Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yogurtlu Havuc Salatasi


So, now you know my dirty secret. The pita I made last week end was just a vehicle to eat this.
This being a Turkish dip called Yogurtlu Havuc Salatasi. Or at least I think it is.
I have been reading up on it and found it spelled so many different ways and with so many variations, that I cannot be sure. Sometimes it is just called yogurtlu havuc (spelled with a variety of letters that I cannot even find), other times the word salatasi is added. Also, like so many popular dishes, there seem to be a variety of versions out there. Some leave the carrots raw, others quickly sauté them; some only add garlic and perhaps some dill to the yogurt mix. Others add different spices and herbs.
It seems this dip is a very popular meze in drinking holes and restaurants and is often accompanied and strongly associated with raki, the Turkish national alcoholic beverage.


I have never been to Turkey (yet, I'd like to add) so I cannot even say what the most popular version is (any Turkish readers out there to tell us more about it? I know you're there, I have seen you stopping by). I didn't even know this dip existed until a few weeks ago, but if Lorraine puts the words easy and delicious in the same title, I cannot resist.
Also, I love me some dips with some warm bread and a cold glass of sparkly prosecco with friends. I like the idea of using the boring humble carrot to make something a little glamorous. I like that you are tricked into thinking you are indulging in something creamy and decadent while you are actually ingesting vitamins and boosting your immune system thanks to the carrots, the yogurt and the raw garlic, whilst keeping your calorie count very low.
Well, minus the pita. And the prosecco, the inordinate amounts of hummus and guac with chips and the chocolate dessert. But I digress.
When we were invited to a practically vegetarian household for dinner last week end, I knew this was what I would make. I'm telling you, with this dip, nobody cared about the pita not puffing completely.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pita bread

To puff or not to puff? That is the question (well, maybe not if you are Hamlet, but most certainly when it comes to pita bread).

Because the truth is, when you are making pita, it doesn't always balloon as you were hoping. It didn't matter that much to me because the pita was very authentic in texture in flavor and I made it to accompany a dip, but if I had been planning to stuff it with falafel and more, I surely would have been disappointed.

So I thought for a while whether to post this recipe at all and whether I should call it pita bread or flat bread if I did. I did not, after all, succeed in getting a big pocket in all my breads. Some puffed a lot, some puffed a little, bubbles here and there, and some barely puffed at all.
I finally decided to share my experience for these reasons:
1. The pita was good, exactly what you would expect from a pita bread.
2. It was easy to make, quick and straightforward.
3. Pita stores very well.

I think any recipe that makes you want to make it again, that connects you with your primal instincts (flat bread is the most ancient form of bread, baked long before ovens or baking utensils existed), that is cheap, that yields a result that is so much more than the sum of its components, that makes leftovers that can last you a week and that allows you to feed your family unprocessed food is a recipe to be posted. 
In the meantime I have learned to use instant yeast that has not been open too long, a very, very hot oven and to try it on a stovetop next time.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Cheerio ice cream


In Italy, September is more than the Back-to-School-month, which as all parents know is taxing enough. It is the dreaded "inserimento" month (unless you are so unlucky as to be pushed back until October because of the long waiting list). I have thought long and hard about how to translate this word into English, but it is quite impossible given the concept itself does not exist in the Anglo-Saxon world. Integration? Admission? Orientation? I guess it is a sort of orientation multiplied by a thousand.
An interesting article on this process written by an Italian journalist, who is the mother of twins, was published in the leading Italian newspaper just a few days ago. It is a spot-on analysis on why the stereotype of the Italian 30-year old still living at home with his mamma actually exists. As the author rightly states, after a very different experience enrolling her children in a British school this year after several inserimenti, the best gift we can give our children is the gift of indipendence, the confidence to stand on their own two legs.
But I digress, back to the inserimento.
Basically, when your child starts nursery school, pre-school or pre-K, the child and his/her parents have to go through a grueling process that lasts anywhere from ten days to three weeks, during which the parent slowly (and let me repeat this, slowly) gets the child accustomed to his/her new surroundings, teachers, classmates, routines etc. Needless to say I have been through this several times over the past 6 years with my two kids and it always involves endless hours of organization, guilt, massive financial expenditure and patience.
A traditional inserimento goes somewhere along these lines: 
Day 1 - child and parent spend time in the classroom together from 10:30-11:30
Day 2 - parent accompanies child to classroom at 10:30, leaves after a few minutes and waits outside the room until 11:30
Day 3 - drop off at 10:30 and pick up at 1:00pm (parent is on call and has to arrive immediately if child has a crisis). Child stays for lunch
Day 4 - drop off at 9:00 and pick up at 1:00pm (unless you are unlucky, like us, and Day 4 is on a Monday, which means you drop off your child at 10:30 again because he may be traumatized after a week end at home)
Day 5 - drop off at 9:00 - pick up at 1:00pm
Day 6 - drop off at 9:00 - pick up at 3:00pm, if child survives napping at school
Day 7 - drop off at 9:00 - pick up at 3:45-4:00 (general school hours)
Day 8 - as above
Day 9 - as above
Day 10 - if child is enrolled in pre-school/after school activities, drop off 8:30am, pick up 5:30-6:00pm
During this period of time, it is desirable for one of the parents to be present, preferably the mother. If a baby-sitter/nanny is suggested,  eye rolling and muttering ensues and she/he is usually only allowed after the first few days. If your child is doing really well (i.e. my daughter in her day), the process may be accelerated, but usually a minimum of a week is standard, even if said child is literally shoving you out of the classroom when you drop them off.
Then again, if your child is not dealing well or simply has caught on and is aware that every time he cries you will be summoned (i.e. my son at present), the process can take much longer.
Today my son is on Day 4. I took two days off of work for Day 1 and Day 2. My husband took 2 mornings off for Day 3 and Day 4. It is not going well. My son has turned into a koala bear that does not want to enter class, that hangs off of our legs and whimpers when we so much as try to stretch our back after kneeling on the floor with him for an hour. After Day 2, that ended really badly after I was practically forced into lying about having to go to the bathroom to leave him (he realized after a few minutes that I still wasn't back and bawled the whole 45 minutes I was gone), I was told he probably wouldn't be allowed to stay for lunch on Day 3. Yesterday he actually did stay for lunch, with poor F, the only parent left, standing quietly in a corner watching him as he ate. When F had to move away for 5 minutes to take a work call, he came back to a crying child.
So no, it is not going well. Our son does not want to go to pre-school. We feel guilty when we are in school and when we are at work. We have been paying a baby sitter since we got back from vacation and will probably have to hire her for another week if things don't change today, Day 4.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Coffee chip ice cream


Besides the many fond memories and the result of some shopping sprees that we brought back from our vacation, there is another very tangible reminder of our trip to the US: my kids' English. As much as I love to see my kids flipping through childrens' classics and looking at their impossibly cute new Converse, the thing that really makes my heart soar is hearing them speaking to me in English.
It is strange and sometimes hard to watch my own flesh and blood speaking (and gesticulating) in a language that is not my mothertongue; when the music and songs of their childhood are not the ones I grew up with; when their passport is another color than mine, when they say "Mommy, your flag" whenever they see an American flag.

Naturally, I have been reading to them in English since they were babies and every time I go to the States I expand our collection of American and English classics. I taught them the songs of my childhood and showed how to make an itsy bitsy spider with their hands. We have fun, if very muted versions of Halloween and Thanksgiving at home and they are learning that it is important to Mommy that the American flag is "our" flag and not just mine. But I realize, as much as I try to teach them about my American (and German) heritage, that they are ultimately Italian kids. That now that they are in school, they share songs and stories with their friends and are forgetting the words to The Wheels on the Bus. That my daughter is learning to read, write, add and subtract in Italian and that she will automatically count in Italian for the rest of her life, even if she becomes fluent in English, just as I still count in English, even now that my Italian has probably surpassed my mothertongue.
I know from experience this is a good thing, even if it may not sound like it reading this, because it is not always fun being the odd-one-out wherever you are. It is good to feel like you belong, that you are just like everyone else, especially when you are a child. But I can't help feeling a little pang when they call me mamma.
Since we have gotten back, however, when we sit around our kitchen table, I am no longer the only one speaking English. I love the sound of it, I love every mistake and mispronunciation, when my son says "Kepach" instead of ketchup and my daughter says "don't can" instead of can't. Yesterday my little boy said "Mommy, I want to go into the pool con you" and I was in so fast even he couldn't believe it. On Saturday morning I heard giggles and shouts of "one for the money, two for the show" (where the heck did that come from by the way???) from the living room and I smiled while I was making ice cream. For now F is Daddy instead of me being mamma. I know it won't last, but I will enjoy every minute of it until it does. And in the end, it will all turn out all right. I am sure my kids will be a wonderful mix of all the good things our two countries have to offer because they are lucky enough to have the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


 So I said I would post from NY and I didn't. Nicole, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on my trip, was right to be surprised about my intentions to post on vacation. I smiled and assured her I would at some point or another. I mean, I did the last time we were in New York, so why would it be different this time?

Chelsea Market
Well, for a variety of reasons. First of all, the last time I was in NY it was winter, snowing and freezing. This time the weather was beautiful and quite cool so we were outdoors most of the day. Also, at the beach house I didn't always have an Internet connection and to be honest we were just too darn busy having a great time with friends and family to sit in front of a computer for even a handful of minutes. Not to mention there was so much going on that I rarely cooked. The meals, however, were plenty and delicious and I did photograph many unforgettable moments with our little compact camera and my phone.

Oh, and then the camera thing happened. I still cringe and feel my insides turning as I write this: I accidentally left my beloved camera in the cab that took us into Manhattan from the airport. I never do that kind of stuff, I still don't know how it happened. Probably a mix of exhaustion after a two-hour delayed take off, flying with young children, a 5:00a.m. wake up, our driver dumping our luggage onto one of the busiest sidewalks of NY, our kids running around said sidewalk in a jet-lag-induced hyperactivity. Or the fact that I don't usually travel overseas with that camera because it is bulky hand luggage and I already have the kids and their backpacks to deal with but was pressured into bringing it by my other half. Whatever the reason, it took me until I was unpacking a few hours later to notice the camera bag with the beautiful SLR Canon F gave me last birthday, an important one, was gone. And my iPod nano, that he gave me a couple of years ago for another birthday, and the recharger for my Kindle (yet another present from my husband - by the way, do you notice a recurrent pattern in his gifts?).