Things that remind me of Italy

We went to dinner last week with friends, and visited a restaurant that served a dish that always makes me think of Italy. Both because my Italian friends here fix it a lot, but also because it is to be eaten almost everywhere in Italy. Fritto Misto Di Pesce. Of course, when one eats in Europe, the fish and the vegetables that are fried crispy are what is freshest at the market and what is caught that day.

I was absolutely thrilled to walk through the many markets and small stores in each town we visited in Italy. They don’t have large super markets like we do here in the United States. And Europeans don’t ship their food hundreds of miles in a green state, gas it, and then hope for the best as it lays on a store shelf for customers to purchase. They eat what is harvested in season, close to their towns. The markets are surrounded with tiny stores of all kinds, specializing in pasta, meats, breads, balsamic vinegars. Just about anything one could wish for. I absolutely wore my eyes and feet out. Of course my husband loved it because I didn’t have a kitchen, so I couldn’t buy one of everything in the market. But just to show him I could buy in bulk, I brought lots of goodies home (shipping is the way to go and the hotels are quite accommodating). We were right across the Grand Canal from the main market in Venice, so a short water taxi ride is all it took to take me straight to heaven so to speak, the Rialto market. And the fish market was right next to that. It was just heaven. I still can close my eyes and transport myself back there.

And the same thing I’d true the Florence. We stayed in a modest hotel very near the main market area in Florence. I could literally walk out my door, turn left, walk two blocks, turn left again, and there before my eyes was a market with everything I could need to have the most wonderful dinner, and it was all so fresh. And stores with all types of merchandise.

Our hotel room in Florence was on the 4th floor overlooking the street. We ate breakfast on the balcony. The buildings are beautiful and quite old and close together. There was a very old lady across the street in a window from us one morning. It was quite easy to see that she had just finished her breakfast and was leaning on her window ledge looking down at the street below. She must have eaten some type cereal, as her bowl appeared to have milk in it and she had a wooden spoon. (Maybe she was making her daily bread or pizza.)

It was quite common to see pigeons on window ledges or balconies (much to the annoyance of our hotel waitress who had a broom battle with three very sly and dodgy fellows near our breakfast table). Well, my neighbor looked up the street, she peered down the street, she very carefully checked below her window, and when she felt the coast was clear she stretched her very old arm out her window and dumped the contents of her bowl out to the birds below on the street. Of course I found that to be hilarious, especially since I wasn’t walking under her window when she hurled her breakfast out for the birds. I often wonder if she is still there, how she is doing and if she is still feeding the birds. Betcha she is……

I would love to go back to Italy. It was so magical. The way of life is slower, I think the people kinder to each other, the pace is not as frantic, people seem to be more interested in each other than in material things. Don’t get me wrong, there in nowhere where people look more beautiful or handsome, it’s just that Italians seem to take time to care for each other more, to take time to appreciate the things they have rather than to always be looking to something in the future that they haven’t achieved yet.

I will go back! That is a promise. And the next trip I will walk slower, sit on a curb and just breath in the air and watch life as it presents itself. I will stay in an apartment where I can cook, and I will take cooking lessons from a Nanna who carries a wooden spoon and feeds the birds.

SUSHI IS– WHAT SUSHI IS!

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I love the weekends when we get a chance to go the our local sushi restaurant to enjoy a few rolls, some Asian BBQ Ribs, maybe a plate of shrimp tempura. I think I just love about everything that they make at Kobe Steak House. Over the 8 years since they opened, we have enjoyed their food almost every weekend. Of course we have favorites, and there are also some new rolls on occasion that strike our fancy.

I enjoy introducing friends to sushi that have never gone there before. If they are afraid it is because their idea of “Sushi” is usually that it is raw fish, which it of course isn’t always. So it gives me a chance to explain that the word “sushi” means the way the rice is prepared, not the fact that some of the seafood is eaten raw. The first time I ate sushi was in San Francisco some 30 years ago. At that time there were few if any sushi restaurants in my small town of Independence, Missouri. There is no way one could have found the ingredients needed to make sushi, at least not locally. Now the components are carried in markets everywhere. I am amazed at how popular edamame have gotten in the midwest. Now I see them in all kinds of food preparations. Even as recent as 10 years ago that just didn’t happen around this part of the country. Talk about a paring, love them with dried cranberries…in a salad. How about crab meat, spinach, deviled eggs, maybe a Louis dressing, edamame, dried cranberries, NEED I SAY MORE?..oh my.

Being this far from both coasts, I find that most foodie trends hit here about 2 to 3 years after they hit the east or west coast. And newer styles and food preparation methods are for the most part slow to become main stream (but we do have some REALLY fantastic restaurants in KC now, ones that can’t be beaten anywhere in the world, like Michael Smith’s two restaurants, my fav I guess is Extra Virgin, and Blue Stem – which is a James Beard award winner and has done Kansas City proud, Story, Jaspers, our list is growing and I am not naming all of the greats in my list of favorites.

But I wander from my sushi. My mind is like a little butterfly when it comes to food. Jumping from one delight to the other. Japanese/Asian/Pacific Rim /Fusion–and it has become a fusion in my poor little brain. There are parts of each regional style food that I totally enjoy eating all at the same time. Thai pot stickers, Yaki Soba – one of my go to comfort foods– miso glaze for salmon, (sake-mirin-plum sauce or brown sugar-miso paste)–also broiled salmon noodle soup.

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Uni – or sea urchin. Not typically one of my favorites, because it is a textural thing more than a taste thing. When we were in Kauai, Hawaii we ate at one of my favorite restaurants in the whole world- “Roy’s”. One course was lobster ravioli with an Uni butter sauce. Wow! What a way to use uni. Every time I see uni I think of Hawaii and that wonderful dinner.

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I am by no means a Sushi purist. I have picked and chosen my favorite gems from all the places I have eaten that serve sushi or a combination of sushi-ish cuisine. It is fun, give it a try. There are lots of rolls that don’t have raw fish. Some don’t have fish at all. Seat yourself at the sushi bar if you can, so you can watch your sushi Chef prepare the rolls.

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Jeffrey the Sushi Chef at Kobe Steak House

MY CAT TOLD ME ” THERE’S A BIRD ON MY WINDOW ”

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It must be spring. There has been a little bird flying up and down my windows for the last three days, quite to the amazement of my cats.  Of course since he is outside and they are inside cats, he is safe and they are amazed.  Maybe even puzzled.  You see, he sits in a tree or on a bannister, just outside one of four windows he has decided belong to him, and periodically swarms the window, lights on the sill and does some kind of primal flying dance up and down the window.  Katie, my brown cat, has definitely decided that it is the challenge of her life and is sure this bird is trying to steal her entire house.  I on the other hand am a little confused.  If the bird thinks it can intimidate the house in to moving out of her territory, shouldn’t it pick on something a little more it’s size?  I am sure it has built a nest near us, and that is the reason for all the scare tactics.

Last year a tiny wren built a nest under our upper deck.  It actually hatched 5 babies, up very close to the house.  Our upper porch is screened, so is the underside of the deck.  Some how she found the tiniest little space to crawl through, built a magnificent nest, and hatched those babies and we didn’t even see her until the babies got out of the nest.  It makes our cats crazy with anticipation but I enjoy seeing these tiny creatures.  It is so fresh and pure, such a beautiful reminder of the way the world is supposed to be.

I especially love to watch the films of people walking down a street or through a park and getting dive bombed by a bird.  I just can’t help myself.  I guess because it isn’t my head getting pecked, I think it’s really funny.  But if this bird in my window won’t let me out my back door, maybe I will re-think how funny I have always thought those films were.  And if my cats never get to take their daily “catnaps” I guess that’s not so funny either.  They have been exhausted each night by the time  Mrs. Birdie finally goes to roost.

THE SALMON ARE HERE

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It’s that time of the year again. The Wild Alaskan Salmon are showing up in the store. I am waiting for Jim Bennett at Costco, my Independence Fish supplier to call me and tell me my case is ready to pick up. I order what I can get, what is available depending on what is being harvested, and then freeze the fillets. That is what we eat all year. I don’t eat farmed salmon, it is not sustainable, it has to have dye added to its food to make the meat red, and it just isn’t something I want to promote.

I like to grill the salmon on a grill pan. It doesn’t take long, and I feel like I can control the degree of doneness better. I use a simple rub– 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 3 tbsp chii powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. papriika, sea salt and white pepper.

Love Salmon Chowder, Salmon Quesadillas, Salmon Cakes, Salmon Loaf, just about Salmon anything. But if you are new to cooking Salmon, remember, don’t over-cook it. It will be dry and undesirable.

Salmon truly is one of natures gifts. That is why our stewardship of it is so important. For more information on this species and many others check out such sites as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch”. You can even print off a handy guide to take with you to help you make wise choices when shopping. There is even a Sushi Guide to help make sushi choices that are good for the environment.

Help make wise choices. Help preserve our oceans and seafood for future generations. It is a worthwhile way to spend a few hours reading about something that can change your life and the lives of those you love. You’ll be glad you did and so will the future…

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Tuesday morning and what has been around the corner

It certainly has been a refreshing (if not somewhat chilly) couple weeks since the last note. The weather has been delightful, frightful, warm, cold, snow, sunshine you name it and we have had it. My poor herbs are so confused they don’t know if they should stick their little heads up or burrow back under the leaves again. But lets try this again, it’s spring in Missouri, so it is time for all the lovely green plants to be brave and hang in there. Actually, this last snow we received doesn’t appear to have harmed anything, but I certainly was surprised, and so were the plants.

When you think of ketchup I bet it isn’t the most exciting thing on your grocery list. I know it didn’t used to be on mine, that is until I met Bruce Steinberg. Bruce is the inventor/brains behind the new condiment (I feel bad calling it a mere condiment it is so much more). There are several flavors, which lend themselves to different types of foods. I have a couple favorites, one being the Black Truffle Ketchup….OK, now if that isn’t special, tell me what is. I mean, does the name just make you think of a hot sizzling steak fresh off the grill, drizzled with wonderful Black Truffle Ketchup. And the best part is, all the work is done, the flavor is there, all I have to do is just pour it on. Two others flavors I really like are the Roasterie Coffee flavor and the Alderwood flavor (salmon anyone, that’s what jumped into my mind the instant I say the Alderwood flavor). But the other 9 flavors bring instant pictures to mind also. What does Lemon Twist or Thai Ginger or Habanero Heat make you think of? Yeah, me too. Makes me hungry just to think of it. Well, they are showing up on store shelves all over the metro, and soon nationwide. Here is the website http://www.finevinesketchup.com. I wish you could taste what the Truffle Ketchup did for my humble T-Bone steak. It was amazing.

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