December 15, 2009

A Radish Affair

I fell to earth in the American south, some time ago. I watered the garden of my childhood with a virgoean technicolor imagination. It stretched me, grew me, nourished me with stories, juicy watermelons and the sultry sounds of dove and whippoorwill.

I grew radishes and plucked them from the soil in early morning light. They were 'fucia illuminata..' and from that moment.. I was hooked on what grows in the ground. It was an awakening. The sunlight shining on this magic thing that I pulled from the earth was something that I planted from a seed, watered and cultivated. Trapped inside that tiny, pin-head seed was a form beyond comprehension. Perfectly round, this 2 x 3 centimeter ball of pungent juice was captured within crunchy white cellulose walls, intelligently held together by a thin red skin. The ball was elongated in the bottom-center as if it were a mouse with a tail. This root added a dimension of curiosity. On the top, cleverly connected by a tightly woven cap, was the pad from which the leaves sprang into shapely green action. 5 leaves in perfect ikebana 'living flower' composition. I was 14 years old and felt as if I had just discovered the secret quantum theorem of the universe. Most girls this age fall in love with horses. I fell in love with the intelligent form of a raw vegetable and thus my journey began.

This carefully harvested work of art, was carried to the kitchen with other carefully harvested lettuces, whose thin transparent leaves were still wet with morning dew- that naturally occurring moisture that mysteriously appears out of emptiness, as if mother nature spritzed herself.

I had walked around the garden as if in a trance, in anticipation of the next chance meeting with something extraordinary, and found a few ripe cherry tomatoes hiding in a cluster. My father had made a wire fence for them to climb on, and climb they did, but not out of my reach.

I washed them carefully and stood looking at them on my cutting board. I did not want to touch them, but to stare at their beauty in fresh ecstasy. This was the moment for which they grew. The highest expression of their essential nutrients were being offered up in sacrificial display. I felt humbled. I knew I was to honor them by gently tearing the lettuce into manageable pieces to fit in my mouth. The radishes were begging me to slice into them, aching to expose their lily white flesh, the cherry tomatoes wanted to be cut in half, their juices to mingle with that of radish and lettuce... and the orgy began. They were there, naked and ready..for salt. Not just any salt, but super sunlit charged, mineral-rich salt from the sea, whom came sailing from the far islands of the Mediterranean to find these gods and goddesses of the vegetable kingdom, and like a swashbuckler, salt sprinkled himself worthily over the bowl and they broke into a sweat. And yet.. they couldn't move. Hanging in suspended animation, they breathed in and out a prayer for oil.. ‘olio..olio extra virgine di oliva’.. and he came valiantly and proudly pouring himself like a king over the gathering. The conversation began, and the sum of the parts had become an orchestral salad of exquisite composition and culture. Poetic.

I prepared the table; the place where public and private conversations merge over the act of eating. Wanting to eat only with my hands, I put down a napkin and some toothsome bread. I sat down and closed my eyes. I gave quiet peaceful thanks for the gift in front of me. Words escaped me, yet the feeling of gratitude was tangible and radiated out in a 360 degree radius as far as the garden.

With clean hands, I picked up my first piece of lettuce, fit it sweetly into my mouth and licked my fingers. Skin picks up the subtle nuance of flavors, unlike a fork. Salty, sweet, pungent, bitter melodies played on my tongue in pure delight. I heard them. I tasted them. I celebrated them. And the concert went on. There was no separation between my mineral content and theirs. I was made of this.

I cleaned the bowl with my toothsome bread and left not a trace.

I sat for a moment, stunned, when it was over. No encore was necessary.

I was thoroughly touched, satiated with the music of simple, earthy, life giving vegetable virtuosi.

Peggy Markel

December 12, 2009

Pierre Cusseau, Shepherd of Aroma's

Sitting in Pierre's garden at 'Le Fontenelle', has been a rich respite to take my students for the last ten years. Walking through the garden, having a picnic, sitting and talking.. we usually fall into one of those conversations that wake the mind into paying attention in a different way. Cher Pierre..

November 27, 2009

Bahija Lafredi putting the crowning touch on her couscous

Baijah was particularly happy that day. Her couscous was a masterpiece. She had help from a few students, Paul and Karen, yet she couldn't keep her hands off of it.

Ask me for the recipe and I will gladly give it to you. It changes with the Moroccan mistral.

'Khobz' in the traditional Tachelhit clay ovens

For the Love of Tagines

There were a torrent of tasty tagines this last November, everyone choosing a different approach.
Some were savory, some were sweet. Some were sweet and savory. We cooked them individually over the mejmar, full of brightly burning wood coal. They sizzled with slow-fire cooking until they were stewy and delicious.

Morocco~ Sidi kaouki, 15k south of Essaouira

Sidi Kaouki splendor! I have never seen stars like that~ all stars seemingly as bright as the constellations and planets themselves~as the ocean roared all through the night. Then they slipped away behind the veil of dawn's early light. Magical display. later that morning, we rode camels on the beach and ate a Berber omelette.

November 2, 2009

How to Dress a Salad, by Raffaella Antoniazzi

November 1 st, 2009.
It was an introspective retreat in Terzano, 10 minutes from Florence in the nearby hills.
After a long walk and talk about food and our relationship to it, Raffaella brought out one of her favorite cookbooks and read this charming recipe. She, Laine and I, had just picked tender cavolo nero from the garden, along with other hearty greens for a bitter autumn salad.

The full moon rose in Taurus, and she waxed poetically about her love for dressing things.
Antique quilts dress her bed. Fine linens dress her windows and cashmere throws dress the
feather down divan. It comes from years of experience as a Hotelier, working with the Ferragamo family's prestigious Hotel line.

Her favorite thing to dress, even more than herself? Salad. She adores salad.

October 18, 2009

poor mans truffle

Ate lunch in the countryside, with friends at their place in Terzano. Simple roast chicken and potatoes. We cracked walnuts for dessert to drink with Marsala. They were so sweet and meaty, a late afternoon walk took us down into the campo to pick more of them. There was enough light to give long shadows to the cypress. The leaves are turning and summer is long behind us now. October's chill calls for scarves and socks. Who needs truffles when walnuts fall off the trees with the wind and pigs and dogs are a handful.

October 15, 2009

Teatro del Sale~ Fabio Picchi's spectacular Theatre of the Salt. Florence, Italy



Luciano Casini




Last night was stupendous. Two of my favorite chef's collaborating on 'un cansone d'amore' per il mare. A love song to the sea. Fabio Picchi of Cibreo and Teatro del Sale, invited Luciano Casini, one of his mentor's from the island of Elba off the Tuscan coast, to prepare a seafaring feast.

Fabio's Teatro, is one of the most spectacular culinary and creative stages on earth. Don't miss it!

October 9, 2009

Under the Florentine Big Top

Not a step out the door and the faces I see hold my attention as if to transfix. So diverse, so sad, so lost, as if the mind was capable of twisting and freezing muscles in the face. I pass people in the streets like one of those miniature books that thumb the pages quickly to create movement. It’s an everyday circus.

This morning I saw a man 4 feet tall, body bent forwards, pants up to his chest, with a dandy hat and cane. He walked in front of my bike on Via Pietrasanta right in front of the old fish market of Piazza dei Ciompi. I had to dodge him with a full basket of goods. He didn’t notice. He was lost under the big tent, used to trapeze flyers and tigers that jump through rings of fire. I was a mere fly. Where was he going?

Unlikely couples walk hand in hand, with stars in their eyes. No mouth, no ears, no taste, no tongue.. what are they in love with? A toothpick tall woman, in transparent white skin-tight pants that could find nothing to cling to, stands in a mediocre line, at a mediocre stand, with mediocre people all around. Her dogs were also too skinny; black and white hounds, bound to her through a leash. She wore too much makeup and was rude. She was only nice to her ‘children’ when they were well behaved. She punished them for talking back. What brought her to this fate?

Sauntering through the market, I want to buy a chicken to stuff with lemon and roast with pancetta, sale aromatico, and herbs di Pierre. Lapo, the food and wine critic, is coming to dinner and I want to offer something substantial. Sant’Ambrogio’s Pollaia calls me. Looking for something inspiring, I see only raw cuts of rabbit and fowl. I got an unexpected answer to my question. I asked the butcher, ‘what is the most Florentine recipe?’ He said ‘la bistecca’ naturally’. I probed a little deeper. You are talking about now, I said. I want to know what is considered the most Florentine over time. He said, ‘pollo arrosto sulla griglia’. Again, a simple dish. I wanted to know how, when and why they started stuffing and trussing for the Renaissance banquets. He went on to say, that the housewives,’ le casalinghe’ had created it. I loved this answer. It goes as a tribute to the unseen cooks at home who had to be imaginative with their leftovers and create good food for their families since the Renaissance. It wasn’t a chef. It was the cleverness of the home cook. I’ve seen these cooks through cracks in the door and they wield their knives as strongly as a man, and it’s safe to say, you do not want to get in their way. If what you do is cook and clean all day, then let it be a creative invitation to make the best of it. WE Florentines don’t guild the lily like the French, making more of things that we need to.. but we introduced the fork, and gave them a base to work from. They just changed the name. Anatra al arancia’ became ‘Duck a la’orange’ and the world thought that the French had hung the moon.

Tagine Florentine

Who would have thought that I would be teaching Moroccan cooking to Italians? Last Friday, I was invited to dinner to the aunt of my friend Raffaella. We had spent some beach time near Campiglia Marittima the week before. We talked about cooking all the way in the car, it seemed, and then on the beach, some dish would come to mind. Like a spend the night party as a girl, I withdrew from the conversation and just listened. It went on like a fairy tale, in Italian with all the nuances the language can give, especially when something is delicious.

I went in and out with the sound of the waves, the descriptions of 'zuppa di fagioli con cavolo nero della nonna' pappa al pomodoro in estate quando era caldo, caldo al mare' My grandmothers' bean soup with black cabbage, cool tomato bread soup in summer when it was hot'..La nostalgia da mangiare bene, quando si sta bene'..The memories of days past when life was full and everyone, all loved ones, in the family were present.

We talked about every cuisine in the world. Eventually, we came around to Morocco and they nearly squealed in delight for something new and exotic to think about. We got stuck on tagines,
what they are, what kind of tagines can we make and.. preserved lemons? Where can we get them? 'We make them', I said. It became a theme for a cooking class the following week.

Good food gives us something delightful and satisfying to chew on, when it seems that the rest
of life is flying by. It can soothe the soul and be a comforting friend or better yet, be endless entertainment for the bereaved and the brilliant. Not to mention a way that life goes on.

October 5, 2009

Use your imagination (camera on the blink)

I had a remarkable morning engaging with the farmers, appreciating what is still in season and what is not. I came back and made a pie from French green plums. Different, but sweet and juicy.

My 'nest' looks like a still life painting full of heirloom fruit, shiny red onions, glossy cherry tomatoes and fresh porcini.

I may not cook a thing, just look at it all. Painting it might not be a bad idea.

Then I can have my look and eat it too.

October 3, 2009

letter to my friend Robiert

We went for a walk today....

we started from my apartmento on via del Parlascio. We propped the shutters just so to let light in, but not heat.

I felt a little like dressing, knowing how you liked going to the market with Jacqueline, who never left the house without looking glam. The French have so much to teach us. I too, put on some heels, soft, and grabbed my basket and with lipstick fresh, we headed out.

We crossed the Piazza Signoria, glancing at the 'Rape of the Sabines', by Giambologna, as I cannot enter the square without paying my respects and awe with a knowing glance. After all, it's there as it has always been since the 15th century. The rape victim, up in the strong arms of a man that seems totally taken by her, rather than her by him, but nevertheless, she has a look
of ecstasy on her face. (Something to do with transforming suffering, as St. Lorenzo has the same look on his face sitting in flames.) The day is cool and blue and even though a Saturday in October, the crowds are calm.

Piazza della Rupubblica looms with tents of food and wine rather than her usual spaciousness. I was told truffles were here today, fresh from Umbria. I did have a look and found them uninspiring. Their ruddy complexion is attractive to me and their 'profumo' even more so, but today was not the day. You agreed. We went around the square checking out this and that. You were intrigued with the 'cinta cinese', the black and white pork, roasted and ready for a sandwich. Very unusual to see. I preferred the 'Biccio'. A chestnut crepe cooked between two ancient iron rounds over fire. The rosy cheeked woman was dressed in a ruffled and puffed sleeve shirt with a bandana in her hair. She spoke candidly of the chestnuts from the forests near Pistoia. She looked like a woman out of Douglas Gayeton's new book, 'Slow Food in a Tuscan Town.' There was no other flour, egg, sugar, etc in the batter. Just the flour from these small chestnuts and water. You could have the crepe plain or with fresh ricotta. Of course, I chose
to have the fresh ricotta, which they spread generously over the crepe. It was warm and smelled sweet as it should. Chestnut flour is naturally sweet and was quite nourishing in the old days when wheat was scarce. The Pistoiese had brought the ricotta down from a neighboring farm from the mountains. It was so different than what we can usually find. Taking a bite, I was transfixed by the aroma and the taste. It was slightly sweet with the sensation of tasting a bit caramelized, with a note of honey. Yet, it was just what it was. Chestnut flour and water, cooked, with a spread of ricotta. You were jealous as I pretended not to give you a bite.

Piazza Annuzziata was also having their annual ceramic and artisan fair. I go every year, hoping to find the man who prepares the most delicious 'carciofini'; tiny, wild, artichokes that he pares and cleans and puts 'sottolio'. The flavor is a punch of deliciousness and wildness, so packed with iron, that the liver stands up and salutes. I found him but saw no jars of the coveted morsels. I asked about them and wordless, he gave the keys to his wife and she went to the car to pull them out. 'Saved for our best customers', he said. I felt honored. At that point, you looked at Thomas and said, 'I guess we are not the only ones'.

I searched for Pierre Couseau. I knew you would want to meet him. In fact, you lit up to speak French. Pierre is a 'pastore dei aromi.' Shepherd of aromatic herbs. He grows them biologically where they like to grow, dries them in a rustic wooden shelf under a loggia and mixes them
according to his whim. He is Alsatian-French all the way. He brings his sense of smell to the job as if her were a perfumer. He takes his time to create a relationship with the plants, gets to know them, then is inspired to make blends for fish, soups, meat, vegetables, etc, etc. His aromatic salts are addictive. Spiced with 5 types of pepperoncino, his 'le grande sale' is never far from my fingertips in the kitchen. He uses the forgotten Renaissance herbs, such as lavender, hyssop, myrtle, lemon rind, as well as sage, sage flowers, rosemary and thyme. Poetic in his approach, he could talk for hours about them. He did. And we listened.

Meanwhile, a sitarist puts out his blanket and sets off to play. It enlivens the piazza. People gather round. Then, a dancer appears. She proceeds to get very familiar with the ground, the bare street, as if it were a stage, her bed with crisp lenins or a yoga mat. Her dances are mezmerizing, including some traditional Indian dance, as well as yoga, as well as modern interpretive. Graceful and lithe, she became one with the music, the street, the sky, my eyes, in one fluid movement that never stopped form hand stand, to head stand, from rolling, folding, to unfolding with complete control. One was worried about her hands and feet being so dirty. So was every other Italian that watched and cringed. Yet, they clapped and were amazed.

I knew that she was in a world of her own, with the music, the sky, the ground, the other people. The idea of equanimity was her dance. Accept it all. There is no separation between you and I, the dirt, the cleanliness, your language or mine. Just the suchness of the day. We dropped a few coins in the hat and walked away. Thomas was reluctant. She had black curly hair like his and deep soulful eyes. And for a while, a stunning creature like himself, was on all fours in contact with the ground.

With everlasting love,


Peggy Markel
Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures
Tuscany Sicily Amalfi Morocco
cell Italy: (39)339 2614982
cell US: 303 817 5785
cell Morocco: (212) 71157395

October 1, 2009

Rockin' the Floridian Kasbah at Studio B the Beach

Preserved lemons, caviar d'aubergine, seductive spices, tantalizing Tagines, oranges in orange blossom water, honey and cinnamon and a close-to-the-lips encounter with 'Omar Sharif'..


1 1/2 oz of Kettle One Citron
1 oz of pomegranate liquer
1 oz of pineapple juice
1 squeeze of lemon
2 or 3 shakes of cinnamon
5 or 6 mint leaves

Shaken not stirred...

Collaboration between Peggy Markel, Steve Peters, bartender and Karim Boulet, sommelier
at The Kitchen Cafe', Boulder, Colorado.

Recipes to be printed in 'Coastal Living' Magazine.

September 28, 2009

Che suis trop triste

Che tristezza..sono qui a firenze..e Marriage Freres e a Parigi...e finito il mio te' preferito..Pleine luna Piena..the full moon..the simple pleasures of life in a cup of tea. Paris was never so far away...

September 25, 2009

The Capitano is always right

Memories of sailing and savoring the Amalfi Coast and all the lovely islands nearby that deserve a look, a swim or a taste, especially that famous one. Procida. Or was it Capri? Just ask Captitano Antonio Scotta di Perta. The captain is always right.

September 8, 2009

Stories that need to be told: Sant'Ambrogio Market, July 1999

The market is the only thing that consistently inspires me. I am living in the middle of Florence in a beautiful Palazzo with Piazza Signoria and the Uffizi five minutes from me, yet I choose to spend my time at the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. There I feel at home.

My meloncholia threatens to keep me under water or perhaps its just my sensitivity to constant change. But I am pulled, attracted to the source of light like a moth. Or should I say the source of color, texture, and the sounds of life of the market. Not for selling wares, but selling food. All types of wonderful, fresh, tasty food. There I don’t feel stupid for asking a question about something I don’t know. Americans don’t like to appear ‘uninformed’. They prefer the prolonged humiliation of going around in circles when they are lost, than the brief vulnerability of admitting err. On the other hand, I have come to salivate my ignorance at the market, for I always find out more than I expected, and no one takes notice. As a matter of fact, if I ask a vegetable vendor for advice and he doesn’t know, he turns around and ask whomever might be shopping near him. “Senora, lo sai come prepare bene questi cipollini bianchi?” The Senora replies, “Of course, you simply boil the small white onions first, then toss them in a frying pan with olive oil and a pinch of salt. If you put a touch of vinegar or lemon it becomes even better.” For me it is a living free University, a private study of learning just what I want to know. I have learned about cuts of meat and how to cook them. “Well, if you are going to cook it in the oven, you need this one.” Says the butcher.

I am spending all my money in the market. I love the way they greet you. “Mi Dica!” Tell me! Or, “Ciao bella, dimmi tutto!” I feel like a kid in a candy shop. “I would like un etto of procuitto dolce, and un pezzo da questo formaggio, per favore.” The lady behind the counter whispers and cocks her head to the side, “Io adore questo formaggio!” I feel like I’ve just won the lottery. I have touched her heart. I’m in.
Or the young man who makes a bouquet of ‘odori’ (parsley, rosemary, basil, a stalk of celery, a carrot) extra special just for me, and I think, ‘hes in’. How could I go somewhere else with this kind of gentilezza?

A man walks swiftly by the eggplants with a tray of compari’s. I think to myself “where is he going with those at 9:00 in the morning!

Meanwhile, I stop in at the local cafe’ to see Franca and have something warm to drink and there is “Chammomila”. A short man, balding, with hair that flips up in the back looking very scrooge like, but much nicer, having his martini. They call him Chammomila because that’s what he asks for, knowing that is not what he will get.

I would feel lightweight all of sudden leaving the market, if I didn’t have five or six bags lugging me down. As it is, I leave reluctantly, only by the fact that I know that I can return tomorrow.

Stories that need to be told: letter to Sally 13 April 2003

I am here in Elba...the water so clear that the rocks seem like ice in a glass. A perfect day.

Last night was the festa for Luciano's restaurant 'Il Chiasso' as you know.As usual with parties where you don't know but one or two people apart from the host, I was wondering why I came. That odd moment of getting all dressed up and standing around with your plate in your hand and trying to find a corner to put one's glass down. I felt rather like a bird with my plumes spread, somehow there for the looking but not for the talking. Then I heard the name'Lia'. I saw on old woman sitting in the back with longish grey hair and sun glasses on surrounded by people. I realized that this was Luciano's aunt that I had heard so much about but had never met. She is almost 80. She was a student at Columbia when Eisenhower was the president after the war from 1948 to 1953. She studied philosophy and taught in Rome for many years. Lia of the lees..she is the real story. The real story for why you are coming and the real story behind Luciano. She quotes Dante, the Greeks, Shakespeare, sings Frank Sinatra, see's your very soul and drank us all under the table. It might as well have been coffee as her performance grew more intense and passionate without a waver. She was the most awake of all of us in every sense and still going strong until 3 am. Dagmar, Luciano's x wife and I took her home..and she said..Peggy, Peggy, questo e il mio castello! Guarda come bello! Like my aunt Sarah, she lives alone without a car deep in the countryside in a glorified hut. She is half blind but her memory is stellar.
I remember when I came to Elba the first time and met Luciano. I knew then why Fabio was Fabio. He was heavily influenced my Luciano as he spent every summer here in Elba and learned Luciano's gregarious, fearless, rustic ways of cooking. He took it and refined it. His habit of wearing red pants and orange shirts must have come from Luciano, part actor, part clown. Now upon meeting Lia, I see where Luciano took his.
His first trip was with Lia to the movies when he was 10 years old, changed his life. She transported him away from the provinciality of Capoliveri, in his mind, and from there she became his mentor.
The story does not end there. Her sister's family moved to Australia when her children were small. Her nephew's returned grown and gorgeous. She and the youngest one, I believe 8 years her junior, fell in love. It was shocking for everyone including themselves. They asked to be married by permission from the Pope and he granted it. They never married and he died early, from a cause I am not clear on.
These women keep showing up..whether in Alabama, West Virginia, or here in Capoliveri. There stories need to be told.

I'm off to the beach, cara. Soon it will be a conversation 'voce a voce'.
We'll be discussing how sweet the tomatoes taste this time of year..and
how gentle the breeze feels today.

Lia died last year in June, 08. Her 'castello' stacked with books.

August 24, 2009

Time to collect prune plums from the fruit-ladened branch..

I love to make pies. This is my absolute favorite. Hands down!

Seventeenth Century Bottom-crusted Plum Pie

2 cups unbleached flour,
1 3/4 sticks cold unsalted butter, sliced
1/4 c ice water
pinch of salt

3 cups Italian prune plums, quartered and seeded
1/2 c sugar
squeeze of half a lemon , avoiding seeds
2 T of flour
a few slices of butter
a touch of cinnamon

Prepare the dough by mixing the flour with a pinch of salt and the cold butter. If using a bowl, take two knives and cut butter into flour, creating a cornmeal texture. Use the pulse button to create the same effect if you are using a food processor. Add water slowly, looking for the right amount of moisture in your dough. Try not to overwork, or make too sticky. Toss dough on a hard clean surface, preferably marble.
Sprinkle a bit of flour on the surface to prevent sticking, then proceed to roll out using a rolling pin. Start from the center of the dough and roll out in all directions, until you have created a thin 1/4 inch round. Use a light touch, and remember, don’t overwork!
Center rolled-dough over your pie plate with the excess hanging over. Put a few fork-marks in the bottom to prevent swelling in the oven.
Place quartered plums, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice, in a bowl. Toss well. You can even let it marinate for a little while. Slip the mixture into the pie. Sprinkle the flour randomly over the fruit, and dot with butter slices.
Cover the pie filling with the excess pie dough hanging over the edges, as if you were using it as a piece of cloth to cover bread in a basket. That is why it is called ‘bottom crusted’. One crust rolled out then folded over the fruit. I like to use an egg wash, and decorate the top to look like lace. You can use a toothpick or any sharp point to create a detailed effect.
Bake at 400 for around an hour. When you start smelling the fruit, the pie is usually done.
Keep and eye on the crust. Don’t be alarmed if the juices come up over the crust. It is fine!
It makes for one delicious, old fashioned looking pie.

Here is one small sort that I made with peaches with left-over dough. This is the concept.
I can't show you the real McCoy until I get my lovely large shallow bowl from Thea Tenenbaum
and Raffaelle Malferrari. Their bowl, not unlike this small one.. works the best. This is similar to
a galette, but not necessarily.

( To pick up rolled-out dough off a hard surface, pull dough from one side to about half way center. Place your arm in the center and fold the dough over it. Gently pull the remaining dough off the surface and put your other arm underneath and center over the plate. Otherwise, you can pull one side of the dough to half-way, fold it very gently onto the other half creating a half moon. Pick up both ends and center over the pie plate, carefully unfolding it to its original roundness.)

Here is an open-faced prune plum tart. This one is the simplest. I threw it together for a friends birthday rather quickly. It will be fine eaten on it's own or with a nice dollop of cream? Sheep's milk
yogurt? Whatever you fancy..!


August 23, 2009

August 11, 2009

BLT with watercress and fried green tomatoes

When life gives you unripe tomatoes, fry them.

Summer series: Saturday's at the Farmer's Market

In summer, everyone else is out with their gear, maps, packed cars and travel itineraries,while I prefer to stay still. I would rather spend peaceful days, moving little, taking in the splendor of my favorite season in Colorado. I frequent the farmer's market with my grand-daughter Makena,3 1/2, who loves to make the rounds. Pete (Oxford Gardens) gives her fresh carrots to nibble on, Lara (Cure Farm) gives her flowers, and her basket fills with love.

Makena doesn't like peaches, (I could faint) but she likes to bake. Peach pies are a mainstay.

Peach Pie with Clotted Cream

6 organic peaches, skins left on, sliced
1/2 c sugar
1 lemon, sliced in half

2 cups of unbleached white flour
1 stick and a half of butter
a few T's of cold water
pinch of salt


tart pan

This informal recipe is meant to give you a relaxed approach to pie making.

Put together your pie dough, by cutting butter into your flour with two knives(or use a cuisinart, pulsing the blade to cut the butter into flour). Add a pinch of salt. Add cold water a tablespoon at the time to bind the dough together. Form into a ball. It should feel like a 'babies behind'. Put it in the fridge for 1/2 hour.

Meanwhile, slice peaches into a bowl. Add sugar to taste and 1/2 lemon, juiced with your hand.Set aside.

Roll out dough on a floured surface, starting from the center and rolling out in all directions until you have a thin round. Center it over your tart pan, trimming the edges.

Press dough gently along the sides where the edge meets the bottom. The crust needs to bake on it's own before putting in the filling at 350F. weighted. Use a piece of aluminum foil over the crust and add beans, or other filler to keep the dough from rising. I've even used a glass bowl, turned upside down. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove
weight and foil and cook another 10 minutes.

Take crust out and add your peaches in a uniform fashion all around the tart pan, spiraling into the center. Bake for 20 minutes. Add cream by pouring over the top of the pie about half way. Let bake another 10-15 minutes. The cream will clot and the peaches will look wilted and rustic with their skins. Let cool for a moment, then unmold the tart from the sides. Enjoy.

July 27, 2009

Ruth Reichl and Lorraine Bracco in Morocco

Gourmet is doing a new television show featuring cooking schools around the world. They chose PMCA's Feast for the Senses,
Marrakech. It was 113 July. A time I avoid. Yet, it was great fun and I look forward to seeing it air on the National Geographic channel in October. Will post when I know more.

July 20, 2009

Tibetan prayer flags to inaugurate the' Azzura'

Procida. June 20th, 2009

Summer series: what's missing?

Aperitivo at my friend Raffaella Antoniazzi's country house in Campiglia Marritima, 20 minutes from the sea. After a long day
at the beach, we came home to prepare dinner. First things first. Italian potato chips fried in olive oil and fresh just picked artichokes. We are in the Maremma in southern Tuscany, known for the best. You peel the outside leaves off and eat the rest
raw, dipped in rich green extra virgin olive oil and salt.

Yet..what's missing?

Gin tonic with a twist.

July 17, 2009

Cedro Ordinario

Citron~or Cedro Ordinario~ on a pedestal. It deserves to be. Its a magnificent fruit deserving of a Jewish delegation that comes from Israel every year between July and August to choose the best fruit to be used in the most important holiday; Succoth. There is an actual 'mashgaich' who observes the trunk of the tree to be sure it hasn't been grafted and that it's 'kosher'. Once decided, it's picked, further analyzed and put into a silver box and shipped to Tel Aviv.

These have obviously been grafted and would not make the cut. I became fond of them in Sicily at 'Regaleali', Anna Tasca Lanza's family wine estate, one and half hour south of Palermo. The pulp is appreciated and has very little juice. I fell in love with it in a salad, thinly sliced with fennel and dressed with just pressed olive oil and salt. It's often candied, but I prefer it fresh.

Capri. June 22. 09

July 4, 2009

Independence Day

July 4th brings many memories for me. Mostly, Boston butts roasting in the bar b q pit in the back yard. My father loved to cook and this might have been his favorite holiday. He didn't seem to mind sweating in the hot Alabama sun, as long as the meat was coming out juicy and tender. The whole neighborhood was invited, which was a good thing, as the aroma of roasting pork in a delectable b b q sauce would make one's mouth water with envy. We ate corn on the cob, slaw, sliced tomatoes, squash casseroles, corn bread and a plethora of desserts including Gladys's homemade peach ice cream as well as my favorite thing; watermelon. My grandfather grew different varieties, yellow-meated being the sweetest. It was a happy time. Flags, neighbors, children, sprinklers and now what seems to be forgotten flavors..who knew they were so good!

I met my husband on a 4th one fateful day in Boulder, Colorado. Our dear friend Michael had annual parties that took on a different flare. Frisbee's, cold beer, loud music, fireworks. The food was still good, but with a more southwestern/Mexican touch. The piece d'resistance was Joyce Stoner's flag cake. A chocolate cake covered in bright, fairly inedible red white and blue icing, the design of the US flag. I ate it willingly, even looked forward to it. Joyce's infectious smile and joyful heart made that cake irresistible. I was a sweet 19 year old with stars in my eyes.

In the summer of 2001 my son Graham, (then 17, now 25) and I were invited to San Tropez, on the coast of France to go sailing. We took the train up from Italy and met our friends at the port. We were driven in the dingy out to the boat, which has a name and a history to curtsy to. We had no idea what we were in for until our eyes landed on the the 'Endeavor', a 130 ft. J class classic sailing sloop which was launched in 1934. One of the most formidable and famous sailing yachts in the world. It was an initiation for Graham. He was splashed with the anchor. Forever a sailor he will be now~ and a lover of beautiful boats. We ate succulent scampi over juicy lettuces, mingled with fresh and fruity Bandol, the well loved Rose' from Provence. This trip was not only 'formidable' (form i dab bl) as the French would say, but 'mem ora bl' as well.

As I have traveled back and forth from Italy over the last 17 years, I have always chosen to return home on the 4th. My children might accuse me of wanting fireworks upon arrival, but it happens to be one of those landmark days I seem to revolve my life around.

Last year, July 12th, 2008 I lost my father. He died peacefully at home and we were all by his side. No more Boston butts, no more fried catfish or long talks on the porch, yet I have grateful memories of my simple American childhood and thanks to my father I have a love of good food, gardens and community. I am also no longer married, yet I have a close relationship with my former husband and his present wife. Our family inclusive, rather than exclusive. I no longer have Joyce's cake to celebrate Independence Day, but I have myself. My mother always said, 'I raised my girls to be independent.'. Thanks Mom. I"m one darn independent woman
who knows the benefit and blessing of being interdependent with all things. Other cultures included.

As I sit in the countryside of Marrakech this 4th of july, with the thermostat at 43 degrees Celsius, I am aware that in Fahrenheit that it's around 106. In this big world of ours I am astounded by our similarities rather than our differences. I am brought back home, full circle on this day, with one simple site. A watermelon truck. As I sink my teeth into the sweet red juicy meat, I am transported to the back porch of my grandfather on a hot day, not unlike this one and I smile. No different than I did as a child. Although I appreciate where I am, my ancestors are no longer around, and I think of them smiling down at me sitting by a pool, under the palm trees of the Palmeraie, spitting watermelon seeds into a rose garden.

June 18, 2009

Questa e amore!

I stopped by this 'fruttivendolo', a fruit and vegetable stand, outside of Napoli. I was provisioning a sail boat for an upcoming sail. The old man saw me there with a friend, who could have been my boyfriend. As I was paying for my goods, he picked up an onion and looked me deeply in he eye and said,'Questo e amore'. He told me he had been with his wife for over 40 years and he knew what love was. 'One has to peel all the layers back, while laughing and crying.' He was so tender, that I will never forget those words. Or why he said that to me in that moment.

What the Romans have always done

Sweep the floor in style.

June 17, 2009

Doing what the Roman's do

Graham Markeli, Bar della Pace, Rome, June 2008

June 16, 2009

Do as the Roman's do

'Imagine being 3000 years old. Suppose by some mysterious process you had managed to avoid the limitations of mortality, and year after year you kept going, adding more and more experiences to your life story until you have no choice but to repeat them because you have exhausted all possibilities.

You are the very essence of what it means to be human. You have had more than your share of victories and defeats, triumphs and tragedies, moments of glory and those of abjection, times when you wish you had never been born and times when you want to go on forever. You have loved and lost, have abandoned and been left behind, been rich and poor, skinny and fat, lived high on the hog and been forced to scramble for a few morsels of stale bread. you have seen it all, done it all, regretted it all, and then gone back and done it again.
you are 'La Citta Eterna' The Eternal City.
From 'As the Romans Do'. Alan Epstein

June 11, 2009

The black pearl of the Mediterranean

My favored legume this spring, has been the black lentil, lenticchie nere
from Sicily. I have been buying them from a small vendor of grains and legumes in Sant'Ambrogio market, here in Florence. They reminded me of the dark mini lentils grown in volcanic soil from the tiny island of Ustica.

An ancient island, it was first inhabited by the Phoenicians. It's older than the Aeolian islands and is actually the rocky top of a an undersea volcano. Ustica means dark rock~ therefore called the black pearl of the Mediterranean. Today it stands protected as a marine reserve.

I walked the 2 mile radius of the interior through fields of wildflowers. Typical of the Med, I came upon wild figs, wild capers, wild prickly pears, yet cultivated almond groves and bean fields. Islands are usually known more for their fish and this is surely the case here. I rode around in a 'gomone', (a raft with a motor) in the surrounding sea. I saw medusa's in a natural pool in the rocks that I almost jumped into. The water was inviting, crystal clear and fresh. Exactly what the jellyfish thought as well. Their presence means as much. Exhilarating would have been an understatement had I showed up a minute before. Here on the island, lentils are served with fish. Not a usual combination. Yet, from the point of view of local; what grows together, goes together.

Everything about this small, isolated island was rich and concentrated, worn by eons of wind, sun and saltwater. if you ask me, the real 'black pearl of the Mediterranean' is not the island itself, but it's native daughter, La lenticchia nera..

I am a great fan of the 'one dish meal'. Here is another version. I love these lentils as they take no time to cook. Soaking is unnecessary. They provide meaty nourishment and are known for aiding digestive healing. The bitterness of sauteed chickory
adds a juicy, yet earthy element that goes well with the beans. I have used an egg to accompany as it fits the composition of the dish, adds protein and color, not to mention a rich sauce. For the seafood version, I recommend a swift trip to the hinterland, just a two and half hour ferry ride from Palermo.

Lenticchie Nere con Cicoria e un Ouvo Bello Bollito

2 cups lentils
1 head of garlic, cooked whole in the broth
1 sprig of fresh sage
1 t of ground cumin
1 tiny dried red pepper
a drizzle of olive oil
salt to taste, once lentils are almost cooked

1 fresh chicory, (like a head of napa cabbage) cleaned and chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped fine
salt to taste

4 eggs, soft boiled for 3 minutes

salt, pepper, to taste

Cook your lentils in plenty of fresh water. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer. Choose a heavy bottomed pot or terracotta.
Add a whole garlic head, cleaned of any loose skin. The garlic slowly infuses the broth and flavors the beans. Add sage, pepperoncino, cumin, a drizzle of olive oil and simmer about 1/2 hour or so, until the beans are 90% cooked. Beans double in size, so check for liquid so the beans don't burn. Bean broth or 'pot liquor' is also delicious to keep if you choose to make a soup. Add salt- at least 1/4 t for each cup for digestion-then to one's taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then turn off heat.

Clean and chop chicory and saute in e.v. olive oil and one clove of chopped garlic. Add pinch of salt to flavor. Cook until
tender, but green color remains vibrant and not gray.

Put 4 whole eggs in the shell in a small pot covered with water. Bring to a boil. Set aside. let sit for 15 minutes.

Assemble on one plate:

A bed of Ustican black lentils
a scoop of chickory on top
a peeled soft boiled egg, cut in half and presented on top of the dish.

Add a fresh pinch of cumin, salt a dash of freshly cracked pepper
and ...a drizzle of ex..v..olive oil.

enjoy the taste of treasured ancient tastes!


Before the full-on arrival of summer, I want to speak of agretti. Agretti is a fabulous marsh grass that I look forward to seeing in the outdoor market of Sant'Ambrogio in Florence every spring. It's the only time it's succulent green fronds are seen. Slightly salty, it derives it's name botanically from 'Salsola soda', latin for Salsus, meaning salt, as it doesn't mind growing in seriously salty soil and is even irrigated with salt water. Funny then, it should be related to the tumbleweed. This vegetable is anything but dry and tumbling.

I am attracted to agretti, the same way I am sea vegetables, as if my bloodstream is standing on end saying, yes! Choose that one! Please, oh please! Dare we say liver cleanser as well? We can safely say, delicious. Carefully cleaned and stemmed, the agretti is dropped in lightly salted boiling water for roughly 5 minutes. The color shifts into that glistening green and the fronds soften like cooked spaghetti. Some people actually call it 'green spaghetti'. Personally, I like to shape it into a nest, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon, and put a poached egg on top sprinked with cumin and cracked black pepper. A crumble of Pierre Cusseau's 'Grande Sale' ( Brittany salt mixed with pepperoncino )and a new drizzle of e.v.o.oil, makes the dish. Or is it the fresh egg cooked to perfection that releases it's golden yolk into the nest like a soft yellow blanket?

June 8, 2009


I've just come back from two weeks on the splendid Mediterranean Sea, tan, and drunk, not on too much vino, but on the elements of water, wind and sea.

What better way to experience all the riches of the Amalfi coast? At a distance, in the comfort of our own boat (Hanse 540) in touch with the elements, harnessing wind power to move from point A (Amalfi) to C (Capri), in nature’s zigzag way.

Early morning's pink sunrise gives way to a quiet moment to reflect on the vast blue sea ..then it’s time to rock and roll! UP GO THE SAILS and all lazy sailors hit the deck with crazy hair and sleepy eyes. Then the day starts to shine! Not only with a luscious sun sparkling on the Mediterranean begging us to jump in, but to heed the call of fresh coffee and brioche having sailed into a perfect bay.

The Bay of Naples offers what I like to call, ‘SLOW Sailing’. The waters are calm
and the winds are gentle. We take our time getting from place to place. We won’t
be doing open sea airobatics, but we will be playing with the wind.

The Amalfi coast offers splendid views of terraced hilltops, cultivated in lemons,
mandarins and other fruits. Exquisite villages stand out on top displaying each a Dome of individual cupola design to be identified from sea. From the islands you see entire village houses painted in diverse shades of pastel, for the fishermen to look for their wives waiting for them at the window. All this detail, shape, color and life in general can be seen from our vantage point at sea. While the landlocked look out to the nothingness of the deep blue.

Eating on a boat is like being on a perpetual picnic. Circus tricks are helpful, as are lessons from the cat in the hat.( If we could only twirl plates and roll on a ball at the same time!) Moving on a boat while ‘under way’ is like this. Sure-footedness is necessary while carrying things around in ones hands, trying to keep ones balance- a mental exercise as well. Then there’s cooking on a gimbaled stove! (a contrivance, typically consisting of rings pivoted at right angles, for keeping an instrument such as a compass or chronometer horizontal in a moving vessel (a stove on a sailboat).

Pots and pans sway in place with the movement of the waves, held to the stove by a thin rail that keeps things from sliding off. Baking a whole fish is like rocking a baby in it's bed. The oven door is shut. The fish is snug, baking away to the rhythm of the sea! When slipped and docked in Port, the dinner is ready, the table is set and a new skill has been learned. Local food and wine never tasted so good.

This puts the adventure in the culinary.

A focus on wines from Compagnia, organic lemons from Amalfi, d.o.c. quality mozzerella di buffala from Paestum, rabbit from Ischia, pomodorini dolcissimi, wild aromatic herbs from the islands, anchovies, pizza! fish, fish, fish, frutti di mare, spaghetti alla vongole. Tagliatelle al limone, scamorza grilled between lemon leaves, and dolce; torta caprese (chocolate nut cake from Capri)etc.

Includes a few lessons on sailing and knot tying.

JUNE 11-18thTH, 18th- 25th 2011. VISIT THE ISLANDS OF PROCIDA, CAPRI, ISCHIA, and the

May 27, 2009

Brodo di Ristorante Cibreo

I posted a photo of my yellow pepper soup on facebook. I was asked for the recipe, so I thought to write about it.
It's a hot day in Florence, and a chilled soup from last night, tastes all the better today. I love pureed soups, summer or winter. They make the most elegant dish. Florence was not a pasta eating town. They preferred soups..usually hearty ones like Ribollita and Pappa al pomodoro. Yet, from what I have noticed, taking the rustic and refining it, is what Florence is all about.

Fabio Picchi, chef of Ristorante Cibreo, made this his signature soup. The color alone calms madness. I used to love to pop into the kitchen and see Fabio creating these velvety soups with his huge industrialized hand wand. I have eaten countless bowls of this soup, more often in Cibreo Cafe' across the street. It's legendary.

Fabio's son Giulio, stayed a month with me once in Colorado when he was 15. He was fascinated by America and brought his skate board to prove it. Unfortunately, his first run ended in a broken wrist. Home all of sudden seemed very far away. It was that moment that Giulio found his Italian roots in my kitchen. He took an interest in cooking. Both his parents are chefs, so what was the need before? The need came when he was far away from home. I am quite proud of the fact that I was able to teach him some knife skills. The rest he did on his own. He already had the best training of all. His palate. He went to town creating from taste memory alone, the beloved dishes of his youth. This 15 year old whom had never cooked, prepared a scrumptious meal of yellow pepper soup, bistecca alla Fiorentina in the home fireplace, roasted potatoes with rosemary and olive oil, and some special cookies from Mom (Benedetta Vitali of Zibibbo); for 10 people. He absolutely nailed the soup. Everything else was great too. But the soup was memorable, as it tasted exactly as it should have. The palate has an intelligence of it's own. Taste and smell can lead us home. Guilio is now 27 and a pillar in the Picchi restaurant empire.

A traditional recipe for Yellow Pepper soup can be found in the small 'Cibreo' cookbook by Benedetta Vitali, that used to grace the shelves at the restaurant for the equivalent of $10 if you are lucky enough to have a copy. Her book 'Soffritto', may have it as well. I don't have a copy with me to check. Otherwise, you can find the recipe on-line, but you must look carefully.

This is my version~ without the soffritto. ( a slow simmer of the finely chopped holy trinity of carrot, celery and onion).
It's not meant to be the same soup of Cibreo, although most definitely inspired by. It's meant to be a quick evening soup that tastes good warm when fresh, but even better cool in the following day's summer heat.

Chilled Yellow Pepper Soup

3 yellow peppers, (as local and seasonal as you can find them)
2 yellow fin potatoes, peeled and chopped coursely
1 red onion, peeled and chopped coursely
1/2 cup of grated parimgiano reggiano
salt and pepper to taste

Saute' onion in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Add the peppers and saute until they become slightly limp. Add potatoes and once the flavors are sealed, add water to cover. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
Adjust liquid level, salt and pepper to taste. Start to blend soup with a hand wand, or feel free to use a blender. Once the soup is properly blended, smooth and velvety, you're there. 'E lei'. It's her. As the Italians say..

The soup can be put back on the flame to simmer for another few minutes. A handful of aged parmigiano reggiano can be stirred in. When chilled, like to serve the soup with a dollap of yogurt (don't kill me Fabio!), a sprinkle of Pierre Cousseau's 'Le Grande Sale' (a salt blend with pepperoncino) and a drizzle of olive oil.

It's sun in a bowl.

I recommend having a bowl of it at Cibreo the next time or first time you have the opportunity. It will soothe your soul.
Ps. Don't eat it close to your computer like I did for lunch today. That was a 'one and only' dangerous thing to do. Not at all 'slow food at the table' as usual...But! What can I say?? For me, life is a culinary adventure. Taste dangerously!

Fruttivendolo~ Sant' Ambrogio market. Florence.

From the Nest

I have been gathering information for my blog for the last month and realize how much appreciation I have for bloggers that can actually keep up the daily discipline for getting their entries in. I find it quite challenging! I thought to explain this as a thread to the entries to come. They will be back tracking in and out of places that I've been for the last month.

I'm always thinking of the wonderful people that have come on my courses, not to mention friends that I think about when cruising around. I love seeing through other people's eyes and this is just what happens when I look at something not only
from my point of view, but from others. 'Oh Sally would love this', for example. We have connections with people that make us laugh, others that make us cry- or both. We have it all in the' tender spot' that seems to be so exposed these days. Ways in which we are moved beyond belief or explanation.

I send my best from Florence where I am snug in the heat and humidity of above average temperature, the height of the terracotta tile roofs. It's an oven up here on the 4th floor. Luckily, there is also a nice breeze. At least I am cooking rather
confection like.

I ride my bike to the market every day and come back with loads of freshness to experiment with. Did I tell you there were no spring programs? Right. I've had all the time in the world to do things I haven't been able to do in 17 years. It's the first season ever. I am writing. ( you see). I have just finished a book proposal (don't laugh~ they are still printing them) a few short stories,
and many heart-felt letters. I wish there was such a thing as being a professional heart-felt letter writer. That might be a job for me.

Foto's of the Nest~ Via del Parlascio, 6. Command center for the observing the world, within and without.

April 30, 2009

She fly's through the air..

One of the difficulties in moving out of the familiar is the temptation to close off the full drama of change before it ripens. This sense of being bereft of all that is familiar is a vacuum which threatens to suck up everything within it's reach.

What is hard to appreciate, when terror shapes a catastrophic gap, is that this blankness can be a Fertile Void. The Fertile Void is the existential metaphor for giving up the familiar supports of the present and trusting the momentum of life to produce new opportunities and vista's.

The acrobat who swings from one trapeze to the next knows just when he must let go. He gauges his release exquisitely and for a moment he has nothing going for him but his own momentum. Our hearts follow his arc and we love him for risking the unsupported moment.

Erving and Miriam Polster

April 12, 2009

Buona Pasqua da Firenze

From my 5th floor window, the light was sweet and warm for an Easter morn. I set up breakfast on the top floor where the view of the rooftops is equal to my sitting. I am in an extraordinary position between the Palazzo Vecchio of Piazza Signoria with my old friend the tower on my left, and the top of Chiesa Santa Croce on my right. The Duomo, although out of sight, is just a few blocks away.

My friend Laine came to tea. I had a lovely easter cake with bits of dried and candied fruit, the natural kind, with no color, just chewy and delicious to eat with yogurt and strawberries. I have a passion for Mate' these days and skipped the new box of English Breakfast that I just aquired at Mariage Frere in Paris.

From the rooftop we are privy to the activity coming from the streets below. Suddenly we heard a few booms. I said to Laine, 'oh that's the scoppio del carro!' The Florentines have been releasing doves from the piazza of the Duomo for 500 years. We hear successive boom and flaps of wings, but no doves fly high enough for us to see. Pigeons were no doubt ruffled and alarmed. We discussed a bit of doom and gloom in the brightness of the room while hopes of renewal were being blasted about. I thought not only about the present situation of many, including myself, but about my hopes for the government. I don't remember in my adult life ever consciously thinking about the government. Yet, I see this shining possibility that we can navigate rough waters for real change, because change is happening, whether we like it or not. It's most definitely a time of transformation. Our goose is getting cooked. I prefer someone that knows how to meet those challenges as something savory and delicious, as opposed to gnawing on something dry and brittle, with little or no possibility left for succulence. This is what I feel will happen if certain agenda's are not passed if opposition is so strong we can not make our goal. This is not a football match. We should not be in competition with ourselves. We need to squeeze through the eye of the needle. There is no room to bring all of our old baggage through. Otherwise, we won't make it. i prefer the unknown full of potential and possibility even if I have to pare down and God forbid, change some of my habits.

I often ask the question, 'what wants to happen?' What sort of collective manifesto can we create? Not just what do I want. I want the best of what life has to offer for everyone. Not giving into fear and being overtaken by negative mind is a start. What is our destiny if not what we make it? The guidelines are simple. Be generous and kind and the world with all her glory will unfold her treasures in a like-minded way.

Laine brought a sweet card with a few poignant quotes:

*'LIve in the faith that the whole world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is within you'.

*Some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle or end. LIfe is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment
and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next...Delicious Ambiguity...'.

I am savoring this moment as delicious ambiguity. Along with the smells wafting up from all the kitchens below of
sauteed onions, a pork ragu for homemade tagliatelle, perhaps a buttery easter cake in the oven. I'm sitting
in the historical seat of the Reanaissance where creating a new world view was carried out by artists like Leonardo da Vinci
and Michelangelo, and scientists such as Gallileo, and poets like Dante, no doubt smelling the same aroma's. Why can't we lift the stars and our minds and hearts now, and look beyond the veil?

The streets of Florence are empty. It's 'l'ora di pranzo', the midday meal, and this is Pasqua. I imagine the families inside sitting together at the table watching generations get old and babies grow up, spooning up sweet affection for all gathered around. There is a hush over the town, except for the noise of knives and forks, clamoring dishes and occasional laughter. Wherever we are going, I hope we bring along at least some time-honored traditions.

The doves found the right perch after the second boom. All will be well. Thank goodness. let's leave gloom and doom
to the dark ages. We are poised for yet another spring and it's promise for enlightened living.

May all beings be happy and well fed with love. May our cups always be seen at least as half full, if not running over.

Buona Pasqua da Firenze

April 11, 2009

Berber Sensibility

It’s the first week in april, 2009 and the surroundings of Marrakech are covered in an unusual carpet of green. Wild flowers, wheat fields and stretches of land that have rarely known grass, are bringing a lushness to the desert that has not been seen in 40 years.

Sheep are plump, donkey’s clip-clop seemingly more joyful pulling carts of hay, and lambs scamper after one another like children at play. I have often watched in amazement wondering how the animals found anything at all to eat, nuzzling around on what looks like pebbles on this arid land. Now they have a banquet table full of tasty options.

As we move from the plains closer to the Atlas, we are stunned by the extraordinary blue skies and the majestic snow -capped mountains that provided sharp contrast to the lush green Ourika valley below. Water is flowing in all the irrigation ditches. Olive gardens with branch-high stalks of winter wheat are mistaken for a meadow in Italy; as opposed to a mostly earthen-colored landscape typical of north Africa. The rain has not changed what they eat necessarily, but it has changed the look on the villagers faces. What was somewhat harsh, has softened. It’s cool and pleasant. For once, they are not bracing themselves against the element of dry heat and dust.

Taking a walk along the pathways from village to village, we observe farmers using donkey power to plow the mineral rich red soil, sowing their crops by hand. Small boys collect fodder for the cows, stuffing big straw panniers that straddle the back of an ass, while they, strict masters, command the animal along narrow trails as easily as jumping rope. No parents are in sight. Women only tend the cows. Small girls seem to have more patience, moving them from one pasture to the next, already mature in the nature of responsibility. I am always shocked at the absence of toys. When not tending, gathering or fetching, the children seem to play inventive games, always laughing and running around after their one and only diversion- a ball. I have seen no dolls, thankfully no plastic, and no extraneous junk lying around. I am forever impressed with how clever they are. Depending on the village and the amount of trekkers through it, the children will ask for ‘argent’ or ‘bon bon’s’. To keep the commerce down and their teeth intact, I prefer to offer a game. I particularly like hand slap’s with rhymes. ‘Three six nine, the goose drank wine, the monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line..’. They are fascinated and delighted. It’s unexpected, engaging , and offers an exchange of human spirit.

The fruit from palm trees, various biblical fruit trees, olive trees, and citrus, end up in some form, cured or preserved, on the table to season tagines and aromatic desserts. Wheat, sorghum, barley and corn are milled into flour and used for various breads and couscous. The growing season offers an almost year round plethora of fresh produce, including winter squash that provides an unmistakable alliance with traditional couscous , grounding it as a substantial vegetable of importance. Sustainability is no stranger here. It was growing before my eyes.

Then we sink further into the past. My friend David Michael, a long tall drink of water from Austin, Texas (as my southern mother would say) restored a farmhouse in the Agdal gardens of the King, on the outskirts of Marrakech. His specialty is vernacular farming and landscape. He has a contract to farm, but not to own. It’s a mix between a kitchen garden and a truck farm. He told us that it was not his way to introduce his own methods, but at times to encourage old ways that had been forgotten or overlooked. He has a fine sense of aesthetics, which draws on the simplicity of tradition. His garden has various mints, verbena, onions, artichokes, runner beans, parsley, cilantro and so forth, in 5 x 5 foot squares. Onions are grown on the borders and the rest grows in the moist center where flood irrigation takes place every 15 days. He grows two hectares of olives and barley, four hectares of fava beans, a quarter of peas and a quarter of okra. (Anyone who grows okra is near to my heart.) He has a few villagers who help him. They are teaching him the old ways. How he communicates with them is interesting; a little Berber, a little broken French and English. It’s quite touching, yet gesture and intention seem to go a long way in getting the message across.

We are welcomed with a cup of mint tea from the garden and freshly made ‘khobz’; Moroccan flatbread, stuffed with a wild herb that grows under olive trees called ‘fua’. It is pulled up, dried and then ground as a spicy element, sautéed with onions and tomato. It gives the bread an unusual ly savory flavor quite like cayenne, but not. It reminds me of the similarities of things I have eaten in other parts of the world like, Mexico and Rajasthan. Cuisines have a thread that weave around the world, worth noting. One ingredient changes everything and that one element is what gives a cuisine its identity.

Fatima prepares a couscous for us that was steamed over an earthen stove in terracotta. Without doubt , it is the best cous cous I have ever tasted. It’s rare that you can find hand-rolled and even more rare to know where the grain is grown. She demonstrated her technique with great finesse, as her hands took a little flour and water and moved it around until quite amazingly, tiny balls of dough were formed. She is slow and deliberate, but done in about 10 minutes. After the couscous cooked, we try to scoop up a small handful of it, freshly steamed, with three fingers to form a ball and pop in our mouths . We quickly realize that one needs more than a bit of practice.

After lunch we relax, drinking tea and resting on pillows. The breeze takes our thoughts away under the olive trees and over the sea of wheat underneath. Nearby curtains flap. The lunch has landed our minds in our bellies and for a moment , we get a taste of what it feels like to slow down enough to enjoy the poetry of place.

March 3, 2009

The taste of spring- Asparagus risotto!

After two helpings of my asparagus risotto last night, and the um's and ah's around the table, I thought to bring to your attention how lovely this dish is. Risotto can be daunting, but it is rather easy to make while talking to friends in the kitchen (don't your friends always end up in the kitchen?) or on my own listening to music.

I suppose some people think risotto takes too long and the stirring is boring. I disagree. Once you are familiar with the technique, it's relaxing and for lack of better words, meditative. It can be double meditative while drinking a good glass of wine while stirring. Don't choose just any any wine but in this case consider your dish. There are wines worth contemplating, not to mention pairing with your awkward friend, asparagus. I chose a South African Chenin Blanc. I added a splash of it to the pot to loosen the rice kernels that had been added to the shallot simmering in olive oil and butter. A beautiful aroma was released, sealing in an added subtle flavor to be appreciated later. Savignon Blanc is usually recommended for asparagus, but I wanted to 'stir the pot' on that theory and shake it up with a neighbor whose bright notes of mineral and citrus acidity with moderate sweetness and moderate body, could be a nice compliment to the almost impossible vegetable to pair with wine. I am bringing attention more to the act of drinking a good glass of wine, while being mindful of the engaged activity of risotto making, more than I am saying that Chenin Blanc itself is a 'vino di medatazione'. It's not. (That is saved for bigger chewier wines, like Barolo, Rioja Riserva, or Passito's.)

Enjoy this recipe. Enjoy the time it takes to relate to your food and how you feed yourself and others. It's nourishing!

Asparagus Risotto


Asparagus stems
(you can also use a vegetable bouillon cube if you like)


2 cups arborio rice
1 bunch of thin stalked asparagus (organic if possible), chopped on the diagonal in 1/4 inch rounds.
Leave tips intact.
2 T of olive oil
2 T of unsalted butter
1 large shallot
1 cup of grated parmigiano reggiano
salt and pepper

*extra butter and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil at the end.

2008 Man Vitners, South African Chenin Blanc

Bring a quart stock pot to the boil with an onion, cut in half, adding asapargus stems.
Large pinch of salt.

Chop the shallot fine and saute' it in a heavy skillet with the olive oil and butter until translucent.
Add the rice and coat with the oil stirring for a few minutes. Bathe with a half a glass of the Chenin Blanc,
allowing the alcohol to evaporate. Start adding broth a few ladles at a time. Let the rice simmer for a few
minutes without stirring. It's an important step, so the structure of the rice maintains it's integrity.
Keep adding the broth a few ladles at a time and let it simmer wet, stirring occasionally. Risotto does
not have to be stirred constantly. When the rice has swelled and the broth in the dish looks creamy, check
for doneness. Is it 'al dente'? Is it still crunchy? Add your asparagus and stir briefly. keep adding broth until
the rice is toothsome, but not too soft. Add the grated parmigiano, a little butter and and salt until it reaches
the desired consistency.

Serve on the plate a bit wet. It stiffens quickly! Drizzle a bit of olive oil, another pinch of grated parmigiano and
a turn of freshly ground pepper. Delish!

Serve with a glass of the Chenin Blanc.

February 25, 2009

After a long period of silence on this blog, I am ready to roll! Hopefully an auspicious beginning in line with Losar, the Tibetan New Year of the Earth Ox. Watch for a new website and exciting new postcards from my culinary adventures. I will be including you either on the road, or at home, sending insights, recipes and general phenomena that catches my eye.

We are looking forward to a tasty 2009 season, from fields to tables wherever we are invited.

Until then, buon appettito!