Monday, December 3, 2012

Home is where the food is

I haven't been writing much because I haven't exactly had that much to be writing about.  I'm in the United States, at my parents, eating, watching TV and wandering around New York while all my friends and family are at work.

Some vacation.

But, seriously, it is great to be home, even when it gets conflicting exactly where "home" is, and even more so when my family dynamic has changed dramatically this year with the passing of loved ones, selling houses full of memories, and moving my life across an ocean in the middle of it.  Sometimes, in all honesty, it feels a little bit confusing.

Confusion and all sorts of ails can be healed through food, fortunately, and this is one area my family excels at.  We had a party (theme: generic family party to celebrate being together) today that reminded me again that no matter where my carta d'identit√† or drivers license say I live, the same flavors find me with the familiar sensation of being at home.

Polpettone, normale - at least as normale as one can get made by an American gal in NJ
Polpettone, gluten free!
My mom's oven fried chicken with roasted potatoes and artichokes was the main course, which might have leaned towards the American side of the global food spectrum, but the antipasto - slivers of salumi, paper thin provolone, hard, spicy soppressata and bowls of little pickled vegetables and olives - teetered the dinner towards Italy.  To put the balance back towards the middle, I made a salad of quinoa and vegetables with a Lebanese dressing and roasted beets with feta and dill over arugula.  For a side with the fried chicken, we brought Monterosso al Mare to New Jersey, making polpettone, a traditional Ligurian dish made with cooked vegetables (potato, green beans, some dark leafy greens, carrots and so forth) mixed with egg and cheese, then blended and flattened out on a pan and topped with bread crumbs and drizzled with oil and baked until lightly brown.  The way Manuel's gram makes it uses more potato, sometimes meat, less "dark greens" (in this case, kale) and is normally not adapted for those who cannot eat the gluten in bread.  Keeping in mind the sort of "don't worry if you don't have 'x' just throw more of 'y' or find some 'z' " attitude of Italian cooking, I figured I had some wiggle room and took some artistic license with my polpettone.  I think it came out wonderfully, and even more so when I got to share a little of what I eat in my other home with my family in this one.

For dessert, crostate filled with homemade marmalade (plum and apricot) from Tuscany and everyone's-favorite-and-oft-mentioned Uncle Uccio.  I made one with an American crust, thinner and less sweet, and one with my Italian recipe, measuring out my grams until my significantly higher and sweeter apricot crostata came steaming out of the oven.

"Italian" crostata in the front, with apricot jam, and "American" plum in the back

Vegetarian nightmare.
I didn't realize the strange little pun of blending my foods from there and my foods from here today until we were cleaning up, and I was folding the crisp white deli paper holding the remaining wisps of prosciutto and putting it back in the fridge, where it will only last until someone's midnight snack.  Cooking alongside my mom in the morning like I always did with her and my Gram, preparing a dish I learned across the ocean by cooking alongside someone else's Grandmother, explaining it to me patiently in a mixture of dialect and Italian.  Cleaning up with my dad (or, now, watching Manuel help him clean up, but I was there for moral support), I'm reminded again how the act and tradition of preparing a meal and eating it together is just as important as what one eats.  It just helps when what one eats is fresh, milky mozzarella and soft, charred red peppers, falling apart in ribbons in olive oil, and when the company at the dinner table is always a big family, laughing and passing plates, happy to be together - in any language.


  1. Christine,
    It's great to hear that you're having such a nice holiday at your "other" home. I always enjoy reading your very interesting Blog, and the food looks wonderful!

  2. Ciao Christina,

    I'm Alexandra, a half Italian girl from New Zealand. I just wanted to get in touch, to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog.

    Your stories, such as that of the 'lady laundry community' are such gems and totally spot on. Myself an English speaker, scrambling to learn as much as I can of 'la bella lingua', I can only imagine the true honor of being welcomed into the community.

    In March next year I'll be bringing my boyfriend to Italy, to finally get to meet my nonni, exciting! As his true passion is fishing (and delicious food), I thought it would be perfect to stay in the Cinque Terre for a few nights -- we will make sure visit Monterosso and of course dine at La Cantina Di Miky!

    I was wondering if you might know of/recommend a fishing service, which will be able to take Matt (il mio ragazzo) out for a fish in the harbour? I understand if this is a bit tricky due to March being offseason, so no worries if there isn't anything :)

    Ciao e grazie mille,
    Alexandra di Nuova Zelanda

  3. Family is where the Heart is, and it sounds like your heart is with many people in many places. Eating and preparing food together are traditions that bond humanity, we are able no matter where in the world, ablt to come together and enjoy the food and company with much joy, when reading this Blog update it took me right there watching you all laugh, play and conect in that Italian Family feel. again thank you for your lovely update's and for transporting us in time to memories of our own.
    Blessings in your travels between homes and Lands.
    and a very Merry Christmas to you both.

  4. @Alexandria: Ciao! Glad you are coming!! As for a fishing service, it's a little tricky as there are more or less just fishermen who go out every day, not really a guided fishing tour. Going out on the boat, though, is pretty easy and companies like Angelo's Boat Tours here in Monterosso offer small sunset cruises and the like with just a handful of people - I've heard great things about them. Also, never underestimate taking a fishing rod and a stool and hanging out at the pier, like lots of old guys do :) And eat lots of anchovies!!
    @Denise: Thank YOU! Happy holidays and a wonderful Christmas to you and yours as well! xo

  5. Hi Christine,
    Thank you kindly for the info regarding Angelo's -- I've looked it up and that's perfect. Can't wait to eat those anchovies!!


  6. Christine,
    So great reading about the delicious food and sharing of cooking with your family. You captured it so beautifully. I have wanted to connect and say that it was wonderful meeting you in September with my Italy Retreat group. Loved the food at Miky's and the drinks and atmosphere at the Cantina. Thank you for your kind hospitality, and I will again bring another group of women in mid-September. Buon Anno e grazie mille.

  7. Ciao Lenora!
    It was great meeting you too! I'm glad you liked everything - it's nice to know that all of our hard work pays off. Looking forward to seeing you in September!!