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