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Archive for the ‘Bread’ Category

It’s been a great week of going to inspired local events and places. Only the first one here is food related, but the food it provides is the good old staff of life: bread. In the same neighborhood as Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream shop, two boutique toy stores, and Clancey’s meat and fish shop, is Great Harvest Bread Co., one of the most welcoming bakeries I’ve ever been in. What could be more inviting than free chunks of buttered bread and a giant teddy bear?

Their bread is not at all fancy or French, but dense, wheaty, moist, and earthy. It tastes like the bread I used to make in high school, when I started using my mom’s softcover copy of the hippie cookbook Laurel’s Kitchen to learn how to bake bread. Thick slabs of this bread make amazing French toast, the only (pseudo) Frenchification it will take.

Jack loves the Great Harvest Bread Co., too, because it has a cameo appearance in the children’s novels we’re reading now—the Julia Gillian series, by Alison McGhee, in which the main character, a fifth-grader, lives in Minneapolis.

This weekend, we made our way to downtown St. Paul for the first time, and found Mears Park, where there was a free outdoor music festival featuring local acts playing everything from Radiohead-inspired rock to alt-country and reggae on Saturday, and chamber music on Sunday. My iPhone pictures don’t capture the scene well, but here’s the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which played pieces by Bach, Handel, and Bartók.

Also on Sunday, Peter took Jack to his first literary event—I mean the first one that Jack chose to attend rather than being dragged along. Children’s author and illustrator Peter Brown was reading and signing books at The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. Jack got two books signed: You Will Be My Friend and Children Make Terrible Pets, both about the efforts of an extroverted and bossy bear named Lucy to find companionship with other, seemingly uncompanionable creatures. We also love his beautiful book, The Curious Garden, an optimistic green-minded story of a post-Wall-E-ish-world utopia achieved by the unstoppable curiosity and hope of a child and his plants.

Bread, books, and music: three of life’s necessities.

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This distinction, between red and white, is an important and ubiquitous one in Roman society.  Well, at least when it comes to snacks and drinks and—if you’re talking to children—dinner.  There’s, of course, red or white wine.  (But these are just the most basic distinctions.  In addition to the great array of differences based on geography and terroir, there’s also the difference of fizz. But fizz, we’ve found, covers the spectra of bianco through rosato to rosso, and of seca to dolce.  In other words, it’s possible, and a pleasure, to find a dry fizzy pink wine and a sweet fizzy red wine.)

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I thought moving to Italy would expand my son’s diet into the far reaches of foreign flavors and textures.  He already liked olives and peppers.  We seemed to be on the right track.  But for some reason, living in Rome has contracted his taste.  His favorite choice, when it comes to dinner, is pasta bianca or pasta rossa.  And usually, he’ll choose the bianca: pasta with olive oil and grated parmesan.  He seems to have given up green things, which drives me nuts, because there are so many more wonderful green things here than there have been anywhere else he’s lived—except Berkeley, where he lived when he was just cutting teeth.  Green leaves with cheese, green leaves with nuts, green leaves with sweet onions, green leaves with grains, gazillions of great greens!  He won’t have any of it.

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The third important category of the rossa/bianca divide is pizza.

Pizza rossa is a thin, tasty crust spread with savory tomato sauce; each good forno will have its own sauce, some more salty or herbaceous than others.  Pizza bianca is a bubbly pizza crust topped simply with olive oil and salt.  Again, each forno’s dough has its own taste and consistency, and is topped with more or less salt.  You can also order pizza bianca morbida (soft) or dura (hard-crunchy). My favorite place to buy both is Panificio Beti, in our neighborhood.  The lines are always long, and the family behind the counter always bustling and full of banter.

These Roman basics serve as snacks or sides at any time of the day.  Italian life is riddled with rules, but, as far as I can tell, pizza rossa and bianca exist in a looser realm.  As a rule, Italians don’t eat on the run the way Americans do.  Even to-go coffee is a very rare sight.  But pizza rossa can be eaten with dignity while one is walking along the sidewalk.  The pizzeria guy will cut a piece in half, slap the parts together sauce-side-in, and wrap the bottom half in a piece of paper—a process that takes about a second and a half—so the snack is ready to eat as soon as it passes from his hand to yours.  I’ve seen people eat it for breakfast, for elevenses with beer,  for a late afternoon snack, and for dinner.

Last night, still satiated from the big Saturday Academy lunch, we had salad, pizza rossa, and vino rosso, for dinner.  Jack had the white ribs of the lettuce, pizza bianca, and milk.  I wish he’d broaden his taste at least to complete the color combo of the Italian flag.

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The forecast was for rain for the long Thanksgiving weekend, but each day, we had mist and then sun.  That was a nice turn of events, because we had lots of touring of Rome to do with our visitors.  Yesterday morning, I had to swear to everyone that I didn’t plan it this way, but en route to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, we ended up walking by both Antica Caciari (where we bought fresh ricotta, fresh pesto, and fresh sausages) and Roscioli, my favorite forno (where we bought fig bread, hearty bread for dinner, and a torta di mele—apple cake—the last of which I’ve been wanting to buy since I first laid eyes on it).

Some other observations…

Sorry, this is gross and unappetizing, but interesting.  Don’t park where the starlings roost:

What would beauty be without shit?

Now, though, let’s turn to beauty.

Lion and pinecone: fierce, lordly, evergreen; pignoli, carne, regeneration, peace, power, teeth, needles, mane, shade.

Giant Bernini-designed river god, at ease in his musculature, reclining in the center of Piazza Navona:

The oculus:

Another, humbler, dome:

Mmmm… so moist and appley.

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Dylan turned five, and Jim turned ninety.  We celebrated with them both.  It was a busy, delicious day filled with tasty tidbits—of both food and conversation.

Dylan and his parents live in a fourth floor walk-up in Trastevere.  Sarah offered me a cafe latte as soon as we arrived, which was welcomed on a blustery morning.  She had clearly been working for hours on the food, which was spread on their square table that sits invitingly in the middle of the open eat-in kitchen.  There were assorted sandwiches for the kids to scarf down, two kinds of chicken salad with greens, a cous cous salad, a hummus platter, sliced cheeses and salumi, crackers, two kinds of cupcakes, and, warming in the oven, pizza rossa (pizza topped with tomato sauce) and lasagna!  The party rolled along at an Italian pace, with people arriving as late as 12:30 for an 11:00 party.  The kids went from sandwiches to cupcakes to chocolates, in between sessions of semi-organized play, and the parents went from coffee and oatmeal cookies to wine and lunch. The crowd was made up of Arcobaleno and ex-pat community friends; most of the parents switched fluently from Italian to English, and the kids played together in a happy bilingual, prelingual, nonsense, and gestural chaos.  I tried to get a picture of the “fishing for chocolate” game, but only captured a bit of the party’s buzz:

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The rest of the afternoon was down-time for me, but Jack was ready for more socializing, so we invited Lulu up from apartment 1.   She and Jack play together so agreeably.  They played “store,” which involved emptying Jack’s clothing drawers onto the bed and making play money.  They drew and painted pictures of “ghosts eating people.”  They played “boat” in a printer box, and rode up and down the hallway on Jack’s scooter.  We made kettle popcorn, and Lulu told us that her dad is such a kettle corn expert that every kernel is popped.  She also told us it was her mom’s fortieth birthday.  Happy birthday, Anna!

After putting Jack to bed, and leaving him with his kitchen-intern babysitter, Jaimi, we went next door to the Ackermans’ apartment for a birthday dinner party.  What an honor to be Jim and Jill’s guests!  They are the most elegant, lively, curious scholar-artist couple, and they brought together some wonderful company. And Jill, who loves to help out in the Academy kitchen, cooked a fabulous, finger-friendly meal.

We started with steamed artichokes—it’s high carciofi season here in Rome—dipped in brown butter.  Next, along with Mona’s chestnut bread, Jill served her own fish stew, with a soaked crouton, flavorful aioli, tiny local clams and some small whole-roasted fish to lay on top.  Jeffrey managed to get a good picture of this dish:

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After arugula salad, before melon and crostata, and with vin santo, we read aloud some short pieces we’d brought with us to honor Jim—as a friend, historian, Michaelangelo scholar, man, artist or all of these together.  Since the text I read is in the public domain, and was the least personal, I’ll copy it out here.  It’s Lord Byron’s description of seeing and being in St. Peter’s Basilica, from Canto IV of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

Thou movest—but increasing with the advance,
Like climbing some great Alp, which still doth rise,
Deceived by its gigantic elegance;
Vastness which grows—but grows to harmonize—
All musical in its immensities;
Rich marbles—richer painting—shrines where flame
The lamps of gold—and haughty dome which vies
In air with Earth’s chief structures, though their frame
Sits on the firm-set ground—and this the clouds must claim

Thou seest not all; but piecemeal thou must break,
To separate contemplation, the great whole;
And as the ocean many bays will make,
That ask the eye—so here condense thy soul
To more immediate objects, and control
Thy thoughts until thy mind hath got by heart
Its eloquent proportions, and unroll
In mighty graduations, part by part,
The glory which at once upon thee did not dart,

Not by its fault—but thine: Our outward sense
Is but of gradual grasp—and as it is
That what we have of feeling most intense
Outstrips our faint expression; even so this
Outshining and o’erwhelming edifice
Fools our fond gaze, and greatest of the great
Defies at first our Nature’s littleness,
Till, growing with its growth, we thus dilate
Our spirits to the size of that they contemplate.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV, stanzas 156-158

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Going to Venice for a long weekend is like being transported to a different realm.  In this immersed city, we immersed ourselves in grand-scale Renaissance art, long winding walks, gelato, spritz (Amaro—a bittersweet red liqueur—and prosecco), and seafood.  What everyone says about the acoustics stands out as a strong sense memory: without the sound of cars, the ear hears the click of heels on stone, voices talking, murmuring, laughing, and the soft splash of water against stone and brick.  True, there are motor boats, but their rumble is nothing after the roar of Roman traffic.

We ate well.  Oh, yes we did.

On the first night, we turned the corner from the little alley where we were renting an apartment (with 5 others from the American Academy), and happened upon Paradiso Perdito, a wonderfully unlost paradise of seafood, pasta, off-beat music, and attractive diners and servers both young and old.  Here’s a sampling of that meal.

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antipasti

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vino di casa pump

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frito misto

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amazingly flavorful garlicky pasta with a never seen before crustacean

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squid ink pasta

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Jack fell asleep on my lap.

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see the rosemary sprig?

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nicely boned

Other highlights: The dolci, which we all agreed were better than any in Rome.

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how many pistachios are in this torta?

This place especially, which Lisa discovered at 7:30 one morning, by following the aroma of buttery baking, had the most amazing almond croissants we’ve ever had.  They weren’t overly sweet and flabby like so many, but were improbably both dense and flaky, and were almost savory in their delicate sweetness.

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bread turtle?

I didn’t actually take any photos of anyone eating gelato, because I always had a drippy cone of my own to control, usually with some combination of fruity and nutty.  My favorite duo: cherry and hazelnut.  Jack’s favorite: strawberry and cherry.  But this is the place to get it:

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We happened upon this graffito, which to me says, “Is this a gelato I see before me?”

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We also saw lots and lots of art.  Jack was inspired to do some painting, and then ran off to chase pigeons.

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We took one gondola ride, but it only went across the Grand Canal, took two minutes, and cost 50 cents.  Still, it seemed to make everyone happy.

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Susanna & Stephen

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Peter

Our last meal was at the Anice Stellato—the Star Anise—and it was a meal to remember.  I wasn’t so good at photographing every plate, but my favorite dish was a lamb tenderloin rolled in crushed pistachios.  Oh, my….  The wine, a local carmenere blend, and an antipasto plate called sarde in saor, with sardines, polenta, and pickled onions, also stood out.

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Jack enjoyed hanging with the grown-ups.  And I think they liked his company too.

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Aurelia, Jack, Richard, me

(For more photos, check out my Flickr page.)

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I love the way, in Italian, the word for “bakery” also means “oven.”   It’s a word- and food-lover’s favorite instance of synecdoche.  Jeannie introduced me to the family-run Antico Forno Marco Roscioli a few weeks ago, during our little culinary tour of Trastevere.  When I went back this week, it was because I had two cravings for the two things I bought there last time: fig bread, and the treat Jack and I like to call “secret cookies.”  Next time, I’ll get some of their pizza bianca and one of their famous apple torts.

The fig bread is made with farina integrale—whole wheat flour, which comes from local growers and millers.  Roasted walnuts and dried figs are rolled into the dough as it’s shaped for its last rise, and the interior comes out looking like this:

fig bread

Need I even say that it’s delicious in the morning, toasted and spread with butter or honey, served with a caffé con latte?

These other treats go well with a post-pranza (that’s lunch) espresso:

almond cookies

Made of the most delicate blend of flour and marzipan (I think), they are topped with sliced almonds and dusted with powdered sugar.  The first time I ate one, I was savoring the sweet, tender crumb when—oh my!—I came upon the concealed sugar-soaked sour cherry.  What a delight!  Jack is crazy for these cookies, and loves boastfully to tell his friends he knows their secret.  They are so rich, though, that these will be special treats.

For more on Forno Roscioli, and for some entertaining translations—such as “biological jam” for confettura biologica, by which they mean “organic jam”—check out their website here.

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