Friday, October 16, 2009

Linds Continues to Eats

Let's bring this blog back 'round to its original intention. Food. I am pleased to announce that physical labour has nearly returned my appetite to its teenage glory days, and luckily there is no end of things here for me to eat. These are some of my favourites from the past couple of weeks.

It's nut season, and so we've been cracking hazelnuts for everything from pesto to cake and I've gathered walnuts from trees around the yard. Chestnuts are also aplenty; after slicing into the side of each one, Elisa boiled a large batch of them in water for 40 minutes, then pulled back the skins and scooped out their fleshy insides. She pureed the chestnuts with milk and we ate this mildly sweet and nutty porridge for breakfast. Delicious.

This past week some friends of Elisa and Gabriele visited, bringing with them all sorts of treats from Northern Italy. These included homemade bread, blueberry jam, dozens of yellow tomatoes, and impeccable culinary skills. For lunch one afternoon they made gnocchi with butternut squash rather than potatoes. They tossed the bright orange dumplings with poppy-seeds and sage, and I imparted my appreciated with a constant, poppy-seeded smile. The beverage for this meal was provided by Marco, who also runs the farm; he gathered and crushed the grapes which hung in perfect bunches from his patio arbour. The sweet, dark purple juice was delivered in a big glass bottle and we anti-oxidized ourselves for several days.

Two nights ago I had the privilege of learning how to make/eating a lot of pasta fresca. I assisted Michele (a chef/cheesemaker who also lives at the farm) with a private cooking class he did for four Americans renting a villa just up the road. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, they were ridiculously friendly people with whom I gleefully spoke English as-fast-as-I-could all evening. Michele made two kinds of bruschetta and then taught us how to make three different kinds of pasta, each served with a different sauce. My favourite was the freshly-made pesto, and we finished the evening off with tiramisu and hugs.

Yesterday was also special because the circus returned, and everyone knows I love the circus. They had left much of their equipment here and disbanded for several weeks before their next show in northern Italy. Seven of them came back and stayed for lunch, happily satisfying the old-nonna's desire within me to feed everyone I like. We ate two big pots of pasta tossed with roasted peppers and tomatoes, sliced eggplant baked with tomato sauce and cheese, and bread. The food was good, however the best part of this meal was where we ate it; Irene setup a long wooden table outside under a walnut tree, and the ten of us stripped off our sweaters under the hot sun and crowded around the table. Joy.

Finally, a food experience I never saw coming. My hosts are Hare Krishna and on Sunday there was a special festival at the temple, which was crowded with people. First we listened to a man read a story (in English and Italian) about villagers being saved by Krishna from a raging flood. He lifted up their sinking island with his little finger, rescuing every person, plant, and animal on it. This was followed by a great deal of music, singing, clapping, and dancing in front of two men who held up a large piece of orange cloth. Something was hidden behind this, and after fifteen minutes it was finally revealed. What was it? A CAKE!! A massive flour, butter, and sugar reconstruction of the island that Krishna saved. Its two separate layers were covered with all kinds of cookies, sweets, animals, people, rivers, and lakes, and while people gathered around it, I loooonged for my camera. I thought it would be inappropriate to bring, then kicked myself as soon as thirty cell-phone cameras appeared to document the whole scene. Oh well. We enjoyed a delicious Indian meal afterwards, and of course, the cake. I will forever remember the woman serving it, because she gave me the kind of obscenely large piece I always wished for at birthday parties, but sadly never received.

Although I have no photos of the cake (sigh), here are some others...

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Was Invited to Run Away With the Circus and I Almost Said Yes.

I may be wrong, but it seems that few times in life do you find yourself working on a goat farm that's hosting a travelling circus for a week. My keen instincts told me this will probably not happen again, and to enjoy every quirky moment of it. I did.

Circo Paniko is a troupe of twelve young performers who travel around Europe (and as far as India) with their show, a creative and musical sensory overload set within a yellow big-top. Like Cirque du Soleil, they started out as street performers and have slowly accumulated their sets and equipment over the past few years (although have yet to have permanent theatres in Vegas. I'll keep you posted). At our farm they were joined by many friends, including more performers from France and Spain and others who joined their camp to visit and help out over the weekend. Day after day new faces circulated through the house, each bringing a smile, kisses, music, and tricks. I often entered the living room to find someone standing on their hands or playing the guitar; these people possess more talent in their forearms than I have in my entire body.

I contributed to the festivities by helping to prepare food for the small concession/bar we setup between two hay bales. Each day we made sweets and sandwiches (with goat's cheese, of course) to serve with organic beer and vino brulee (mulled wine). On the second and third day a lady named Bianca taught me how to make Dolce di Pane, which translates as "Bread Cake." We made it by soaking chunks of day-old bread in milk and eggs, then adding spices, sugar, chopped fruit, and nuts until it turned into a batter. After baking, it sliced into thick and flavourful pieces of cake which I believe to be the culinary antithesis to the Atkin's diet. To top this off, friends of Elisa and Gabriele made pizza each night in the ancient wood-fired stone oven located just outside the front door. No hots dogs and potato chips at this concession stand, thank you very much.

After the final circus show on Sunday there was a big dance party in the tent with a ska/reggae band from Florence. They were amazing, and I jumped around like a crazy person on the hay-covered grass where I usually graze the goats each day.

The core group of Circo Paniko stayed most of the week, and last night we had a goodbye dinner with everyone (over seventeen of us) literally packed around the table. We ate rice, butternut squash soup, bread, tomatoes, cheese, and salad, and I listened to the constant roar of foreign conversation around me until a distinct "Whuuut do you theenk of Eeetaly?" popped up. Thus all attention turned to Lindsay-who-does-not-speak-Italian, and I answered that I love it and want badly to learn the language. This instigated many more questions and an Italian lession by a non-Italian-speaking Spaniard, which I muddled through until Elisa swung a cake in front of my face and asked "Leen-say, italianoitalianoitalianoitaliano?" Thank Zeus I actually knew this word. "Torta!" I yelled and everyone burst into applause.

There you have it, my finest moment.

Cheese! Fest, 2009

Finally the meals have digested, and I am ready to talk about 'Cheese,' Slow Food's festival celebrating all things formaggio in Bra, Italy (see link for photos). I attended the four day event with Aviv and Michal, two very good friends from Calgary, and spent the whole time trying to remember what it feels like to be hungry.

I began the festivities by missing my train from Torino to Bra. By a full hour, actually, because I neglected to change my clock to Italian time after being in London. I had agreed to meet Aviv and Michal at 11:00 am, none of us had a phone, the next train didn't depart until late afternoon, and we were scheduled for a workshop at 1:00 pm. So, a great deal of panic and one very expensive cab-ride later, I was reunited with Michal and Aviv and glad that my stupidity didn't have to affect anything else but my bank account. Together and happy to be speaking English, we headed off to explore the endless white tents spread throughout the winding lanes of Bra.

As part of the festival, Slow Food organizes an impressive number of educational programs, including 'Taste' and 'Masters of Food' workshops. We had signed up for three, and our first was held in a conference room that looked like a miniature United Nations complete with

headsets and an English translator (although I presume the UN does not lay out multiple wine glasses at each of their seats. They ought to try it, I think diplomacy would be at its best). Our first workshop, featuring five French affineurs, quickly went from sophisticated to shit-show when the fire alarm went off just as we were about to begin. Do not fear! The highly-capable Italian fire department is coming to set things right! Wrong. They showed up and scratched their heads (literally) for over an hour while it continued to scream. During this time we waited outside, drank some champagne, and grilled the friendly English translator for the best places to eat in Torino. Eventually they tried to proceed and all at once we attempted to listen to a man speaking in French, hear the translation through our headsets, and ignore the blaring sound of the alarm with a constant recording in Italian warning us to leave the building.

The alarm finally ceased, though I'm nearly certain this is because a battery died and not because they figured anything out. Disappointing, yet the beaufort was still delicious, the attendees gracious, and we now know Torino's best restaurants. My advice, however, would be to avoid burning buildings while in Italy, unless you plan on saving yourself. After this little adventure we spent the rest of the day exploring the festival, sampling cheeses, and failing to identify the fine line between 'full' and 'ill.'

One day we took a break from the festival and were treated to a tour of the Piemontese region by Lior, Michal's childhood friend from Israel. He took us into the mountains north of Torino, we walked to a beautiful old bridge crossing the Po River, and visited the town of Asti to see the Il Palio festivities. Asti, as well as the Tuscan town of Siena, has an annual horse race in which horses representing local villages participate in an intense and sometimes dangerous competition. It all starts with a medieval parade featuring drummers, trumpeteers, flag-throwers, and all kinds of elaborate costumes, floats and dramatic acts. We were hugely impressed, as well as hugely late in returning to Bra for our second taste workshop, which we missed. 0 for 2. So far we were failing to receive our official cheese education, but the parade was worth it.

During the festival we spent many hours touring the massive tents which housed the Italian, European, and International cheeses, even spotting Carlo Petrini (the founder of Slow Food) at one point. We were overwhelmed with the variety, the vendors' gorgeous displays, and the sheer amount of food. There were literally tonnes of cheese; hundreds upon hundreds of wheels, stands with honey and balsamic and antipastos, and more samples than one girl could handle.

As always, the most extreme tastes are the ones which come to mind. We tried 'brus,' a creamy concoction which looks smooth and delectable. It is absolutely NOT, I assure you. When Michal tried it she screamed and shouted something profane which made me laugh so hard I couldn't keep my camera steady and capture her agonized face.

In the international tent we found some small French cheeses that looked like they'd been scraped from the side of a sunken ship. Through translation we learned that these cheeses must be eaten with whiskey (wine is too weak), or else they'll take three days to digest. This makes sense, since anything that sunk with the Titanic would need a little help in the stomach.

We finished off our festival experience with a dinner at a small castle in Verduno, which was delicious and as usual, way too filling. This was the third of three major dinners in a row; our first night of dining was at La Taverna Tre Gufi, an authentic and unpretentious little restaurant where we were treated to dinner by Lior and his wife Nadia. We took our server's offer of trying a “little bit of everything.”

A little bit of everything meant that once we had downed five substantial plates we learned we had only just completed the starters. And so, eleven different dishes later, we finally concluded. That would be sixteen in total, my friends. Another fine quality of this meal was our server, a gorgeous man with dark curly hair and blue eyes whom I idiotically asked “parlez-vous francais?” when he told us his mother was a language teacher. Asking a question in a certain language usually implies that you speak it, non? Well I don't. He rambled on to me in French and I nodded and smiled and pretended I knew exactly what he was saying. Fortunately, the only thing he asked me to translate was the dessert – and what were we eating? Parfait. PHEW.