Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Grocery Store Tourism

This may seem a bit strange, but one of my very favorite overseas travel activities isn't visiting the museums or galleries (though they're very nice, of course)... it's touring local grocery stores and food shops.

I like to see how the average person lives. In Italy, for example, your average shopper has access to powerful traceability and sourcing information.

Behold! Egg coding!

Italian Egg Coding

The eggshells come with printed sets of numbers. The packaging includes the key to translating the numbers.

What do you find in that code? Everything about where that egg came from, including the state, province, municipality and farm where it was produced, the breed of the chicken and of course, the date on which the hen produced the egg.

Pretty cool, no? One glance at the eggshell, and you know just where it came from, what kind of chicken made it and how fresh it is.

Similarly, when I visited both Italy and France, I noticed that the produce is all labeled with the country and/or region of origin... even at the farmers' markets.

Farmers' market labeling

The second reason I enjoy checking out other peoples' groceries: they have things we don't.

While looking in rural France (Les Eyzies) for food that would work well on the grill, we were delighted to find an upgrade on the traditional canned campsite "pork 'n beans" duo. This canned duck confit and lentils heated up just fine on the grill and made couple of très magnifique dinners.

The same shop also had shelf-stable jars of duck rillettes (essentially a fatty duck spread), which tasted amazing when spread across a fresh baguette.

Can of Lentils & Duck Confit

And finally, there's the joy of discovering cool packaging logos and graphic design. You'll find some of my recent favorites, below:

Goat's Milk Yogurt
An adorable goat's milk yogurt label from Trento, Italy

Devilish Rotisserie Chicken Bag
A devilish rotisserie chicken bag from Toulouse, France

Devilish Rotisserie Chicken Bag
A charming nut sack from Berlin, Germany

Corleggy Cheese Label
A lovely little cheese label from Belturbet, Ireland

I know I can't be alone in my tendency toward grocery store tourism. Anyone have foreign food discoveries to report? Let me know in the comments or link me over to your adventures.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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10.18.2009

The Unsinkable Miss Molly

This week, Miss Molly Del Monte is all over the New York press for heading up the newly renovated kitchen at Vutura, the restaurant at Williamsburg's Rose Live Music.

But we knew her back in the day. Just a couple of years ago, this blog followed Miss Molly's zany adventures in Italy as a young cook struggling with everything from snarky kitchen politics to the quest for a well-formed strudel.

Miss Molly, with strudel

Miss Molly poses in the Montali kitchen with her very own strudel

Though it would have made for great reality TV, ours was old-school documentation: letters and pictures.

If you missed it the first time around, you can read the whole set below or just cruise through looking at the pretty pictures. I've organized them from her giddy first steps off the plane to the inevitable teary goodbyes.

Missives from Miss Molly:
The Culinary Adventures of a Young American Cook in Italy

Chapter 1: A Far-Flung Cook Lands
Chapter 2: The Daily (Espresso) Grind
Chapter 3: Hot Kitchen, Hard Times
Chapter 4: Siestas & Salty Snacks
Chapter 5: Dreams of Pulled Pork
Chapter 6: High Drama & Lasagna
Chapter 7: Lost in Translation
Chapter 8: A Taste of Traditional Tuscany
Chapter 9: 20 Questions & Limoncello
Chapter 10: Last Call at Montali

Hearty congratulations (and fat, juicy good luck wishes!) to the indefatigable Miss Molly!

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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3.26.2009

On Swordfish Heads & Side Trips

Invariably, travels take people to some big destination city. After all, that's where the airports are, and said destination city is probably chock-full of wealth and wonders, museums and mausoleums.

But there's something infinitely charming and memorable about the little side trips on the way to and from those destination cities.

Is the delight of the small locale wrapped up in its lack of options? Are they winsome because big cities offer predictable experiences and guidebook-ready hot spots, while little villages and tiny towns pop up into your world with no expectations at all? Is the charming side trip completely the product of surprise?

That's probably a big part of it. It's probably also why one person's charming side trip is another person's boring little town in the middle of nowhere.

I don't think one can will or recreate serendipitous travel magic. That said, I will highlight the beguiling little spots I happen across. Maybe you, too, will discover wonder in these tiny map-specks.

One very satisfied chicken
Chicken graffiti in Anzio, Italy.

In Anzio, Italy, just a short train ride from Rome, we arrived hungry. A wander down to the beach led us to the Mare Nostrum Taberna, attractive because it was:
1. Open for lunch.
2. Near the beach.
3. Apparently a seafood restaurant.

Although there were no other customers in sight, when the proprietor told us they had their own dedicated fishing boat that brought back the ocean-fresh seafood he served in the restaurant, we were sold.

Fritto Misto
Ocean-fresh fritto misto di mare

The pasta and bread were forgettable, but all was forgiven when the Fritto Misto di Mare* arrived. Large plates of assorted fresh sea life, dipped in an angel-light batter and fried until crisp and steaming. Even the lemon wedges were fresh, sweet and fragrant, like peak-season Meyer lemons.

Midway through our munching, the proprietor came from the kitchen with the head of a swordfish plunked onto a plate.

Swordfish Head
A swordfish head the proprietor brought out from the kitchen

He proceeded to tell us (in Italian) all about the migratory path of the swordfish, even going so far as to draw a map.

The migratory path of the swordfish
"They follow the same route every time," he said. "So we know just where to find them."

Minutes later, the chef scurried out of the kitchen to reclaim his precious head.

Unfortunately, Anzio does observe the siesta with great enthusiasm, so most of the shops were closed all afternoon. The beach, thankfully, was not.

mmm... gelato

Nor was the artisanal gelateria on the town square, from whence as we walked back to the train station, we scored some of the best gelato we ate during our Roman holiday.

In sum, Anzio, Italy's treasures turned out to be:
1. Ultra-fresh seafood
2. A lazy, lounge-y beach
3. A cute harbor full of boats
4. Really tasty gelato

Worth a meander? Yes. All hail the side trip!

Ciao for now!


* If you happen across a bunch of supremely fresh and tasty-looking little fishes, squids, shrimps and things, you can do your own version of this dish without too much trouble. All you'll need is a deep pot of hot (375°F frying oil), and a seasoned flour coating in which to roll the fish, etc., some lemon wedges and some paper towels on which to drain the crisp-fried results. Sprinkle the hot fish with kosher salt and serve with a dry white wine. Bliss!

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8.12.2008

Seeking Out the Heavenly Slice

We came, we saw, we ate pizza.

That's how you roll in Rome. Carb-heavy. Pasta with every meal. Pizza on every corner. But if you're lucky, you'll find slices that are worth the trip and the caloric load.

Not far from The Beehive, where we stayed, we discovered a good neighborhood pizzeria on Via Merulana. (I was a bit tired at the time, but I believe the place in question was Cecchini Vincenzo E C (SNC), Via Merulana 203.)

Offering indoor and outdoor seating, the traditionally light Italian beers (including a local brew on draught) and a variety of by-the-slice options which made a tasty introduction to a commonplace local pizza style; unlike crisp Neapolitan pizzas, Roman slices are thicker and more like topping-covered foccacia.

Hearty slices and beers at the Via Merulana pizzeria
Pizza with tuna and spinach at the back, sun-ripe tomatoes in the foreground

Via Merulana pizzeria ingredient pig
Shouldn't every pizzeria have an ingredient pig?

Via Merulana pizzeria upskirt
The Via Merulana pizza gets the trademark "upskirt" treatment, a la Adam Kuban's pizza blog, Slice

I spent a jetlag-y second day at Vatican City, a place that requires its visitors to pay their 12 Euro admission and move through the place with quiet, efficient fluidity. A perfect alignment, actually, since exhausted tourists are mostly only capable of bumping along like mute cattle.

The art at Vatican City? Stunning. Slices at the Vatican City pizzeria? Eh, not so much.

The Vatican slices are bready and limp. The cheese is bland. This pizza may somehow be blessed by virtue of its proximity to the Pope, but it's desperation food, not manna from heaven.

Angel Meets Farmer at the Vatican
Angel meets farmer on the gorgeous Vatican ceilings

Harried staff at the Vatican pizzeria
Harried staff at the Vatican pizzeria

A heavenly pie?
A heavenly pie? Maybe not.

To find the a slice that could properly be deemed "heavenly," you'll need to go farther afield. You'll need to walk the streets of Rome's student neighborhood in San Lorenzo.

As superb as they are, the slices at Come Manna del Cielo don't get a lot of press. Do a Google search, and you'll find the place gets almost no press at all. That's probably because you'll find none of the standard tourist attractions in San Lorenzo. It's a bit run down as a neighborhood, and the old man who runs Manna creates his art within a spare, closet-sized stand.

And for what may just be the tastiest slice in all of Rome, you'll likely have no wait at all. You'll probably even score one of the three plastic chairs out on the curb.

Come Manna dal Cielo
Come Manna dal Cielo (Like Manna from Heaven)... And it really is

Manna Upskirt
A Manna slice gets the upskirt shot.

Zucchini & red pepper paste alongside covered slices of broccoli pesto with sweet sausage
Zucchini & red pepper paste alongside covered slices of broccoli pesto with sweet sausage

If you go, you'll find that the public's loss is your gain. Made with the most basic ingredients, this crust is perhaps the lightest, finest cracker I've ever experienced.

Toppings range from standards of the highest quality (buffalo mozzarella, artisanal provolone) to innovative delights (whitefish & orange; zucchini & pepper paste; broccoli pesto & sweet sausage; anchovy & squash blossom).

Fellow customers will take you aside and whisper that what you've found is no ordinary pizza. This place is special. This man is an artist. These simple slices are infused with a divinity that can only be bestowed by one of pure heart and generous intent.

Like bedazzled pilgrims, we hungrily returned for heaven-sent slices each day for the rest of the trip. I wish my fellow Roman travelers similar good fortune.

Cecchini Vincenzo E C (SNC)
Via Merulana 203
Rome, Italy

Vatican City pizzeria
Musei Vaticani
Rome, Italy

Come Manna dal Cielo
Via del Latini 68/70
Rome, Italy
(Tel: 06-44362242)

Meanwhile, if you missed the previous Italy entries, you'll find the Quick Bites Rome rundown here and the joys of Italian cheese-making here.

Ciao for now!

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7.17.2008

Italian Pecorino Cheese: A How-To Video

In my short career in video blogging, I've run through making fresh paneer cheese, watching the Salvatore Ricotta folks stuff cheese into cannoli and now, my latest clip documents the making of uber-traditional pecorino in the Italian countryside.

I'm afraid you'll start to believe I'm a bit cheese-obsessed. I assure you, the theme is entirely coincidental. I swear the next video will be about something other than cheese.

Meanwhile, I have to say, this is really my favorite clip yet, featuring some truly charming Italian sheep and goats I met in the mountains of Abruzzo while on a farm stay near Sora, Italy. They were excellent actors, all. Very cooperative.

Abruzzo, Italy

A very charming goat

Sheep stomach

You'll notice that, in making the cheese, the shepherd uses nothing more than milk in a big, black cauldron, a stick(!), some sheep's stomach and coarse salt. That's it. There's a campfire on hand for making ricotta, which is a byproduct of his pecorino processing.



Aside from the shepherd's snazzy threads, there's very little here that's any different from the way people have been making cheese for thousands of years.

Looks easy, no? But before you go and get yourself a herd of your own, know this: the shepherd and his wife get up before dawn every day to do this. Weekends. Holidays. Every day. There's no vacation from a herd of sheep and goats.

Meanwhile, I secreted a wheel of this very cheese back to the states in my luggage and am going to ask Anne Saxelby to nestle it in her cave to age for a bit. We'll see how it tastes after it's had a few months to rest.

Cheers, ya'll!

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7.16.2008

Quick Bites: Rome

Buongiorno! Welcome to Molto MissGinsu week. (After all, why should Mario have all the fun?)

Molto MissGinsu!

Arriving back in the states after a recent quest to the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, I realized there was just far too much in the way of tasty sites and flavors to sequester the lot into just one post.

So for this week, a special multi-part Italy feature splashes across missginsu.com like a paper sack filled with sun-ripe tomatoes.

Tomorrow we visit the goats and sheep in the mountains, but today we'll check out a few of the varied glories of Rome.

Emperor Constantine's Toes
Emperor Constantine's toes at the Roman Capitoline Museums

Hail, Scooter!
Hail, Scooter!

Vine-on tomatoes
Vine-on tomatoes from the market. So sweet! So rich!

A ripening pomegranate
A pomegranate ripens in a random park.

Market-fresh melons
Market-fresh cantaloupe at the Mercato Esquilino.

The Big View

In Rome, the ever-present tourist season reaches its teeming height in the summertime. I honestly can't imagine why. I hit town on the first of July because J had a conference to attend, but given the choice, I think most any other month would've been preferable.

Simply put, Rome in July is hot and crowded. Think Times Square in July with fewer LEDs and better architecture.

But it's really true what they say... there's something special about the light in Italy.

Buttery mornings. Toasty yellow afternoons. Peachy-pinks every evening.

For the traveler, Rome is expensive, chaotic and occasionally frustrating (transit strike, anyone?), but it's also beautiful, multilayered and quite often, delightful.

While in the city, we stayed at The Beehive, a conveniently located spot that offers friendly, affordable lodging as well as a vegetarian cafe with really tasty cappuccinos, yoga classes, wifi, a quiet garden for reading and Ingmar, the very purr-y resident cat.

The 'hive is situated close to the centrally located Termini Station, a hub for trains, trams, the city's two subway lines and enough shops that you might mistake the place for a shopping mall.

The Bites

From Termini, it's just a short walk to Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (Via Principe Amadeo between the Termini and Piazza Vittorio metro stations) a well-stocked covered market that vends cheap threads in one building, and in the other, all manner of inexpensive fish, veggies, antipasti, cheese, meats, fruits and grocery dry goods. It's great option for fresh fruits or for self-catering, if you happen to have a kitchen on hand. (Go in the morning. They close in the afternoons.)

There's good (and not-so good) eats across the city, of course, but our very favorite Roman meals consisted of:

* The luscious multi-course flavor bonanza at Il Posto Accanto... After, You Sing at Via del Boschetto 36/a. Vegetables are kings here, but they also serve excellent pasta and a meltingly luscious steak with mushrooms.

* The good, simple fare and gorgeous wines at Via Cavour 313, at 313 Via Cavor (naturally). Made with love and located conveniently just 'round the corner from the Colosseum.

* The light, cracker-crisp, artisanal, by-the-slice delights at Come Manna dal Cielo... Like Manna from Heaven at Via del Latini 68/70 (Tel: 06-44362242) in Rome's hip student neighborhood, San Lorenzo. (We stopped here on three separate occasions, so I'll swoon over this spot yet again in my upcoming Roman pizza post.)

* And just down the way, Da Franco ar Vicoletto, San Lorenzo's very no-nonsense, prix-fixe, working-class seafood resto at Via dei Falisci 1/b. They'll offer you clams and mussels in butter sauce, whole fish on platters, the house white wine (ideal with fish!) and dozens of boisterous Italian families enjoying dinner together.

The Takeaway

A lot of the beauty of Italian food is based in its good, locally available ingredients. While there, I couldn't help but notice that many of the vegetable sides were simply (deliciously) done up with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon.

So the takeaway for this trip is a supremely simple recipe for Romi-inspired sautéed zucchini (which happens to be in season at the markets right now)... but gosh, you could use this easy, tasty olive oil/lemon juice trick to accent just about any green vegetable, whether sautéed, roasted, grilled, broiled or boiled.

Just use good, fresh olive oil with good, fresh veggies and maybe add an herb like chopped parsley, mint or basil. Molto fast, molto easy, molto mouthwatering.
Zucchini Di'Lazio

1 tsp olive oil for cooking (+ a little extra for drizzling)
1/2 clove olive oil, minced (optional)
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 fresh lemon
A few fresh basil leaves/flowers (optional, to garnish)

1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, if using. Cook for 1 minute before adding the zucchini or squash.

2. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, stirring up the slices frequently to prevent over-coloring.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste before transferring to a serving plate. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a garnish of basil leaves/flowers, if using. Serve immediately.

And, of course, I took a bunch of lovely photos (mostly food, of course) that reside here in the full Italy photoset at Flickr.

Ciao for now!

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7.15.2008

Sipping Italy's Cups of Gold

Based around its fresh, local ingredients, Italy clearly boasts one of the world's greatest cuisines.

That said, it's not difficult for a hungry traveler to find a soggy slice of pizza, a vile vino or a poorly treated plate of pasta. Having just returned from a week in the regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, I can attest to a wide range of quality on offer.

Cup of Gold
Tazza d'Oro... a cup of gold

But Italian coffee is a different story altogether. Espresso on every corner. Freshly ground beans in every tiny village. Lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos sipped by members of every social strata.

In Italy, superlative coffee isn't reserved for the well-born. It's drink of the people.

But why Italy? Coffee beans don't grow there. Wouldn't it make sense for the modern-day center of coffee culture be a little closer to the source of the beans? Like, say... Ethiopia, from whence the coffee bean is supposed to have originated?

Coffee Bags
Coffee bags from Crop to Cup

As it turns out, Italy may not be a source of coffee beans, but the country's been an enthusiastic importer for centuries.

The port city of Venice, Italy, sucked up goods of all kinds from North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Coffee beans made their appearance there in the 1500s, and by 1645, the first European coffee house had opened (by this time the Turks were already old hands at the bean-slinging business, having opened Constantinople's Kiva Han, their first official coffee house, in 1471).

But clearly, this dark, bitter drink from foreign lands must have been the work of the devil. That's precisely what priests who petitioned Pope Clement VIII tried to claim in 1600.

Fortunately for coffee junkies everywhere, the Pope tried a cup and proclaimed it “so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”

He determined to “cheat Satan by baptizing it,” and a bloom of European coffee house openings followed. Caffè Florian, in Venice, was established in 1720 and remains one of the oldest houses still in operation.

Caffe Machhiato
Caffè Macchiato

That said, I'm told that Captain John Smith, one of the founders of the colony of Virginia, brought coffee to Jamestown in 1607, and I know that The Boston Tea Party the New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York were all conceived in the New World's early coffee houses, so why do I still find weak, insipid coffee as I travel these United States?

I have no firm answers, but my best theory is this: we expect less.

When cloth sacks of green coffee beans sailed into Venetian ports all those centuries ago, they were probably a just few weeks old. By the time those beans traveled through Europe and overseas to the colonies, months had passed. They'd grown older, less nuanced and all the more expensive.

Colonists in what would eventually become the United States grew accustomed to a weaker cup.

That's what they made, and that's what generations thereafter recognized as coffee. The drip machine in the break room. The diner pot resting on the hot plate. We milk it and sugar it. And why not? We usually can't taste the coffee bean's more delicate flavors anyway.

Some claim the Caffè Americano (espresso with extra water added) was created as a more palatable beverage for American soldiers who marched en masse through Italy during World War II. It's probably an apocryphal story, but it sticks around because it illustrates an important point.

Drinks at Cafe Grumpy
Cortado and Cappuccino at Cafe Grumpy, Brooklyn

Though at least 54% of Americans sip coffee every day, the drip pot still reigns supreme. We don't need our morning cup of joe to have delicate flavor. It's about the caffeine.

But in the wake of the Seattle coffee revolution of the '70s, espresso-based drinks are far more widely recognized and consumed in the States. That seems like good news. As a nation, we're learning more about the bean, where it comes from and the subtlety it can show.

And who knows? With any luck, in a few more decades, we might begin to find proper espresso machines posted in all the truck stops and diners of rural America. Four hundred years after good coffee became working-class in Italy, everyone from miners to meter maids might regularly enjoy all that a fresh, well-treated bean has to offer.

Hey, a junkie can dream, right?

Cheers,

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7.09.2008

Missives from Miss Molly: Last call at Montali

caprese garnish
"caprese garnish" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

dami, eva e minty carrot sorbet
"dami, eva e minty carrot sorbet" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

fichi ripieni con crema gorgonzola
"fichi ripieni con crema gorgonzola" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

In this final letter from her ever-exciting post in beautiful Umbria, Italy, Miss Molly and her motley kitchen crew once again push out plate after plate of beautiful vegetarian cuisine despite a tearful screaming match, a wild boar on the loose, a motorcycle accident and much public drunkenness.
Ciao Regazzi!

Well, my summer in Italy is coming to an end. It was pretty eventful week last week. Just wait... it's a good one.

Sandra yelled at Judit, and if you can recall, Judit shakes like a leaf. The poor thing started crying, and Alberto came in and yelled at both of them. Unfortunately, I was the only other person in the kitchen and knee-deep in polishing glasses, so I couldn't really put them down and walk away. I didn't quite know what to do.

Sandra yelled back at him. She was always a bitch to Judit and had it in for her from the beginning, but no one knows exactly why. I mean, Judit is this cute girl from Hungary who is on a scholarship to go to school in Italy. She's at Montali to earn some money over the summer to continue improving herself and education. Sure, she hasn't done the best job in the world, but the girl puts in one helluva effort. What more could you possibly ask from someone?

Anyway, Sandra and Judit share a room, so we took Judit to the castle and had her stay with us. Sandra took off in the middle of the night. So I guess she's not part of my restaurant dream team anymore.

A few days later, Sandra came back, I guess to get her paycheck or something, and told Chef that Judit was having an affair with boss! Can you believe that? Remember I wrote about that a while back? First she had the balls to come back and ask for money, and then she said something like that. Any respect I had for her and her hard work went down the drain at that point.

A few nights later, Jaro took the Honda 600 home, but he couldn't get it started right away, so we said that when we dropped everyone off back at the castle, we would turn around and go back to Montali if he hadn't arrived yet. We saw the light coming up the road, so Josh and I waited for him. Jaro pulled up and started stumbling around and told us he had fallen off the bike when a wild boar jumped out in front of him.

I didn't believe him. We joke around like that... but then I saw the blood (See the photos here. Don't worry—they aren't gory). We helped him up the walk and when we got into the light, the blood was only from a couple of scrapes... not too bad. Then we realized how drunk he was. He didn't go to work the next day because of some internal bruises, but nothing serious. Chef and Alberto are babying him, and he's soaking up every last drop of it. It makes me want to barf.

Janko doesn't like Sara because he says he acts like she is in kindergarten. In the kitchen, she has the attention span of the kindergartner, but Eva (who has the day off with her) says she seems totally competent outside of work and doesn't know why she's like that inside the kitchen. Sara drove to the store yesterday and when I walked in the house, I noticed a 22oz bottle of beer she had finished on the counter before she left. Is the whole world drunk and I'm the only one who's sober?

We had a really good night last night. Really smooth, good-looking food and no stress. I am really going to miss this place. I enjoy working here very much, and it's too bad that it took me so long to adjust. Now that it's over, I feel like all my complaints have been are trivial. To use a cliché: hindsight is always 20/20.

It's so beautiful and peaceful out here, and not having internet access regularly is not as bad as seemed at first. The boss and chef are fun people who love life and I'm totally in love with their son, Damiano. He's one cool kid.

My hair cut went great. It was difficult to tell them what I wanted, but we got it accomplished. If I could, I would fly here every four months just to have Marco do my hair again. The town of Tavernelle is lucky to have him.

I'd like to close my last travelogue by saying a few nice things about the people I'm ending this adventure with:

Janko: A great great cook with a great sense of humor. He taught me how to just work and not to bitch about it because it's not that big of a deal. I learned this just by watching him.

Eva: so classy and intelligent. I never know what she is thinking, but in a good way. When someone starts acting stupid, she is the last one to roll her eyes. She's great fun to be with and I think she is going to go far in life.

Jaro: Also great fun and funny. I think his Mr. Bean voice makes everything funnier than it actually is, especially when he sings.

Judit: She's always scared as hell but does it anyway. I will miss her very much and I wish her well in her studies. Bravo to her for working at it.

Josh: Always willing to listen and think about it... An admirable quality.

Chef: Her passion for life is contagious. She's a happy person and works her ass off. She always listens and genuinely cares about other people, and this 50-year-old woman has more stamina than I do. I'm lucky to have worked for her for this short amount of time.

Boss: No matter how "stressful" his job is, it's been great fun to get into verbal sparring matches with him. When all is said and done, he has created a pretty special place here at country house Montali.

And last but not least, Sara: A free spirit who always wants to please. She's been nice to everyone, and harbors no hard feelings. Bravo to her, as well.

Thank you all for listening to my rants and raves, my highs and lows and reading my most personal thoughts. This has become an immense experience for me, and much more personal than I ever anticipated. And yes, everyone was right: I don't want to leave.

See you in America soon!

With deepest gratitude,
Miss Molly

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9.17.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: 20 Questions & Limoncello

their view of the parade
"bitter greens with caramelized cippolini vinaigrette and fresh figs" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

man and ox
"gelato in Tavernelle" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

man and ox
"i love this place" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

Miss Molly, a cook I worked with at Tabla in New York, sends along one of the last few postcards she'll write from her summer-long post at the ever-so-upscale Umbrian restaurant and inn, Montali.

This note finds our dear Molly winning at Alberto's homegrown Quizbowl, reveling in kitchen-slave solidarity and falling in love with the world.
Ciao!

Okay, only one or two more left. Work has steadily slowed, which is nice. As of the past few days, the only special diets we've had is the kosher family (the koshies) which like I said before wasn't so bad to do, because we can make everyone's meal kosher, but they left today.

Anyway, so we come back from siesta on Tuesday and right away Alberto starts undermining the chef in front of everyone and immediately afterward starts asking me stupid questions like what the capitol of Iceland is. Our relationship is more or less built on sassing each other and his wanting to see how far I’ll go with the patriarch of the Montali kingdom, and usually it's fun, but it also usually does not come out of left field. So when I answered, he acted all shocked that a stupid American would actually know such a thing, and then he starts asking me exactly what they taught us in school history-wise, and I haven't been in school in 9 years, so in that moment all I could remember was Mr. Alderson’s American history class when I was a junior in high school. I told him I didn't really remember. He can be a real pompous jerk sometimes.

Too bad for him that I couldn't care less about what he and his nationalist ass think about me and my mouth and brain. Plus, I didn't have to pay someone money for three years to be my spiritual leader to learn the same things I’ve learned spiritually by working in a kitchen for three and half years.

So later that evening I’m plating this dish, putting sauce around the ring molded rice to be exact, and Alberto starts freaking out at me to not get sauce on the rice. He kept trying to tell me this way to do it and I didn't understand what he was exactly trying to say and for him to show me how he wants it done so I can follow is movements.

He said I didn't understand because I wasn't listening. I finished fine, and his anger only affected me because it was on top of other girl problems I started having about three hours before. Plus, I’m not one to totally freak out. It’s just annoying. And he is the boss, and I do work for him... I just sucked it up like a good cook should do.

When we arrived at the castle after work and Jaro handed over the keys, he gave my hand a squeeze and i just remembered how good it felt to have the human contact that I so often isolate myself from, and it was his way of saying it was okay. And I was okay, before that, but it was still just nice.

Uuummmmm what else? I was better with Sarah this week. She still gets annoying. She's one of those people who take one sip of alcohol and her whole personality changes. Mostly I feel bad for her. I’m learning to be tolerant, of her and other things that annoy me. I don't want to be one of those people. The boss seems to think she is really passionate about cooking and to quote him exactly, "since she's Italian, she already had a really good palette. Italians can tell with their mouth all the technical aspects of cooking."

This made me realize I need to travel around Italy a lot more and meet new Italians because I do not want to go back to America with this tainted version of Italy as my last impression.

Josh is his same gloomy self. Too proud and a bad attitude. Someday he'll have his ass handed to him and he'll learn. Maybe he's just been at Montali too long. On a positive note, he has some pretty decent music which he so graciously put on my computer. Also, when I’m not put off by his constant know-it-all cynicism, he can be insightful.

Ester started spreading rumors that boss was having an affair with Judit. A few people believed them for about a week, and when she said something after that about Eva, we knew she was lying. About once a week, Eva comes over to me and Sarah's apartment after work and we sip Limoncello and maybe a few Coronas. It’s pretty fun and we do the stereotypical girlie thing like talk about the drama that surrounds the 10-person team at Montali. It gives me a sense of sisterhood, something I only really feel when I go see my girls out in California. I need to be more open to that when I get back to New York.

At night, I sit by my window because I can watch the people walk by around the castle. I usually let the breeze cool me off after 15 hours in a hot kitchen and listen to music or watch the Golden Girls. And I always get that familiar overwhelming feeling of love. Like I love Eva and Jaro and even Josh and Sarah and Janko. They are fun to work with and we have a good time and I feel lucky to have that in my life.

I am lucky to feel sad that I probably won't ever see these people again after two weeks because that means they have touched my life in some sort of special way. And the chef tells me weekly that she is going to miss me a lot and how she is going to open a nice bottle of wine on my last night. And Josh and Jaro and Eva say we are going out to party on my last night. And I feel celebrated and loved and happy and sad and thankful... The last time I can distinctly remember feeling this way was when I was 14 and my mom threw me a surprise birthday party at "Hungry Burger." It just feels so good... and I didn't even have to pay a spiritual advisor who will eventually leave his body to learn all this!

On a lighter note, I just wanted to note that I’ve never felt such beautiful clean rain in my life before, and to document that all last week we had a thunder storm pass through almost everyday for about two hours followed by beautiful sunsets and clean, clear skies. The other thing I wanted to note, was the color of the eggs we have here. They are so bright orange; Like if they were a Crayola, they would be red-orange. I am posting a picture of one of the yolks, but I don't think it shows the true intensity of the color.

Okay, I think that's all for now folks. I’m getting my hair done next Thursday.... just cut and a few highlights, but it's by someone that doesn't speak English and I don't speak Italian, so we'll see how it ends up. Stay tuned!

Love, Molly

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9.07.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: A taste of traditional Tuscany

their view of the parade
"their view of the parade" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

man and ox
"man and ox" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

bigne con crema di funghi
"bigne con crema di funghi" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

Drawing near the end of Miss Molly's cooking adventures at the highly improbable —but ever-so-upscale—Montali (a vegetarian restaurant and inn in Umbria, Italy), we watch our young heroine dine on Tuscan traditions, discover that co-worker Sara is a closet drunk and ponder the takeaways from this summer of sweat and searing stoves.

Ciao regazzi,

I know it's been a few weeks since I wrote last. I can't remember too well where left off. I’ll start by saying we are in a really, really busy week. Not only is the hotel full, but we have reservations from outsiders every night as well.

And to top it off, we have five to six people with special diets, like one is strictly kosher, meaning we had to buy separate plates, pots and pans and knives and utensils etc. Which isn't so bad, but we also have one who can't eat onions, and one who is allergic to eggs and alcohol. It gets confusing as we have to make four separate dishes that are the same but with restrictions.

It’s time-consuming and we only have five burners on the stove. So far, so good, though. We just have to repeat to our chef and to ourselves exactly what we are making over and over and over again.

I just repeat my usual mantra of "This will make me a better cook. This will make me a better cook." I’ve said that to myself for so long now, I can see an improvement in stressful situations.

Last Sunday, there were only two people on the book, so the chef gave everyone a half day. We split the day into shifts, and Eva, Josh and I took the morning. We went to Citta' della Pieve, and they were having some celebration of some medieval thing and were doing so by having a parade. After that, we drove to Toscana and had a "traditional Tuscan meal".

It was a nice day and even nicer to hang with my coworkers on a social level. Thank god we got the morning shift, because if I had to spend the day with Sara, I would have died.

I know, I know... I liked her a lot at first, but everything went downhill when I heard her straight-out lie to the chef to cover her ass. If there is anything I can't stand, it's someone who lies.

That was a while ago when we realized Sara drinks a little too much. She went out one night, drank way too much, told the chef she only had one beer and didn't know why she felt so bad and she got sent home. And then she broke a glass, didn't sweep, and blamed it on Judit the next day when chef lectured us about leaving shards of glass on the marble countertop. Plus, she gets wasted drunk at work. But I digress.

Eva, Josh and I had a really nice time and I’m glad I got to hang out with them. I’m really going to miss Montali when I leave. It’s hard work, but I like working for the chef and think she and Alberto have done a really cool thing. I’m glad I took this opportunity and really, really hope to do something like this again in the future.

I’m trying to figure out what exactly it is that I am taking away with me, but haven't come near a conclusion. I suspect that will happen in retrospect.

I also feel like when I return to New York, I will be starting all over again there, too. At first that scared the hell out of me, but now I am looking quite forward to it. Some people will be there, some won't. And like everything else in my life, the only constant is me and my family.

Ciao for now,
Molly

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8.24.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: Lost in translation

stretching the strudel dough
"stretching the strudel dough" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

inside of my zucchini strudel
"inside of my zucchini strudel" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

me and my zucchini strudel
"me and my zucchini strudel" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

In this edition of Miss Molly's cooking adventures at Montali, a vegetarian restaurant and inn in Umbria, we find Molly making strudel, upsetting the new guy and finding messages from God in the library.

Missed the last few? You can find Molly's past postcards here and here and here and here and here and oh yes... the first one is here.
Ciao!

I only have 6 more days off, which means I only have six weeks left here!
Hurray for me! My first month here, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to stick it out this far, but I have! A personal triumph in the life of Miss Molly Rebecca Louise Del Monte I.

Life is good. I'm a third of the way into my 6th book this summer, i've seen Seasons 1-4 of the Golden Girls twice, and I can confidently say i've kicked my addiction to the internet.

I had this cool idea to do a slideshow on making a strudel, but flickr.com puts pictures in any order it wants. So if you want to see a tired Molly with black circles under her eyes, you can check them out.

Here's the newest members of the cast:

Sondra: she is from Ecuador originally, but now lives in Perugia while she is not residing at Montali. She is really really great and I'm excited that I can speak Spanish with her, though my Spanish and Italian are starting to get mixed up. But I like to stay in practice. She works really, really hard and does a really good job. By the way, she cleans rooms and does dishes and helps clean the kitchen. In my imagination, she will be part of my restaurant dream team, along with Tan Tan and Chi Chi and How How (to be diplomatic where I cannot!).

Judit: she is this tiny girl from Hungary who also now lives in Perugia. She helps clean rooms, does miscellanous work, and serves on Jaro's nights off. She speaks okay English, fluent Italian, has a lisp and shakes like a leaf whenever anyone speaks to her. I resist the urge to cradle her in my arms and tell her it's going to be okay because she is the sweetest thing I've ever seen.

And last but certainly not least is: Janko. He is the third and final Slovakian who has worked at Montali for the past five years. He just arrived from London where he was working in a high-volume restaurant where the majority of the food was heat and serve. He hated it, so after six months he called up Alberto and asked if he could come back for the season. While i find it difficult to talk with him (because of accents, important voice inflictions etc.) he is a really great cook and I'm glad he's there because experience-wise it puts me in the middle, and that is where i want to be in any restaurant. That way, I can always have someone to learn from (chef excluded, of course).

Anyway, I told him last night that I was really glad he was there because he works really fast and good and does everything everything everything without being asked or complaining about it and that I appreciated it. Janko is the serious cook I aspire to be. Back to my point though, I told him that and either he thought I was being sarcastic or something got lost in translation. I tried to explain myself but it was one of those times that the more you explained, the worse it got. So I just shut up.

While I was searching the Montali library for a book to read, I came across a 2004 Lonely Planet guide for New York City. I flipped it open to a page with a picture of Greenwich Village! It was my neighborhood! My heart soared! I found a map in the book and I showed everyone where I lived. It was probably silly to them, but I was so excited to see it. Like God's way of telling me I'm almost there! I stayed up most of the night reading the guide's pages to the culture, history, fashion and dining etiqutte of New Yorkers. So I guess technically I'm a third of the way through my SEVENTH book. God I love that town!

Not too much exciting news in this update, nor have I had any epiphonies since the last time, but there you go.

Ciao regazzi belli!
Molly

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8.08.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: High drama & lasagna

crudite, again
"crudite, again" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

Umbrian sheep
"sheep we see every day on the way to work" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

croquante
"croquante" From thisismolly photostream at flickr.

In our last postcard from Miss Molly (a young American cook working at a vegetarian restaurant and inn in Umbria), we vicariously experienced the World Cup win and a bit of homesickness for the food of good old NYC.

This latest post finds Miss Molly rejoicing at the loss of her nasty roommate, getting some praise from the chef and taunting us with promises of "the best lasagna you will ever eat in your life, period."

Okay, so the British monster got fired, and excuse my language, but I have no other words in my vocabulary that will do her justice. She was such a bitch, and I'm so glad she is gone.

She was there for five days... not even a full work week. Never in my life have I ever seen anyone more arrogant. She and Josh were fighting when it happened. (Not that Josh is some kind of saint or anything. I've minced words with him on more than one occasion.) I heard them fighting in the back room, went and got the boss, and he was more than fair with her and she just kept barking at him.

It was actually pretty funny. You see, Josh is the kind of guy who says really stupid remarks under his breath. Anyway, I've no doubt that whatever il mostro was yelling at Josh about, it was not undeserved.

I slept every siesta this week. I was tiiiiiired. On Tuesday, it was just Sara and I, and Sara is great. She's totally eager to learn and usually does things right. I like her a lot but she is still really slow, and doesn't know a lot about cooking and basic maneuvering in the kitchen.

We ended up having 21 people for dinner, which I know doesn't sound like much, but when it's at Montali Country House and when it's just you and someone with hardly any cooking experience, you really get pushed to the limits. And I did. 8 a.m. until midnight, with less than a 2-hour break. And it was just Sara and I for the first half of the day, and I had to make lunch for customers, and I did it, and I hauled ass and it felt really good, like I'm finally getting into the rush again when you just do everything good and you do it without thinking and the pressure is on but you don't freak out because you can handle it and everything you do you hope your chef sees because you know you are doing it the way she wants...

She shook my hand again this week and pulled me aside for a little inspirational talk. I finally feel like we are on a team, the chef and I. The talk was something I've been waiting to hear my whole life, and I always thought that when my employer pulled me aside to give me that talk that my heart would fill with glee, and that's not how I felt. Maybe this was just the outskirts of the talk I've been waiting for. Yeah, actually I think it was. Nonetheless, it still felt really good to hear. That is, until Josh walked up. At that point, just I pointed out how pregnant the cat looked.

The food is starting to appeal to me again. I think it's due to the fact that I'm putting more of my heart into what I am doing. I wasn't too into this ultra-refined stuff when I first got here, but then I started thinking about Thomas Keller and how his food must be or Daniel or Jean Georges and how they got started and the attention that they all at one time or another put into their food. Not that I want to ever
open a four-star restaurant, because I don't think that's my style, but I do think it's important to aspire to be the best you can be and if that means working 84+ hours a week doing painstakingly detailed work then so be it.

The British monster left behind a book on Umbria. I was happy to know we are now in the hottest and driest part of the year. Thank god because it is sure hot and dry! The rolling hills are covered with sunflowers and it's beautiful to see. This week they looked a little wilted, so by next week, I'm sure they will be almost dead.

I've been thinking of a few recipes I can email back... Most of, well all the stuff we make here is either not for the home cook due to technicality or the use of specific tools or the lack of my ability to sit here and write out the procedure.

Our tomato sauce is really good and simple, but I am going to assume that most of you do not own a food mill. Or this red pepper side dish thing we make that is insanely retarded (that's slang for really, really good). I just can't write it all out.

Maybe if I get some special requests, I'll take and hour or so of my free time on my one day off a week and write the recipe for "the best lasagna you will ever eat in your life, period and it ain't no casserole, neither," but I doubt most of you are going to take the time to roll your own fresh pasta or seed 60 cherry tomatoes (or as they say in Italy: cherries tomahto). Just kidding, you don't have to seed cherry tomatoes. I just threw that in for good measure. You could also just buy fresh pasta. Or maybe I'm just totally underestimating you, my dear fans.

Forgive me.

Okay, until next time...
Ciao, amoribelli!

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8.05.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: Dreams of pulled pork


"Mine's better." From the thisismolly photostream at flickr.

When last we left Miss Molly (a young American cook working at a vegetarian restaurant and inn in Umbria) she was stepping out for cured meats and finding little love for the flow-busting siesta.

In this edition, we find Miss Molly experiencing a not-so-pleasant roomie, an expat Fourth of July and the Italian World Cup victory.

Ciao, My favorite Americans!

Finally got into the swing of things and made nice with Josh, the other American. (We had a rough patch in the beginning, but now I am thankful for everyday he is here.)

They finally hired two more people: one girl who's name is Sara and she is from Pescara(?). I like her a lot. If we could communicate, I think we would be best friends. She inspires me to pick up my "Italian in 10 days" book.

The other girl is Juliette. She is from London. She is also my new housemate. To put nicely what I think about her so far, I'll say this: the upside is I now have a real bed and my own room with a lock.

I have gotten the hang of the recipes and how the chef likes her food to taste and her kitchen run, and also figured out how to find the streamline in a highly disorganized work environment. I started to bitch about it, but instead I told myself (again) "This is a short amount of time.... I'm here to learn how to work in a different type of kitchen."

I'm still making all the breads, which I hope to pass off to Sara. She has made a few and they have turned out to be extraordinary. I also make all the savory doughs. I'm really getting the hang of that, as it is something I feel I struggled with in my last job when I did pastry.

The most exciting things that have happened:
* We got out at 10:25 last night.
* I got to drive Josh to and from Chiusi (where the train station is).
* I have my own bed and bedroom.
* I have earned chef's trust in my cooking ability.
* I have mastered a recipe or two (after cooking them 5 times).
* The chef shook my hand after a really busy night when it was just me and the two new girls (read: Sara and the British monster).

It's pretty lonely out here. Like, I think this is the loneliest I have ever been in my whole life. I'm definitely building relationships, especially with Josh because we don't have to talk loud and slow to each other. But no one has any social time together, unless we want to go to the bar 20 minutes away after work and drink. Not too appealing to me, nor the others as any extra sleep we can get is like gold.

We celebrated the Fourth of July by blowing up a red, a white and a blue balloon. We ate popcorn and drank a beer. (But I dreamed of bbq pulled pork sandwiches. I also dreamed of Aunt Anne's Sonoma County lamb chops with rosemary. And a cheese burger cooked medium with Grafton cheddar. And a Gray's Papaya "Recession Special." And burritos. Mmmmm. Burritos. And Clover Stornetta 2% milk. And Taco Tuesdays. And Sausages with sauerkraut... Oh, sorry. I lost my train of thought.) Anyway that was about as American as we could muster in this place Italians like to call Tavernelle.

The World Cup was celebrated in a way that I have never seen before in my life. everyone was jumping and clapping like... like.... I can't think of an American custom to compare it to. Like the entire country had just won the lottery or something.

I secretly hoped France would win.

2 1/2 more months...

Until next time amici,
Molly

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7.24.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: Siestas and Salty Snacks

pancetta e pecorino
pancetta e pecorino from thisismolly on Flickr.

More from Miss Molly, a young American cook working at a vegetarian restaurant and inn in Umbria. Today: cloned cookies, cured meats and the siesta report.

Last week I ate meat for the first time since I've been in Umbria.... check my photos out. I had this crostini with pancetta and pecorino.... I'm not sure if it was really good or if I was starving for protein, but it was amazing. Umbria has a special pasta called umbricielle [sic] and it's sort of like hand-rolled spaghetti, but a lot thicker. It has great texture and I loved it. The bread here is not made with salt, and while it's a little weird at first, but I find that by the time I finished eating whatever it is I was eating with bread, I feel strangely satisfied and I think I might like it that way.

Another thing I've found I enjoy here are these snacks by the brand Mulino Bianco. I think Barilla puts it out. There are a million little sweet chocolate pastry things you can buy, but after trying a chunk of them, Eva (my housemate) and I discovered they are all the same thing, just different shapes.

Siesta... it's great in theory, but doesn't fly too well with an American like myself. Just when you get cleaned up from breakfast, all the breads for the day made and just as you start to get on a roll for your production for the day, you have to stop for two hours. We go back to the castle as the entire town of Tavernelle is shut down, so all we can do is nap, read, shower, sit in the blazing hot sun on the lawn/weeds/insect and creepy crawl-y things haven, count the mutant bugs in the apartment or snack on our various Mulino Biancos or cured pork product stashes.

Oh yeah, I had to give up my little room with a phone to move back to the castle. I feel a lot more camaraderie with my fellow employees, having to arrive and leave work with them every morning, siesta and night.

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7.04.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: Hot Kitchen, Hard Times

fresh food
mmmmm... fresh food! from this is molly at flickr.

The latest from Miss Molly's cooking adventures at Montali, a vegetarian restaurant and inn in Umbria.

Today: Molly feels the heat and has an ABC After School Special moment.

I feel like I am working at one of those places that you read about in those books they tell you to read in culinary school, (save the Michelin star).

You know which books I'm talking about... The ones where the 12-year-old apprentice works his ass off for some temperamental European chef for 10 years and then moves to America and opens up a four star restaurant. Yeah, one of those.

Except I'm not going to stay here for ten years, so what I'm getting is just a taste. Week two was especially difficult for me. Like, I thought I had adjusted after week one, but week two proved I hadn't. I wanted to leave. I didn't want to be here anymore. I was tired, I wasn't liking the food, I wasn't into my employers. I ranted and raved. I wanted to go elsewhere. I wanted to do something else. I still want to do something else, but after I finish my commitment here.

Alberto.... He stands oh-so-high on his soap box, that once I realized Eva and Jaro felt the same way about him, he became quite tolerable. He talks to me like this is my first time ever working in a restaurant kitchen. I humor him. He likes to lecture (and I stress the word LECTURE) about how Americans do not have a good palate, how great Italy is and how stressful his job is.

Okay okay okay. I get it. I can't relate why serving customers is so difficult because I've never done it before. But your life can't be too stressful when you take your Honda 600 to Perugia to buy some grass and then lay in a hammock and smoke cigarettes all day only to wake up, put on your clothes from Milano (which he never fails to tell us), have a drink or two, serve customers for no more than three hours and then sit in the patio talking about yourself and sipping on 1000-year
old-port. Disclaimer: the grass thing is pure speculation.

As for my fellow cooks, Roman took off last Friday without so much a word to the chef or boss. I guess he was hired as a server for 800 a month and when a spot opened in the kitchen he took it a week or two later. When payday came around and he only recieved 300 with the rest promised to him as soon as they hired another cook, he decided to take off.

I went with him and a few others to drive him to Perugia where he had some friends and an apartment waiting. This happened right after my temper tantrum at the end of week two and I'd wished I'd had the balls to do the same thing. Later that evening, this overwhelming feeling of guilt struck me as I, along with everyone else, returned to work and couldn't say anything to chef or boss about it. I half felt like an accomplice simply becausI i went along for the ride. (My dad says this means I have strong values, my mom says not to let this get to me.)

At the end of the evening, it hit me. I'd had the balls to stay when all I wanted to do was take my credit card and run. Like everything else in life, it is what you make of it. It's hard to remember that 100% of the time though.

To me, guilt is one of the worst things to feel, coming in a close second to abandonment, nausea and cramps. I decided not to feel that way anymore and that 3 1/2 months of my life is nothing in the grand scheme of things. If anything, I feel that it's not long enough in terms of where I want my career to go.

I just have to remember that next time life throws rocks at me.

A few mantras that have gotten me through the difficult time:

"You're a swimmer, Molly"
-PH, 2006

"Hard work and misery are the backbone of a strong, resilient character. It's still worth your attention."
-DCP, 2006

'I like you, but I don't think you should cook. You should work the front of the house."
-FC, 2004

Anyway, Eva, Jaro and I all have some great laughs on a daily basis. They are both from Slovakia but speak pretty fluent English. They say I'm harder to understand than the other American who is originally from the Midwest. The point is though, as long as you have a hearty laugh everyday, there is no way that day will be unbearable. (Awwwww! I just had a Doogie Howser moment!)


In the next Missive, we'll get the food update...

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7.01.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: The Daily (Espresso) Grind


"Cappuccino di Aspargi: Chopped asparagus stems that were sautéed with shallot, a surprisingly yummy veg stock and tips that were halved and sauteed in butter. The top is plain whipped cream." from thisismolly at Flickr.

Welcome to the second edition of Miss Molly's cooking adventures at Montali, a vegetarian restaurant and inn in Umbria.

Today: cappuccino, warm panini with buffalo butter and Mexican Death Oil...

My day:
8 a.m.
In the kitchen. Make caffe, cook breakfast, make ciabatta (I think I might be the best ciabatta maker in the world now, but I'm not sure) and panini (not the sandwiches, the rolls). Set the kitchen for service for breakfast for 2 to 8 people, wait for chef to tell us that night's menu.

8:30 - 9:30
Wait for guests to come, drink CAPPUCCINO (my new favorite drink... I'm convinced every coffee lover needs to go out and buy Lavazza brand coffee). Turn bread and clean clean clean (PS: cooks do dishes, clean glasses, sweep floors... no porters/dishwashers here. The servers help out, but since there is not a dedicated position for the task, pretty much everyone does it.) Clean up after breakfast service.

9:30 - 1:30
Get menu from chef and start prepping. Bake off bread. Clean, make lunch for 7 people unless guests request lunch.

1:30 - 2
Eat lunch. Roman bought habaneros and made "Mexican Death Oil" which we put on EVERYTHING. We usually eat leftovers from the night before, or pasta, or leftover pasta. We snack on warm paninis with buffalo butter. Usually we eat pasta though. And eggplant. And sometimes pasta. But usually, it's pasta.

2 - 3:30 or 4 or 4:30
SIESTA!!!! This is usually when I shower, read or nap. We are totally cut off from the outside world. I have no idea what's going on in New York or the world. Josh checked the Times on his day off and reported back that more troops have been killed in Iraq.

4:30 - 5
Cappuccino! Cappuccino! Cappuccino! Someone told me that when I go to Italy NOT to order a cappuccino after breakfast-time. That the Italians would look at me like I was crazy. I can't help it though. They are sooo good. My favorite part is eating the foamed milk at the end with a spoon. MMMMMmmmmmm foam.

5:30-8
Finish everything for dinner and set up for service. Usually we have a glass or two of wine or some spirit like housemade Limoncello. And we drink this while we work. According to Alberto, we have the most expensive and best wines.

8:30
Start service. I wish I had more pictures of the food.... I'll take more this week. Anyway, check my photo site and hopefully I'll have been able to post my new ones. Mostly they're of the views and the grounds, and to you they might look all the same. Anyway, they are really pretty to me.

We also try to start cleaning at this point too, so we can get out as early as possible. We make guesses as to which time we'll leave and it helps with the morale and camaraderie amongst the cooks.

Of course, Alberto is always there saying something to prolong our work period because "No one works as hard as me or my wife" and "She works 20 hours a day for seven months without a day off" (which isn't true at all, well not the extremities of it anyway) and "My wife is here before you and after you..." and "My wife my wife my wife...". She does work very hard, though, and she is great at what he does. I've never heard her complain.

The earliest we've finished is at 10:30 and the latest around midnight. I'm really really enjoying this. The people are nice, the chef is nice, and the grounds are beautiful. The food is DELICIOUS and refined and rich and technical and creative and approachable, and 100% artisanal and lovely. I kinda wish I had signed up for the whole season... but maybe next summer I will find myself in another part of Europe making prosciuttos and salamis.

I sleep really well every night. I eat well everyday. And I write everything down and put as much as a possibly can into my work day so I won't lose a drop when I leave here. It's really really really cool.

I wish I could share the yumminess with you all. My words do not bring it to light. Uuummmmm... until next time?

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6.20.2006

Missives from Miss Molly: A Far-Flung Cook Lands


torture, from the thisismolly Flickr photostream

Though I'm dog tired and up to my eyeballs in a big recipe project, I thought ya'll might enjoy the entertaining missives graciously offered up by Molly, a young American cook of my acquaintance who is presently working in a vegetarian kitchen at Montali in the Umbrian region of Italy.

Don't miss her pics at Flickr... full-on kitchen access and food porn.

Today: meet the cast of characters.

ahhh... my first week of work finished. I started off a little slow and disoriented, but finished feeling really well.

About the kitchen:
Pretty small. Smaller than my last job, but completely set up different. As soon as I figure out how to use my laptop at one of the three public computers in this town, I will post more photos. Hopefully that will be today.

The people:
The chef is great. Her name is MaLu (short for Maria Lucia blah blah blah blah blah- she seriously has like 7 names, I think.). She is originally from Brazil, but has lived in Italy for, I don't know, 30 years? She is 50, but does not look a day over 35 and is tall and slender and beautiful and a genuinely warm and caring person. And she is a great chef to boot.

Josh is an FCI (ed: French Culinary Institute) alum who graduated in December. He lives in Bed-Stuy (Brooklyn) and will be here for the entire season, which is 7 months. He's also a really nice guy and the only other American here.

Roman is from Mexico... I forget the town but somewhere near the Texas border. He is going to go to culinary school in Perugia (the capitol of Umbria) in October.

Eva is from Slovakia and she is kinda like a server/dishwasher/maid. She speaks pretty decent English and pretty decent Italian. She's pretty quiet and mostly converses with:

Yaro. He's from Slovakia as well and is really funny. He's a dancer and has one of those kinda crackly voices.

Binario works only in the morning and I think just does laundry and cleans the rooms. She is from Sardinia and if I spoke Italian, I guess I would hear her thick Sardinian accent. She doesn't speak a word of English.

Esta is from Nigeria. She speaks English pretty well and I think she does the same thing as Binario. She is a cutie pie and a half and wears this Adidas-kinda jacket with the word "freaker" written in old English across the back. I'm not too sure what a freaker is, nor am I sure if Esta does either. But it's there!

And last but not least
Alberto. MaLu's husband. He speaks fluent (British) English and is pretty patronizing. He constantly talks about how great Montali is and his wife is and how we are so privileged to be here and BMW won't stop sending him things and how the food is so molecular and cutting edge (ahheemmbullshitcoughcough). I'm not trying to put the guy down, he's nice.


Check back! Tomorrow we'll learn more about the cooking, the eating and the drinking...

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6.19.2006