Sunday, July 12, 2015

Week V

I managed to give myself food poisoning on Tuesday by eating a meat sandwich that had been sitting out far too long. I made a fully recovery and even managed to snap a few pictures this week:

Domenico was very excited about the tomato he found in the garden
Domenico’s new mascot
Maria Sol Ravaioli is a sous-chef for Argentina’s notorious Francis Mallmann.
Here she is teaching us how to make empanadas.


Trattoria Monti

Little pastries I baked on Thursday

Friday, July 03, 2015

Week IV

We had a restful weekend, here at the AA. Monday was a holiday in Rome. We’re in the middle of a heatwave here in much of Western Europe with temperatures a few degrees shy of 100˚, so we didn’t do much besides lazing around the AA and reading.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Week III Highlights

As always, much of my time has been in the kitchen, so I don’t have much that is terribly interesting to report aside from a few kitchen highlights. As previously mentioned, I loved being able to use a chitarra earlier in the week.

Another exciting thing was a chicken liver pâté I made. I’ve never made one, but it was pretty simple. First I rendered a bunch of pork fat in a pan and then discarded the unusable scraps that hadn’t rendered. After toweling the livers dry (to avoid having them spatter as they came into contact with the hot grease), I dropped them into the pan and cooked them briefly on both sides, leaving the insides pink. Seasoning them after cooking helped prevent wicking out their tasty moisture and permitted them to brown just a little. Into the still-hot pan, I soften some diced onions, minced garlic, chopped sage, and a few anchovies, with a splash of water. Once cooked, I deglazed the pan with some marsala, which I reduced a bit and then poured over the cooling vegetables. Once the livers and the vegetables were room temperature, I pulsed them in the Robot Coupe (a food processor), leaving the consistency a bit coarse with the diced onions still quite perceptible. I seasoned the mixture to taste with salt, pepper and the smallest splash of white wine vinegar. In spite of all the pork fat, the pâté seemed a bit lean, so I pulsed in a half kilo of cold cubed butter. Served on little crostini, I thought it was pretty perfect.

Kitchen highlights of the week covered, here are some my tourism-related ones:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Maccheroni alla Chitarra

Maccheroni/Spaghetti alla Chitarra
This is exactly why I wanted to be here: I get to do things the way they used to be done. 

The tool pictured above is called a chitarra, which is Italian for guitar. If you had an Italian great-great-grandmother, she probably used one very much like it to cut her pasta. For her sake, I hope she did it in smaller batches than the one I was working with this evening. Kneading nearly four kilos of dough by hand, and then cutting each sheet on the chitarra—even though I had help—took over 5 hours. Tomorrow is my day off this week, and I think I may need it: my arms might actually be sore in the morning! 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Week II

I certainly expected my family to read this blog, but I’ve been surprised at how many friends have been letting me know they’re looking at it too. I’ve been enjoying writing it, but it’s nifty hearing back from so many other people too! Do keep writing me!

I have some good news: I located my camera charger (exactly where I had put it). This should ensure better pictures in the future. The bad news, thought, is that I haven’t had many opportunities to use it this week. 

Here are, nevertheless, some highlights from this past week:

Friday, June 12, 2015

First week in Rome

I’m writing this morning because I felt obliged to leave my apartment, so I grabbed my computer and moseyed over to the AA Bar (obviously, ‘AA’ stands for American Academy, not Alcoholics Anonymous). I left the apartment in a hurry because the maid just showed up and I didn’t want to be in the way.

Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in… I have a maid. I have a maid who comes every Friday to clean, bring fresh linens, take out the trash, etc. This place is ridiculous.

Here’s something else that’s completely absurd:
Yesterday I passed my Italian food safety course. My certificate says that my course lasted 6 hours and had been laminated and delivered to Laura’s (Director of RSFP) office before we even arrived to take it. Our class was also about 5 1/2 hours less than 6 hours. Nevertheless, it’s legal for me to handle food in Europe now:

I hardly hope to cover all the details of my first week in Rome, but I have done a few things outside of the kitchen. Once I find my camera’s charger—and stop relying on my iPhone—I’ll have better pictures of the things I do! To my chagrin I don’t have a single picture of the Parthenon, which I briefly visited with Sarah yesterday.

I guess I should introduce Sarah. Sarah Featherby, who I live and work with, has also become my tourism buddy here in Rome. Previously, she worked at the well-known Books for Cooks in London. She likes books as much as me and Lorenzo.

Who is Lorenzo? Lorenzo Tirelli is our Roman friend from the kitchen who has become our gracious tour guide and interpreter. As mentioned, he likes books. He kind of has to: his family owns a little used bookstore, Open Door Bookshop, that specializes in English, French, Spanish, and Italian language books:

Open Door Bookshop

We get along famously. We love food, cooking and books. What more could I ask for?

Well needless to say, we’ve been exploring our neighborhood’s food. Italian food is known for its abundance of vegetables, but I’m really excited also about the meat here. I’m excited to explore meat that is less commonly consumed in the States.

Donkey Testicles
I’m also just excited about the variety and quality of the cured charcuterie—salumi in italiano—that is commonly available. Sarah and I encountered this luscious goodness the other day, just two blocks away from the American Academy at Litro a bar/caffè: 

I really don’t think the novelty of being here is going to wear off soon.

I am just blown away by my neighborhood. Literally a block away from me are these two places:

Fontana dell’Acqua Paola or Il Fontanone, The Big Fountain

A little park in my neighborhood

But sometimes I wonder if I should even bother leaving the American Academy property:

A diagram of the property I live on
When I get sick of reading in the library I can come read here


Hopefully I’ll locate my camera charger soon so that I can shoot some decent pictures of this place. These really don’t do it justice! 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What is the American Academy in Rome and what is the Rome Sustainable Food Project?

This was the question everyone kept asking me before I left. Finally I’ve found a succinct answer:

A less succinct answer is the following description, excerpted from a review by Chris Dias I found and liked a lot that really seems to capture the spirit of this place:
It’s not a tourist spot. It’s neither a restaurant nor a hotel. You won’t find an entry for it on Trip Advisor, Urbanspoon, or Yelp. You can’t even cross its considerable heavy bulwark without an invite. You’re unlikely then to read this review anywhere else. Nestled in a relatively obscure area of Southern Rome is a sealed enclave not unlike a minuscule Vatican, with buildings, fountains, courts, living accommodations, and most importantly, a distinct population. It’s the American Academy in Rome--an institution made up of extremely talented scholars, artists, and architects fortunate enough to further their studies abroad thanks to a combination of accomplishment and recognition. Depending on the time of day, you’re likely to find painters, musicians, and/or artistic performers plying their skill in one the most romantic, exotic locations imaginable.

So how could I find myself past their periphery, among the covenant of the creative elite, brushing shoulders with the upper echelon of creative paramounts? Well, obviously not due to any inherent talent. I could never ape Ellison and hammer out a masterwork in a shop window with nothing other than a random pitch and a typewriter. You have no idea how often I have to rely on spell checker. One word, connections, it’s all about who you know. In this case, it was mom. Her friend’s daughter happens to be Mona Talbott, a celebrated chef of 25-years’ experience that at one point operated the Rome Sustainable Food Project from the very Academy of which of speak. Said project involves relying on locally grown produce and raw unprocessed ingredients in the making of meals. You see, the entire (or rather the majority of) Academy sits together along a colossal table, the length of which film directors stage long panning shots for. The kitchen lays out an impressive spread for the inhabitants to enjoy. It was this meal we found an invitation for. All my mother and I needed to do is find the Academy and make our presence known. That last part was easy, but finding the Academy was no simply task, locked behind tall unlabeled walls in a region with more than one location called an academy.

The American Academy is a beautiful sanctuary, a Xanadu if you will, with tended gardens and clean walls. This place is loved by its populace. We enjoyed refreshments at the local café, toured the grounds, before finally finding our seats among more talented individuals than myself. We talked about performances and achievements among the clanging of wine glasses (did I mention the free wine). I shouldn’t embellish my experiences with the fellow inhabitants, but to summarize, I was envious. Not just because the food was amazing, and it was. During my trip, I would sample several buffets (to my chagrin of the Globus tour), but none would reach the level set by the American Academy. Obviously, Talbott had set the bar considerably high, and her successors have honored that level. What I admired most about the experience was the level of enthusiasm felt in the cooking staff. After the meal, I was invited to discuss past and future meals with the head chef, and his passion was infectious. He extolled his relish while carving masterfully into a pig’s head. And I mean a whole pig’s head, still with teeth and stubble in places. 
However, all good things…as they say…and by the late afternoon, we found a taxi to return to the hotel, satisfied with the memories gathered. The downside of all this was that none of the included meals offered by our tour later ever rose to level of quality encountered at the American Academy in Rome. Even if I did manage to return to this country and this city, I doubt I’d be able find myself there again. I’m a Canadian writer who managed to luck out. But the memories will remain with me for the rest of my life… to everyone else there, it was just a Tuesday afternoon, but to me, it was so much more.

Monday, June 08, 2015


My trip was seamless and felt quick. The transatlantic leg of the flight had a good tailwind, which made it bumpy, but also resulted in us landing nearly an hour early.

Thus, I had ample time for a hearty breakfast in Dublin:

Irish coffee and prosciutto sammich
After breakfast, I took a spot to wait for my next flight. It was about 6.30 AM, locally, and everyone was quiet, with one exception. The silence was broken by the horrid sound of a baseball commentator and the din of a baseball stadium; some trashy American woman in her forties had decided to watch some baseball on her iPhone, sans headphones. So joyfully absorbed looking at her screen, she was entirely oblivious to all the Europeans who were just in complete disbelief at her audacity. I nearly said something, but contented myself with exchanging knowing looks with the folks surrounding me. It was too early in the morning to lose my temper.

On my flight to Rome, I shot this picture. It’s not great, but it was nifty flying alongside another plane for a while:

I loved going through customs in Rome. When I saw the line, I thought I was going to have a stroke. Luckily it was the line for non-EU folks, so I happily walked past everyone. I especially enjoyed walking past my trashy friend who had been watching her iPhone at the Dublin airport. I didn’t have to wait much for my bags, and then got into a cab. The driver didn’t really believe that I had the address right: some kid with a backpacking backpack was certainly not going to be living in that neighborhood, he suggested! 

Well he was wrong. This is where I’ll be living:

I still can’t believe I’m living here

Saturday, June 06, 2015


Massachusetts has been much more relaxing than New York.

Seeing family and friends has been nice. I’ve spent much of my time here, though, just reading.

Aside from sitting on the couch, I’ve done a few things and (it almost goes without saying) eaten plenty of food. I also got to cook with Dick; we made a ratatouille the other night. I really enjoyed pulling out my knives and I’m itching to do it with more frequency!

Anyway, I have been staying with Dick (uncle) and Carol (aunt) in Newbury, but I also got to visit Evy (aunt) and Kenny (uncle) on Monday in Fairhaven. Fairhaven is a town next to New Bedford, which is famous for its whaling history and now has a museum about whaling

Whaling has fallen out of fashion, apparently, but seafood fortunately has not. I’ve been taking full advantage of this. 

In Fairhaven, we had a meal at Margaret’s Restaurant. I ate a mountain of scallops. 

Grilled Scallops!
I spent the next morning in Fairhaven. Then I made my way back into Boston and spent a few hours exploring Harvard Square and then I settled into a café to read my book, while I waited to meet up with Sophie, Clark and Stephen. Here we are at Alden & Harlow:

Clark, Sophie, Yours Truly, and Stephen

Everything was very pretty, but it’s a good thing I had eaten a McDonald’s burger for the second time in my life earlier in the day at South Station (Sorry, Alice!) because everything was very small.

The first time I ever had one was in Paris years ago. To Jen’s complete horror, Josh and I were hellbent on having a famous Royale with Cheese (click the link if you need a Pulp Fiction refresher). I think it’s safe to say that McDonald’s will not be something I seek out again for another ten years.

Anyway, here is a selection of pictures of the things we ate at Alden & Harlow:

I spent the night at Sophie’s and then after a late brunch, I made my way back to Cambridge to explore some more and then I eventually settled down in a café to do some more reading while I waited for dinner with Adrienne.

Dinner with Adrienne was at the famous Craigie On Main. We ate at the bar and befriended the bartender, who was curious about what I’ve been up to and interested in hearing about my trip. Our friendship resulted in ample extra pours and plenty of extra food (Have you begun to notice a trend?). Here are two of the pictures Adrienne shot:

Eventually I made my way back to Newburyport, where I have spent most of the last two days reading my book on Carol and Dick’s couch. How could I want to do anything else when it’s cold outside and their living room is cozy and inviting?

Cozy and inviting living room

I did finally get off of my posterior, yesterday. It was Dick’s 64th and we went to Hellcat Swamp on Plum Island to drink champagne before dinner.

Happy Birthday, Dick!

Well this is it! I’m heading to the airport this afternoon and have a one-way ticket: after a short stopover in Dublin I will be in Rome!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Gramercy Tavern

When Patrick back at Chez Panisse heard that I was going to New York, he encouraged me to eat at Gramercy Tavern. He had cooked there a couple years ago and had me email Howard, the chef de cuisine, and Michael Anthony, the executive chef, to let them know in advance that I wanted to come in. Good advice.

When we arrived, they had two questions for us. The first was whether any of us had any dietary restrictions. The second was a harbinger of what was to come: “do you have any time constraints this evening?” 

We ordered a few things from the menu, but our first round of plates did not resemble anything we had expected. This was not a mistake. Just extra thanks to Patrick.

Here are pictures of just a few of the things we ate that evening. Everything was splendid.

Full to the gills, we ordered two desserts to share. We didn’t think we could each handle our own. We weren’t given a choice, though. Each of us got a dessert. We weren’t upset. They were all stunning. Here’s one of them:

I felt like my stomach was about to explode

Before I knew what was going on the entire kitchen staff crowded to the front and then I was shoved into the middle of them for a picture. I felt pretty silly.