Friday, June 29, 2012

Frittura di pesciolini (latterini) or deep-fried Mediterranean sea smelt

Before leaving for the beach a couple of weeks ago, we were all tired and in need of a vacation. I know I was being a little more impatient than usual with the kids, who in turn were acting a little wilder than normal. Their constant bickering, running, screaming, jumping and obliviousness to our requests generated a fair share of hollering on our side in the days before our departure.

Now, on a normal day, our meals go something like this:

"What's for dinner?"
" I don't like xyz"
"You gave him more than me"
"Why doesn't he have to finish his xyz?"
"La, la, la, la, la"
Crash! Splash!
"I'm tired, can you feed me?"
"I have a tummy ache"
"What's for dessert?"
"I have to go to the bathroom"
"La, la, la, la, la"

"Stop saying bleah, we don't say bleah about food"
"This is not a restaurant, you eat what is on the table"
"Stop watching your brother and concentrate on your vegetables"
"Stop copying your sister"
"No eating with our hands"
"Please don't throw pieces of food on the floor"
"Don't you dare spit out that piece of carrot onto my plate again"
"Sit still!"
"Your brother is two, he doesn't understand yet"
"No getting up from the table"
"Stop putting your greasy hands in your hair, we just washed it".
"If you sat still like we ask you to constantly, you wouldn't have spilled that glass of water onto my plate again!"
"Chew with your mouth closed"
"Finish chewing, then you can tell me the story"
"No singing at the table"
"No playing at the table"
"We say excuse me when we do that."

And this is bed time:

In bed, before lights out:
"Can I read a book?"
"Mommy, book?"
"No, not this book. I want that book"
"No, not that book"
"Can you read me another book"
"Pretty please?"
"I'm thirsty"
"Me too"
"Can I have another stuffed animal?"
"I'm hungry"
"Tractor in bed"

Monday, June 25, 2012

Oh the Mediterranean...

I am back from a week of Mediterranean beaches, sunshine, water and great food.

To keep you entertained while I write my new post, here are a few snapshots from my Instagram account (you can follow me clicking here or on the button below on the right hand side).



Thursday, June 14, 2012

Filipino chicken adobo

Let's face it... sometimes you just cannot bear to eat another bowl of baby spinach, crunch on another carrot or steam another stalk of asparagus.

Sometimes you just need a punch of flavor and depth from your food, that je ne sais quoi. A sensory overload to give your tastebuds a jolt of pleasure after weeks of dullness, like a dirty dream in a 30-year marriage.

I have already stated that keeping your calorie count low does not necessarily mean boring. Luckily there are dishes that are full of character and tantalizing flavors (remember that ceviche?) without too many calories. Take this chicken adobo: tangy, pungent, briny, delicious. If you are looking for something to make your tastebuds sing, this will have them chanting a cappella. I used low sodium soy sauce and tried to avoid mopping up the sauce with rice to keep it reasonably light, concentrating more on the flavorful meat. My family was only too happy to step in for me.

This dish, that is considered one of the Philippines' national dishes, was originally borne from the necessity to preserve meat in the heat. When the Spanish colonized the islands back in the 16th century, they saw the indigenous population stewing their meat in vinegar and named this technique adobo, after their own tradition of marinating meats, although they have little in common. Filipino adobo is usually made with chicken and/or pork cooked in a liquid made with soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, pepper corns and the key ingredient - vinegar.

I of course fell in love with Adam's version because you know I am always on the look out for an easy week night meal. His recipe, originally from April Bloomfield, requires using large quantities of garlic and ginger skin on, which also makes the former less aggressive. Once the garlic is cooked, it can easily be nudged out of the skin and eaten. The meal comes together really quickly, the only tricky part being browning the chicken, which took longer than I expected and turned out to be a little messy (meaning I had grease splattered all over my stove and counters. Next time I will use less oil). It is however really essential to get those flavors going, so don't skip it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Asparagus stalk gazpacho

Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook already know where I was on Thursday night. F and I and 59,998 other people were hanging out rocking at the stadium with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

And what a night it was: when I got home at 2am my palms were sore and swollen from clapping, my throat felt raw and my voice had dropped an octave. 

On Friday, at my daughters' end-of-the-school-year party, I was not the only parent walking around with a dumb smile on my face and a hazy look in my eyes.  All I needed to hear where a few random words, snippets of a conversation (little girl, 4 hours) in passing for my usually shy self to turn back towards a large group of strangers and butt into their conversation.

"Where you there last night too?".

I was instantly welcomed into their circle, I was one of them. We were special, we had all experienced the magic. We were the chosen ones, who had sung and danced with The Boss during his second longest show ever, 3 hours and 45 minutes of non-stop energy, music, poetry at Stadio Meazza in Milan. We were the ones who had watched him jump up and down like a teen ager, horse around with his fans and band members, shed tears during the tribute to his great friend Clarence. We were there song after song, 33 of them I believe, just broken up by his epic "one-two-three-four". Bruce may be in his early sixties but he has the energy of the kids he pulled up on stage. When he wasn't singing he was playing one of many instruments or running the length of the stage. The man never stopped.

When you go to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, you know you are in for a real show, that you will not be disappointed. You know you will be getting 100% and that is why you leave feeling like you were part of something special, like that 100% was especially for you. And you will walk around like a lovestruck teenager humming his songs for the next week.


Talking about 100%, in my last post I promised I would give you a recipe to use up every last part of that bushel of asapargus you bought the other day at the market. The season for asparagus is short and you don't want to miss out on any of their loveliness.
So here is another green recipe, and by green this time I also mean environmentally. I was watching a cooking show the other evening during which an Italian chef used all the less noble parts of produce, the ones everyone normally throws away, in her recipes and I was fascinated. I did not rememeber her exact ingredients so I mixed up what I did remember with bits and pieces of advice from the Internet and came up with this. It turned out to be more delicate in flavor than I expected, lacking that familiar punch of taste you get from its red cousin, but it was refreshing and light, a different and original take on my all time favorite gazpacho. I will also not pretend it was great fun to peel all the stalks, but it is worth the satisfaction of using them up. Using the plump, fatter asparagus will make this part quicker. We ate ours garnished with previously chopped up hard boiled eggs (I thought of that after taking the pictures, sorry!).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Green fusion couscous

I think the reason why I love my neighborhood is that it is culturally pretty diverse for Italian standards.

My daughter has been lucky enough to spend her first years with a tight-knit group of friends with parents from several continents, exposing her from the start to different religions and traditions. Just as an example, one of her oldest friends is half American, just like her. Our neighbors and good friends are from Argentina. Her favorite playmate is a girl from the Philippines and there are children from all over the world in both our children's classes.

This may be a given in many countries but it is still a novelty in Italy. This country only recently went from being a country of emigrants to one that welcomes large amounts of immigrants, making diversity a reasonably new concept here, especially in the more gentrified neighborhoods. Many children here are first generation Italians and some just moved recently and are still coming to terms with a new tradition and language.

Sometimes I hear things people say that make me cringe. I realize it is often more the result of not being accustomed or exposed to diversity than an actual feeling of superiority and more often than not the words are said totally unaware, without malice, but it makes me realize we still have a ways to go.

My children and I often talk about being different, because we/they are different. Their mother speaks to them in a foreign language, they do not take religion in school (how about teaching children about the religions of the world to help them understand them and be more tolerant than having an hour dedicated to the Catholic religion, that most children learn about in Sunday school anyway?), their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins live all over the world and speak a variety of languages.

We have a book full of fun and interesting drawings about different people, different colors and different shapes. Tall people, short, people, big people, thin people. Blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes. Big noses, tiny noses, bumpy noses, freckly noses. Long hair, short hair, curly hair, frizzy hair. Blonde, brown, black, grey, white. Huge ears, wrinkly ears, hairy ears. Some of the men wear pants, others tunics or skirts. Some have short hair, some have long hair. Some wear earrings, some don't. Some women have bare chests, others are covered from head to toe, some have colorful tatoos and shaved heads, others have plates in their lips. 

We are different, different is good, different is important.

Yesterday my daughter told me she heard something someone said to a classmate of hers. It was not outright offensive but she grasped the fine line between funny and hurtful and felt bad for him. This made me happy, because now I know she has the sensitivity to think more about how she communicates with people.

If we all stop to think before we speak, we could avoid a lot of hurt. I do it, we all do it, every day, usually without noticing. We could avoid hurting those we love, our friends, our colleagues, our acquaintances and even and foremost strangers. 

Food is another powerful way to reach out to each other, cross borders and cultures, as Sasha reminds us every day. I try to expose my children to the world's incredible variety through the meals I prepare daily for my family.

This dish is definitely a result of globalization, an example of a fusion dish.

There are ingredients and inspirations from Maghreb, Thailand and Japan in this simple meal. It takes just a few minutes to throw together and is full of vitamins, it is light and extremely tasty. Once again I will be giving you general guidelines because how and what you use is really up to you and your personal taste. The dressing (which I found in an old Donna Hay book) has very little oil in it and to keep things even lighter and healthier I used less couscous (which you can buy whole wheat) and more veggies. Oh, and don't discard the tough stems, I have a recipe coming up for those too!