Friday, March 11, 2016

Fava Beans and me

It has been a while since I posted as we have hosted a bit of company, and I certainly did not want to subject them to my culinary disasters. We did have the frozen soup that I made by using the steak knife to chop the carrots and they said the soup was delicious. They are dear friends.

As I have told you, Sicily is the land of produce....vegetables and fruit that are more delicious than you can imagine. So the purple califlower seem to be waning, but into the market appeared the adorable little fava beans. Well they are not so adorable sitting in here on my table, but I was assured by my new best friend from the market, Claudia, that the beans were just picked that morning and had a fantastic taste because of the minerals from the lava. How could I refuse?

When I asked Claudia how to prepare them, she got a worried look on her face and started to chew on her lower lip, and responded, come tu vuoi, or however you want. Then I got a worried look and she said, ok first you must peel them properly, which she showed me. You first split the pods with your finger nails, pull down a string and voila' the beans are inside.

Look how cute the little beans are inside the pod.Thank god she told me to peel them or I would have thrown the entire lot into a pot of boiling water. OK, this split them with your finger, find the string and they open like they did for her? Not happening. I could never find the string, my finger nails were getting dirty, so I gave up and used a knife.

But wait there's more. Claudia then showed me how to take them out of their pods, and then with my finger, pick off the top, then they are ready to go into the water. The purpose of the top picking became clearer once they were put into the boiling water.

Ok, so now they are out of the pods, with their little tops picked off and then they are put into boiling water for 10 minutes.

There they are floating to the top, but we still are not done peeling the dumb things. So next, you need to take them out of this water and "easily" slip off their outer skins. Thankfully we had the top pinched off, so indeed the skins did come off pretty easily.

Next I was to put them in ice water...okay let me stop here. Do you know about Italy and ice? This is no small task to say put them in ice water. I go to the freezer, find teeny, tiny ice cubes made for drinks, put them in a drainer, then put the beans over the teeny, time ice cubes.

The ice cubes are barely bigger than the beans. Of course the ice cubes are melting, and then I'm not sure if that is supposed to happen so I pour cold water over them and then they melt faster and then I think I should have paid more attention in science class instead of flirting with the boys.

The whole point of this ice thing is to get the SECOND coat off the beans so that they are properly peeled. I mean really?

This is what the final beans looked like. They are a beautiful color of green and they do look like spring, but there weren't that many of them. There were a few more than these 4 , but not that many. Geez. So now the part comes where things went wrong, and you will just have to take my word for it because I couldn't bare to take a photo!

The recipe says put in salt, pepper, olive oil and slices of cheese. It DOES NOT talk about how much cheese and what the proportion should be. So anyway, I have a lot of cheese and so I chop it all up put it in with my 25 beans, cover the pot and forget about it.  Time for dinner, I uncover the pot and it is one gooey, floppy, melted piece of cheese with tiny little beans stuck in it. INEDIBLE. After all that work. I mean really, it was another 2 and a half hours what with the shucking, the boiling, the ice making, the peeling, the chopping of the cheese and it was something even Gary said well, it was probably good an hour ago.

Luca came to check on me and believe it or not, his toy looked better than this dish.

I couldn't take a picture of it, it was too depressing and a pain in the butt to get it out of the pan.

OK Lessons learned.
1. Look for fava beans already prepared.
2. If number one is impossible, go for another vegetable.
3. If you really want to eat fava beans and you have to use fresh ones, don't put the cheese in until the beans are cooled, OR until you sit down ready to eat them.

The one bean I tasted before the horror show did taste like spring, just as Claudia told me. When she asked me the next day about the beans, I just nodded my head and asked about turnip greens.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Purple Cauliflower

This was a poem I learned as a child:
I've never seen a purple cow
I hope I never see one 
But this I know I'd rather see
A purple cow than be one.
(Or a purple Cauliflower)

Strange how these things stick in your head. So, I'm getting better at this cooking thing. Still chaos, but I'm learning.

I got feedback from several of you that the flour in the last recipe would have made a difference in the outcome, something about structure and holding it all together. I am also told to be patient.

Two things I'm not good at, patience and following directions. So this cooking stuff is a challenge for me, as you have seen.

Here is today's recipe. I found everything in my local fruit and vegetable stand.

I am making great friends with all of the local vendors. I love the produce woman at our local fruit and vegetable store. I told her I was learning to cook, and she beamed at me both in amazement and good will I'm sure. There was another woman in the store who was very curious about this recipe. Upon hearing it, they both said, gnamm, gnamm, buono...sounds good.

They have purple cauliflower here in this part of Sicily, hence the poem.  I guess the color comes from the minerals in the soil. Someone thought maybe it was genetically modified to be this color, but it is not. It actually grows naturally this color in this part of the world. Apparently there are also orange cauliflowers and yellow ones.These purple monsters are a big deal here right now.

There are carts of purple cauliflower all along the road selling to passersby.

Here are my ingredients before I started.

Everything always looks so easy before I start. I get mesmerized by the colours and then I forget what I'm doing. I checked the recipe and there were no new terms that I didn't know. That would seem to be good news. There is no egg white beating and folding, more good news.

I had all of the ingredients this time and I made actual bread crumbs from left over bread, toasted it in the oven and put aside.  Yeah for Susan!

I knew this rolling pin I brought from home would come in handy!.

The produce lady had the Castelvetrano olives. They had pits in them, but after the first chop of an olive, owwww, I figured that out. I guess I should try to eat one first before I start chopping, or probably just presume the olives have pits.

I found a lemon squeezer for the lemon, but it didn't have much juice inside. The lemon had a really thick skin.
I picked it off the tree outside, but I had to pull with all my might with both hands, practically falling on my butt when it finally came loose. Maybe it wasn't ready to join me, I don't know but there wasn't much juice in the thing. Luckily I only needed a tablespoon.

Now the trouble begins. I quote:
"Working from the top of the cauliflower head vertically to the core, carefully cut 3/4inch "steaks from the centre."

Working from the top of the head vertically to the core...what? What am I working at? What type of sentence construction is that? Who writes this stuff?

I must have read that line 10 times. Unfortunately, the Stoic One was in the shower, so I couldn't ask him for advise. Luca was no help.
As a matter of fact the entire time I am in the kitchen Luca stares at me like he has to go to the bathroom, but he doesn't. He either stares at me or hides in the other room. I think he thinks I've lost my mind.

Back to the cutting of this purple cauliflower.

First I wondered, if it would be purple inside. What do you think?

It was not!. Looks normal, like a regular cauliflower. Ok anther comment here. I keep telling you how delicious the produce is. It has a nutty, smokey flavour that is overlaid on the flavour of whatever you are eating. I finally got that the smokey taste comes from the lava. Gads, I hope the lava isn't that hot underneath me. I mean even as I'm standing here is is probably flowing in a red hot molten river beneath my feet. Yikes. Best not to think of that now.

OK back to cutting these steaks.

So, I look at this and think it looks like the tree of life. I could do a whole theological discussion here about Adam, Eve, the apple, that was never mentioned, the sexism of the whole story, but I won't. Suffice it to say, they probably weren't eating purple cauliflower. 

It looks weird to me, like I should cut out the core, but then I think it will all fall apart. I read the directions again, and continue.

I have nothing to brush the steaks with so I used my hands. Ewww...olive oily hands. I'm going through a roll of paper towels a dish! I did my best with the slicing but quite frankly I have no idea how wide 3/4 of an inch is. I have no idea how big an inch is. Maybe I should get a ruler before my next dish but they only have centimeter rulers and this would all be too much. Maybe the Stoic One can make me a paper ruler. I'll have to ask him.

For better or worse, I got some sliced and put in the pan.

I got 3 slices but then I gave up. Now I realise I should have sliced the clumps in the same shape as the big steaks. Next time.

Another comment here, I hate when the recipe says "meanwhile". You know you are in for trouble when you see that conjunction. As if I'm sitting around doing nothing. If you had a video of me, you would see me running around the kitchen table, reading the recipe, looking for my reading glasses, opening the oven door, looking for the oven mitts, closing the oven door and then turning on the stove. Meanwhile....

Okay the next steps weren't  too hard, except I still don't have this precision cutting thing anywhere near to close. I have too much of a "that's good enough" mentality to really be a good cook I've decided. The problem is then I freak out when I see they don't match, and drag them out of the saute pan, and make a mess get the idea.

This is what they looked like when they were done. Lots of browns if you ask me.

This is the cauliflower, currants, garlic and olives mushed together and cooking for 5 aobut 10 minutes..

This is what the cauliflower steaks look like when they were roasted.
To me they look like squished tarantula spiders . The lovely purple color is gone. I think all of the food looks better when I first buy it before I get my hands on it.

I stopped the cooking process here because we had to go off for lunch. The Stoic One tasted the olive concoction thing and said it was "delicious." High praise from him.

Luca is happier 

Now I am back at the computer.

We will have the cauliflower steak things for dinner. Will report back on the taste. 

Good news, it only took me an hour and a half to fix this. Bad news at least 45 minutes of that time was reading, running around whooping and opening and closing doors.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My First Dish

So yesterday we decided that a little sight seeing was in order, I mean after all we are in Sicily. It was a beautiful spring day even though it is the beginning of February. We went up into the hills and visited a town where the Godfather II was filmed, but that is a blog for another time. Suffice it to say I felt well rested today and a bit ambitious, so I decided to move on from the soup category into the antipasti category.

I read where Julia Child was critical of Julie and Julia because Julie didn't say how the food tasted or what she learned. So, in order not to make that mistake, here is what I have learned so far.

1. Check to make sure you have all of the ingredients before you start...duh...but I have made this mistake several times. Is this because I'm old or is it because I'm impetuous and eager to get started, or is it both? Sigh.
2. Next make sure you have all of the kitchen equipment, such as knives, bowls, etc, before  you start.
3. Finally when you are learning something new, it is going to take you longer than you think to get it done. This is very true of me and cooking. Things I think will take 30 minutes have taken 3 hours!

On to today's challenge. I decided to make a Tortino di Zucchini or Zucchini Pie. It is officially classified as an Antipasti in the big book. The following information is thought to be helpful...
"...antipasti must be served and enjoyed in sensibly limited quantities so that your guests will be able to do justice for the courses which follow...." I wonder what the authors would think of American all-you-can-eat buffets? 

Here is the recipe that I thought I could get done in 40 minutes max.

 How many places do you think this could go wrong? You won't be suprised when I tell you both the Stoic One and Luca were hiding at the end of this attempt.

First off, we must go to the market. We skip the butcher lady and go straight to the market where they sell fruit and vegetables. In Sicily, these are places of beauty. I stare and fret looking for zucchini or something that resembles zucchini. Finally a nice lady rescues me and asks what do I want. Zucchini I say. Why she asks. 

Okay a comment here. I have this theory in Italy that you can't get something you "want" if it isn't something that is commonly asked for, such as air conditioning in your house, unless you can show a factual need. Then you must go past the want case into the need case. So, I'm at the fruit vendor wondering if I need to express a want or do I need to come up with a need. Example...I want 4 zucchini...I need 4 zucchini because I am in the middle of a recipe and I have guests coming and I promised them zucchini. You get the drift.

While I was trying to decide a strategy for my purchase, the shop keeper asked what I was going to do with the zucchini. I say make a tortino (or tart). She is ever so happy and says, you must use these. They are less bitter than the other ones and will bake better. We both smile and go on. First hurdle accomplished.

I get the cheese, the eggs and the salami knowing we already have milk. Simple I think. We can have this for lunch. I do have that slight tingling feeling that I have thought this before, but I have a KNIFE this time, I tell myself. Maybe I better take off my scarf before I start, it seems like someone was strangled with her scarf, or was that the dancer in the convertible? Whatever, scarf is off.

Now I can be serious. The first page of my cookbook says, in large font, "Eating is a serious matter.

I decide I better read the recipe through again. I know, now, to get out all of the ingredients before I begin chopping. I have everything out, including nutmeg I brought from Umbria, and then, I look for the flour. Where is the flour, I call out to the Stoic One. What flour, he responds. No flour. Is this one of those make or break things? I decide not, and proceed with the recipe.

I have parmesan cheese, already grated, that I brought from Umbria, so I dump it in a bowl. I take one egg, beat it, put it another bowl. The zucchini...It doesn't mention I look at them and fret. I decide I should probably wash them off, but what exactly am I washing off? I mean if they have some heinous thing on them washing them in cold water won't help. Should I use soap and water? Probably not. Should I scrape them? That's probably the same as peeling them. The recipe says "trimmed and sliced into rounds". No cubes thank god. But what are the size of the rounds supposed to be? No clue. I start to chop.

There are a lot of them. I have my bowls of egg and cheese and my frying pan. Whopee. No problem. Look at what a wonderful color the egg yolks are here in Sicily.

So I have my little assembly line problem!
My frying pan has olive oil in it and I dump one round in the egg one in the cheese and throw it in the pan. Okay as time goes on this gets tedious and the egg and the cheese are starting to clump together and my hands are yucky. How long is this going to take? Then I remember Molly saying something about patience.

Then I start messing with the little rounds. They aren't getting very brown. I move them around and start to flip them over. Hmmmmm.
Finally I decide maybe I should leave them alone for a few minutes. That worked better, but it still looks like a hot mess to me.

Now they have to come out, get drained on paper towel, and then moved to the roasting pan and then I have to start with another batch. I'm beginning to feel Lucille Ball and the chocolate factory.

Now I run into problems. The recipe says "Separate the remaining eggs." Which I do. Hello...put all of the yolks in one bowl and the egg whites in another bowl...(Note to self, should have gotten the bowls out and checked to see if the electric beater fits in the socket before I started.) Gary, help, I call out. He comes to the rescue finds my bowls, plugs the beater into the socket and goes back to his timed driver's license test. He seems less stoic this morning.  Anyway...

Next I am to put the butter, the cheeses the remaining flour, which I don't have any of, in the frying pan. Here is the nicely CUBED two types of cheese which I got at the market. BTW 5 oz. is 150 grams...Fontina and Swiss. Lovely. I should just have a cheese sandwhich for lunch.
Back to the book. It says "melt, stirring constantly." What a mess. What kind of sauce is this? It looks like bad fondue. I go back to the recipe, and realize I have forgotten to add a "scant" cup of milk. Since I don't have a cup I just take a coffee cup fill it with milk add it and hope for the best. Now it looks like fondue with a glass of milk poured over it. What should I do now? I stir but it still looks gross. I've decided cooking basically looks gross most of the time, or at least mine does.

Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. I get so entranced with the whole nutmeg and the cute little grater that I forget about the salt and pepper. 
(One more distraction!)

Now I am to remove the skillet from the heat and add the salami and the egg yolks, ONE AT A TIME. Geez egg yolks are altogether in a bowl..I try to estimate what one yolk looks like, and then I slide it into my gooey, fondue mess. I put in the salami and then dump the rest of the egg yolks. Live dangerously I say.

Now, whisk the egg whites...thank God I brought that electric beater from home, and fold into the sauce. Really???? What exactly does "fold" mean? It's not in the worthless glossary, but I decide, for better or worse, it means a light mix.

Okay, that looks kind of cute like little clouds floating in the fondue. 

Now pour over the zucchini and bake.
totally disgusting looking. I think it mattered about the flour... hot....

It was a lot of work for melted cheese and zucchini. The Stoic One...happy again now that he can eat is being Stoic once more...He gave it 2 out of 3 stars. Maybe for an appetizer cut into little tiny squares...I don't know...How did it taste? Cheesy with chunks of salami. I liked the zucchini. Also it tasted better, once we salted and peppered it at the table!

Next time I must make sure to have ALL of the ingredients ahead of time. I think this matters. Buon Appetito.

By the way, it took me almost 3 hours, again to get this done. I need to get up earlier!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cooking terms

Okay, as you know I got a little obsessive about the terminology of cubing, dicing, whatever in the last post. So I discover in the front of my cookbook there is a beginning section called "Cooking Terms". (Just in case I didn't mention it before, this cookbook has 1262 pages.) Great I think. A glossary of terms will certainly help. Here we go.

Dice= To cut vegetables, meat, or other ingredients into small, even cubes.

How am I supposed to know what small is? Grrrrrr. What is it with cooks and cubes? Okay back to the broth. So, my idea for the broth was I was going to cook the dried Borlotti beans I brought from Umbria with the broth. I walk into the kitchen and the Stoic One has pulled out the 3 hour quick- cooking soup, thinking we might have it for lunch, and he used all of my broth to heat up the soup because the soup had no soup. Arghhh! Now I have to develop a system for sharing things, and what is off limits!. One of my favorite pastimes let me assure you.

Okay so now I have these dried Borlotti beans, or cranberry beans to some of you. They are very cute and colorful, and I like them very much. I did learn my lesson from the first misadventure, so I put the beans in a bowl with water to soak overnight. I forget about them and we have a lovely tuna salad lunch that the Stoic One fixes. Go for a walk, play with Luca...OMG those stupid beans what am I to do with them? They have now been soaking for a day and a half.

Okay so perusing my cookbook, it's not helpful. Nothing really about dried Borlotti beans that have soaked for 36 hours. I find a recipe on BBC, this should have been my first clue, that says, put 3/4 c. of olive oil, 10 cloves of garlic and water to cover the beans and boil for an hour and a half.  Really? Okay have I mentioned there are no measuring things in the house? How could this be? No measuring cups, no measuring spoons...I have a horrible feeling there may be a scale here, which would mean I have to learn to convert grams to ounces...oh no. I'm not looking for the scale. I grab a coffee cup, not an espresso one, and measure out the olive oil, put the beans in and cover them with water. That wasn't so hard.

 Now the recipe calls for 10 cloves of garlic. This was a problem. I did have a head of garlic and I knew from watching Werewolves what a clove was but here was the problem. What exactly constitutes a clove? So I peel off a clump of garlic off the head of garlic and whack it with my knife. Have I mentioned I LOVE watching cooking shows? They always smack the clove of garlic in order to peel it, and do so I might add, without incident. I try this so of course the garlic flies through the kitchen, Luca things we are playing, he grabs the garlic, I run after him, he runs into the living room, and the Stoic One says, "Something amiss?" No dear. I figure a little garlic won't do Luca in, so there's not need to mention it, but I am on the watch for Luca so don't worry. Okay through all of this, I realize that these "clumps" that I thought were cloves, contain cloves...I mean, you probably know this, but 10 cloves or garlic is not nearly as much as I thought, as I had put in the entire head of garlic in the water. I now have to dip back into the beans to start examining each clump to see how many cloves they contain.  Good thing I did, let me tell you.

Okay, I inadvertently cook the beans to death, southerners would love it, and then I think what now?

So I find a recipe that you use shrimp and Borlotti beans, except I don't have shrimp I have "cubed" boiled meat from the broth, remember? I hope you're keeping track. What do you think? Can I substitute the meat for shrimp?

I don't really like the color combination, so I decide I should ask the Stoic One when he comes up for air and does his next kitchen check.

Day 2

So we had the soup last night. The Stoic One said it was good. Sometimes he reminds me of my dad.

The good news was it was cooked. I mean after 3 hours for a 30 minute dish! Basically, it was too sweet for me. I realized I don't really like the taste of cooked tomatoes.  I think things ended up to be more or less the same size...well not exactly.

So is it called diced because it is the size of a pair of dice? If so, these pieces would be about right!!!

I think we will freeze it for later.

So on to the beef broth making. Finally I am working from the cookbook. This is officially lesson one. I just did the instant soup because I thought it would be an easy thing to start with. Hurmmmph.

The good news is I got some cheap knives from the local "Chinese" store. You have to live here to understand what this is...think small cheap Kmart if you are from Michigan. Anyway, you probably understand. Here is my new knife.

The Stoic One has Global Knives at home so he looked at this and sniffed, but I must say it worked a lot better than the serrated steak knife!

My next problem in making the broth was I had to find a meat store. I think in the US we use bones for this purpose, don't we? I mean why waste good meat?  So, I go to the meat store and ask for bones for minestrone. She looks perplexed and so I do what every foreigner does and I act as if she is deaf and yell, bones, bones, broth, broth, as loudly as I can. She looks very alarmed, mutters to her cohort in Sicilian, and gives me 1.5 pounds of lean beef, exactly as the recipe calls for. Wow. That was a surprise. How did she know? What about bones? Questions for another time.

I get the meat home, look at it and think it is disgusting. Maybe this will turn me into a vegetarian. It looks like actual meat. Ewwww.  Now the recipes says "cubes". Okay what the heck does this mean? Is it about the circumference, the weight, I mean why do I care if it is a cube or a rectangle? OK I can't imagine a circle but what about a trapazoid. What expactly is a trapazoid. I should look this up, but realise I need to stay focused. Then I try to think about this on my own. Being an extrovert, this is a very difficult thing for me.  Is this cube-size thing important or is it something I can just say, let's call it a cube? and go on.  Sigh. The Stoic One is studying for his Italian driver's license test and is particularly crabby. I don't think he wants to engage in a conversation about geometrical shapes of beef.

Here is what the butcher lady gave me.

Well that kind of looks like a cube, but maybe it's more like a rectangle. I must find out how to say cube in Italian. Now I'm a bit paranoid from my dicing experience and decide maybe I should make these things smaller. Is cooking going to become a geometry class, if so I'm doomed.

I cut the meat in half, basically trying to keep a cube shape, and then I throw all of the other things into the pot.

I heave a sigh of relief. Now it says simmer for 3 and a half hours. What? You've got to be kidding me. 3 and a half hours? How am I going to know when that is over? Oh, a timer. No timer in the kitchen. Groan. Oh, my iPad..right...set the timer on the iPad, and go play with Lucan and his new toy.

I decide maybe I should read the recipe again. OMG I was supposed to skim off the scum BEFORE i put in the onion, carrots, celery and leek, which I didn't have. Yikes. Back to the kitchen.

Ewww. More disgusting things. Now I understand what an insult it is to call someone a scum. Is this going to be worth the effort? I am remembering the cubes the Stoic One has in the cabinet...oh well, let's see.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Day One Part 2

Before I continue, I need to add a few more things. My bratty younger sister Sarah thinks it's important that I mention how I almost killed the entire family after making a Banana Vanilla Wafer Meringue pudding. It was an error any teen ager could have made and I don't see the need to dwell on past transgressions. Suffice it to say someone put Ivory soap liquid in a cup and I thought it looked a lot like egg whites. My dad was the only one who finished the pudding, but I digress.

The other important thing to note is that I do not expect to get through this entire cook book in 40 days, but rather I would like to learn to make soups and antipasti. This seems reasonable.

I decided to begin with something very easy. It was a prepackaged fast grain (faro, black eyed peas, kidney beans, lentils) soup that promised it was so easy a child could do it and it would be ready in less than 30 minutes. At 11:00 I told the Stoic One I was going to begin on my cooking adventure and I would have lunch on the table in 30 minutes...great he says. The owners left us some great bread, and fruit so our "pranzo" will be complete.

Lesson number one...Check to see if the kitchen has the cooking items you knives.  This was an unexpected obstacle. All that was in the kitchen was a large serrated bread knife, 6 serrated steak knives, and that was it as far as the knives were concerned.
Okay that knife looked normal, but when it came time to chopping...but wait, you'll see.

I was determined, so I carried on with my preparations.. Finely dice one carrot, one stalk of celery, one onion and saute.....hmmmm...Chopping a carrot with a steak knife was not at all easy. Did I mention the recipe called for "finely diced"?

I gave it a valiant effort. The Stoic One was in the living room reading. Luca seemed particularly worried with me in the kitchen.

Okay, the celery, no problem. I mean I wouldn't call it diced...who came up with that word anyway, I would call it more sliced. Ok...carrying on to the onions, a bit scary looking but no problem. Then came the carrots. Too put it nicely, they were mangled, torn, anything but diced. I cooked them for a while, took them out and then thought I did a good job of dicing! Here they are.

It was at this point that the Stoic One came back. "How's it going" he asked as he peered into the pan. These sautéed vegetables were to be added to the beans once the beans were cooked.

Fine, I said. The color is nice. Hmmmmmmm. Then ever so gently, "Do you think the carrots will cook in the next 15 minutes? I think the recipe says saute for 15 minutes."

I burst into tears. "It's not my fault. All of these things are out of order. I can't remember what comes first. This is a disaster. Maybe I have early dementia."

He looks at me, hugs me and says, literally with tears in his eyes. "This must be very scary for you." I mean, really, does he think I have dementia? Just because I can't dice carrots with a serrated steak knife? The fact that I did not pick up that frying pan and hit him in the head was a testament to how heavy the pan was.

"Let me help," he offers. "Let's make some broth to go with the soup as I don't see how the soup is going to turn into soup."
He found these little broth cubes in the cabinet, and even though I thought it was cheating, he whipped it up so we would have some soup to our soup.

Then he looked at the beans. "How long are these supposed to cook?" he asks benignly. I say 20 minutes. They're almost done. He says, "Taste one." Hard as a rock.

2 and a half hours later it was 1:30 and things still were not ready.
"You know there is a restaurant that we can walk to and we can just let the soup rest for a while." I sigh, thinking I also needed to rest for a while and think about this adventure.

We walked to lunch and one of those fantastic, simple Sicilian meals. Probably done in 30 minutes or less.

I am not giving up. Tomorrow I am off to buy a knife and go to the butcher's to get meat to make real meat broth. At this point my vacation will be over before I make one dish!

Day One Part One

I read somewhere that as we age it is really important to keep challenging ourselves to learn new things, stretch our sense of self and get out of our comfort zone. You would think that living in Italy and learning Italian would be enough to qualify for all of these. Somehow, it wasn't. So, approaching my 70th year, I decided to take on learning to cook. 

One day, I'm sure this will be within my reach.

Now a few comments about me and cooking before I begin.

I was raised in a household of 3 girls, an Italian father and a southern mother. Cooking was something we were all expected to do, and we all appreciated good food. My older sister, Diane, was a great cook, if you didn't count the calories, and my younger sister Sarah, mastered the art of making cream puffs in 12th grade Home Economics class. Then there was me. I didn't take Home Ec. The thought of learning to sew, make a decent meal and learn household managent were an anathema to me.  I thought it would be more useful to learn to play soccer and the saxophone. It wasn't and I wasn't good at either.

Then I got married, and as a shower present, everyone of my relatives gave me a 3x5 laminated card with hand printed directions of their favorite recipes. Mind you these were half southern and half Italian women. I was insulted. I wanted books on 15th century European comparative literature, which was, at the time, my current interest. 

So I get married. Husband number one. He was in the Air Force. I learned to open cans of cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup and navy bean soup. I gained 20 pounds in 6 months. I stopped trying and looked for take out food. Husband number two was a good cook, no need to attempt anything there. 

Then there was the Stoic One. On our first date I went to a French restaurant, told them I had a date, they were thrilled, and they fixed a fantastic French meal, which I put in my lovely pots and pans when I got home and pretended I had spent the day cooking.  The Stoic One was impressed with the meal, and how clean the kitchen was. Needless to say, my lack of ability became evident as time went on. He, surprising himself but not me, turned into be a very good cook. I find recipes, he says he can't do them, stresses, tries, and turns out a very good meal. 

Now, I'm in Italy, where everyone cooks, or so it seems to me. I think really, how hard could this be? All you have to do is be able to read, follow directions and you're home free. Did I mention I'm an optimist? So I decide to do a Julia and Julia kind of thing except using The Silver Spoon as my guidebook. The Silver Spoon is the Italian cooking bible, kind of like Joy of Cooking in the old days. 

We had a planned trip to Sicily for 40 days, so I lug the huge cook book with me, a bottle of vanilla, an electric beater, and a rolling pin and head off to my cooking adventure in Sicily.

As you can imagine, things did not go as I had planned.