Bi-national blues

Years ago, I was complaining about everything wrong with America, when a good friend blurted out in frustration, “why don’t you just move!”  Of course, he didn’t really mean it (we had also been having a little wine), but, he had a good point; I was going on endlessly about how bad America is and how great Italy is that, at a minimum, it was good for me to dial it back a bit!

Twenty years ago, when Marco and I began our lives together, we embarked upon a path of a sort of country-less living. We neither feel at home in the United States, nor Italy. We are caught between the two cultures, the two worlds of our countries of origin. Don’t get me wrong, as this blog’s mission states, we live our bella vita life joining the best of both worlds, making our home with our family and friends in Salem, doing our best to bring forth the Italian culture in the midst of our American way of life. But, there is always an undercurrent of longing for the other.

Over the years, we’ve talked to many other bi-national couples and ours is not a unique story. When a couple joins together from two nations of origin, it often results in this feeling of displacement such that neither place is truly a match. Again, I’m not complaining, but simply stating our truth. We love our lives and wouldn’t choose any other path. . . as Dag Hammarskjöld said, “For all that has been — Thanks. For all that shall be — Yes”.

Perhaps this is one reason why we love fusion food. By that we mean meals that blend traditions and spices from more than one culture. In Boston we love Taranta, a restaurant that combines food of Peru and Italy. In Baltimore, we had sushi that merged the flavors of South American with their maki. In the Boston area the Elephant Walk group brings food from the marriage of French and Vietnamese cuisine. I suspect that food historians study how the foods we eat are shaped by the mingling of people down through the centuries. 

In an earlier blog I spoke about our new favorite cookbook, “Ottolenghi The Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Smi Tamimi. It merges Middle-Eastern flavors and inspirations with Italian and other influences born at a little restaurant in London. The recipe for this salmon with roasted red peppers and hazelnut salsa can be found by clicking here. 

We’ll keep feasting  on fusion and cultivating creative cultural intermingling, living with the wonderful awareness of the mixing and matching.

Buon appetito!

 

Deconstructed crostini of roasted figs, whipped ricotta, and balsamic glaze

When figs were in season, Marco whipped up his idea to de-construct a crostini with roasted fig, ricotta, and a balsamic glaze. Simple ingredients with a wonderful compliment of flavors; salty sweet ripe tart crunchy goodness. He used a panini press to toast the bread slices, then rubbed them lightly (click here to read more about how to make this simple fettunta right) with the cut half of a garlic clove, drizzled with EVOO, and sprinkled with sea salt flakes. He grilled the slices of figs. He whipped fresh ricotta with a small amount of heavy cream until reaching a desired consistency. Then, he simmered some balsamic with a little honey, reducing it about 1/3 to drizzle over the fig and ricotta fabrication.

A tasty appetizer or tapas to enjoy accompanied by other small sharable plates. . .

 

All or nothing

I’ve been thinking a lot about “all or nothing” thinking this week. It’s sometimes called “black or white” thinking. Philosophers may call it binary. It occurs when our mind automatically labels or judges something as this or that rather than seeing the myriad of possibilities that the world presents. 

I read an article recently about sexual orientation and it pointed out how the native Americans at the time of colonial conquest had a much more fluid concept of gender identity. The immigrants from Europe brought their binary concept of male and female while the native people had multiple terms for gender, and many roles for people such a males with feminine gender traits, who also had sex with men.

The binary, black or white thinking, often results in anger, anxiety, and irritability. If my view of the multi-facetted, diverse world we live in is rigidly defined by binary thinking, it is going to be constantly bombarded by evidence that challenges my sense of the world, producing raging anger, or a state of unease felt as anxiety. It’s no wonder that the treatment of anxiety is at higher levels when we live in a cultural climate of “us” versus “them” and Fox versus CNN.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps us to notice our automatic thoughts, observe them without judgment, and gently shift them to more helpful ways of thinking. So, if I have a rigid, black or white thought about other people’s gender identity, for example, I will likely live with anger or anxiety when faced with the diversity around me. If I want to heal this anger or anxiety, I will notice the automatic thought, accept it, and practice a new way of thinking that incorporates the evidence of life.

Another method of anxiety management is a good plate of pasta! I’ll leave you with a nice treat to eat. Here’s a simple way to turn the pesto sauce (click here) into another flavorful meal, by adding some fresh pomodorini (little pomodori, tomatoes). Simply sauté halved cherry tomatoes in olive oil till tender, add salt and simmer. When your pasta is al dente, add to the tomatoes along with a little of the salted pasta water as needed. When you reach a nice consistency, add your pesto and serve!

Home is at the table


Our first night back home from Italy we went to Firenze (click here), the restaurant in Salem, not the city in Tuscany! Our friends, Andy and Zamir, are the brothers who own this home-away-from-home Italian eatery. We each had the perfectly prepared whole grilled Branzino with roasted vegetables. More important than the wonderful meal was that we  were home; every time we eat there we are with family.

Just two days back from Italy and found ourselves at our first ever Dinner en Blanc! This is a pop-up dinner party, created in France in 1988 by a man who wanted to celebrate by eating an elegant dinner with friends in one of Paris’ beautiful outdoor spaces. He asked everyone to wear white so that they could find each other. This one was in the beautiful Chestnut street neighborhood and we enjoyed dinner with old friends and meeting new ones.

A meal can be a grounding experience. Across miles and cultures, the simple act of preparing and sitting to enjoy food brings all five senses to focus on the tastes, sights, sounds, smells, and textures of food and friends at the table. 

Also on our return home, Marco whipped up three tapas for our Sunday lunch together…another return to the routine at the meal-time table together. The one pictured here is simple and divine; seasonally ripe peaches wrapped in super-thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma with a mint leaf.

Buon appetito!