Monthly Archives: July 2015

How to eat like an Italian—and still wear Italian

Laura Fraser, author of The Risotto Guru teaches us how to eat like an Italian.

TheRisottoGuruOne of the greatest pleasures of visiting Italy, of course, is the food. My new book, The Risotto Guru (Shebooks), contains essays on my most memorable food adventures in Italy—a Sardinian wedding feast, meeting a risotto master in Piedmont, learning to taste wine in Chianti, discovering the most flavorful island cuisine. Every time I leave Italy, I’m puzzled about how Italians manage to love food so much, eat with so much pleasure, and rarely worry about their weight. How do they manage to eat Italian and wear Italian designers? Here’s what I’ve learned from my years as a dedicated Italophile:

  1. Italians don’t eat between meals.
    Italians approach meals with ceremony, and don’t just grab handfuls of nuts or crackers every time they pass the kitchen, as many of us do. We graze and feel unsatisfied; they sit down at meals, eat until they’re full, and don’t need to eat again until the next meal. While the American snack culture is starting to infect Italy, most Italians don’t snack.
  2. Sit down to meals and eat them with other people.
    Eating is a social activity in Italy. Sit down and enjoy food in the context of conversation and spending time with others. Eat slowly; enjoy the food and the company.
  3. Never eat at your desk.
    If you don’t go home for lunch, go to a restaurant, or eat a home-prepared meal somewhere other than your desk.
  1. Never drink a cappuccino after 10:00. Coffee drinks with milk are only for breakfast. You will never find an adult Italian drinking a cappuccino after 10:00, and most certainly never after a meal. It’s straight espresso, or perhaps “macchiato,” with a little spot of milk, for those who have to have some.
  2. Eat only fresh ingredients.
    Most Italians eat very few processed foods—except, of course, the pasta. They’re incredibly picky about the freshest fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat, as well as the highest-quality olive oil. They would rather not eat than eat a microwaved Hot Pocket for breakfast. Which brings me to…
  3. Italians barely eat breakfast, or anything, until 2:00.
    We’re taught that a big breakfast is healthy, and prepares you for the day. Italians somehow survive on a coffee and croissant until late lunch, the big meal of the day. Some of them sneak in a yogurt. But they manage to get a lot done on coffee.
  4. Lunch is the big meal of the day.
    Italians take time for lunch. They go home for lunch. It’s the main event of the day, with several courses. They eat a light breakfast and a light dinner, which allows them room for an antipasto, primi (the pasta course), secondo (the meat course) and contorni (side vegetable dishes). Followed, of course, by an espresso.
  5. Portions are small.
    Italians may eat pasta nearly every day, but in much smaller quantities than we are used to in restaurants here. They eat, at most, a cup of pasta on a plate, with sauce. Unless they have celiac disease, they don’t shy away from gluten. But everything is in moderate quantities.
  6. Dessert is rare.
    Gelato and tiramisu may be some of the first things to come to mind when we think of Italian food, but Italians don’t have a sweet tooth (excepting the Sicilians). They rarely eat dessert, and when they do, it’s most often a piece of fruit. Gelato is an occasional summer treat, and a heavy dessert like tiramisu is for a special occasion.
  7. Never put grated cheese on a pasta with fish.
    Just take my word for it—they will look at you in horror if you ask for grated cheese on your seafood pasta.

A Look at “Almost Her”

What’s it like to be the identical twin of a celebrity? Here’s an excerpt from Caroline Paul’s Almost Her. Buy it here.

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January 1966 – first look at their baby brother Jonathan.

Initially, Alexandra and I exhibited all the signs of being identical. We had our own language, arunic babbling that our parents heard from the next room and which stopped when they entered. We called each other by my name, Caroline, supposedly because I could not pronounce Alexandra. We looked very much alike. But we also fought (Alexandra could not be seated behind me in the stroller because she pulled my hair, and in the crib she took to sitting on me when she felt like it.) Early on, Alexandra was the more precocious one, I more shy. Baby photos are easily deciphered because her mouth was always open, mid-babble or laugh, while I stared at her or at the camera like a marmot caught in the beam of a flashlight, baffled and resigned. And so it was pre-ordained: Alexandra had the makings of an actress, and I was already comfortable with the fleeting attention due a fake celebrity.

 

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June 1999- at a gay rights parade.

Here are the questions I am most often asked:
Are you and your twin close? Yes.
Do you look alike? Sort of.
Do you have ESP powers? Not sure.
Are there any strange coincidences? I rescue people in real life while Alexandra rescues people
on television. That’s pretty strange.
Have you ever fallen in love with the same person? I’m gay, she’s straight, so no.

 

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1992- Caroline and Alexandra in their work clothes, LA beach.

But there was always a moment, in the time between the initial recognition and my demurral,
that I felt famous. I heard the wonder in the voice of the person before me, saw the awe in their eyes, was awash with their adulation and hope. Did I like it? Of course! I was living, if only
momentarily, the stuff of the American Dream. I was given free drinks at bars (again, no one inquired), better service at restaurants, solicitous attention in stores. This continued to amaze me – celebrities are the last to need anything extra. And yet I accepted it all. It was so damn fun (meanwhile, I wait for the day when I hear a waiter say to someone at the back table, “You’re a regular joe? A person of no repute? By golly, you deserve a comped lemon meringue pie.”) I was hugged by Dan Akroyd. I was kissed by Ray Liotta (when he realized I was not Alexandra, he stammered, stuttered, apologized, and fled.) After a trip to New York City I returned home to find photos of me posted on a celebrity site. I had had no idea that I was being followed by a paparazzi. There I was reading on a bench. There I was walking along the sidewalk. There I was making a funny face. These mundane movements, suddenly endowed with sparkling import!
It was amusing.
It was creepy.

 

Marion Winik: “I’m bad at resisting temptation of any kind but fortunately I don’t like sweets.” | Q&A

MarionWinik_webCUMeet popular essayist and former NPR commentator Marion Winik, author of the Shebooks August in Paris and Guesswork. In this fun get-to-know-you session Winik shows off her love of language, her quirky sense of humor…and a secret talent, to boot.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I teach at the University of Baltimore in the MFA program; I’ve been teaching writing to undergraduates and graduates for the last 15 years. In the ’80s and ’90s, I wrote technical manuals for a software company, and that job, though it may not sound interesting to everyone, was fun and challenging. I had the chance to work with a great group of people at the beginning of the tech boom—I had the very first Macintosh on my desk the day it came out.

Tech writing taught me the discipline I needed to be a writer. Before that, I really thought the whole career involved scribbling brilliant insights on napkins in bars at 3 a.m. As you can imagine, that only goes so far. To write 400-page manuals, you put your ass in the chair early and keep it there late and you type all day long and you certainly don’t bother waiting for inspiration. I’m not saying my work ethic is anything close to that now, but I definitely learned the basic procedures involved in producing a literary oeuvre comprising more than a few phrases.

I also worked for Stanley Kaplan test prep company for many years—I helped write and teach the SAT and LSAT courses at the New York headquarters and recorded tapes that were used in the centers around the country, and eventually I taught for them in Austin and New Orleans, too. Stanley Kaplan and his wife, Rita, were very much on the scene in those days; he was a character. He reminded me of my father, who was always giving you math problems and brainteasers and teaching you shortcuts for multiplying four-digit numbers and such.

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

I am an extreme Jewish mother, very doting and nurturing, cooking all the time, stuffing everyone’s faces, waiting on people hand and foot. People don’t expect me to be domestic.

Also, I am apparently much shorter than people expect me to be—I’m not sure why this is. I’m five-foot-three or five-three-and-a-half so it’s not like I’m teeny-weeny but I guess I somehow give the impression in my writing of being a towering giant. This is an especially common comment from people who used to listen to me on NPR or have heard on me on the radio now. Must be my big, deep voice.

Another funny thing is that people claim I often look totally different than I looked some other time they saw me and this can cause hilarious situations. The other night I had a guest speaker in my class; I invited her based on a great performance she did at my daughter’s elementary school. She kept asking me about this other storyteller we had seen. I didn’t know what she was talking about; finally she said, you know, the middle-aged white woman who told stories about dating. What? “Hey,” I told her, “that was me.” She was incredulous. “Were you wearing a hat?” No…maybe a little eyeliner. Apparently for me that’s a complete disguise.

What is your favorite word right now?

 This morning I got my A.Word.A.Day email—I love these emails; they come every weekday from Wordsmith.org—and learned that the word spoof comes from a card game invented by a comedian in the 1880s. I love that! I am crazy about words and have many favorites. Once I was quite excited about using prelapsarian in an essay. I love to read lists of patois and slang: Jamaican, Yiddish, the Urban Dictionary, anything.

What or who inspires you most?

My children. Having kids saved my life and keeps me going. I am very close with all of them—Hayes, 26, Vince, 23, and Jane, 13.  Motherhood is a never-ending inspiration for writing, because everything is always changing, not just when your kids are small but at every phase of life.

How do you think your racial/ethnic/religious identity has influenced your writing?

I think there is an American-Jewish voice in writing, a slant on things and a type of humor, that might be the strongest real Jewish influence on me of any kind, since I was raised by agnostics who passed on only the worship of bagels and smoked fish. Discovering the work of Philip Roth and Grace Paley meant a lot to me.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I have a column at the website BaltimoreFishbowl.com that comes out every three weeks and I write book reviews for Newsday and Kirkus Reviews. I don’t have a big book project going or anything but if one comes to me, I’ll be thrilled.

Aside from writing, do you have any other secret talents?

Let me start with some things I am not so good at. I am not good at walking and I fall down a lot, so as you can imagine I also suck at sports. I’m not so great at driving, either. I never remember to moisturize and am not skilled at putting on makeup. I’m bad at resisting temptation of any kind but fortunately I don’t like sweets. I don’t have much patience. I am not much of a gardener.
On the plus side, I can do a nice, long headstand.

Do you have a thought that you’d like to end with?

From William Saroyan: The most solid advice…for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.

Want smart and funny? Download Guesswork, Marion Winik’s irresistible collection of essays, only from Shebooks!

Originally published May 2014

Six Things To Know About Travel With Children

AugustinParisAugust in Paris sounds like the title of a delightful, romantic movie, but for Marion Winik, Paris wasn’t delightful or romantic. What it was, was stressful and chaotic because when you’re traveling with your entire family that’s usually the way things go for mom.

Thinking of heading out on your own family adventure? Marion has six things you should know before you go.

  1. The term “family travel” is an oxymoron.

What you see if you visit Chichen Itza with your children in tow is the same thing you see in Ocho Rios or Epcot Center: the exotic crushed relentlessly under the heel of the mundane.

  1. Think carefully before including your mother-in-law.

Though I have neither superpowers nor a signature form-fitting costume, I do have something in common with comic book heroes. I have a historic nemesis. Mine is a seventy-two-year-old Italian lady from Philadelphia.

  1. You need not accompany the children on every slide in the waterpark.

Jane spent the next three days imitating my pitiful scream as I went over the edge — less a woo-hoo! than the sort of plea for mercy once heard at the Spanish Inquisition.

  1. The Mayans cannot help you.

Marion Winik FamilyDay Six found me in a snit. I’d broken a fifty-five year ban on organized travel to travel to Peru with my daughter’s seventh grade class and I’d begun to remember why I might not like such a trip. I also remembered that I was not all that interested in ruins or the brutish ancient civilizations behind them.

  1. As your children will tell you, everything that goes wrong is your fault.

There is a reason these things happen to me and not other people, people who lock their doors and use fanny packs when abroad and don’t take their passports out of the hotel. My son Vince has kindly called it an “aura of vulnerability.”

  1. When you finally get away without them you are at a total loss.

I remember standing in the grocery store in Georgia befuddled. What did I like to eat? I had no idea. I was pretty sure it wasn’t Hot Pockets or sliced orange cheese.

One last thing before you go; add Marion’s collection of family travel essays, ‘August in Paris’ to your phone or tablet. Then, when you’re stuck in a two-hour line for that roller coaster that flips you upside down, you’ll have something to read. Misery does love company after all.

Snapshots from a Tangier Love Story

Images from Author Carol Ardman and excerpts from her book Tangier Love Story.

New York 1972 Carol

Carol in New York, 1972

An unexpected meeting. . .

Sitting across from me, in the quiet shade of a leafy café on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Paul Bowles ordered two mint teas. He asked me how I liked Tangier. Honeybees hummed around the rims of our glasses and I felt shy as I told him how I wandered for hours, enjoyed getting lost, how much I liked the street life here, the architecture, the food and the music. This obviously pleased him. He seemed to want to know all about me, and he was so easy to talk to, so receptive, so casual and sympathetic I found myself telling him. I had been married and divorced, I said, trying not to let on how depressed I still felt, though the relationship had ended the winter before. Incredibly, he had heard of my ex-husband, the composer Steve Reich, though he had only recently become well known. “A CW—composer’s wife; that’s what Janie has always called herself,” Paul said, making the designation sound oppressed, ironic, and comic all at once. Then he explained he wrote music as well as words.

Traveling like a native. . .

Carol on Camel

Carol on a camel holding Jane Bowles’ typewriter

We drove south, staying a couple of days in the intense, medieval city of Fez, on to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, Casablanca with its wide tree-lined boulevards, staying in nice hotels for a song. We drove to Marrakech, where we saw scribes, note-carrying doves, and a cigarette- smoking donkey in the Jemaa el Fnaa, and down, across moon mountains, where for a whole day we saw no animal or human, except for a man on a camel far away on the top of a cliff. When we had a flat tire we knew Abdulouhaid had to fix it quickly, because we had no food or water and could die before help came.

The writer’s muse. . . 

Carol and Paul in Atlanta, 1994

Carol and Paul in Atlanta, 1994

Paul set up his typewriter and wrote in the morning on the patio of a little hotel near the desert village of Taroudant. I remember being elated by the sights of the Sahara and the mere thought of Paul there tapping out words. Feeling I was taking Jane’s spirit with me, I strolled down the hill to the country market, noisy with camels and people selling silver jewelry and cloth. A few days later in an oasis out of the Arabian Nights, white-robed men reputed to be Sharifs—descendants of Mohammed —welcomed us to their village, its green fields bordered by babbling brooks and shaded by date palms.

Paul was changing my life, but I could trust him to carefully see to my well-being. I felt so undeserving of attention and praise, it was a long time before I considered the possibility that I made Paul as happy as he made me.

Tangier Love Story is available for download at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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