“Mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiare” (eat to live & not live to eat)
Last week, I was indulging in a late lunch, sipping on Prosecco and noshing on bread & oil when someone asked me where my passion for writing and food came about.
The food part began in my childhood. It’s hard not to fall in love with food when you grew up in an Italian household like mine. Homemade bread, fresh pasta, tomato sauce from scratch, meatballs the size of your head, donuts with powdered sugar on Christmas morning – it was all the foundation for quite the foodie lifestyle.
Yet, it wasn’t always about what we ate but rather the creation of the meal. The time it would take to braise the pork for the bolognese sauce. The hours spent folding out pasta sheets for ravioli. The sound of simmering tomatoes enveloped with butter on the stove.
I remember the holidays spent at my grandparents house when I was just a child. Grandma Lolli & mom preparing a feast in the small, 60s-era kitchen, one generation watching the burners, the other chopping the onions. Dad would be sitting on the couch in the living room in his staple Hanes white tee and Levi’s, his oversize glasses falling off the tip of his nose. Matt, my brother and I, along with all of the cousins would be playing with my Grandpa, or Poppa, as we lovingly called him, fighting each other for a spot on Poppa’s knee.
Then, dinner would be served and time would completely slow down. As a child, I know I didn’t appreciate the food, the cooking and all the efforts put into the meal and thats fine. When I was that age, it was about eating the actual food, stuffing your face and clearing your plate as quick as possible. As I got older, the much-needed appreciation of cuisine slowly appeared. Learning the advantages of white pepper, how to cook perfectly al-dente noodles and why we celebrate the Feast of the 7 Fishes on Christmas – it was through these important moments in my family’s life and my own life that the spark began to ignite.
It wasn’t until I spent time in Italy where I discovered my desire to write about food. Everything about living in Florence seemed right. Speaking the language, traveling to other cities, wining and dining my way around … basically, everywhere. Suddenly, I would go sit down to write, whether it be an e-mail or a post on facebook, and I couldn’t stop typing. After spending the day in Cinque Terre and devouring the best gnocchi I’ve ever had in my entire life, I ended up blabbing about that bowl of pasta for over 2,000 words. It was then I recognized in myself a gift, a talent and a long-awaited passion for writing about food.
So much of my time spent abroad centered around food. During the first week of class, my Italian language teacher Francesca assigned us an unusual homework assignment. Rather than write out pages of grammar and key Italian pronunciation, we were instructed to go to an old, hole-in-the-wall, Italian bakery, try the stracciatella, the bakery’s famous Italian olive oil bread and write a paragraph about our “experience.”
That bread was so life-changing that when my mom came to visit for my birthday later in the semester, we decided to pick up a few loaves to bring to Rome where we were headed to have dinner with our maternal Italian relatives. Walking into the bakery, I assured my mom that my Italian language skills were up to par for the ordering. I don’t recall if she necessarily disagreed with me … but, as so many mothers do, she decided to take things into her own hands. We ended up with five times the amount of bread we originally wanted because somehow, the bread maker didn’t understand my mom shouting from him across the counter, “Ten loaves! Ten! We want Ten!” (We really only wanted two loaves. But ten? two? Same thing).
One way or another, the ten loaves of bread & the two of us made it to Rome in one piece. As we guzzled wine and ate our body weight in homemade roasted vegetable lasagna, I began to appreciate even more the art of entertaining.
Italians love a get-together, especially when that get-together involves food. We love to join forces, see family we haven’t seen in years, and catch up – all the while, eating. Recently, back home in Chicago, it seems thats all my family has been doing lately. Throwing dinner parties centered around the most basic and comforting of meals. So, I present to you, my little photo montage of just that : entertaining, Italian style.