the book will remind you of all the reasons, good and bad, why such a move would be difficult and transforming. It takes a tortured soul and a literary genius to set aside clichés when it comes to describe a city that has become a cliché in itself.

And, as I unwittingly discovered, there are books that are better read two minutes at a time.

 

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – POMPEII REVISITED

Pompeii dog

My fascination with ancient Rome probably is in-built in my very Roman name, but it started in earnest when I read, as a child, “Quo Vadis” by Nobel Laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz. The adventures of Licia, the covert Christian in love with a pagan Roman, her runs in the catacombs and the, more or less, true to life descriptions of ancient Rome, resonated with me and captivated my imagination.

Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

My first trip to Pompeii was also as a child and walking along the cobblestones where I imagined carriages driving by, real bread being made in the ovens and real people sleeping in frescoed bedrooms are all vignettes that stayed with me. I fell in love with the famous Pompeii dog and children and never mind that no dog or bodies were inside the casts that were made mostly in the 19th century, by filling the vacuums the ashes had created.

The myth of Pompeii endures because it’s impossible not to be moved by a site where the past comes alive so tangibly – yet, what we see today was heavily bombed during WWII and quite a bit of restoration took place. Pompeii has come to represent all those natural (or man-made) calamities that have haunted mankind through the centuries.

It’s the myths of Pompeii and the art that this ancient site inspired, from Victorian paintings to Robert Rauschenberg that are being explored in a new exhibition at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. There are very few artifacts from the archaeological site but, rather, a plethora of art pieces and artifacts that take the viewer through depictions of Pompeii through the centuries, all the way to Hollywood, interactive visual and audio material and, all in all, a very different and unexplored take on a very dead city.

The exhibition “The Last Days of Pompeii” – Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection opens on Wed Sep 12 and runs until January 7, 2013.

 

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – FRIDAY TRUCKIN’

Drawing: kathimitchell.com

Remember the time when food truck was synonym for “roach coach”? A greasy spoon to be found at amusement parks and construction sites? A place where you wouldn’t eat unless it was out of sheer necessity? How things have changed in the last half-dozen years. Fancy painted trucks specializing in Korean BBQ, Indian dosas and everything in between are a Los Angeles born and bred fad. And a pretty successful one at that.

Trucks named Garbage Plate or Schmuck Truck have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, location schedules and thousands of devotees.

A friend mentioned a lobster truck a few nights ago and, when a lobster roll craving struck, I braved the crowds, the trendiness factor and engaged in hand to hand combat to get a parking spot on Abbot Kinney in Venice on a Friday night where, between 6 and 9 pm, it’s food truck central.

I have come a long way from my first lobster, served to me at the age of 13 on a bateau mouche in Paris. The lobster and I had a pretty unfair fight, with instruments utterly unfamiliar to me and I ended up not knowing what a lobster tasted like until much later in life. And it wasn’t until a few years ago, on a trip to Rhode Island, that I was introduced to that Maine staple, the lobster roll. For those unfamiliar with it, the lobster roll is lobster meat sandwiched in a buttered and toasted hot dog bun, the meat typically having been mixed with celery and mayo, with small variations depending on where you are along the coast.

Tonight, miserable after my mother’s departure and dreading the empty house, I thought I deserved a roll or two. After securing a coveted parking spot, I walked to the very end of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, to that space called the Brig, and tracked down the Lobsta truck, unmistakably red. All around it, the Kogi and Philly steak trucks were positively mobbed but I stuck to my plan. At the Lobsta truck, that also serves Clam Chowder and Crab Rolls, the roll comes with either butter or mayo and I opted for butter: large chunks of lobster with warm melted butter drizzled over it, inside a soft bun, lightly buttered and toasted. Pretty heavenly and $12.

On my way to the Brig, I also noticed the Roll ‘n Lobster Truck. Not content with just one roll and in the interest of research for you, my LA readers, I backtracked and ordered a roll from them too. $12 buy you smaller chunks of lobster, tossed with large rounds of celery and some mayo. The brioche bun was divine but, all in all, even if this version might be more traditional, I would go with just simple seafood and butter.

After two rolls, I managed to resist potato rounds on a stick, cupcakes, snow cones and everything else I walked by. All in all, $24 plus a soft drink could have bought me more than rolls eaten standing on the side of the road but, you know, when the craving strikes..

 

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Filed under food, Los Angeles

NOVEMBER. NOT A DAY TOO SOON

Yes, you can buy those….photo credit: Huffington Post

My first act as a newly minted citizen was to donate $15 to the Obama campaign. I was all excited to start participating in the election process (or scam, depending which way you look at it), in a way I have never been eager when it came to Italian politics.

Since that first and, I naively assumed, only donation, I have received e-mails from various campaign managers, from Joe, Michelle and Barack himself. I am expecting a handwritten note from Sasha and Malia any day now. In the last couple of days, former President Clinton found it in his heart to write to me and, today, right after the President concluded his speech at the Democratic Convention, I was holding my phone and counting how many minutes it would take for a donation solicitation to pop up. Six, it turns out.

A few weeks ago, I tried to unsubscribe to this avalanche of e-mails now clogging my inbox and that, truth be known, were initiated by my friend Sue who spends a lot more time than I do scouring the web. One night, in Rome, she yelled that she was signing me up for a competition to win a trip to Chicago to meet Mr. Obama at his birthday party.

“Think how cool it would be! You could blog about it”

“Do they want money?”

“No, it says no money required”

Needless to say, not only did I not get an invitation to the President’s birthday but a donation was involved to even get the chance at one.

Despite clicking that unsubscribe button more than once, the e-mails keep on coming. Asking me to participate to phone banks, to get out and register voters, to attend parties in my neighbourhood. A lot more participation than I bargained for.

I am hoping that, come November and my ballot is cast, this steady flow will dry up.

As a new citizen, I am eager to make my voice heard and I do get the point this is an important election. But, I beg you, stop asking me for money on a daily basis, twice a day. If you hope I will donate more of my money or time, don’t test my enthusiasm…

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LUCKY PEACH AND LUCKY US

 

My current fave

The word “foodie” irks me like no other. It has come to encompass anyone with a passing knowledge of things like lemongrass to those who go to a restaurant and take pictures of what they eat. But if you consider yourself a foodie, or just someone with a budding or already encyclopedic knowledge of anything edible, Lucky Peach is for you.

Since Gourmet folded, I haven’t bought or subscribed to another food magazine. I don’t care for quick, every day recipes I can easily get from the web and there is nothing out there that ever whetted my reading appetite. Until Lucky Peach, that is. Its by-line is: “a quarterly journal of food and writing”, and we are off to a good start as both are two passions of mine.

The brainchild behind this operation is David Chang, the Chef behind the Momofuku empire. Teaming up with other chefs, writers, journalists and the like, Mr. Chang has come up with a publication like no other that does indeed combine all things food with excellent writing.

Each issue is mono-thematic: the first one was dedicated to ramen and the current one to American food. As an example, the two premier food critics in the land debate the merits of ethnic cuisine in NY and LA, Harold McGee tells us all about eggs, Elvis Mitchell, the movie critic, talks with Anthony Bourdain about the movie Diner – you get the picture. There are recipes  and, because most of them are the offerings of professional chefs, they are neither quick nor necessarily precise, but enticing enough to make you want to spend your day off baking different loaves of rye bread to compare the results or making your own mayo for a fancy club sandwich.

Most of all, the writing is excellent, the graphics topsy-turvy and the articles unpredictable. I just hope against hope Mr. Chang and McSweeney’s (the editor) will be able to keep it going for a long time to come.

 

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WHEN HOME-MADE JUST CAN’T BE BEATEN

My pink lemonade

It took a long week-end, the first in many years, since working on a Saturday was par for the course of my job, to make me appreciate my lemon tree. I haven’t bought a lemon in the nine years I have lived in this house – this tree miraculously bears fruit twelve months a year and I typically step outside the kitchen and pluck one when needed, without giving it much thought. Until last Friday when, tired of the coyotes and other wildlife feasting on the lemons that fall to the ground, I set out to pick as many  ripe ones as I could. And, with all that bounty, I made lemonade.

Don’t laugh. I took immense pleasure in juicing lemons, finding the right proportion of simple syrup to please my palate and, finally, adding some end of Summer cherries to make pink lemonade.

Home-made noodles

The same pleasure that I took in watching my mother make pasta and meat sauce, the way the universe intended it to taste. Or slicing some perfect tomatoes from McGrath Farms and let them roast on a ricotta tart.

Tasty tomatoes

Somebody asked me this morning if I did anything fun over Labour Day Week-end. As a matter of fact, I did and it involved lounging around on the patio, consuming large quantities of ice-cold lemonade and steaming home-made pasta. And I didn’t even bother working out.

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Filed under cooking, food, fresh pasta