Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I think my mind is still on Italy and I am pretty much drawn to all things Italy.  Sometimes I'll scroll through my photos and relive the sites and sounds (and tastes!).  It's still hard to believe I was actually there, and stood where Michelangelo painted his incredible Sistine Chapel and walked through the halls of the Uffizi.  

And I remember how fashionable everyone dresses over there--love the fashion!  There is nothing like it where I live, and no one here dresses like they do there.  Maybe if I were in, say, New York City, I wouldn't have noticed such a difference, but I'm pretty much in suburbia and work in corporate America, where Banana Republic seems to be more of the norm.  Perhaps being around the product of so much talent in Italy inspired the more creative side of me, and since I've been back, I'm more interested in exploring photography...and wanting to shop even more than I normally would, trying to be a little more adventurous with my sartorial choices.  Both are not inexpensive pastimes.

Though I haven't been baking and cooking as much recently, especially with traveling and then an increased devotion to some other "hobbies", that hasn't fallen away completely.  A girlfriend organized a girls' night this past weekend, and I was designated to bring a dessert.  Hooray, it was an opportunity to get back in the kitchen.  As I scrolled through (my default recipe repository), I came across an "Italian Strawberry Tart".  That was the winner, for sure.  For one, it said Italian--never mind that I didn't recall seeing anything like it while I was there; and for another, it was easy.  Easy is good, especially if it looks impressive and tastes as good as it looks.  The tart generated some oohs and aahs, and the girls loved it.  I like that it looks like there are little hearts blossoming throughout the dessert.  Kind of like how I still feel when I think about Italy...

Italian strawberry tart
Adapted from
Serves approximately 8

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

1.  In a bowl, mix together:
- 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. sea salt
- 1 t. ground cinnamon

2.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together until the color turns light:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar

3.  Continue to mix into the bowl from #2:
- 2 large eggs
- 2 T. milk (whole or 2% lowfat)

4.  Slowly pour the flour mixture from #1 into the mixture from #3 and mix until just combined.

5.  Transfer the batter to a round 9" spring form pan.  The batter will be sticky.  Press into the batter in concentric circles:
- 2 to 3 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved (save any extras for garnish).

6.  Bake the tart for approximately 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.  Serve with whipped cream and fresh strawberries (optional).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

When in Rome (and Venice and Florence and Siena).

For almost as long as I can remember, I've had a yearning to go to Italy.  Thanks to my dedicated teacher in elementary school who first introduced me to art (yes, in elementary school!) and movies like Roman Holiday, A Room With a View, even Ben Hur, Italy took on something of a mystique--with the sprawling countryside, ancient ruins and the beginning of the RenaissanceIn my mind, Italy was a magical land of beauty and culture, rich in history and creativity.  It was a dream, and I almost wanted to save my first trip to Italy for something really special, maybe even something like a honeymoon.  But this year, this was going to be the year for me to finally make the trip I've always wanted to make--and it had nothing to do with Eat Pray Love (which I've never read nor have I seen the movie).  Going to Italy in and of itself is pretty special, and really, what was I waiting for?

Three of my girlfriends and I embarked on our own Italian adventure.  Given work schedules and time restraints, we had seven days to tackle four cities: Venice, Florence, Siena and Rome.  We plotted out each day in advance to maximize our limited time, visiting churches, museums, historical sites--all the while making sure we also ate the best Italy had to offer.  And we were able to get in some valuable shopping time.

Our time in Venice was cloudy and cold, which was a little unexpected for the time of year, but it didn't detract from the beauty of the city and its old-world charm.  Making our way through the winding alleyways and taking the vaporetto, I could almost envision Venetians going about their daily lives, transporting their goods on gondolas.  I don't think they were always used to serenade tourists.  Going to the fish market early in the morning, a Venetian merchant befriended us and gave us each a kiss (on the cheek).

I remembered the picturesque cinematography of A Room With a View and how Sandra Bullock's character in While You Were Sleeping longed to get her passport stamped with "Florence", which made me anxious for what was in store for us when we reached the city.  This was the city of the David, after all.  Seeing the Duomo for the first time literally knocked the wind out of me.  I was in complete awe of the detailed work, size and beauty of the structure.  Visiting the Duomo Museum, Academia and Uffizi made me acutely aware that I was in the company of incomparable brilliance.

Our one day jaunt to Siena proved to be an escape into yet another bygone time and era.  Upon entering the streets of Siena, with the high castle-like walls and medieval flags, I could picture myself wearing a corseted gown, perhaps walking among knights?  Yet the streets were dotted with modern, anachronistic boutiques like Max Mara and Benetton.  We chanced upon a hidden bakery that had incredible ricciarelli (almond cookies, a local favorite, that I'm hoping to replicate some day), and had lunch at a quaint restaurant that still hand-wrote their menus.  Admittedly, though, we spent some of the afternoon helping the Siena economy by paying a visit to the (anachronistic) shops.

Energetic and vast, Rome encapsulated thousands of years of civilizations.  We could catch the masses of tourists by the iconic Trevi Fountain or walk along excavations of ruins surrounding the imposing Colosseum, and a few blocks away, visit the galleria with the latest Italian fashion.  Vatican City (especially St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel), the Roman Forum, the Villa Borghese, and so many other sights were awe-inspiring, but discovering Trastavere became a welcome reprieve to the bustling activity and sensory overload of Ancient Rome.

Did I come away from my Italian adventure with any revelations or epiphanies (a la Eat Pray Love)?  With all the sightseeing, I wasn't left with much time to ponder my existence or the meaning of life--and maybe that was a good thing, because this life isn't just about me, and maybe I needed to simply soak in centuries of history and the legacy they've left behind.  Returning from a trip like this is always something of a let-down, going back to the everyday routine of work and errands, where the most exciting thing in the neighborhood might be the opening of a Pinkberry in a nearby mini-mall.  I didn't mention much about the food (which could be a whole other post on its own)--I miss all the pasta, paninis, pizza, gelato already.  But this is the life I'm given, which has plenty that I am grateful for.  Every so often, escaping to any foreign land is a good idea, if anything to remind us that there is a world beyond our own existence and to inspire our imagination.