Who Cares About Food (Politics)?

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Food politics fascinates me. I think I like it so much because it combines both of my favorite things, food and politics. Until about a year and a half ago I didn’t even know this genre of politics existed. Then I listened to the audiobook version of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. To be honest, the only reason I chose that book was because I listened to every other audiobook about food at my local library. I’m very grateful for my library’s limited audiobook selection, because Omnivore’s Dilemma changed my life. It opened my eyes up to a subject I am so passionate about, that I can picture myself having a career in the field.

Food politics encompasses many, many angles of food production and distribution. From corn subsidies to school lunches. I think that more people should be educated about the food on their plates. Everybody eats, therefore the politics of food affects everyone. Many people don’t know that antibiotics fed to chickens we eat are making us sick and pesticide residue can’t always be washed off produce. So what can be done to get people to pay attention and care about what they put in their bodies and their children’s bodies? I don’t think there is any singular or simple answer to this. Buying organic is becoming trendy and more farmers markets are popping up around the country than ever before. First Lady Michelle Obama set an example for the nation by planting a garden on the White House lawn. I buy local, organic produce at my farmer’s  market and love what the First Lady is doing to fight obesity but the reality is that most kids eating school lunches around the country, particularly in low income areas, are still eating processed mystery meat.

 

Becoming more aware about our food needs to start with adults making healthier choices for themselves and setting an example for their children. I think America is on the right path to bring food issues to the table.  I just wish we could sprint, not slowly meander down the path.   

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Food and Family

Memories with food are very special. I’ve read dozens of other people’s memories surrounding food and have lots of my own. My mother instilled my love of cooking and food in general so I thought I would be interesting to hear her food memories about me and her childhood. I had no idea how central food is to our lives.    

Me: What did I hate eating when I was and did it change over time? How did you deal with that? ***
Mother: When you were younger younger you didn’t hate anything, like at age 2 and 3 you loved eggs and pickles. You ate everything. When you got a little older you didn’t like milk, eggs or anything with too much vinegar. To counter this I fed you a lot of cheese and yogurt to give you calcium. It was annoying but not burdensome.   

Me: Did you cook different things before you were married than after? After you had kids? ***
Mother: No, I always cooked in college so I was already good at cooking meals. I had to incorporate things that Daddy likes, like gravy and mashed potatoes, into some meals but thats the only difference. The time factor changed my cooking when you were born. I couldn’t make fancy pastries and complicated dishes as much as I used to.

Me: How was your parents cooking? What did your parents cook? ***
Mother: My mother cooked, but didn’t love cooking. We had TV dinners sometimes and a lot more canned vegetables than you’re used to seeing. She cooked standard Italian things like“tuccu” (meat sauce) and pasta. Pesto was the norm for her growing up, she considered it peasant food so she never cooked it.We always had salami cheese and bread. My mother baked a lot with and without mixes very often. Especially bundt cakes. She loved baking and not cooking. Every friday my mother made tuna sandwiches with salad and fried potatoes.   

What are your favorite food memories from your childhood?
Mother: My father didn’t cook but my favorite memory is of him eggs with salami and onions. Drinking tea with my grandmother is good memory with food. I feel like I baked a lot with my mother so that’s another one. I loved eating pickled pigs feet too. I can picture my father unwrapping them from the white butcher paper on a saturday afternoon. He got them every Saturday from the Lucca Italian delicatessen in Castro Valley.

Me: What are your favorite food memories of me growing up?
Mother: On your fifth birthday we had lunch at a winery restaurant and I remember you ordering and loving  a big clove of roasted garlic that you spread on slices of baguette. I loved baking with you and you loved it too so I made sure I bought a hand mixer that was light enough for you to hold when you were very little.  You had a rapt attention to cooking shows at a very young age. You watched a lot of cooking shows, especially Julia Child and Martin Yan. I can just see you sitting on the floor watching Baking with Julia. When you were four we went to see Martin Yan give a cooking demonstration and he signed a cookbook for you. (Note: Meeting Martin Yan is still my all time favorite memory. I still vividly remember that day.)

Me:Is there a special food that reminds you of me?
Mother: Coffee. You always loved coffee.

Me: Did you cook for me or for yourself?
Mother: No, I honored your preferences and didn’t cook a lot of eggs, but I didn’t change my cooking for you. I always felt you need to eat with the family so I made you try everything. You ate most things anyway.

Me: Did you have any kitchen disasters?
Mother: Sure, forgetting to put sugar in corn bread and baking soda in biscuits created disasters. Reading a recipe too quickly is usually my problem. .  

Me:  If you could have any meal (the ultimate meal) what would it be?
Mother: Sourdough bread, Point Reyes blue cheese and salami with a cup of coffee. Genovese pesto is my other ultimate meal. The pesto in Lumarzo (Northern Italy) tastes so much better than it does here because of the terroir.
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Eating in Your Own Backyard

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    The Berkeley food scene makes me happy beyond belief. I don’t mean to be cliche, but the heart and soul of the restaurant and bakery owners can be tasted in their food. And do you know what the best part is? It’s less than half an hour away. Good for my stomach bad for my wallet. North Berkeley’s gourmet ghetto is the Disneyland of local, organic, California cuisine. If I had the time I would be there every other day trying new restaurants and soaking up the (food) culture. There is just about something for everyone’s food preferences and price points too. There are expensive sit down restaurants (Chez Panisse anyone?) down the street from take away pizza collective where eating a slice while sitting on the median strip is the norm. While I have not tried nearly all the restaurants in this food paradise, here are some of my favorites:

Love at First Bite Cupcakery- Cupcakes, both big and small, with unique flavors such as Japanese green tea are dreamt up by the owner, Pat. There speciality is red velvet, but I would go for the ginger with lemon cream cheese frosting.

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Soop- The owner of this soup take away counter is very friendly and passionate about creating quality soups that use seasonal produce. They make hearty vegetable stews in the winter and light watermelon gaspazpatos in the winter. The flavors of the soup are meticulously thought out. I had a thai red lentil soup with lemongrass, lime, coconut milk and coriander.

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Cheeseboard- This vegetarian pizza collective is a landmark eatery of the Gourmet Ghetto. The single flavor combination changes daily, so check out the menu online first in the event that you are adverse to cauliflower pizza, but seriously, I doubt they could ever make a bad pizza. Seasonal vegetables and cheeses that will make you happy enough to weep are the stars of their pizzas. I recommend on going on a mushroom pizza day.

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The Local Butcher Shop- All the meat sold in the shop travels no farther than 100 miles to get to you. There are friendly butchers cutting up whole sides of beef right in front of you, what a treat! It is so refreshing to see meat treated well and not being strangled by styrofoam and plastic.From beef and pork to rabbit and chicken. Every scrap of animal that isn’t sold as meat is used in another way and sold in the shop. There is soap made of beef tallow, stocks made from leftover bones, and dog food are sold as well. The best part is the daily sandwich. I recently had a ham and gruyere sandwich with pistachio sauce.

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Lush-  Gelato shops are hard to come by. While not quite as good as those found all over Italy, this is the best gelato i’ve had stateside. Unique flavors such as Salted Stracciatella and Rosemary Honey immediately caught my attention. I personally favor the Balsamic Mascarpone flavor that has pieces of chocolate covered graham cracker inside. The experience of eating this  is like no other– it’s a cross between gelato and cheese and I promise you will not regret ordering a second scoop.

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Chopped: Jan Term Edition

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Mango, pesto, and Tabasco. This is not a combination of ingredients I immediately thought complemented each other, but lets take a closer look. The earthy freshness of the herbs in the pesto is heightened by the sweet mango and is counterbalanced by the intense spice of the Tabasco  This is really an ideal flavor profile. Still unconvinced that I would fully succeed in making a dish with Tabasco (I prefer my “kicks” of heat au natural in the form of whole chilies) I made sure to make my meal on a night that I would be cooking only for myself. I momentarily wanted to attempt my own riff on Tabasco sauce, but I decided that would be best saved for another night. I decided make a pesto to spread on toasts topped with a mango chutney and (store bought) Tabasco candied almonds.Image

A quick pesto was whirled in the immersion blender while I let the flavors of onion and cilantro become better acquainted with the mango and tomato in the chutney. I tackled the almonds next. If you’re wondering why I used the word tackled, its because in 20 years of cooking i’ve never found the time to candy nuts. How this happened I will never know. I’m very pleased to report candying nuts is ridiculously easy. I’m sure there is a way to complicate them and I’m confident I will find a way to do so in the near future, but there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to buy candied nuts for salads (or whatever) ever again. 
Now for the life lesson I got from this meal: be more confident! The dish I created with ingredients picked by strangers was one of the best things I’ve cooked recently. I purposely only cooked this for myself because I wasn’t confident in my ability to make something awesome out of some chopped herbs and fruit. Cooking constantly reminds me to have complete fearlessness and self confidence in my everyday life.Image

Toasts with Pesto, Mango Chutney and Candied Tabasco Almonds

Take all ingredient amounts with a grain of salt, everyone has different tastes. Not everyone loves as much garlic I do and others might crave more cilantro in the chutney. Enjoy!

For the Chutney:

1 mango, medium diced
1 roma tomato, medium diced
2 tablespoons white onion, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
a few dashes of Tabasco to taste
¼ teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients and let sit for at least one hour for flavors to meld.

For the Pesto:

2 cups fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon almonds

Put all the ingredients into a food processor or immersion blender bowl. Process or blend until smooth.

For the Almonds:
(From here forth to be referred to as “crack almonds”  because they will make you forget everything else you are cooking until half the pan is eaten)

¼ cup water
¼ heaping cup of sugar
½ heaping cup sliced almonds
¼ teaspoon salt
a few dashes of Tabasco to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small pot combine water and sugar. Boil until a thick syrup forms. Add the almonds, salt and t Tabasco and cook until there is no more liquid in the pot. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-8 minutes. The almonds should be lightly toasted and completely dried.

To assemble:

Brush slices of thick Italian bread, such as pugliese, with olive oil and broil both sides until toasted. Spread pesto on the toast, spoon on the chutney and top with almonds.

Mochi: Betcha Can’t Eat Just One


When I think of Japanese food the first thing that comes to mind is some combination of sticky rice, seaweed and fish. What a true Japanese dessert constitutes never really crossed my mind until a recent “edible” tour of Japan town  My favorite stop was a little bakery called Benkyodo Co. that specializes in mochi and other Japanese sweets. These 
doughy candies the size of little apricots sit nestled in paper wrappers behind a glass counter.

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The tour poured into the shop filled with local residents in the adjoining? cafe who looked confused as to why thirteen college students would want candy at eleven on a Thursday. There were many different flavors and types to choose from like peanut butter and simply the rice cake by itself dyed different colors. We were instructed to choose a mochi to sample and proceed outside to eat it. I was at the front of the line so the pressure was on to pick my mochi. It was like candy roulette  I had previously only tried the mochi filled with ice cream but since I like those are so much  I figured anything I pick would be good. I chose the “original” flavor, rice cake filled with red bean paste. Then outside, I think I had an emotional connection with my mochi.

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I could not believe how thick and chewy the exterior was while the soft bean paste held up most of the sweet flavor. I didn’t want my mochi moment to end. All I could think about was, “How can I use beans in other desserts?” This could get interesting. My love for red bean paste was rediscovered, I also enjoy it in Chinese sweets but now much prefer it  in mochi.
I enjoyed these little bundles of joy so much that I went back for more after the tour was over. I bought another original, a blueberry with white bean paste, a white bean filled pastry, and most exciting for me, what appeared to be a red bean filled donut hole. I wanted to demolish the lot during the car ride home but I mustered just enough self-restraint for them to make it home to share with my family.The blueberry was chock full of actual blueberries and not artificial blueberry flavor as I worried it could have been. The two white bean paste goodies were not nearly as delicious (in my opinion) as the red bean paste filled two. In the end, the overall consensus from my family was the original was the best, but nobody likes mochi nearly as much as I do.

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Disastrously Delicious

Can a kitchen disaster be delicious? If I have learned anything from a near unhealthy obsession with cooking and baking is that what I like to call a“kitchen faux pas” is not the be all end all of a dish. Yes, the bread may be burnt, the consistency might be off or your corn bread muffins might turn out as little hockey pucks from a lack of baking soda, but don’t worry there is still hope! If it comes out edible, and  I’m not saying that everything will, then why not be proud of what you made and learn from your mistakes? Cleaning out your refrigerator during finals week can create more than one “kitchen faux pas,” which for me translates into useful learning experiences. You have half a container of ricotta cheese? Far too many eggs to know what to do with? Not nearly enough time to study for all your finals, let alone time to heat up a pizza for dinner? Then making a chocolate ricotta tart it is! Procrasti-baking is my favorite sport, and I don’t even like sports!

To start out on the wrong foot, I mixed the ingredients for the tart shell together and let my stand mixer do all the work. A cooperative dough would start out looking like coarse crumbs and slowly come together with the help of butter and egg. This dough started out and stayed the constancy of course crumbs. Naturally my first instinct was to add more butter. With much success, my dough was perfectly golden from the egg yolk and glistened from the added butter. With the dough complete and pressed into a pie pan because I left my tart pan at my parents’ house (don’t you just hate that?) I moved on to the ricotta filling. I roughly chopped a bar of dark chocolate with no failings. Then, a heap of ricotta and sugar went into a bowl with the chocolate. Part of the deal with myself was that I had to get rid of as much food as possible before I went home for the holidays if I wanted to illicitly bake when I clearly had more important  things (finals? no.) to be doing. So in went a couple eggs because, a) eggs go great in custardy desserts and b) what could go wrong? It turns out many things can go wrong. I par-baked my tart shell before adding the filling and putting a criss cross lattice of tart dough on top. Soon after putting my tart baby into the oven, I realized that the edges of the par-baked crust were getting suspiciously brown, the lattice design was not browning at all and the filling was not setting up like I was anticipating. In the end, a burnt around the edges, nearly unbaked in the center with blatantly uncooked scraps of dough came out of the oven. I think my roommate thought I was trying to poison her. It ended up tasting great in my opinion and the best part: I know not to add eggs to a recipe that doesn’t call for them or need them and I also know not to use that crust recipe anymore because extra butter burns, fast, unless it is submerged into an eggy mess and refuses to bake at all. After all the work I put into the sad tart I was ultimately consoled by the fact that chocolate, ricotta and butter will almost always taste good no matter what you do to them.

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This is what I hoped my tart would look like.

Chocolate Ricotta Tart  

I’ve made this on more occasion and now I know not to fix what isn’t broke. The filing is a cinch and looks beautiful, especially if you omit the lattice top and use an actual tart pan!
For the Crust (Adapted from smittenkitchen.com)
1 ½ cups flour
½ cup powdered sugar
¼  teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter (melted)
1 egg
In a stand mixer or food processor mix flour, sugar and salt. Add melted butter and mix until combined. Add the egg and mix or process until a dough is formed. Chill for at least 2 hours before rolling out the dough and pressing it into a 9 inch tart pan or a smaller pie pan if you are feeling ambitious.

For the filling:

2 cups Ricotta Cheese
1 cup white sugar or sugar in the raw
½ cup dark chocolate, chopped into rough chunks however you would like to find in your tart

Mix the cheese, sugar and chocolate. If you have extra dough scraps you can cut ¼ inch strips and criss cross them over the tart (make sure they bake through by rolling them extra thin). Put the mixture into the tart shell and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the crust is brown and the filling is set.

A Gourmet Tour of the Mission District

In my mind the Mission is where you go to get good Mexican Food. The gourmet tour of the Mission District that I took opened up my eyes to a whole new edible experience of the area. The vibrant district is clearly becoming a foodie’s paradise. Our tour started by meeting up with our guide Stephanie Rosenbaum and learning about her background as a food writer. She started writing about food before it was considered a viable career, and she currently writes for Bay Area Bites, a food blog on the KQED website that I adore!  Along the way to our first stop, Stephanie gave us insight into the ethics of food writing. She explained how important it is to give a fair review of a restaurant or chef because the livelihoods of people are at stake. You can’t give all good reviews or no one will take you seriously as a reputable writer but you also have to be careful that you don’t misrepresent a restaurant with a bad review.

Our first stop on the tour was the Local Mission Eatery. We walked in and the simple yet beautiful interior set the tone for our visit. Two things immediately stuck out to me as different from most restaurants. One was the clear glass wall of the walk in refrigerator and the other was the open kitchen. It was really refreshing to see all the ingredients out in the open for the customer to see and not hidden from sight as if what goes into the food is a closely guarded secret. My favorite things in the walk in were the in-house pickled vegetables and tuna hearts hanging from the ceiling like little salamis. It was also just fascinating  to see the food being cooked right there in front of us. Chef Chad greeted us and explained a little bit of restaurant’s mission. The food they prepare is all locally produced and they aim to be as utilitarian as possible. They try to use every piece of every ingredient and nothing is wasted, not even broccoli stocks. While our food was prepared I perused the cookbook lending library that the restaurant provides for customers who want to expand their recipe repertoire. Chef chad prepared the tour a grilled cheese sandwich from the menu. This was no plain grilled cheese. It had caramelized onions, apple compote and Wagonwheel cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery between two buttery pieces of fresh bread, perfectly browned by the grill. I personally think that caramelized onions make everything taste better. The fruit and rich cheese were an excellent complement to each other in the sandwich. As we wiped off our buttery hands and thanked the chef I knew the rest of the tour was going to be amazing.

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Our second stop was a cupcake bakery called Mission Minis. The bakery is an oasis of pink on the fairly average city street. Stephanie told us about the owner who was a musician and wanted a more stable job, so he started making mini cupcakes. There were so many unusual cake flavors that I wanted to try, but I could only choose one. I debated between Swiss Almond Coconut and Aztec Chocolate, and I couldn’t resist picking the chocolate. When I first bit into it the lush buttercream frosting was a nice complement to the combination of chocolate and cinnamon in the moist cake. The next time I go to the Mission I hope they still have the Swiss Almond Coconut flavor. I am still trying to imagine how perfect the flavor combination must be in cupcake form.

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A couple blocks away we went to a pop up restaurant called Roxy’s, opened at the beginning of the month by Chef Manny who was inspired to cook a fusion of Venezuelan food prepared with Italian and Japanese technique. The restaurant was less of a restaurant and more of a transitional space for the chef to work on perfecting new dishes that he is inspired to create. The cooking space is especially unique because there is no oven or hooded grill to cook on. He has to be creative and uses non-traditional cooking techniques such as deep frying. The chef creatively served us two Yucca root gnocchi in a Bolognese sauce cooked for six hours and topped with fresh basil and a balsamic reduction. The fusion of the typical South American ingredient into the traditional Italian gnocchi was surprising. As it turns out, the yucca root made the texture of the gnocchi smoother and had less of a chewy bite. The Bolognese was hearty and was more of a rich meat stew infused with tomato that accompanied the gnocchi than a humble sauce enrobing the little yucca dumplings. The brightness of the basil complimented the richness of the other ingredients nicely as well. I wanted to stay there and eat a heaping bowl full of the dish but it was time to move on to the next stop on the tour.

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On our next tour stop we went to a Jewish deli called Wise Sons Delicatessen. The owners, Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman started the deli as a pop up because there were no good Jewish delis in San Francisco. Neither of them had any experience with cooking traditional Jewish foods like challa and matzo ball soup but the men experimented and now people flock to the deli for their pickles and pastrami. While we waited for our pastrami sandwiches, a plate of pickles was brought out for us to enjoy. I don’t usually enjoy pickles but I am willing to try anything. These pickles were unlike any I have had before. They were briney and unbelievably crunchy with a nice dill flavor. Then our sandwiches piled high with pink pastrami between homemade rye bread came out to us. The still warm meat was extremely juicy and had a salty kick. With our fourth stop complete I was getting a little full and Stephanie told us we had three more stops, so I was happy when we paused our eating to admire some of the beautiful murals on Balmy Alley. I never knew there was so much history and meaning behind the artwork on the buildings throughout the Mission.

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         My favorite stop on our tour was next, Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream. Stephanie told us that the shop was not named after a “Humphry Slocombe.” The name comes from combining the last names of two characters on a television show called “Are You Being Served?”, which happens to be my favorite British sitcom. The flavors of ice cream at Humphry Slocombe are wild. They are known for a flavor called Secret Breakfast which is a bourbon ice cream with corn flakes mixed in. I tasted a Basil Lime flavor which was cool and refreshing but I ultimately chose to try a cup of Balsamic Caramel ice cream. The flavor of the balsamic vinegar came through the caramel nicely without being too harsh or overpowering it. The caramel was pleasantly sweet while not being sickeningly sweet like some caramel ice creams can be. I could not have chosen a better flavor.

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We continued our tour at a restaurant called Pig and Pie where, you guessed it, you can get homemade pork sausages and pies. The interior of the restaurant was homey and made me want to sit down and enjoy a long meal with friends. There is a colorful display of different pickled vegetables and a chalkboard menu on wood paneled walls gives the place a rustic feel, much different than any other restaurant I have been to in the Mission District. The Chef was very nice and explained how they make all their own sausages and sauerkraut. I have heard of very few places that make their own sausages. I really like the idea of knowing exactly what goes into a sausage because so often it is like eating mystery meat or as my Grandmother used to say, everything the butcher swept up off the floor. We were served one of their homemade sausages on a soft roll topped with homemade sauerkraut and mustard. I am not a big fan of sauerkraut but the sausage was perfectly hot and charred from the grill. It was a little bit sweet and salty with seasoning blend that I could not put my finger on, fennel perhaps? The bread was soft and fresh and created a nice canvas for all the other competing flavors. I was hoping to get a taste of some of their pie, but no such luck. It was probably best anyway because I was so full and I knew I needed to save room for the last stop on our tour.

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       After so much other excellent food I had high hopes for our last stop, a Mexican restaurant called Taquerias el Farolito. We sat down and cups of horchata, a sweet rice drink,  were brought out for us to enjoy. It was milky and the flavor of cinnamon shown through. Then, out came our tacos. As soon as I saw the saucy meat I knew they were going to be delicious. Al pastor, a marinated pork, on two corn tortillas was topped with finely chopped white onion and cilantro. The flavorful marinade on the pork was spicy so the horchata was a refreshing complement. What an excellent end to a great day of eating. I can’t wait for what’s in store for me on the next gourmet tour!

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A Meal To Remember

Some of my favorite and most vivid memories involve food and family. On one occasion My parents, sister, and I went to the home of some relatives whom I had never met in Northern Italy. When we walked in the door the first thing I saw was a giant copper pot filled with golden polenta bubbling over the sides. I immediately knew that we were going to be eating well. But I didn’t yet know quite how well. Meeting so many new cousins was very overwhelming and not knowing Italian was even more overwhelming. All I could do was sit and listen with my Dad and sister to the conversation my mother carried on for the four of us. I could not wait to eat, and I had no idea of what was to come. There is something about eating with people, even if you don’t speak the same language, that brings everyone together.

The first course that we were served consisted of many typical Northern Italian “antipasti” dishes. As the dishes came out of the kitchen my mother translated what they were to me. My favorite was the assortment of dried and smoked meats, “i salumi,” that some of my cousins had made themselves. My favorite of these meats was the speck. It was salty and rich with a smoky flavor that I had never experienced before. We were also served insalata russa, which was filled with things I didn’t want to eat like hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise but I stomached it anyway. There were also dishes of pickled zucchini, white beans, tuna, and bread being passed around the table. At this point I was quite full but I knew there would be more food coming. I did not want to be rude so I cleaned my plate and hoped that the next course would be light.

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We were served the second course as soon as the plates from the next course were cleared off the table. Again my mother translated everything I was served. First on the plate was the polenta I had seen bubbling in the kitchen earlier. The next was a piece of meat that I assumed was pork, but I was mistaken. It was deer or “venison” that my cousin’s husband had hunted for us the day before. I think my mother was somewhat amused by my disbelief that someone would serve deer. Then came the mushroom sauce. I never really like mushrooms but I was told that another cousin had gone out into the woods and hand picked them for the special dinner with the Americans.  I knew there was no way out of eating those either. On the same plate we were also served a helping of fried potatoes and veal, in the event that we did not want to eat deer and polenta. The polenta was thick and the deer was better than I ever would have expected. It had been cooking all day so it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth. The mushroom sauce was a perfect complement to the neutral polenta. I had never had mushrooms that I had liked before.  However, these were so buttery and smooth that they turned me into a mushroom convert. The veal and potatoes were flavorful and fresh, but not nearly as delicious as everything else on my plate. Despite the fact that the food I was eating was better than any I had ever had before, I was ready for the meal to end. My sister looked like she was going to be sick, but we just kept eating so as not to insult the hosts.

When our second plates were taken away, my family was praying for our bountiful meal to be over. We knew, however, that no good Italian meal is complete without a cheese course. So out came a salad of finely chopped endive and an assortment of local cheeses. The salad was refreshing after the heavy meats. Most of the time I love cheese more than anything else, but on this particular day the cheeses were just about the last things I wanted to ingest after such a large meal. I managed to eat some and was rewarded by some of the best, most pungent hard cheeses that I have ever eaten. Next to cleanse our palates came a bowl of mixed fresh fruit. My mother informed me that some of my cousins picked the fresh currents from the nearby woods that morning. I fervently hoped that the fruit bowl was our only dessert. Then I saw a fruit filled tart and a jam filled tart making its way around the table. Both desserts were also accompanied with fresh cherries and espressos.

By this point even the Italians were full, so we went outside to enjoy the view of the mountains. I was so satisfied by the meal and thrilled for it to be over at the same time. My family walked around in the hopes that some mild exercise would help us digest our food faster. We had been sitting for at least three hours so it felt good to be moving around again too. When it got too cold to be outside we went back to the table, and my relatives served us juice and tried to push more of the tarts on us. Later that night at the hotel my parents and I gushed about how wonderful the food was; it was just that there was so much of it! This was a meal I will never forget for more than one reason. I can still taste the mushroom sauce and the cheese but I never want to eat that much in one sitting ever again.

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