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Making The Ideal Dessert: Reasons Why I Love Wine and Chocolate October 20, 2011

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I admit that I enjoy consuming food. I’m not awfully fussy about what I consume most of the time either. Nonetheless, there are two moments when I become choosy about what I put in my mouth: wine and chocolate. In fact, the only thing I love more than consuming wine and chocolate is imbibing wine, especially red wine, with chocolate.

I love wine for various reasons. The first is that when I was little, my mom and dad would only drink wine on special occasions like Christmas. Mom and dad would invite over the relatives and lots of their acquintances and everyone would laugh, tell stories, and have a fun time. Occasionally, they’d let me have a sip. I had my first filled glass when I was fifteen. So, today I still associate drinking wine with pleasant memories of my relatives and acquintances on especial occasions.

The second reason I love wine is due to the fun I can have with it. Not only do I enjoy socializing with friends while consuming wine, but there is a lot of delight around wine culture too. There’s going to the wineries, reading about the unique types of wine, and going out and tasting them. I’ve spent many weekends traveling to wineries around my state. It’s a pleasant way to support the local communities and small businesses.

I also enjoy wine because of the many kinds of wine available. There’s white and red, as well as fruit wines. Some wine is dry, while others are sweet. Some people fancy wine coolers too, although they’re not technically wine. I know friends who’ve made bizarre homemade wines such as rhubarb and dandelion varieties. I personally like dry, red wines such as Merlot, Shiraz, and Chianti.

Wine is also known for helping to slow down aging. This is probably due to an ingredient called resveratrol, which has been shown to increase lifespan in scientific studies.

As much as I love wine, I must admit that I love chocolate just as much. Chocolate contains caffeine and is great for an afternoon pick me up. Chocolate also has substances that trigger the brain’s natural opiates. This can create a calming effect on the brain. Thus, eating chocolate can physically give us energy while mentally relaxing us.

Chocolate is also known for its health benefits. It contains antioxidants, which are known to be good for the heart. The antioxidants are found primarily in dark chocolate, although even milk chocolate is still healthy in this way. As with any high calorie food, it’s important to consume chocolate in moderation.

Finally, chocolate has many various kinds. There’s dark and milk chocolate. You can also discover chocolate in many types. It has been molded into crosses, bunnies, and bars. It’s been placed in boxes and served melted and over fruit. Yes, they’ve even combined chocolate with wine. In spite of my love of both ingredients, I still haven’t gotten into chocolate wine. However, I do enjoy them as a part of the same snack or as dessert following a good feast.

I feel confident you enjoyed my chronicle on my love for wine and chocolate. Why not try a nice dessert of wine and chocolate for yourself?

For more information, check out my other writings on wine and chocolate love

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Where everybody knows your name… or at least a couple of people do. December 3, 2007

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I can still hear it now.  That piano playing in the background.  Those old-timey pictures flashing across the screen.  The hope that maybe, just maybe, Sam and Diane would finally get along- the handsome ex- baseball player, and the air-headed psuedo-intellectual.

There was always Carla though, my favorite cynical cocktail waitress with 18 kids ready with a caustic quip toward Cliff Clavin or Diane.  It was funny because it always seemed she was pregnant on that show among many of the other funny things she might have said through the course of the series.

I am clearly talking about one of the greatest shows that existed in the history of television- Cheers.  It was on during the golden age of television back in the 80’s which I have mentioned in previous blog posts.  Those were the days weren’t they?  All I had was NBC when I was growin up on the farm in Elida Ohio, so I was very well aquainted with the great shows like Family Ties, A- Team, and Cheers.

I think that one of the universally favorite characters on the show was Norm.  I loved Norm myself- he always had something funny to say on his way in when Sam would ask how he was doing.  But even better, whenever he entered the bar, everyone would scream: “NORM!”

Man that was sweet- I always hoped to find a place like that and be Norm when I walked in, where people would yell my name, without adding: Get out of here!

I have had a few places like that in my life- mostly coffee shops actually (and one bar, but I won’t talk about that here.)  I like being a “regular” at places.  I am sure that I am one of many “regulars” at the places I go- like the Caribou’s I hang out in, or the restaurants I like to go to.  You know when you are a regular when everyone knows your name.  Or at least a few people there know your name.

There are two places that I have become a regular at, where they know my name. (They don’t yell it yet, but maybe that is a good thing.)  They both happen to be Greek restaurants.  One is called the Easy Street Cafe, near my house, and the other the Big Fat Greek Kuzina on Fishinger and Riverside Drive in Upper Arlington.

   One year ago my entry into the Greek world began.  I had studied a little Greek in School, and had a couple of baklava’s at the Greek festival in Columbus, but I really didn’t begin to understand Greek culture until I went to a friend’s wedding who married a Greek guy.  What… an… experience.

I have never danced in a circle for hours before.  Hours of dancing in a circle.  They were throwing money everywhere on the floor (which I learned you are not supposed to pick up by the way, or the band gets kid of ticked.)   Boy talk about a lively party!  I more stomped around the circle- as i didn’t know any of the steps they were doing, and I also have little to no coordination.  And giant feet.

Having lived in Italy for a few years I understand the Mediterranean temperament a little bit.  Like the Italians, I have never met a Greek that wasn’t passionate about being Greek.  It is always fun and exciting to be around them.  I remember the first time I went to a Greek restaurant in Paris France- as we walked by they threw a plate at us. 

 

That was intriguing enough for me to go in and buy a meal from them.  I think maybe I was a little scared.  So if you want me to do something, just throw a plate at my head… well… maybe let’s try my feet.  My giant feet.


My feet- I should get those checked out

 

 
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These two places are filled with great characters.  At Easy Street there is George the owner who is always there, rain or shine making sure his people are being taken care of.  It is filled with great servers and friendly staff and the food and atmosphere is excellent. (They even have replica’s of the Blue’s Brothers sitting above the door.  At least I hope they are replicas, or that might be creepy.) I recommend the Italian Greek Gyro.  It is a little on the spicey side.  It is a gift that keeps on giving.


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The Big Fat Greek Kuzina on the other hand feels like you are going to Greece with its murals on the walls, statues everywhere, and the bevy of Greeks that often hang out at the place.  The servers there are from all over- Macedonia, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Cleveland…. so it is a vertiable united nations of service when you go there.  They are all so friendly and the food… let’s just say it takes me 20 minutes to get up there and it is all worth it.

Every time I go in there I am greeted by Maria who is herself a character.  She always has something nice or funny to say- she never just throws you into a booth or table, but genuinely cares about who her customers are.  It is a nice touch to see her walking around to the tables and chatting with people.  Heck, sometimes I go just because she is such a delight to see and joke with. 

I am eating so much Greek food these days that I have even been given the name: the Crazy Greek at one of these restaurants.  Because a lot of Greeks are 6’3″ blond haired guys with blue eyes and giant feet. 

Sort of like the TV show Cheers, both of these places have an ensemble of really true to life characters that makes every experience wonderful- I don’t mind playing Norm every once in awhile if it gets me a good Gyro.

 

I sure miss coach though…

A Celestial Taste (Opposites Attract?) November 12, 2007

Posted by rengawman in food, Humor with a point, Motivation.
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A few years ago in Rome, I was out with a friend and classmate of mine, Daniel, and we decided to try my second favorite restaurant in Rome, La Fiammetta. If you ever get to Rome, I would highly recommend you try it sometime- it is a wonderful hidden place just beside the Hotel Genio outside of the north end of Piazza Navona.  The pizza is especially tasty there, but I have never had a bad meal or experience there.  They have outside seating as well- a total experience to be sure.

 The best part was that La Fiammetta was completely unknown to the other guys I went to school with, so it was a perfect place to escape seeing the same people all the time.

Little did I know, Daniel was an aficianado of many things- especially food.  This guy knew food, and where to get his food, and what combinations went well together.  He introduced me to what was the best thing I have ever eaten- by far my favorite thing I have ever eaten.

At the end of our spectacular meal we decided to have some desert.  There was the standard in Italy, tiramisu, creme brulee, frutta di Macedonia, and gelato.  I didn’t know what to get, as I didn’t particularly want to have anything sweet.  Daniel saved me… for the rest of my life. 

He looked at mean and said,” Josh, you have to try the best desert ever- Gorgonzola and a pear.”

I was skeptical.

Gorgonzola is one of those “stinky” cheeses.  And the Gorgonzola in Rome was especially stinky… I think the culinary term is sharp, but it was stinky.  I liked pears just fine, but Gorgonzola was reserved, in my mind, to other things like steak or a particular kind of pasta.

I trusted though- why would my friend lead me astray?

The cheese and pear came out.  The pear was already cut up for my convenience, and layed in a beautiful circle around the block of cheese.  The smell of the cheese wafted up to my nostrils, but did not burn them- rather they were filled with the full aroma of the cheese.

Using a fork and knife I… well… cut the cheese, and a piece of pear and put both in my mouth.  I was transported to another time and place.

The sharp flavor of the cheese mixed perfectly with the sweet of the pear.  The creamy consistency of the cheese complimented the rough texture of the pear.  It was a total experience, and like the fois gras in Paris that one night in April, flavor filled my entire head- nay, my whole being.

It is as close to heaven as I think I have ever been on earth- the mix of Gorgonzola and a pear- it might work with any sharp cheese and something sweet, like blue cheese and honey, but it won’t work nearly as perfectly as the pear and Gorgonzola.  It is even better than peanut butter and chocolate.  Really.

Here in the States it is hard to find the proper grade of cheese to go with the pears.  It is worth the hunt though-  you have to go to upscale places like Whole Foods or a real Italian run shop to find the proper cheese to find the flavor that gives the best experience.

It is interesting to look at this relationship of Gorgonzola and a pear.  They are completely opposites of each other, yet it is the very fact that they are opposites that they work well together and become complimentary.

I have seen a lot of couples come and go in preparation for marriage- some of the times it was fun to see just how different the members of a couple could be- and often it was the couples that were completely opposite that worked the best because where one person was deficient, the other filled in the gaps.

Even in nature this principle is true- positive magnetic fields repel each other, while a positive and a negative attract.

I know that when I was in my 4th year of Rome there was another big funny guy that came into the seminary as a first year man.  I did not like that guy whatsoever- he was good at everything I was!  Probably, I didn’t like the things in him that I didn’t like in myself.  I think that is often the case with people we don’t like: we tend not to like the things in other people that we don’t like in ourselves.

 That means that when we encounter someone we don’t like we need to be more introspective and find what is in ourselves that we may not like in the other person.

Either way, we are defined by the relationships that we have, both good and bad, as we are beings in relationship by definition.  They become mirrors of what we are and what we aren’t and we have to trust that sometimes the most unlikely combination, like gorgonzola and a pear, might actually work out to be the best thing.

21 Foot Banana Split October 30, 2007

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They say that there are two perfect days in a boat owner’s life: the day he buys the boat, and the day he sells it!  I think grade school was the same way.  There were two great wonderful days: the first day, and the last day of school.  All those days in between I spent trying to convince my mom I had some kind of life threatening disease so I didn’t have to go.  She was a nurse.  It wasn’t easy.  I had only a 5% success rate, and that was probably because she didn’t feel like arguing with me.

The first day of school was a wonderful day indeed.  You had spent the summer reading (yea right) swimming in the community pool (actually when I lived on the farm, it was just a mud hole), and spending time with friends (see this post to find out who my friends were back then.)  The first day of school was a day of happy reunion with my friends that actually existed, and I was happy to hear about their summer trips and adventures since I hadn’t seen most of them over the summer.  You also spent the first day of school getting to know the teacher, and making your first impression.  Little Josh ALWAYS made a good first impression on his teachers.  Plus, rarely did you get homework on the first day of school.  Not that that mattered much, since I hated doing homework anyway.


Um… does this Big Bird creep anyone else out? I imagine that first day of school was unforgettable.

The other great day of school was the last day of school.  Glorious- triumphant- final.  In college we used to play the song “The Strife is O’er,” the battle is won… Every last day of school was great because you had made it through a whole year of math and science and english, and you had spent a lot of time with your teacher, and you were ready not to see some of your classmates for the next few months.  Plus, two wonderful things happened on the last day of school: we were allowed to wear shorts, and there was a big party.


Typical (obligatory) last day of school picture

That big party was always great- armies of room mothers invaded the school with freshly made cupcakes and sugary koolaide drinks made with love and care.  Nothing says fun like a bunch of kids hyped up on sugar.


The Army of Room Mothers

My favorite year end festivity was at the end of 2nd grade.  Mrs. Jackson was my teacher (and a good one at that- still one of my favorites ever!), and I had a kid in my class who later became of one my best friends: Craig Morris.  Craig’s mom was something else- she was sort of the Uber Room Mother.  She always participated in everything- you knew that if Craig’s mother was involved it was going to be over the top, or as the kids these days say: off the chain. (I found the chain, so now it is back on the chain… fear not!)

This particular last day of school, Craig’s mom went above and beyond the call of duty…  somehow she got a long length of pvc pipe- about 8 inches around and had it cut in half … LENGTHWISE.  This half pipe was 21 feet long.  She then lined the PVC pipe with tin foil, and filled it with something I will never forget- a 21 foot banana split.  I believe the secret ingredient was love… and bananas.


Imagine this… just 21 more feet of it…
This thing had all the flavors of ice cream that were available in 1985… red, and vanilla, chocolate.  Um… that was about it back then.  There was no Ben and Jerry’s that I knew of in Lima Ohio, so we were stuck with Neapolitan.  As long as you didn’t get red, you were OK.  It was covered in whipped cream and had cherries down the whole length of the banana split.  It must have been something to see 30 2nd graders attack this thing with all their might.  I took a position near the end of the giant tube and got to work.

It became very clear that the kids were eating around the empty calories of the bananas, and going straight for the ice cream and nuts and cherries.  I stepped up to the plate- I told them to send their bananas to me.  I wasn not going to let anything go to waste.

So I ate as many bananas as I could…  there were a lot of bananas in a 21 ft banana split.  Let me tell you all for future reference, there are limits to how many bananas a 2nd grader can eat.  I would not recommend pushing that envelope.  Ever.


I ate this many bananas. Do not try this at home.

After we cleaned ourselves off, as we were covered in banana split fixin’s, we went home and told our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters about the wonders of the banana split that was 21 feet long.  Never have I seen such a wonderful confection!

The moral of the story is that as good as bananas are, you can have too much of a good thing!

Flippity Flop… October 15, 2007

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I know that every single town in the US has a place like this, and they claim theirs to be the best in the world with their special sauces or fresh meats, but I am certain, and can say without a doubt…  Lima, Ohio has the best hamburgers in the world.  Hands down.  No questions asked.  I do not believe that there is even room for a debate here.

Back in the 1920’s there was a hamburger restaurant that was started in Flint Michigan that changed the world as we know it.  Sure, not many people have heard of it, but it influenced the whole fast food market as we know it.  That place: Kewpee hamburgers.


The Original

I know most people who read this blog, outside of my family and Lima friends have never heard of Kewpee before.  That is a shame.  A SHAME!  I wish that there was some accurate way to put into words just how good these hamburgers are.


The West Side Kewpee, Near my House

I believe that one of the secrets is that they haven’t cleaned the hamburger grill since the 1930’s.  Perhaps it is the 80 years of accumulated hamburger greese that makes these burgers so tasty!  Really, I believe that the secret ingredient is love.

 

The original Kewpee store in Lima is one of those town landmarks that will never pass away.  It even looks like it did in the 1930’s with the exception of the turntable that used to be there.  I am not talking about a record player either- there was a giant turntable there once that you would drive on to because there wasn’t enough room to turn your car around in the parking lot.  This giant turntable would turn around and point your car in a whole new direction, enabling you to get out.  It is  still a tight fit in that parking lot today, and I think it would be cool to actually have seen the turntable.


Kewpee East

Now I mentioned above that Kewpee has had an impact on the whole fast food industry.  How is this possible?  HOW I ask you?!

I have a personal theory that Kewpee became Wendy’s. There is no direct proof of this, but I know, like agent Mulder in the X-files, that the truth is out there.  It is just a matter of time before the Smoking Man reveals everything.  Here is the evidence to this point:

Both Kewpee and Wendy’s have square hamburger patties.  SQUARES people!
The original menu for Kewpee, and the original menu for Wendy’s included:
Chili
Frosties (or malts as they are called at Kewpee)
Square French fries- they are still the same shape!

The list goes on and on.  Both Wendy’s and Kewpee are Ohio companies too… and Dave Thomas used to work in Lima for awhile before he started Wendy’s in the 1960’s in downtown Columbus. (Also the Wikipedia article on Kewpee confirms this)

I am not saying this is a bad thing- thank goodness that just about anywhere I go in the US there is a Wendy’s, and while they aren’t exactly like Kewpees any more, I can have a little taste of home, even if just a reminder.

There are two things that Kewpee does that Wendy’s doesn’t do- Feburcherry and Marchocolate.  These are the month of pies.  Febucherry features the Cherry pie, and Marchocolate the Chocolate pies.  It’s too bad that Marchocolate comes only once a year.


MMM… Feburcherry

There is no doubt as to which hamburger is superior these days- every time I get a chance to go back to Lima I have a Kewpee hamburger.  Now, maybe I am biased because I grew up with them, so I guess the only alternative is to drive to Lima yourself and get a double with cheese.  I have a good friend who was not from Lima and was himself a skeptic- it is understandable- he has seen the light and converted- his taste buds have been saved!

I promise you it is worth it.

To close I will leave you with Kewpee’s traditional slogan: Kewpee hamburger, pickle on top, makes your heart go flippity flop!

The Best Meal… Ever! (Legendary Meals- Conclusion) September 22, 2007

Posted by rengawman in food, travel.
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For the last few days, I have been reminiscing about three of the four “Legendary Meals” that I was fortunate enough to partake in during my time in Europe.  From that first one on the beach in Pescara, to the memorable Roman fare that Sunday in December, the sights and the sounds of each one of those meals, including topics of conversation, are as vivid as if they had happened yesterday.  I will take that Bolognese until the day I die!

For the last installment in this series (and you are either starving or tired of hearing me talk about food) I will tell you of the best and most memorable meal I ever had in my life.  Truly, the Legendary Meal.  I wish I could accurately put into words how wonderful this experience was, but there is simply no way to even approximate what happened that wonderful day.

It was just after Easter, and my best friend Tony and I decided that a little trip to Paris was in order.  Paris is a lovely city, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.  The Parisians always helped me out if they thought I looked lost (possibly because I look German and maybe they thought I was trying to conquer them) (I had several simply surrendeder to me out of habit).  The city is clean and efficient- the people friendly (unless you butcher the language0 if you go just speak English)- the sights are breathtaking and the food is of course superb.

There are a lot of great stories about this particular trip, as it certainly had its ups and downs during the course of the week.  It turns out that another group of Americans from our college were also travling in Paris, and were staying in the same place we were.  So our groups melded and we ended up spending the week together touring the “City of Lights.”

Whether we ate baguettes from the store with some cheese, enjoyed the big bowls of coffee at the place we were staying for breakfast, or ate in a nice restaurant the food was always good. 

We did have to watch our budgets so we saved the nice place until the end.  One of the guys from the other group, Eric- a good man who once helped to save my life- said he knew of a place near the Church of St. Germain du Sulpisce.

We trusted him and went over- the night was cool as it was spring, and even a bit heavy with moisture.  When we walked into the restaurant it was like going to a whole new world.  It was like a little chalet in the middle of the bustling city of Paris.  It sort of reminded me of Frodo Baggins’ house in the first scene of Lord of the Rings

It was pristine in its decoration- it felt like we were eating at someone’s house.  Moreover, it felt like we were home!  That is how welcoming the people who owned and operated this place made us feel.  They treated us like kings, and Tony, Stephen, Eric, and myself all sat around this giant wooden table that you might see in some royal dining hall.  The sweet smell of the food cooking in the back filled the air.  There was only one other group of people there- a group of Parisians- so we knew we were in for a treat.

One of the things that made the dinner were, as I mentioned, the people who ran the establishment.  I really never got their names because of the accents, but they spoke wonderful english.  She was just so proud of the place that they had run for the past few years.  He was a rather tall and large man, not fat, just large.  They laughed a lot during our conversations- they were joyous people who loved each other and what they did for a living.  It came out in the food the served and the fact that they took some time to talk to us “ugly Americans.”

The food.

Oh the food.

There is no way to tell you what it was like.  We took the menu that they had prepared which turned out to be about a 5 course meal with appetizers salad and desert.  Really, there are two things worth mentioning specifically about this meal.

First was the fois gras- the patee.  Now perhaps the idea of goose liver doesn’t exactly make you salivate, but that just means you haven’t had the good stuff.  It came out on a little plate with three versions- each was so powerful and potenet in taste that it fill my entire head with flavor.  This is the hard part to describe- it seemed that rather than the flavor being in my mouth, I entered into the flavor.  It was sweet and sour in a perfect combination of the honey and the spices and the patee.

The other thing worth specifically mentioning was the steak.  The sauce on the steak again filled my head with flavor- it seemed that I entered into the experience of the steak itself.  The steak was tender and juicy and fell apart in my mouth.  It is as if the steak was making it easy for me to eat it!  Every bite was an experience.  (It was during this time that mad cow was being reported through France by the way, which may be the reason why I am why I am.  It was worth mad cow for this experience though.)

The wine was a deep red Cabernet that complimented the steak perfectly.  Our conversation was lively because of the fellowship we had from traveling together for the last week, and the fact this was our last night in Paris.  There was magic in the air that night- an unquenchable energy that is really indescribable.

Then from the other table of Parisians- a large group of about 20 or so, came over to our table.  It turns out that he was a professor from my university in Rome, the Gregorian University.  All of a sudden we were all in one large party of friends- the energy being contageous, the conversation fueled by good food, friendship, and of course wine.  The Parisians all spoke very nice English and were happy to converse with us.

It was so beautiful that one of us (not me, but I felt this way myself) began to tear up a little.  We didn’t deserve this, and we knew that what was going on was special.  I remember everything from that night- except the names of the people that owed the place- and the NAME of the restaurant.  I guess it is going to be like Brigadoon- something that only happens every few decades.

I am not sure any meal will ever come as close to this one- I entered flavor.  I still close my eyes and taste the fois gras and the honey.  I wish there were words to desribe this evening, but they have all fallen short of the true beauty that a dinner like this can bring.

Legendary Meal part 3 September 21, 2007

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All this talk about food is making me hungry.  I ate whole box of pasta last night just thinking about yesterday’s post.  Maybe tonight, I’ll even cook it.  Crunchy.

soreva_franco.gif      
Franco    

As I write about these Legendary Meals, I realized that I am writing them in order of lowest to highest quality.  That is sort of like testing a low end Mercedes, and then testing a high end Mercedes.  Really, it only gets better from here.

Of course living in Rome for as long as I did, I had some fantastic and memorable meals.  In fact, I can safely say that I only had two bad meals my whole time in Rome.  Even the Burger King was great. (Yes… I ate Burger King on occasion because it made me feel like I was home, well, except for the mayonnaise on the french fries.  Plus, it made me appreciate the Italian food even more.)  It will be fun to tell you about those two bad meals some time because I remember them as well.

Because there were so many good meals out in the city of Rome, to say that I had a meal of “Legendary” status is saying a lot.

It was a Sunday morning in late December, and we had mozied over to see the noon “Angelus” with Pope John Paul II.  That is still a tradition where the Pope comes to his window, says some things in a couple of languages, gives a blessing and says a prayer.  This happens every Sunday, unless the Pope is on vacation. (I hear he likes the Grand Canyon!)

I usually didn’t go to these audiences because you had to fight 10,000 other people who also wanted to see the pope from hundreds of yards away, but I had some friends over from the States, and everybody needs to see the Pope.  It is sort of like going to Disney World and not seeing Mickey… it is just something you have to do.

Because it was Sunday we were all dressed up in our best attire, and after the Angelus, we got hungry.  At the bottom of the Janiculum Hill (where I lived in Rome) was a little restaurant that I had been to many many times called Sor’eva. (Corner of Via Gregorio Settimo and Lungo Tevere if you are ever in Rome.  Tell Franco I said hello).

It is your typical trattoria with great food and great fellows working there.  We walked in and the Roman families had already filled the place up.  It was raucous and loud with all the families in there which added to the usually tranquil atmosphere of Sor’Eva.  There was an energy there because it was Sunday and because the Italians still have retained the utter importance of family.

The food that day was superb- it was always good, but this day there was something special.  The cannelloni was spectacular.  It melted in your mouth and had a bit of ginger or something in it to give it a little kick.  There was actually a sort of mixed pasta plate that was being served to everyone there that day.  The cook really outdid himself.  If I close my eyes, I can still taste the cannelloni.  That is one of the requirements for a Legendary Meal if you recall.

cannelloni.jpg

The atmosphere got louder as the wine was consumed.  Us being poor students, we could only afford the house wine, which of course was great, but the Romans were either drinking the good stuff, or actually brought their own! 

That is where the fun started- we weren’t the only ones dressed up- The Romans are fashionable people from birth to death and this day was no different.  All of a sudden all the tables began to talk to each other, whether they knew each other or not, and they didn’t leave us out of it.  We were all of a sudden being invited to share the good wine with the other tables- there was a mix of Italian and English being spoken, as the wine loosened everyone’s inhibition for language.  The whole restaurant- mostly Romans and us four Americans began to have lunch together in one huge party!  Even the waiters joined in!  The energy level in the room, already hightened by the families and the kids, good food and wine, rose exponetially!  You could have powered a small city!

Again, as all Legendary Meals, it was a timeless moment- a furious exchange of laughs and the clinking of glasses.  The Romans loved us and we loved them!  I was able to participate even more than my friends as my Italian by this point (with the help of some wine) was perfect.  We felt like Romans that day!

I have eaten at Sor’Eva a dozen times (or more) since that day in December of 2002.  I am friends with the staff, and they have some great and wonderful food and atmosphere.  If you are ever in Rome and near the Vatican looking for a place to eat, it is worth the extra couple of minutes of walking- go, especially if it is on a Sunday! 

Ask for Franco.

Legendary Meal part 2 September 20, 2007

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In yesterday’s post I talked a little about my first legendary meal, on the beach in Pescara Italy.

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Another legendary meal that I had was also in Italy.  A couple of friends of mine and I were traveling together through Bologna, Italy.  Bologna is known as the Citta’ Grassa, or “Fat City.”  I will tell you that I can understand why: it is some of the best food in Italy.  If I lived in Bologna, I would be dead in 2 weeks from over eating.

I had been staying in hostels and met up with my two friends who were coming from another part of Italy.  It was agreed that we would meet up in Bologna and have a little lunch then move on together with our travel plans.  I had stayed the previous couple of nights in a hostel that was one step above a maytag refrigerator box, so my dinner the night before consisted of newspaper clippings and some jelly.  I was ready for a good meal.

The three of us met in La Citta’ Grassa on a Sunday morning in front of the Duomo, which is what they call the Cathedral.  It was a beautiful day, even more so because it had rained the previous couple of days.  The sun was out, and it was bright but not overpowering.  It sort of felt like taking something out of the dryer and immediately putting it on.  It was a soothing warmth, like a constant embrace.

We decided after a couple of hours of walking around we would stop in somewhere and have a nice Sunday meal.  The stale roll from the hostel wasn’t holding me over ver well and I agreed.

We picked some place at random- and we won.  We sat there, 3 Americans in the middle of this side street restaurant. (Actually, the side street places always have better food.  Another little tip is to go where all the customers are speaking the native language.  That means it’s good.  If it is packed with Americans or other tourists… well it’s a touristy place.)

We sat and had the most delightful plate of antipasto- a mix of fresh meats and olives- the wine came out- a beautiful red from the region just outside of Bologna.  The mushrooms were potent and tasty- a delight. 

These two fellows were two of my best friends in seminary, and the conversation quickly ramped up.  The other great part was that by this point we all spoke Italian, so we brought the owners and staff into our conversation- there was always something strange about my Italian in Bologna by the way- I always spoke it impeccably there.  I don’t know why- I always spoke my best Italian in Bologna.

The first plate came out- a beautiful Bolognese sauce- not like what you get here- but full of meat, thick enough to stand a fork in.  The pasta was “al dente” and cooked to perfection.  I have never had a Bolognese sauce like it since… of course we were in Bologna after all!

In Italy, you can never sit for a quick meal, and as the Saltimbocca came out, then the salad (I think it was 6 courses in all) we realized that time had passed and we had been there for four hours!  We outlasted the Italians! Even the staff was ready to go home and enjoy their Sunday meal with their families- I am sure we were a nuissance after awhile.

We didn’t care though- there we were best friends enjoying a wonderful meal with great atmosphere- conversing, laughing, and bringing others into our celebration.  It was one of those timeless moments that I love to re-visit in my memory again and again- I can still taste the mushrooms and the Bolognase sauce…

Legendary Meal part 1 September 19, 2007

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While I was living in Europe I discovered that food is a big part of the culture in just about every country.  Why was that such a discovery?  Food is important here too, but not like it is in Europe, especially in Italy where I lived.

In this country we have fast food restaurants, where they get you in and out, and it is more about getting something in the gullet than actually savouring the meal.  Even in the nicer restaurants they try to get you in and out as fast as they can, simply because they want to free the table up so they can make more money.  Food is important here, but I can say that in the 4 years I lived in Europe, I can only remember a handful of meals that weren’t always good.  I will say that when I get invited over to someone’s house for dinner it is always a great honor- that is where we usually get it right.

Then there are the “Legendary Meals.”  “Legendary Meals” are those meals that you will remember for a lifetime.  I have eaten a lot of meals in the states, and possibly only one ever fell into that category. (The Old James Tavern in Worthington, I had the best Prime Rib ever, May the James Tavern rest in Peace.)  Even though the food was good, the atmosphere and the company disqualifies it as a LM.

The qualifications of the Legendary Meal were very high.  The food had to be succulent.  The conversation and the company had to be memorable, and the atmosphere had to be perfect.  It has to be so memorable that I can close my eyes and remember the smells and the tastes as if it were yesterday.  I had 4 such meals while I lived in Europe.  Three in Italy and one in France.

The first legendary meal was wonderful.  Well, alright, they were all wonderful by definition!  It was the end of our first month in Italy, and we had the weekend to travel wherever time and money would allow us.  We decided to rent a car and drive to the east coast of Italy from Rome.

Three of my best friends and I drove to the town of Pescara which is right on the Adriatic Sea.  It was a nice little town- a resort in the summer, although all the tourists were now gone as it was October.

We looked for a place to eat, and we found only one of the many restaurants opened.  So we went in, and in our best broken Italian asked for a table.  He led us outside to a little platform on the beach where there was a table fully set waiting for us.

The wind was light, and there were only a few clouds giving some character to the sky.  The sun was bright and warm, and the temperature was perfect.  We literally sat just a few feet from the waves gently crashing into the shore.  I still remember the salt air and the sound of the surf.

A fellow named Georgio came out who was our waiter, and it turned out that he spoke perfect english as he had lived in Toronto, Canada for many years.  He regailed us with stories about Italy and living on the coast.  He offered us the special which was a huge pile of the most delicious fish I had every tasted.  Georgio pointed to a boat and said, “That is where the fish come from.”  Talk about market fresh!  The white wine was crisp and cool, and the banter between my friends was perfect.

I think we sat there for 3 or 4 hours.  It was a timeless moment. 

It is great how food can bring people together- I remember that day as if it were yesterday, and I can still taste the delightful mixture of fish, wine,  salt, sun, and friends, old and new.

German Village Coffee Shop September 15, 2007

Posted by rengawman in food, Humor with a point, philosophy.
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I was hanging out with my brother Mark, and we happend to walk into a little place called the German Village Coffee shop.  (Visit their website)  I had never been there before, yet I HAD been there before.  What I mean by that is that I hadn’t been to that particular coffee shop, but it was your basic greesy spoon type place which every small community has.  No frills, no bells and whistles, just great food, people talking, and spunky waitresses. (Hi Debbie and Liz!)  Actually I have to say that two things made our lunch today at the German Village Coffee shop- the pancakes as big as my head (and that is saying a lot… have you ever seen MY head?) and those two affore mentioned waitresses.  If the food was horrible I would go back for the fun waitresses we had there.

 This is the type of place that remninds you of that famous picture of James Dean, Humphry Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe on the corner cafe.  (It is Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Helwein)

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Instead of the “atmosphere” that is created by those chain places that we all know about, this place had real character.  It had, as my brother likes to say, “texture.”

Not only did it have texture, but it had one of those “timeless” feels to it.  Hanging on the wall were pictures of that place from decades past.  Guys with pomade slicking their hair back and looking cool with their cups of joe and cigarrettes hanging out of their mouths.  I don’t know the particualr history of the German Village Cafe as of yet (I am sure I will though) but even though the interior has changed as many times as the owners, there is that timeless quality that will always exist: a place where people come together to talk and eat.

The pictures on the wall put that place into a context- it wasn’t just another place to eat: this place had some history to it.  You could feel it when you walked in, and hear it as the hashbrowns sizzled on the griddle.  It was like a house that had that live in feel, or a chapel that had been “prayed in.”  There was a remarkable energy that was both old and new.

I love looking at photos of people.  They are memories that are captured in amber, which put us into context as well.  We need context- we need “texture” – we need to know that our lives have that “lived in” feel.  Photos, like the ones on the wall at the German Street Coffee shop let us remember the remarkable people that have come into our lives.  Some come into our lives and pass through quickly, while other are “regulars” in our lives.

I love both.  I love meeting people for just a few moments- sort of like visiting a new restaurant for the first time and trying the “special”- and I like deepening existing friendships- sort of like being a regular at a cafe where the food is good, and the spunky waitresses know you by name!