Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Love Locks

Is there anything more romantic that committing your love to another person, sealing it with a lock and then throwing away the key? 

I suppose some may find that thought dreadfully terrifying, but being the hopeless romantic that I am, it makes me all warm and fuzzy.     In honor of what I am unofficially deeming Romance Week here on Vita Nostra, I am going to share with you one of my favorite spots in Paris, the Ponts de Arts, filled with the ultimate display of love and commitment, Love Locks.

What’s a Love Lock?   Ahhhh.... this is the romantic part.    No one is really sure where the tradition started, although there are varying theories, but the story is that young and old lovers alike commit their love to each other in the most symbolic way possible by adding a Love Lock to the bridge.    Each lock is inscribed with a romantic little tidbit, names, dates, meaningful quotes and dreamy thoughts.    Couples affix their inscribed lock to the bridge and then throw the key into the Seine.      How incredibly romantic is that?

I could literally spend hours on the bridge reading these.  Imagining each couples unique love story.  Unfortunately, as I learned after the fact, right before my first visit to the bridge, the Parisian government cleaned out the majority of existing locks leaving a blank slate.   It certainly isn’t stopping anyone and new locks are cropping up all the time, but how disappointing!   

I hope this tradition continues.   I would love to someday be able to add our own Love Lock to the bridge.    

And if you are wondering, we’re celebrating Romance Week here this week because John and I are approaching our three year anniversary.   A special one as this is our first as an engaged couple.     Since we’re feeling all in love, I figured we’d share some of this romantic gushiness with all of you!   Enjoy and I’d love to hear your own favorite romantic stories this week…. Inspire us!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Happy Monday

Sweet sunny smiling wildflowers and their little winged friends are making me happy today!

How about you?   What's making you happy today?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fresh Pasta in Italy

My favorite part of Cooking Classes in Rome.... making fresh pasta!   So much fun and so good.  I can't wait to try and recreate this at home.

Wishing you a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Passionate Cooking in Rome

How often do you meet someone who is both passionate about their work and is truly doing what makes them happy?   In part two of my life, this is what I aspire to.  I have always been very passionate about what I do, I just have never had the opportunity to fully apply that passion to something I love.

I am on a mission to realign these two concepts in my life.    I feel very fortunate that throughout my European adventure I have met some amazing people who have inspired me in varying ways and reaffirmed my guiding principle that life is short and you should do what makes you happy.

I met one of these individuals on one of my very last days in Rome.     I was a little burnt out on sightseeing after several weeks and looking to do something a little more engaging.   I decided to take a cooking class.   Love to cook.  Love Italian food.   What better place to learn than Rome?

I figured I would enhance my technical skills, maybe learn how to make pasta from scratch.    Would have been thrilled with just this.

What I didn’t realize was that I was about to embark upon one of my favorite days of the entire trip.    Let me explain…

I signed up for Cooking Classes in Rome.   Sounds fairly generic, (yet easy to remember… smart…), but it had fantastic reviews on tripadvisor.     I don’t doubt tripadvisor.   It hasn’t failed me yet.    I had about two weeks left in Rome when I sent my inquiry.   Lucky me, there was an opening the Friday before I left.     Better late than never.

The school is held in the family restaurant, Le Fate in Trastevere.    Classes start at 11:30.   You spend the afternoon cooking together and then end the day with a late lunch, finally enjoying what you spent the day together preparing.    The classes are small, intimate.  Hands on is an understatement.   You truly work and time flies!

Together you cook a total of four courses, from appetizer through dessert.   You also have the option to pair wines with each of the courses when you sit down to eat at the end.    The whole experience is a real bargain at 50 euros.

And here’s why.  This is so much more than a cooking class.    This class was seriously fun.

Chef Andrea runs the class.   As soon as he introduced himself in the dining room, I knew we were in for a treat.    Seriously charming, extremely funny, very knowledgeable.     But the best part, he is passionate about cooking and passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience with others.    There is something special about learning from someone who loves what they do.   

I think we all agreed he could have probably been equally successful teaching us how to watch paint dry.    His passion is very engaging and motivating. 

The class moves at a rapid pace.   You work in the back kitchen and can envision yourself being a chef as you throw on your apron and work through all of the courses.     Being a small group, the interaction is one of the best parts.    Everyone chips in.   Everyone helps.    It is truly fun in a very informal cooking with all of your best friends kind of way.    Before we knew it, the cooking part was over.  

I loved Chef Andrea’s philosophy.   Italians are so in tune with their food and where it comes from and how it tastes.   There is true passion involved in cooking.   I love that.  I love that he goes to the market every morning, picks out what looks best and then makes the menu around the daily offering.    I can’t imagine a better way to live. 

I also love that throughout the class, Chef Andrea taught us the how, the steps, behind a dish, but also clearly demonstrated how important it is to cook with love.    Sometimes you just need to feel something.   If something doesn’t feel right, you add a little more or change it up a bit.  Equal parts emotion, intuition and technique.   Good stuff. 

During our class, we made some fabulous recipes.   Starting with an appetizer of Pumpkin flowers with prosciutto and mozzarella, first courses of tagliolini with fresh pachino and ricotta and tagliolini carbonara, followed by saltimbocca alla romana and a dessert of tiramisu alla fragole (strawberries).   An awesome menu and wonderful dishes.   I’ll share the recipes at a later date when I attempt to recreate them here at home.   I'm seeing a dinner party in my future!

After we spent the afternoon cooking, we all tidied up and sat down at the main table in the dining room (which is incredibly cute in a lovely Italian rustic way… whoever put it together did a great job!)   Course after course, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.   The perfectly paired wine flowed.   Fabulous conversation. Nothing better than eating among new friends after spending the day working together.     

Truly a fun experience that I will remember for a long time.   It was actually sad leaving… I think we all felt the magic of the day and knew we had participated in something very special.  

If you are ever in Rome, without hesitation, I would highly encourage you to take a class.   It will be one of your favorite memories of your time in Italy.     You will learn a lot, meet wonderful new friends and hopefully reignite your own fire for doing what you love!     Warning you now, Chef Andrea’s passion is contagious.   Not a bad thing!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Monday

Because I love Mondays so much, I've decided that I will post a photo each week of something that makes me happy.    I'll start with one of my favorites.

And remind me...  Why can't I be there right now?  Sigh.

What's making you happy today?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Carbonara and Winks - Part Two

And now let me tell you about those winks and how they connect with the carbonara.    

One year, for Christmas, during a particularly single time in my life, my mother bought me a slew of self help books that she heard about on Dr. Phil or Oprah.    She was worried about me.   To her credit, she had reason to be at the time.  The books sat under my tree that I didn’t put away until March (too busy at work, as usual).     Eventually I decided that maybe Dr. Phil might know something that I didn’t and cracked one open.    

Title one:  When God Winks on Love by SQuire Rushnell.   Go ahead and laugh now.    But seriously, it made an impression on me.     I’ve always had a firm belief in intuition and fate but now I had something new to think about.   

You know those times in your life when something happens, maybe the littlest of things, and it somehow redefines your life or reassures you that you are on the right path?     These are winks.   And they happen more than you think.   The key is in recognizing them and being open to whatever they are meant to tell you.   I think of them as little confidence builders, that somewhere out there someone has a master plan for me and wants me to know I am heading in the right direction, even if the path is not what I planned. 

I’ve had many winks since I discovered there was a name for them.   Some quite profound.   Some not.   Sometimes they happen and you do not recognize them until after the fact when you begin to connect the dots.     It’s a fun little exercise to go back and try and identify these moments in your life. 

Oh and by the way, since I’m relaying my own take on these winks, I do believe that they are entity independent (different from the book).    So God, Mother Nature, Intuition, or Guardian Angel… whatever it may be for you … I believe someone out there has a plan and wants to make sure you know it by sending little reassurances your way. 

I want to share one of my most recent tiny little winks so you know what I’m talking about.  

Last Sunday, I am back at home, sitting on my deck, enjoying the late afternoon sun and a glass of wine.    Flipping through one of my numerous cookbooks.    Happen to grab one of the books my dad gave me last Christmas.   In an amazing display of sensitivity and awesomeness, he gave me several very special items belonging to my mother.    

One of those items was the cookbook my mom bought on her very last trip to Italy with my dad.   It was the one she used to make dinners for the two of them in Rome, eating on the balcony on those perfect fall evenings after my dad returned home from work.   She inscribed every recipe she made with a little note.   Things like… “Dinner with E.   Fabulous night.   ****”   

She saved her receipts from the Italian grocery stores and tucked them in among the pages.   Train tickets.   Little notes to self of things she wanted to do.   Token reminders of their time together in Rome.   My mom loved Italy as much as I do.   Reading through that cookbook is like taking a little trip together. 


So I’m sitting on the deck, relaxing, enjoying my trip back to Rome with my mom and I start to notice something strange.   Some of the recipes begin to look familiar.    Like really familiar.    Odd.   Something told me to go dig through my still unpacked bags and find the Italian cookbook that I had purchased for my carbonara recipe.     Sure enough.   Different on the outside, but the same one.   We bought the same Italian cookbook.   In Rome.   Several years apart.  

And that is what I would consider a little life wink.    A message from my mom that only the two of us will ever understand.     At a time when I needed it most.     Amazing, right?

You see, there are winks everywhere if you are open to them.     And yes, when I met John, there were several significant winks... so I'd say Dr. Phil and SQuire Rushnell, with a little help from my mother, were right.   I guess I did need a little help.    

Carbonara and winks and cookbooks and leaving the single life behind.      All strangely connected.

After all of that, I’ll leave you with the moral of the story.    I believe there is a plan for each of us.   You may not yet know what it is.    Be open to your own little winks and reassurances along the way.  They contain important messages.  They may not make sense now but some day you’ll be able to look back and be able to connect the dots.

Happy Friday.     Wishing you all a fabulous weekend.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Carbonara and Winks - Part One

We are going back to Rome today.   I am having an overwhelming feeling that it is time to tell you my carbonara story. 

I am a wicked (New England heritage poking out) carbonara snob.   It is really the most simplistic of dishes, but so many tend to screw it up.   I suppose it is because it is so simple that everyone wants to put their own spin on it.   I get the whole creative thing.   I do.  It is definitely fun to play around in the kitchen.   But seriously, don’t mess with my carbonara.

I am only going to say this once.  Please do not add cream to (my) carbonara.

Rome made me this way.   It actually happened a couple of visits ago.    My dad took me to one of his favorite restaurants.   He recommended the carbonara on the basis that he had eaten it on several recent  (in a row) return visits.   Of course, I got annoyed with him for never trying anything new.    But, I give it a go.    Rather have something recommended than be disappointed.  I have a serious issue with paying for bad food.   Story for another day.

The carbonara was quite simply the best thing I ever had.    Whoa.   That’s serious.    I don’t know if it was because I was in Rome and it was a gorgeous fall night and we were sitting outside beneath the stars, surrounded by candlelight, flowing fountains and clinking glasses.     Actually as I write this, I will acknowledge that the atmosphere was pretty awesome and I’m sure it helped shape my memory.  

Perfect al dente noodles and a light glaze of eggy cheesy subtle yumminess.   Emphasis on subtle.  Coated with a very generous dusting of black pepper.   Heaven.

Deeply imbedded in my memory, I decided that I would learn to make carbonara at home.   Can’t be hard.   Well, it is hard.   To get it right.   Not even just right, perfect.  So I gave up and decided I wouldn’t have it again until I returned to Rome.   How silly of me.    At the time, I had no idea I’d be returning to Italy for a proposal from my boyfriend and then an extended personal “enrichment” stay.    But something in my intuition told me I’d be back.  

Flash forward two years.    John brings me on a surprise trip to Rome.     I bring him to my little carbonara slice of heaven on night one.   John proposes.   Hmmmmm…. A connection?    I’ll share the details of the proposal at a later time when it won’t derail my story.

I return to Rome one month later.   Proceed to eat carbonara at every single place I go to.    Well, except for the ones that only had pizza.     Some of it was good.   Some of it was very (very) bad.   Nothing was perfect.  I acknowledge that I must learn to make it again and challenge myself to another attempt.     When in Rome…

I decide to follow in the footsteps of my mother and buy myself a real Italian cookbook.    In English, but from Italy.    When we traveled together, she always reminded me, especially when I was being particularly cheap, that it is really nice when you buy something on your travels and then return home and incorporate it into your daily life.   Then, every time you use ‘it’ you are reminded of your trip.   A cookbook is a perfect way to do this.     

I half attempted a couple of recipes based on ingredients I had on hand at the time.    Everything was good, but all looked the same.   I figured that carbonara, in its simple whiteness would help break that pattern.    It was time.   

Here’s the recipe I made.     Honestly, it still wasn’t perfection and the addition of white wine and butter made it less authentic than I wanted.   But it was in the cookbook.   And that simply meant that I had no choice.  I was going to make the carbonara, imperfect recipe and all.     And it was way better than many of the versions I had out in Rome if that helps.    Take my viewpoint on the recipe with a grain of salt.   I am not definitely not an expert on the topic, merely an obsessed consumer.

Without further adieu, carbonara.   The actual recipe plus my color commentary.   

Oh one other piece of advice, please don’t use bacon.   Do try and find pancetta or even guanciale.    It makes all the difference. 

From “Pasta, every way for every day” by Eric Treuille & Anna Del Conte

Carbonara, Serves 4
3 egg yolks
8 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
2 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
7 oz unsmoked pancetta
4 tbsp white wine
1 lb dried pasta
 ½ oz butter
salt, black pepper
additional freshly grated parmesan to serve

Mix egg yolks and parmesan in a bowl until combined.   (Yes, it will look a little strange.   And italian egg yolks are way yellow-er than those we have at home.   Makes for a very yellow mixture.)

Heat oil in a large frying pan.   Add garlic and cook over medium high heat until golden, 2 minutes.   Remove garlic and discard.   (Note - I skipped this last step.   I like garlic.)

Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5 minutes.    Add wine and simmer until just evaporated, 2 minutes.   Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, until firm to the bite.   

Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water.   (I was drinking wine while cooking and totally missed this step.  I didn't actually need it, but if I did, I do know the pasta water is important as it is starchy.   I guess the moral of this story is, pay attention and don't drink too much wine.)

Add drained pasta to the hot pancetta and toss well to coat.  (I tossed so well that I had some pancetta escapees as noted in the picture below.)

Remove from the heat.   Add egg mixture and butter and toss again to coat, adding reserved water as needed.   Add salt and pepper to taste.   

Serve immediately with additional parmesan.   (See top picture above!   That was my dinner.   Seriously, it was pretty good.   Just not perfect!)

You may be asking yourself at this point, "How on earth does carbonara relate to winking?"   Swing by later for Part Two…