I love food. Questions may arise– how so do you love food? To which I respond- E: All of the above. I love food in all ways possible! I love prepping, slicing, chopping, sous-cheffing it up. I love putting together the puzzle of a meal- adding cranberry juice instead of alcohol to a really nice pork roast for a really nice occasion. (Can it be done? Indeed it can, she happily reports.) And the entertainment aspect. It’s so nice to prep and sweat and present for more than one (moi). If you’re fortunate to have friends like mine, it’s a real joy to entertain and spend time with them. And great food is always a welcome accessory.
This admiration for all things culinary became a part of my life in Florence, Italy. It was the year 2008 and I was living in the epicenter of all things lovely, expensive and va bene. Prior to my four month attempt to fit into Italy (I am incredibly pale, of Irish decent and speak perfect English), I had never dreamed of being entranced with such a chore-food. It’s a means to an end. For my time is precious, valuable and at the sage age of 22 years, cooking and dining were polarizing ideas. While I appreciated delicious food, I would have much rather someone else spent her time putting a meal together than me. Enter my mom: cook extraordinaire. Also, I considered food, cooking and entertaining the foundation for domesticity.
But my parents so graciously agreed to save me from debt for the next 20 years of life. And I was awarded a trip to Italy, to “study” in a classroom with other American kids- how cultural! That was the sell-in process. I was not dropping out of school, I was just taking an eight hour flight to another country to continue my junior year of college. There will be books! And there were… mostly written by Rick Steves. I don’t think my parents were worried, for sake of failure, but worried I would never come back to the US (possible reasons: love, Albanian capture, love). Please note: I am typing from Cincinnati, Ohio– not the breathtaking city of Fiesole. Jealous?
When our very chic and multi-lingual program coordinators led us around around the city like American ducklings, I knew that a place so beautiful held the opportunity for incredible experiences. I took my fair skinned, dark haired self to buy a) Italian boots, b) Italian scarves and c) a blank trench. Pronto- I stood out less than I had a week earlier. Not that my lime green NorthFace had anything to do with it…
An expedition I was happy to embark upon was one to the fresh food market. Il mercato is a haven for anyone who has ever eaten anything fresh, delicious or fresh and delicious. Again, I’ve always liked to eat- so this was cool. The people are what made it all real. There were Italian grandpas lovingly shouting across the aisles about blood oranges. And eggs and meat and pasta were at your very fingertips. But the adventure came to life in the kitchen- at an Italian cooking school in Altro Arno (the other side of the Arno River- where the real people live). Holy Mario Batali! I chopped, wisked, floured and sprinkled until I could not cook any more. To make the connection from market to kitchen to table was a remarkable one. The potatoes we used for gnocchi were from the neighboring vendor of the blood orange grandpa! And it was heaven. To eat. And make. And I didn’t feel like June Cleaver in pearls… intriguing.
In order to keep my spending within reason and embrace all the fresh food surrounding me, my six roommates and I prepared nearly every meal we ate in Italy. We experienced great restaurants, but as more of a treat or because we didn’t get to the market before close. Or, because there was the cutest pizza place down the street from us and the guys there loved us as if we were family. But I applaud my roommates and all of Italy for converting me into the impromptu chef and foodie in training I am today.