Hail to kale!

The other day we made a chicken with seranno ham. We combine the meats with truffle potato gnocchi and kale (cavolo nero) in a sage butter sauce. It is a yummy dish that we found in the “500 tapas” cookbook that I’ve mentioned here by Christine Watson. It takes some work due to the making of the homemade potato gnocchi. I’ll post about that in a future blog. For now, I simply want to point out the cavolo nero.

Cavolo nero, literally black cabbage in Italian, is what we call Kale. Kale is making a bit of a comeback lately, but it has not always been a fan favorite. Even in Italian, the word cavolo or cabbage is not a word that brings delight. A figure of speech that I recently learned goes “giornata del cavolo“, literally meaning day of cabbage, is a way of saying crappy day! Another one is “col cavolo”, “with cabbage”, meaning “yeah right!, as if!, no way!”

So, how does the crappy “cabbagy” green/black bitter veggie get redeemed?. . . a simple solution, some olive oil and sea salt! Cut the kale into bite-sized pieces, generously coat with olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with plenty of sea salt, and place them in a pre-heated 350° oven for 12-15 minutes or your desired crispness. What a delight this demon vegetable becomes when crispy and salty olive oily coated!

This digression with kale is all by way of saying that we didn’t have any other vegetables in the house when we made the chicken. So, we came up with the idea of using the leftover kale for some of the chips as a side with the dish. Enjoy them as a contorno (side), or for snacking and help turn a “giornata del cavolo” into a healthy tasty salty sojourn.

Buon appetito!

awareness of body

The practice of yoga asanas, or postures, encourages focus on the body. Weather we are in a posture of balance, a deep stretch, or a challenging strength-building position, the gentle reminder is to bring attention to the sensations in the body. We invite our ever wandering brains to listen. We breath into the places of tension. We focus on the slight changes and, over time, experience opening.

Similarly, psychotherapy is a process that promotes increasing awareness of the self and the self in relationship to the social context. A therapy session is a structured time to sit with a trained person and collaborate towards achieving progress on identified problems.  As in yoga, it encourages the focus of attention on body sensations, for, it is in our bodies that we are aware of the sensations  that are the signposts to emotions.

In both yoga and psychotherapy, increasing awareness allows us to respond to the challenges of life and not simply react. In a challenging yoga stretch, the mental focus on the muscles coupled with deep breathing combine to bring the practitioner deeper, and affords a state of relaxation and acceptance, even in the midst of effort and challenge. Likewise, the deep stretches of life that are brought to a therapy session afford us the opportunity to respond with directed attention, inquiry, and awareness of body sensations, so that we are better able to cope.

We practice yoga and psychotherapy in a structured setting. The goal is to bring both into the day-to-day living of life. For me, this leads to mindfulness. Mindful living is living as much as possible aware of our present moment. The brain’s pathways bring us to the past and to the future with practiced ease. The discipline is to notice these tendencies and gently bring ourselves back, body and mind, to the present.

An enjoyable place to practice some of these principles is in the dining experience. The next time you have a meal, focus all your effort and energy on the preparation process. Invite all 5 senses of sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing into your cooking. Continue with the 5 senses, focussing on the food as you eat. Notice the mind wandering to the past and to the future, but gently invite your awareness back to the task at hand or the enjoyment of the meal.

Buon appetito!

Effort and relaxation

Over the years that I’ve known Marco and we’ve continued to cook and enjoy food, one item in particular has stumped him, gnocchi! Potato gnocchi  have  a simple set of ingredients made from flour, cooked mashed potato, egg and salt. The process is not complicated, but like many things, the trick is in the ongoing practice. The consistency is important, or, when they are boiled, the pieces fall apart. Last week Marco made the gnocchi pictured above and exclaimed that he had finally made them well! 

This time around he found a new tip that suggested not to over-work the dough. He also used a trick he had learned before by spreading the cooked potato out on the counter and letting the steam evaporate from the potatoes so that they become drier. In addition, he learned to use the least amount of flour possible to keep the final product from being too chewy. The recipe is found here.

The lesson of cooking is that we continue to learn through the practiced art of repetition. Each time we finesse a new trick. The feel of the dough in our hands becomes a body memory that we utilize the next time. The smells and flavors become stored in the brain pathways of our mind so that we are able to perform the same artistic expression time after time with increasing aplomb.

Cooking is like so many other things in life. Our son’s piano playing today is the result of continued practice and ongoing dance between brain pathways and finger motion. My work with clients in psychotherapy is an increasingly intricate interplay between book knowledge, practiced effort, and experiential knowledge. My yoga practice brings body and mind together in a playful paying attention to senses with openness and awareness.

The potato gnocchi come together in this same playful process. My favorite phrase from a yoga instructor when in a challenging pose is to “find a balance between effort and relaxation!” In the deepest stretch where we sense our muscles and are aware of our minds struggle, we release and breathe into the sensation in a way that is gentle yet pushing forward. And so with the joy of cooking. . . to enjoy the process with a mindful presence, always seeking to improve our efforts.

Buon appetito!


Pasta party Sunday

One of my favorite things about the Italian lifestyle is the Sunday lunch! It is a time to gather with family and friends for a sit-down 3-course, or more, meal. In some families, it’s the one time of the week that the grown family members return to mamma’s table for the home-cooked foods from childhood. I love when it’s preceded by a quick stop at the local bar for an aperitivo of Prosecco with friends before heading home to eat.

Marco and I try to keep up the tradition and so we enjoy a Sunday morning of meal preparation followed by our lunch. Recently, we invited some friends over to join us in the ritual. The event turned into a pasta making party. We each made our own dough from the simple semolina flour recipe found by clicking here. Then, each person chose a particular shape. 

On this particular day, the Prosecco was enjoyed while we worked the dough and moulded our shapes. Matt joined us and we all sat to enjoy the garganelli along with a large platter of roasted vegetables and some Italian red wine. We finished off with some dessert and then an espresso. Rather than the traditional Italian nap we moved right into a raucous game of “Speak Out”, the latest crazy fad where a silly contraption is fitted into the mouth, making it hard to pronounce the little ditties written on the provided cards for the other gamers to guess. 

Fun day, warm food, close friends. . .

First add salt and water to the semolina mound:

Mix the ingredients together:

Stretch and knead the dough for 10 minutes:

After covering the dough with plastic wrap and letting it sit for 30 minutes, it’s time to shape the pasta. Katherine made the orecchiette (detailed instructions here):

Raylene made the gnocchi sardi:

Matteo and Marco made the garganelli for the Sunday lunch with a pulled pork, mushroom and wine sauce (video for these found here):

Buon appetito!