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Success, Failure...some of my greatest failures have been a springboard to my greatest successes...the terms are truly fluid.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

30 Quando e il Tempo Cucinare?



      When it is time to cook people can feel many different things. My mom always made it look so easy. She seemed to luxuriate in cooking the family meals when I was young. She made cooking look fun and effortless.

     When I cooked for my ex-husband, I loved cooking. Since then it has been both a joy and a burden. Two of my three children are grown and no longer living at home. I have also noticed that whatever man is in my life has a tendency to lower my cooking self esteem. They have their own sense of the way things should be cooked and even this last time I found that the dictates of another person can somehow change my own feelings of what is OK to cook.

      While here in Italy I am regaining my love of cooking through being with women. Everyone here seems to be quite particular about mealtime being a highly prized time of the day. I was excited that Francesca has been treating us to succulent local cuisines she is feeding her own family.

     Spencer and I were invited to pizza last night. I had visions of round Boboli pizzas in my head that now seem canned and premade. My friend, the Sophia Loren Look alike sent us over to the big house that has a large wood fired cook stove in the main floor next to the large dining room. There the room was warm and there was a cheery feeling as women breezed about in bright aprons making large square pans of pizza. The dough had been cooked earlier by a happy looking cook with a short and very fashionable haircut. She was pulling out the thin crust dough pans and placing them on a large wooden table that was piled high with bowls of toppings for the pizzas.

     My nose went into overload at how wonderful all the mouth watering scents were…was it the fresh bread dough cooking that I smelled or the tomato sauce? There were bowls of small cuts of mozzarella, and zucchini sliced so thin that you could see through them (also mixed with olive oil) with some tiny pieces of onion, and sauces of fresh tomatoes and another of peppers in a tomato sauce as well as a few slices of hot dog on the top of some. They took the straight olive oil and spooned some lightly over the individual slices I noticed.

     The donne were making pizzas exactly as their own families liked them by dividing the large pizzas into segments and filling them in for their own tastes. I loved the atmosphere. They were bustling in all directions and I was told to “mangia!” in a loud friendly voice repeatedly. They didn’t have to tell me twice. I ate several pieces of the delicacies while still in the kitchen. I was completely engrossed in the scene. It was just a lot of fun to be in here. I wondered why this room wasn’t filled with kids. There were little potato delicacies with smiley faces and fluffy homemade puffs ready to eat now.

     Then without fanfare, they were all bustling with trays full of colorful arrangements of pizza as they whisked out of the room and over to their individual houses. At least 4 households were fed by my count and all the women returned to eat together when they had finished feeding their families. I was surprised at that since I had already eaten 5 squares of different kinds of pizza, making sure Spencer who was outside playing also had his share of pizza as well. I had no room left when dinner actually started.

     We sat down at the big table at a quarter to nine, a full 15 minutes after my normal bedtime back in California.  This is when the restaurants start filling up in Levanto, Firenze, Siena and Rome. Italians eat until late. Really late by my standards, but I am getting better. We ate and drank Giovanni’s velvety homemade wine, beer and frizzante, (fizzy water), until at least an hour later. After the dessert, they started cooking again. This time they had a large pan of white almond slivers and sugar mixing over a burner. They were making crochette. I haven’t been able to double check the spelling but it is the most amazing carmelized almond candy.

    I got to hold the pan while the blond Italian woman, who seemed about my age deftly stirred the mix with 2 wooden spoons as it darkened and the sugar liquidified. As soon as she was done she dumped the mix on a wax paper that had been prepared with oil drizzlings on it. She kept stirring the almonds as the others took spoonfuls and shaped it into a larger stand to use for a festivity for this weekend. I was so happy to be involved in this experience that I didn’t realize how much the wine and my serious overeating had combined to make me extremely sleepy. It took all of my concentration to walk past the Bar with some dignity…that was where I realized I was definitely tipsey. I handed Spencer our plate of leftovers.

     Every act of generosity seems to be helping me rebuild my own sense of who I am and what version of me will be returning home to California next week when I get back. I feel as if I have been a building that needed earthquake retrofitting. I was all but torn down and now I am being rebuilt into a much better, stronger building as I get geared up for a return to a life that will be completely new when I return. One thing is for sure. I am going to cook more. And I am going to appreciate everything I eat instead of cooking and eating without a sense of pleasure. Here in the Abruzzo, I have learned to eat with my heart and soul included. I think I lost that along the way sometime after my divorce.

     When I get home, I know it is time for me to cook, and eat with everything I have got involved.

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