Thursday, January 29, 2015

Zucca in agrodolce, or sweet and sour grilled butternut squash

Life is bittersweet in all of its nuances, in the big things and the little things.

In the big picture there are love and loss, health and illness, success and failure.

And then there are the daily minutiae, some good and others not so much: a great meal, your wireless not working right before a deadline, a good laugh with a friend, a bad driver in front of you.

An unexpected drawing from your child, a tantrum.

A great day in the office, a note from the teacher.

The list goes on and on, day after day. And then, every once in a while, there is perfection.

Not because everything is exactly what you hoped for or dream of.

Not because something earth shattering happens, but because for a moment in time everything falls into place, like the pieces of a puzzle. They fit perfectly and it just feels so right in its utter simplicity.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Making bone broth and soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) in Asian-inspired pork bone broth

The worst thing is starting a new week with little sleep.

I know because my week began with just a handful of hours between Sunday and Monday.

It all started with a nightmare and soothing a little one back to sleep. Just as I was finally managing to drift back off almost an hour later, the crying started again, with sniffling pleas to come into our bed, a special treat (for us so that we can get right back under the duvet, or for them?) for the really bad nights.

I quickly agreed and tried to re-enter slumberland with my little boy's body curled into mine with such an intensity that I doubted it was going to happen any time soon. That is when I felt the scorching heat, it was like lying next to a radiator. I dragged myself out of bed again to get the thermometer and surely enough the little guy had a high fever.

As he slept on in his aura of heat, I lay awake, my mind racing. I was supposed to be in the office extra early that morning because there was a lot to deal with and it was just going to be one of those days. People were counting on me being there, but there was no way I was going to find a sitter at 3:00am in the morning. I started sending messages and emails to warn my colleagues. Then I lay awake feeling guilty. My husband was snoring, oblivious. My son was sleeping a fitful sleep and everytime I tried to move away from his burning limbs wrapped around me to cool off, he nudged his way right back into my arms.

Needless to say, we both awoke feeling lousy.

He didn't want any breakfast so lunch had to be nourishing and I wanted to keep him hydrated throughout the day. I knew I had some bones and some scraps of vegetables in the freezer. I would make bone broth, the healing, nutritious superfood of our grandmothers, great grandmothers and great-great granmothers.
Rich in protein, vitamins, and nutrients and minerals in general, it is actually known to block cold symptoms and help build up your gut. I even read somewhere that warm salt water helps keep mucus thin and kill bacteria and vegetables are known to help boost the immune system.

I had never used pork bones before, but I had randomly picked a few up the previous week and thought they would make an even richer, darker broth. However, when I started making it, I noticed the smell was stronger than usual, more penetrating, to the point that it almost bothered me a little. My mind started working: the strong flavor probably would stand up to some very bold, aromatic ingredients, and that was how this oriental-inspired broth was born. I threw in a large knob of ginger, some star anise, a nice glug of soy sauce for saltiness and there it was. At that point, the soba noodles sitting in a drawer and some fresh bean sprouts seemed like the perfect match.

It was our lunch and then it became dinner for the whole family with the addition of a runny scrambled egg that firmed up nicely when I poured the boiling broth over it.*

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How to use up leftovers: riso alla Cantonese (or Yeung Chow fried rice) fried in duck fat

Alternative title: Chinese food that really isn't Chinese

Most of us are aware that the Chinese food we eat is often heavily bastardized. I still haven't had the privilege of eating the authentic thing, but between NY and Milan (the latter appartently boasts the largest and oldest Chinatown in Italy), I have been lucky enough to get a little closer to the real deal compared to the food we are so often served on this side of the world.

Taking a step back, I think even the concept of Chinese food is a foreign invention, because it is such a regional cuisine, with dishes and ingredients varying enourmously from one part of the country to the other. Much like Italy might I add. Another thing to consider is that meat does not often take center stage in an authentic Chinese meal, leaving much more room for fermented foods and tofu, and when it does, the cuts, the kind of animals (insects and jelly fish just to mention a few alongside pork, chicken and beef...) and animal parts used (chicken feet, duck tongues, pig ears and blood are just a few examples) are often not quite suited to Western palates (although many of us are becoming more adventurous and curious eaters). The same goes for certain flavors: chefs often add sweetness (sweet and sour pork anyone?) or dial down the heat or fermentation factor to appease their local clientele. Last but not least, many authentic ingredients never make it over to our side of the world, so we substitute them with more common ones. And when they do, it is sometimes hard for a Westerner to order them (more often than not, they are listed in Chinese or simply a given and not even put on the menu). I like looking at what my Chinese neighbors are eating and whenever I enquire with the person serving us about certain unknown vegetables, they don't even seem to have a translation for them. The answer is invariably "verdura verde cinese", or green Chinese vegetable.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chocolate layered Kit Kat and M&M birthday cake

After these holidays my brain feels like it has been given a hard reset: blank. Totally devoid of any important or useful information to function. Empty.

When I was preparing my daughter's schoolbag the other night I couldn't remember what books to put in for Wednesday and whether she needed to wear a gym suit to school or not.
This feeling of vagueness continued as I prepared for the office and kept trying to remember what days I was supposed to meet with what people and on a more practical note, what I had to put in my bag for my dark, winter morning bike ride and day in the office (gloves, ear warmer, helmet.... uhm... bike light... something missing ... ah, my badge...).

But the worst was yesterday morning, when I realized on my way to work that I wasn't sure I remembered the code to get into the front gate (luckily it was broken and open) or my last password on my computer (lucky again, it had expired and the system asked me to put in a new one).

All this got me thinking. Is this what getting old feels like? Or does it mean that I truly managed to get away from it all during this break? I like to think it was the latter of course.

It was a good holiday, if not really relaxing, filled with breathtaking mountain scapes, fresh air and mountain sports (but not snow). I experienced skiing with both my kids together for the first time and it was a moment (truly a moment) of pure bliss that made all those years of ski school torture worthwhile.

Because you ski-school parents know what I mean, right?