If you need to be mean
be mean to me
I can take it and put it inside of me
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke”
I have a picture of us from when we were ten years old — Rose, Audrey, Sam, and me. We’re standing on the gravel shoulder of the highway that cuts across our hometown like a life line across a palm. Our arms are wrapped around each other, affectionate and possessive with the weight of preteen desires. Have you noticed the way young girls cling to each other in photographs? Maybe we knew then the terrible possibilities of separation. If we hadn’t held on to each other so tightly through childhood, how would things have ended?
That was all before we grew apart. That was before I hopped on a plane, before Rose came to meet me, before we ended up in the mountains of Italy, alone in a 300-year-old farmhouse. That was when we still lived in our small universe of Halfmoon Bay, in homes secluded from the highway by long gravel driveways and undisturbed forest. What would have happened if the ghost had shown up then, when we were still so connected, instead of a decade later, across the world when there were just two of us in the middle of the night? More… “Gone Ghost”
“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.”
-John F. Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants
“America is for Americans.” If this sounds like the latest 6:30 a.m. pronouncement from the Twittering fingers of the current occupant of the White House, you’re forgiven for being mistaken. It’s from the book Social and Religious Life of Italians in America by Enrico Sartorio, an Italian native and Protestant minister, describing Americans’ reactions to the huge influx of Italian immigrants to this country. The year was 1918. More… “American Roots”
The first time I have been to Valtellina was at the end of last year’s harvest season with three Italians, my other half and a couple of friends from the region. After running the Valtellina wine trail (a scenic marathon through the vineyards) we visited Chiuro to do a tasting of the heady Sforzato wine made with partially dried Nebbiolo grapes grown on impossibly steep terraced vineyards. Beer was the last thing on our minds when we entered the cellars of the winemaker Balgera. We were in for a surprise.
This was when we first heard about the making of the Italian grape ale. A long-standing family wine company Balgera and an artisanal beer company Pintalpina had worked together to make this ale, a newly classified type of beer. But we couldn’t taste it as it was not yet bottled. More… “The Beer Harvest”
The invention of Mr. Coffee in the 1970s was an enormous leap for American coffee drinkers: Before then, most coffee was boiled in percolators at home or prepared inexpensively in industrial-scale drips to be consumed at diners. The result was mostly terrible — there’s a reason that coffee ruined by wives and secretaries was a running gag in midcentury sitcoms. •
In the town of Crema, less than an hour east of Milan, they make a stuffed pasta that goes by the straightforward name of tortelli cremaschi. The name, however, is about the only straightforward aspect of this local speciality. Federico Fellini may have famously said, “life is a combination of magic and pasta.” But even the great filmmaker himself could not have dreamed up tortelli cremaschi, which must be the most Felliniesque pasta in Italy.
While the pasta itself follows a basic egg-and-flour recipe, the ingredient list for the ripieno (or filling) reads as follows: amaretto cookies (nearly a pound); candied citrus; raisins; mint candies; grated lemon zest; grated Grana Padano cheese; nutmeg; Marsala wine; mostaccino, a local cookie that is sort of like a ginger snap.
Allow me to address a few of your questions: No, I am not making this recipe up. No, this is not a child’s… More…
My wife, the over-observant Shuffy, noticed a group of children playing with geometric shapes cut from pieces of black paper. The children were arranging these shapes on larger sheets of construction paper. The construction paper was lying on the floor of the Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum was in the midst of its exhibit of Italian Futurism.
One wonders what Filippo Tommaso Marinetti would have thought about these children. Marinetti (1876-1944) was the founder of Futurism. In 1909, he wrote a document that has since become the most famous testament of Futurism. It is known as The Futurist Manifesto. The fourth “principle” of Futurism states, infamously: “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the… More…
Killing cats is illegal in Italy. And eating them was understood to be something only done during times of deprivation. Bigazzi said as much when he explained that this was the case during his childhood in the 1930s and ’40s. (Obviously Italy is not alone. During the siege of Paris in 1870, certain restaurateurs resorted to purchasing their meats from the zoo. Writes Kenneth James in his biography of Escoffier, “there was donkey, elephant, camel … and kangaroo, bear, wolf and roe deer,” and yes, “the humble cat delicately embellished with rats.”)
So was Bigazzi being merely nostalgic or was he actually suggesting Italians today eat cat? If you ask restaurateur Dean Gold, the answer is, in all probability, yes, it still happens — not out in the open by the Piazza del Popolo, mind you, but rather in secret gatherings akin to the supper club that feasted on Komodo… More…
How would you describe the smell and taste of a fresh white truffle? Meg and I asked each other this very question as we navigated the streets of Alba, lost on our way to Pio Cesare winery. We debated this because we were in possession of a tiny truffle that filled our tiny Lancia with its odor. And odor seems the right term — I definitely would not call it a fragrance or a scent. Like most people experiencing the white truffle firsthand, we’d been throwing out the usual descriptors: earthy, pungent, woody, rooty, garlicky, cheesy. We were also still laughing about the unfortunate description of its taste by food writer Corby Kummer, published in Gourmet some years ago: “It tasted of parts of the body I urgently wanted to know better.”
But I don’t live in Sardinia, and I certainly don’t have a wood-burning fireplace in my kitchen. Nor do I have access to the ingredients that a good 50 percent of the recipes in Sweet Myrtle require. I live in Chicago, and while I have access to a good number of strange foods that rot in my fridge while I try to figure out what to do with them, I can’t find mosto d’uva. Or abbamele, a honey and pollen reduction. Even the dish on the cover calls for salted, pressed, air-dried fish roe, which is not likely to be found in the local supermarket.
But the idea of my Sardinian home was just too tempting, so I decided to at least give the book a try. I started with something simple: polenta with sausage and tomato sauce. While it was absolutely delicious and quick, it was close to something… More…
I should start by revealing the location of my own perfect pizza: Denino’s Pizza Tavern, which has made its home on Port Richmond Avenue on Staten Island since 1937. The place is run by the family of the original founders, a fact that some claim contributes to the consistent quality of the pie throughout the decades. Staten Islanders, Bayonners, and Brooklynites alike have been eating here for generations, my family included.
Here’s a recent Friday night: The kitchen door swings open and out walks a waitress with a silver platter. The pizza arrives. I raise the first slice to my eager mouth and take a bite. As the thin, brick-oven crust, creamy mozzarella, and sweet but tangy sauce meet my taste buds, I can’t help but think: This must be the perfect pie. It’s the same epiphany I’ve had every time I’ve dined there over the past 10 years or… More…