chopped kale salad with hot smoky dates

I would love to eat a fresh date, preferably right now while taking in the sight of an azure Mediterranean sky through a spray of palm fronds. Today, instead of that, I have muted gray winter light (a chance of snow, they say) and some dried dates.

In Miami, where I once lived, huge majestic date palms were planted all around the grounds of fancy hotels and private homes, and at one of my favorite public spaces anywhere, the Fairchild Tropical Gardens. I’m pretty sure the clusters of brilliant yellow fruit that would sometimes appear on the trees were not good to eat. Date palms are natives of hot, dry desert places.

They’re grown in the humid zone of South Florida, often dug up and imported there from other places at huge expense. But while they can flourish on South Beach like sunbathing debutantes, it’s not their ideal climate for fruit-bearing.

I’ll have to wait until I’m in a place like California in winter to bite into a fresh date, an experience that Alice Waters describes in Chez Panisse Fruit as “soft yielding flesh, with a mildly sweet, rich flavor entirely different from that of the hard, wrinkled and cloyingly sweet dates in the package.”

Medjool dates are dried dates, but far from hard and dry, I think. They have a rich quality – kind of luscious really – plump and tender inside. And you can find them in almost every well-stocked market in the produce section at this time of year.  [Read more…]

spicy calabrian cauliflower carbonara

A while back (a long, long while…) I was paying a visit to California wine country.  I was exploring the town of Yountville one afternoon, and wandered into a NapaStyle store. Right there in the middle of the place was Michael Chiarello himself, working the room like the smooth guy he is. He was wearing an immaculate lavender-colored oxford shirt, slim Italian-tailored trousers and his megawatt Food Network smile.

Feeling a tiny bit starstruck, I went over to say hello. I don’t remember what we chatted about, but I do remember him handing me a jar of hot chili pepper sauce, telling me it was from his family’s hometown in Calabria and that I couldn’t leave the store without it. Okay! He didn’t have to work that sales angle too hard.  [Read more…]

venere black rice bowl, inspired by obicà

So here it is October already and if I were a good little food blogger, this post would involve a pumpkin. Ideally, something that could be called Decadent Pumpkin Fill-in-the-Blank. (Ok, brief aside…did pumpkin marketing frenzy start with those Starbucks drinks or what? It’s too much.)

There will be things pumpkiny and squashy soon (It is fall. Oh, well). But I returned less than a week ago from traveling in Italy and that’s pretty much all I can think about. I spent two whole weeks(!!) there, not an epic amount of time, but enough that I felt totally immersed. In the language, food, art. The color of the sky and the taste of the caffè. Every night since I’ve been back home, my dreams have been set in Italy. I’m still processing it all.

Being in Italy only made me hungry for more Italy. I soaked it up, and it will be spilling over and inspiring me for a long time – hope you don’t mind.

Italians make their way of life a priority. It’s a life close to the earth, the seasons, and hundreds of years of tradition, but the basis is simplicity. It feels so different from how we live here in the States, which may explain why it seems idealized to me.  I saw an art exhibit spanning the 16th and 17th centuries in Florence, at the Uffizi Gallery. It’s titled Puro, Semplice e Naturale: Pure, Simple and Natural – those are the perfect words to describe what I love about the place in this century.

In a few weeks, I’ll be sharing more about my experience as a DaVinci Storyteller, which is what brought this Italian adventure my way.

For now, here’s a few shots I took while wandering in Florence one beautiful day; the first was a small produce stand I walked by on a narrow street near the Duomo and the second an inviting-looking restaurant, open and ready to serve pranzo.  [Read more…]