From Jell-O to Tuscany!
This will be my ‘introductory’ post,a bit long,but info i thought interesting to share.I thought it time,to start writing with Gabriele on our blog finally. After 6+ years of filming and having Gabriele stuck at the computer, editing and doing all the posting, I must say, Thank You my Darling! And Thank you, to you all, for years of support and patience, while we waded through, started a family, and tried to share our stories and recipes of Tuscan Food, on a somewhat of a regular basis. I consider Under The Tuscan Gun to be ‘our voice’, it is… it’s how we live, but in truth, Gabriele writes the posts, and our voices are different. I am neither a writer, or a chef… Just someone who has opinions, likes to talk and, loves to cook and eat. While Gabriele is editing/typing away, I’m in generally in kitchen, taking his command at the stove, or giving kids baths, folding laundry, helping with homework… life as we know it now.
To give you a bit of backstory, we started this blog to share culture, just for fun. It’s beginning stage was in form of a cookbook that never came together called “The Tuscan Cookbook for the Pregnant Male”, a Tuscan handbook of recipes and stories food related, from our early relationship, pregnancy and Gabriele’s introduction to American super markets. We were told, “Men don’t buy cookbooks, or push baby carriages.” I thought that odd, as i know plenty of men that do… so we shelved the book idea, broke out a video camera, and just started playing in the kitchen… and we never stopped.
A bit of random background on my connection to food and cooking. My fascination with the kitchen began early. My Mother gave birth to me at 15 years of age in Queens NY, and was not yet a cook. My Father, then 18, was off the boat from Latvia. Since my parents were so young, my Mother’s-Mother (Evelyn), basically raised me, and she got down in the kitchen. A Lover of Film Noir, with a black and white TV, her culinary tastes were that of 1940′s and 1950′s movies or of a novel. Beef Wellington, scalloped potato’s, pork chops, fried chicken, noodles with butter, roasts, frozen-french-cut string beans, very Americana, with some glam thrown in. Evelyn, always in heels and dress from her day at work, would throw an apron on, pour a glass, get happy, and whip up a great meal from scratch. She taught me how to set a fabulous, decorated table (she collected ‘vintage’ glass wear), was most insistent on learning manners, and always made cooking and eating fun; but the sit-down was sacred and ceremonious, even if it was just the two of us. There was something always frying, the stove exhaust fan spinning, local radio station playing. Her stove and refrigerator looked like a 1940′s Cadillac, with great chrome detail. Stove was a Wedgewood. I’ve since owned a few of them in my adult life.
She and I would walk with her shopping cart to Jamaica Ave, where we had our local butcher, baker, and specialty Mom and Pop shops, to buy fresh food to cook for the evening. There was always a pit stop at the soda fountain shop for an egg-creme. Back then, fresh eggs and dairy were still delivered to your door, super fresh! My grandmother’s best culinary moment, in my opinion, was when she got an Italian boyfriend and began to make all amazing dishes from all over Italy. Recipes from cookbooks, but also from Italian neighbors who were more than happy to share old family secrets. My grandmother also made some crazy, artistic, gross creations out of Jello! She had mastered the molds, and fillings,and made multi-color architectural wonders, that i thought were so cool. Grandma’s always treat you to a bit of sugar, and mine had a bag of Oreo’s stashed for me, for as long as i can remember… Pink Lemonade ice pops, and fresh minted ice tea (hers was probably a Mint Julip), served in those colorful aluminum cups that I would sip from as I watched her hang her laundry on the clothesline in the yard. Nothing like the smell of fresh sheets blowing in the wind. I still have her old wooden washboard.
I have always had a curious mind. When not at my grandma’s house, I lived in an apt building, where i would smell different cultures wafting into my window. Above, below, and side to side, lived people from Puerto Rico, Italy, China, Dominican Republic, Ireland, the deep South, and when my mom, who became a hippy, started making things like Sukiyaki (alt was a Swanson dinner), I begged to go visit the neighbors (to eat). I’d sit in any kitchen and watch anyone prepare a meal, as long as they had a good story to tell, and maybe some soda to share. Soda was never allowed in our house, which I thought was awful,but i thank my mom now…
Few years later my Mom moved us to upstate NY, Saugerties/Catskill area. She was on marriage #2, in full on Hippy Mode, and got into being a Pioneer: farming, growing huge vegetable gardens, flower gardens, she opened up a health food store, got heavily into Homeopathic healing. We had Chickens and a goat, Doberman Pinchers (with full ears and tails), cats. It was a wonderful change from city life. She began to finally cook and bake, and I’m proud to say, that I have such vivid memory of her “turn” in the kitchen! Our kitchen became the happiest place in the house, and always smelled of something incredible. It made for good times and great memories. We made jams, dried fresh fruit, jarred pasta sauces, and even made natural beauty potions! She put me to work, had me collect the eggs, tend to the goat who basically ate everything it came in contact with. I witnessed neighbors who hunted,skin and prep a deer(while it hang it up to bleed out) and be dinner. I walked alone through forests and swam in creeks, got poison ivy, sumac, road my bike down a road, played in the dirt… It was a rocky transition for me, going from City kid to complete country living, but when I look back on it now, I am forever grateful. It was the only time in my life where I understood the meaning of ‘quiet’, in every sense. Ironically I married a Tuscan, and this is now the dream I have to give back to my own children some day.
I went back to city life when I hit teenage years, as trees alone were not enough action for me. My curiosity needed to be jolted again. I had 3 waitressing jobs in my life. First one in a Fancy Chinese Restaurant, where I was the only American on staff; that didn’t go very well. 2nd one was in front of Vidal Sassoon at 59th st.,where the AppleStore and FAO Schwartz now are. Many European Customers, Plaza Hotel across the street. I discovered then that people get nasty when they are hungry. The 3rd and final time was at One U (Chinese Chance). Mickey Ruskin’s restaurant, which had the coolest downtown clientele, all great artists and musicians, writers, poets of the early 80′s. I befriended the chef (Linda Yablonsky)and finally got to watch the buzzing of a professional kitchen, the pecking order, and how food is taken care of behind the scenes.
I became a professional working makeup artist by the age of 17. Fashion Magazines, Theater, Opera, Video shoots. I mention this only because, I had the privilege of traveling to many countries and getting to experience many types of cuisines first hand, from an impressionable age. I have always felt more comfortable hanging in a kitchen, so even at fabulous dinner parties to come in my life, I always seem to end up in the kitchen with a glass, chatting with the cook. On holiday with Madonna in Pantelleria, Italy, I found myself going everyday to the market with her chef.He was also a local fisherman. We bought,fresh fruits,vegetables,grains, pastas,and got the fish right off the boat. We would get all the cheese’s, Buratta, Stracchino, Pecorino, from a farm next door. Passito, a sweet delicate wine, offered from another local… Food always seems to take me on a journey, It can be like going on vacation, without having to travel.
I’ve always loved to throw a dinner party. Nothing is like sitting down,with the people you love; have a wonderful meal and break bread with a glass of something nice… Which brings me to where I am at now, still throwing dinner parties, but also doing it with our children, trying to inspire, tantalize, think of new ideas and ways to share food, share tradition, stay healthy and keep it interesting.
I married a Tuscan Man, who left his hometown for me. We created a life together, and food is a huge part of it.
We go back to Firenze often, and after being together a decade, I am a better cook for it. Our property in Fiesole is teaming with Wild Boar (Cinghiale), Pheasants, Owls, Deers, Rabbits. We have about 10,000 Olive Trees outside of our windows and many different fruit trees. Our kids are old enough to now throw into the car and discover other small towns and farms. Family is all around us, and the Center of Florence only about 7 minutes by car, just down the hill. I spend my time there transporting myself to another time, imagining how the Etruscans, the Romans, or the Medici all ate, groomed, lived. I read every book on those era’s that i can get my hands on. Still learning my Italian: I am not fluent (my one child is), but I am a work in progress, probably always will be. I tend to mix it up with my Spanish and French. Italians however are very forgiving…Like most people,I visit all types of Shops, Super Markets, Restaurants, Castles, Museums, Vineyards, Farms, Pharmacies, always on the lookout for something interesting to take in, or bring home. Always looking for artisan handwork, as so many of that has been replaced by machines.
I look forward to sharing and discussing all things food, travel ,family etc… (NO GOSSIP HERE!!!!!).
Next post will be shorter, I promise. I just wanted to say hello, and get started!