Slow Down and Taste the Roses

You Are Here

You all are by now very aware of Green, and Sustainability, and Ecology, and Global Warming, and Earth Day, etc. etc. etc. I think it’s great that so many of us are aware of the necessity of preserving the planet, especially in light of an exploding population that’s having to depend on dwindling resources.

I’ve been told “there’s PLENTY of room and PLENTY of food for all of us, and even more. Just look at a map of the world!”  I do, and I see little black dots representing the fact that most of us are crammed into Western Europe, China, India, and the North America Eastern Seaboard. The huge, wide open spaces are the Sahara, the Gobi, Siberia, Antarctica, northern Canada, Greenland… you get what I mean. Not a lot of Starbucks in those places.

Sometimes governments are lax or disinterested in fomenting any sort of awareness for the ills that loom, so I always appreciate it when people on the local level make an effort toward saving us all.

The Winter 2010 issue of  GOOD Magazine features articles on the benefits of slowing down– growth, for example– and basically turning to the Earth and using and then nourishing it for its benefit as well as ours.

Read about a stone cathedral made from found objects at Eco-Cathedral

And here’s a guy who is making a toaster from the ground up– including smelting his own ore in a microwave:  The Toaster Project

And, finally, a link to a movement that originated in Italy (how appropriate): Cittaslow. It features cities around the world that are committed to slowing down the pace of living, turning to the land, and basically striving toward a better quality of life.

GOOD also features a Century camera that you can cut out and assemble; it’s a pinhole camera that they ask us to place in a quiet place for 100 years; in that time it will have recorded– slowly– a snapshot of what it had been focused on all that time.

All these little things show that people are thinking, and trying. It’s one thing to be a slacktivist and sign on to causes that we agree with, but actually getting up off the couch and DOING something is the harder step. I hope I’m up to it.

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Warm, Handmade Ravioli On A Cold, Cold Day

Friends At Table

I’ve written about ravioli on this site before, specifically my grandmother’s dedication to the art of making it– and it is an art. I recently found out from my mother that Nonna got her recipe here in the United States, probably in Chicago when they lived there in the early 1920’s. In those days, groups of Italian immigrants from common areas would settle together in neighborhoods in a sort of support system. My grandparents were kin to a group of ceramic artisans who manufactured decorative statues–” figuristi–” in their Italian home villages, and they brought these skills with them to America. The Fontanini family, who to this day makes creche figures, are based in Bagni di Lucca, which is where my Tuscan grandparents grew up close to. In America, after arriving here in 1920, they designed plaster detailing for the old movie palaces in the Midwest, eventually moving to Brooklyn to manage a factory that manufactured mannequins. (But they never talked much about the failed wax fruit business they bought into previously.)     

And everyone had to eat !     

I’d never tried making ravioli myself, but today was cold enough (in the mid 30’s) and I was sick of being sick with the creeping airplane sludge all week; the antibiotics had run their course and I felt good enough to run up the  to Publix for the ingredients I needed.     

The recipe had been dictated to my mother by my grandmother on small sheets of looseleaf, and the cover letter– in Italian– updates me on the family doings sometime in the early 1980’s: news about new babies who are now adults, and people who are no longer with us. That letter and attached recipe (complete with my mother’s added wisecracks) belongs in a safe deposit box, I think.     

What goes into the ravioli stuffing is this: ground pork; ground veal; large onions; carrots; celery; parsley; spinach; mushrooms; grated cheese; rosemary; allspice; bread; and tomato sauce. Ground together after the  meats are browned, you get a bowl of what looks very much like a pesto sauce on steroids. The aroma is indescribable, and my house smelled just like my grandmother’s all day: I could close my eyes and picture her little kitchen in Brooklyn with the flour all over, the filling waiting inside the ocher-colored earthenware bowl she always used.     

The pasta dough is made differently from the standard way I do it; she used a mixture of water into which butter had been melted, and this is poured into the flour, followed by eggs. The measurements depend on… what? The instructions call for about 4 cups of flour to start, ending with “then you add flour until right texture. I guess maybe 4 to 6 cups? You see!” That little directive– “you see!–” is Brooklyn dialect for “you’ll know what to do when you’ve done it.” And it’s true– you add flour until the dough feels right.     

You mix and knead and let it rest in damp towels for a half hour, and then you divide and roll out the dough as flat as you can. I was trying to remember how Lucy made the pizza-dough on her show, or even how people do it in restaurants, but there’s so much else to do that you don’t worry about being a dough impresario: you just roll it out (I use my grandmother’s wooden rolling pin) until it’s thin enough. You roll out two large roundish sheets and spoon your filling onto one sheet every few inches– then you place the other sheet of dough atop the whole shebang, and with a water glass you cut circles down through the two layers of dough that have formed a little round envelope stuffed with filling. Then you get Kirk to “fork shut” the edges all around the 127  ravioli, and you place them on a floured tablecloth to dry. (If you don’t have a table clear and free, use a bed covered with a floured sheet.) “Make sure you fork deep enough,” I ordered. “Make sure the filling doesn’t seep out. Sprinkle more flour! But don’t sprinkle any on the new floor! And line them up neatly so we can COUNT them!” And, while forking, he asked if there weren’t any machines to do these tasks; I almost threw the mortar and pestle at him.     

We made sauce too, though nobody had my grandmother’s recipe for that. I remembered that my sister Lois and her husband Mike often make sauce for the week, so I called and got their recipe. My sister is hysterical, with her mixture of Brooklynese, Italian dialect, and Florida WASP:     

“In a crockpot– do you have a crockpot?!– put some olive oil in the BOTTOM, and add garlic. You can use fresh garlic or that paste kind that comes in a jar, right? Then chop a large onion up and put it in next. Then some Italian seasoning. A bay leaf which you fish out later– it’s just for flavah. Parsley– you can use dry. And Mommy puts in Gravy Master for a little brown color, but you can skip it. [I did.] Then some zazeech– maybe five or six? You know, like what comes in a package. So first you brown the SAH-sidges, then drain them, then add them to the crock. Right? Okay. THEN finally three cans of crushed tomatoes– we use Tuttarosa. Let it cook for like five or six hours.”     

(Did I just hear someone ask why we didn’t put in any sugar?!?! Don’t make me come over there!)     

Lois and Mike: it was PERFECT. Almost looked like Nonna’s sauce, but in a different way. Excellent!     

We heated up two large pots of water until the kitchen looked like Yellowstone National Park, and then cooked the ravioli in batches until it was just past al dente.  This is important: you cook and stir them carefully because you don’t want to knock them around so that they open and disgorge their contents into the hot water. You drain them and place them all in a bowl– we used a brand new Fiesta Tangerine pasta bowl, which comes with its own matching cheese shaker. You can mix the sauce in but we let people apply their own when it was time to sit down and eat.     

Five of us sat down to dinner, and we each had two giant plates full, but there was still plenty left over. What do you expect when you make 127 of these things, each of them at least three inches in diameter? (Guys! You forgot to take some home!) And red wine, chocolate candy, and homemade Italian bread supplied by the guests…     

What a meal, if I do say so. Not bad for a first attempt! I realize now why she only made it three or four times a year, because it takes hours and hours. My back felt it from all the standing, and the place where my right thumb meets my index finger was rubbed red by my left hand during the kneading process. But do I complain? I’m just saying. There’s nothing I like better than feeding people, and I thank them for being my guinea pigs. (We weren’t planning to have anybody over, really, but all that filling and dough cried out for diners.)     

Good times!     

For Mary Ann DeStefano  http://www.madaboutwords.com

My New Future Predictions to Come

Every online columnist– and there are thousands of them, because everyone with access to a typewriter now considers himself a journalist– has been whining about the disappointments of the previous decade (2000-2009, even though decades begin at the 1-mark, but don’t get me started).

I already know what’s going to happen over the next ten years, give or take, so pour yourselves some stale eggnog and read what you have to look forward to.

1. THE TELEPHONE. These will be simple machines molded in an unobtrusive black color, equipped with a hand-held speaking module attached to a base by a three-foot long wire. When someone needs to talk to you, it will ring; you will be charged for talking via increments called “message units.” The wire will prevent you from wandering too far and getting into mischief, like pileups on the freeway, and the expense will preclude any long, boring, meaningless conversations.

2. THE RECORD PLAYER. This ingenious device will allow you to play music that has been pressed into flattened, vinyl discs; large discs with twelve songs on them will be called “albums,” and small discs featuring only two songs will be known as “singles.”  You will be listening to the music in the same room in which the record player is located, and occasionally someone will ask you to “turn down the volume.” The coverings of these albums and singles will feature large photos of the recording artist, along with detailed information about their musical career.

3. THE LIBRARY. Libraries will be large buildings located in the downtown neighborhoods of cities and towns, and they will be represented in outlying areas called “satellites.” Here you will be able to look up any fact or reference in history simply by driving or walking there, parking, and looking up the books you need in conveniently-placed “card catalogues,” which will direct you to the proper section within minutes. Helpful, learned assistants will be nearby in case you don’t know the name of an author or the title of a book, and they will be able to steer you through an ingenious Subject Catalogue. Libraries will be filled with books from wall to wall, and you will be able to spend an infinite amount of time in them… ALL FOR FREE.

4. PRIVATE SCHOOL BUSES. Looking somewhat like trucks, these large vehicles will be used to transport children to and from private schools, exactly like children in public schools are. In fact, they will be exactly the same, and will succeed in replacing single vehicles containing one small child and its Mommy with one vehicle containing fifty children and their driver. Now these Mommies, safely off the highways at nine in the morning, can while away that hour talking to one another and exchanging recipes on their telephones– and REALLY helping to save the environment that they are so earnestly concerned about.

5. TELEGRAMS. Special shops conveniently located almost everywhere will enable a sender to enter and then dictate a message to a clerk who will send it on to a recipient within an hour, either via mail on paper or via signals by telegraph.  Messages will be necessarily short, as they will be charged by the word. Senders will naturally be required to send telegrams only to announce auspicious events– BABY ARRIVED THIS PM 7 LB 6 OZ;  UNCLE HENRY PASSED AT NOON SEND DONATION TO HEART FUND– as it is hoped that the system will not be overloaded by unnecessary verbiage– AM AT STORE NEED ANYTHING;  JUST WOKE UP AND HAVING COFFEE.

Wouldn’t it be great if all these predictions came true? At the rate that technology is moving, don’t be surprised if you find yourself talking on the telephone before the end of the year (and rumor has it that they’ll be available in colors other than black). Meanwhile, have a safe and happy 2010– and welcome to the future!