The history of the now

Last weekend we walked to Chestnut Street for a tour of the Phillips House Museum. The event, called “Behind the Canvas”, detailed some of the artwork collected by the Phillips family and hung in the home, displayed in the same places enjoyed by the family in the late 19th century and early 20th century house. It was a unique way of hearing about the art while also learning the historic context of the places it was hung, imagining the thought that went into the art choice and placement of the pieces.

Anna Phillips inherited the Venice inspired work below upon the death of her Aunt Anna Peabody. The piece is prominently displayed in the front parlor of the home where guests would be entertained with music and conversation. The tour guide offered the hypothesis that this particular art was left to Anna because of her love for travel. She was a woman of means who had travelled extensively and took several trips to Venice. Marco and I can relate as we have an original work in our dinning room from our favorite city of Verona.

I’m reading “The Death of an Empire: The Rise and Murderous Fall of America’s Richest City” by Robert Booth, a book about Salem’s illustrious shipping past and its decline. I enjoy walking the streets of Salem, imagining the scenes from these pages. As we walked home from Chestnut Street, along Essex Street, I recounted to Marco and Matteo the opening day and celebration of the East India Marine Hall, now a part of the Peabody Essex Museum, just next door to where we live. The President, John Quincy Adams, walked down Essex Street with other local politicians and prominent merchants and business leaders to inaugurate this building as a symbol of success and world trade.

A landscape by Emilio Sanchez Perrier:

Part of the extensive library collection:

A Walker & Pratt Stove c. 1880:

Our own home is a condominium constructed in a 1903 building that housed the court-house and police station for Salem until the 1980’s. We know from the several tours that stop by our front door that Harry Houdini performed one of his famous escapes from this site. We sometimes imagine the lives affected by the trials that took place in the space we inhabit. All around us we walk the paths of those who have come before as we forge new trails.

There is always the woods

Last weekend, Marco and Matteo surprised me with a trip to the woods. We had finished our breakfast at Caramel, the local French patisserie, and were walking home, when they created a ruse to get me to go back up to our condo and meet them back outside for a walk around town, at which time, they were nowhere to be seen until they pulled up in our car and said, “get in”! Once in the car, I soon realized what my loving husband had done. He knew that, in my mourning of the recent election, I needed the woods.

We were grieving the election of a person who bragged about assaulting women, and a whole other laundry list too long to lay out here, over one of the most qualified individuals in history. Marco and I were particularly hard hit having supported Hillary years before when she ran in 2008. One small photo, posted to Facebook, helped us during the days following her loss. A woman who bumped into Hillary and Bill out walking their dog in the woods posted a very simple photo of herself with her baby on her back and a casual wind-blown Hillary smiling on the wooded path.

We take walks when we can, usually in our own back yard of down-town Salem. There is something about the woods, however, that really calms my mind and soothes my soul. So, back to the surprise, Marco knew I needed the woods. These Salem woods are minutes from our home and yet bring us on a nice hour and a half loop through trees, up and down small hills, and out to a beautiful vista overlooking a little pond.

My father has a prized print that hangs proudly. It reads, “when the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” (Minnie Aumonier) He’s an avid gardener and this has been a hobby that has been a repose throughout his life. For me, my yoga practice and daily meditation has been the source of strength and calm place in the midst of this unsatisfying “society”. And on this warm November day, Marco, and even my teenaged son,  brought me to the woods.

Buon riposo!

Cacio e pepe 

Aurora made us cacio e pepe when she came to visit from Rome. For those of you who have visited Rome, you know that this is one of the local specialties. It is a recipe that seems so simple to make yet is probably one of the most difficult. There are only three main ingredients: spaghetti, cacio (a semi-soft salty sheep milk cheese called Pecorino Romano), and pepper. The challenge is using the right combination of ingredients and timing your method to produce a rich creamy sauce.

The word simple is probably one that I use most often in this blog. In Italian cooking, it is the simple flavors of fresh foods that produce the memorable meals. In my yoga practice, simple breath flows through the body preparing for complex postures. In the living of life, mindfulness affords the simplest path possible while knowing that is also quite complex. Life is paradox.

It is not easy to live with this reality. Our nature craves clarity and certainty. In my clinical practice, I work with the unhelpful thinking styles that cause problems. One of these is the “black and white” or “all or nothing” thinking style. This is an automatic thought that arises in the day-to-day living of life:  “my whole day is ruined” when one event doesn’t go our way, “he’s evil” because of one action, “I’m never”, “you always”, and the list can go on. The goal is to notice when these automatic thoughts come up, challenge their veracity, and gently tell ourselves a different, more helpful thought to cope with the issue facing us.

So, back to cacio e pepe. It is both simple and difficult. A paradox and not at all black or white. The simplicity is in the three basic ingredients. Aurora brought the cacio from Rome. It is a young, tangy cheese that becomes creamy when melted. Fresh ground pepper, olive oil, and the spaghetti combines with some of the starchy water from boiling the pasta to finish the simple list of ingredients.

The difficulty is in the process. First, heat the olive oil and pepper in a sauté pan while boiling the pasta. Melt some finely grated cacio in the pan, along with a couple of tablespoons of the starchy water, stirring to create a creamy mix without letting the cheese become solid. When the pasta is al dente, add it to the pan along with some starchy water and vigorously stir until achieving the right consistency. It’s a recipe that Marco and I have yet to master and one that with time and patience will reap rewards.

I’ll post again once we feel confident that we’ve mastered the difficult simplicity of this fine dish! Enjoy experimenting for yourself!

Buon appetito!

Little dessert waffles, “neole”

We had Marco’s cousin (cugino) and his family staying with us last weekend. They live in Rome and wanted to visit us and enjoy a real American Halloween. . . and a Salem one at that! They brought us a ferro and Aurora taught us how to make neole. She calls them neole, a typical name from Abruzzo, but other regions call the cute little waffles ferretelle, pizzelle, cancellate, nevole, or nivole and are eaten as a dessert or a sweet breakfast.

The different names are a reflection of the reality in Italy that every 30 kilometers there is a different dialect. The further away you get, the harder to understand another compatriots language. It’s not like our accents in the U.S., it is really another language. Thus, the yummy waffles have the various names and perhaps even local tweaks to the recipe to reflect the unique diet and custom. 

This is a blog about food and lifestyle, lifestyle and food in a marriage of American and Italian culture. What a fun activity it was to spend time with family and make these tasty treats! She talked about making these with her grandmother as we measured, mixed, and poured. We took turns holding the ferro over the fire of the gas stove. We tasted as we cooked. It was time spent enjoying the cooking process of hand-made food, being with family, and eating the fruits of our labors.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • other additions: a little vanilla, some grated lemon
  • fillings/toppings: Nutella, jams and jellies, syrup, etc. . . 

Process:

  1. mix the batter together
  2. pour a tablespoon of batter in the ferro, close, squeeze lightly
  3. cook till golden-yellow and turn, cooking the other side till golden-yellow

***you can purchase the ferro on Amazon. It’s called a SCI Scandicrafts Stovetop Pizzelle Iron


Buon appetito!