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Italy


Time can get away from all of us… That is especially true for this blog.  It was not on purpose, just a pause to accommodate life’s busy time.

Traditional Italian noodle from scratch

 

I was cooking earlier today and it was Italian of course.  Maybe two days ago I had come across a video online about how to make traditional spaghetti from scratch using all-purpose flour, salt, and an egg.  That’s it!  So simple yet versatile.  Every culture has a variation of the noodle because it’s the backbone of comfort food with a bit of fun.  No matter how many years pass us by, you have to admit that slurping up a noodle from your plate brings a smile to your face.  I think the noodle is a bit like an archway… Stay with me.  A noodle can support just about every meal you pair it with!  I’ve even had a cinnamon noodle dessert and it worked perfectly!  An arch can support so much weight while allowing things to pass under.

Arc de Triophe

Many countries pay homage with an arch.  the infamous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Forum arch of Titus in Rome, and many more.  Just like the noodle there are a variation of arches that can be used for a multitude of purposes with some built as a monument, some for bridges and other cut throughs.  Life has offered me a few practical metaphors and the arch is definitely one of them.  Whenever I look at architecture, I compare it to the human body.  Arches represent a strong pair of shoulders to me.     Whether you think of yourself as a monument to a tough life or you’re here to help others through to the other side or you’re here to support someone else, just remember it’s always important to have a strong base.  That for me is the love of my life, family and God.  Without a strong base the arch and its purpose will fall.

Full view of The Forum

Arch di Tito

The Colosseum

Entrance to Colosseum


While traveling, I have  experienced a bevy of different cultures and cooking styles which have allowed me to pick up some appetizing

My local Italian market

recipes to delight my taste buds.  The most significant of all delectable treats; Roman pizza!  Every now and again my senses are tipped off by either a sound, smell, or sight that bring me right back to life in Rome.  Today, it was a song by Luca DIriso, an Italian singer, which happened to make its way onto my Ipod via a random playlist.  At a stop light it all came rushing back, I could feel the cool breeze rushing through the corridor and into my apartment.  Luca’s voice belted out, “Ci vuole calma e sangue freddo, calma ya!”.  It’s as if someone pulled the steering wheel to the left and I was on my way to the local Italian market rather than home.  When I strolled through the front door I could hear the soft sounds of an Italian opera playing over the speakers and a few older Italian men speaking in native tongue with hand gestures accompanying the emotion of their conversation.

The ingredients in the sauce make or break the pizza.  Most think that an Italian pizza sauce consists of a chemistry set worth of ingredients however this is contrary to the truth.  5 ingredients at most make the perfect sauce and measurements are the key.  The 5 ingredients that are included are Italian

Dough, toppings, and sauce ingredients!

tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), fresh garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano.  Some prefer to include a rich red wine or olive oil as well.  I have been known to add a few dashes of red pepper flake for a bit of a kick, but that is usually topped on the pizza after cooking.  The dough must absolutely be fresh.  A frozen piece of dough tends to be more chewy and less airy with a crunch.  I brush on a thin layer of olive oil and sprinkle flour on both sides.  The cheese I use is fresh mozzarella in water.

Cooking method is crucial if you are in search of a smokey flavor.  The Roman’s use a wood fire oven and there is positively nothing like it.  For my cooking method, I used a charcoal grill and tossed on a piece of applewood.  Any fruit bearing type of wood brings about a full body richness to the ingredients of the pizza.  Once I had already started heating the grill and putting my ingredients together, I wondered how the pizza would not slip through the grate.  I had a pizza stone, but I was a bit apprehensive to put a cold stone directly over an intense heat which would cause it to break.  So, I preheated the oven with the stone inside up to 500 degrees fahrenheit.  As soon as the grill was up to the proper heat of 475-500 degrees, I pulled the stone out of the oven with my fireproof grill gloves and transferred the stone onto the grill grate about 7 inches above

Charcoal grilled pizza with a bit of applewood for flavor!

the coals.  I put the cover on and let the stone rest on the grate for about 10 minutes in order to ensure no breaks or cracks would occur.

I then sprinkled corn meal onto the pizza stone to prevent the dough from sticking and I slid the pizza onto the stone.  I could already hear the sizzle and it was music to my ears!  The Italian song was playing again in my head and I was back in Rome!  Be sure to keep checking the pizza every 5 minutes and try to rotate it in order to ensure even cooking.  During the last 5 minutes of cooking, I put the grill top on and closed the smoke release in order to really saturate in that wood smoke flavor into the pizza.

After removing the pizza from the stone and onto a cookie sheet, I let it cool for about 5 minutes and then cut it.  The pizza cutter crunched into the crust and I could see the fatty oil running from the salami.  Most people prefer wine or beer with their pizza, but for me nothing is better than an ice cold coca cola.

“Ho l’acquolina in bocca!” which mean “My mouth is watering!”

This may infuriate a few Italian food purists, however I should be pardoned since I am born and raised in Atlanta; Coca Cola headquarters.  So, just sit back, throw on an Italian song by Luca Diriso, bite into your grilled pizza, and relax with a smile.


Vatican City is extremely conducive to studying one’s senses.  While walking past the crumbling walls of Vatican City, I reached the cobblestone plaza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.  As the noise of traffic decreased, I felt like the bustling city was pulled away and my senses  honed in on the immaculate structure before me.  My vision jumped from one statue to another statue adorning the top of the cathedral- I was struck by  the endless labyrinth of detail.  My eyes remained transfixed upon the bleached stone on the horizon of my vision and above.  All the while, my feet readjusted with each step because of the deteriorating, centuries old cobblestone.  My senses were overloaded and each body part responded to my environment.  A breath from the wind was filled with rose scented incense, nuns from every part of the world cried in jubilation, and each person remained solemn in expression out of respect.  Although the Catholic Church has long fought tragedy and adversity down through the centuries, one could not help but be awe struck by the dedication to this magnificent structure.

The full circle in front of the Vatican was a massive expanse that seemed out of place in a crowded metropolis such as Rome.  As I began to walk up to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, the structure grew larger with each step.  The sounds of conversation began to diminish and I prepared myself for another long day inside a dimly lit “museum” of sorts.  As I entered the first hall, I was overcome by the magnitude of it’s interior.  It felt as if the ceilings were unreachable even by ladder and the length of the halls were longer than my entire apartment building.  The cleanliness astounded me.  With the amount of visitors St. Peter’s receives

each day, I saw barely a speck of dirt on the floor nor grease spots on the pillars.  The reverence of all the people inside this massive church was either out of respect for their God or out of respect for the builders of this magnificent structure.  I tried wrapping my head around how St Peter’s Basilica was originally built by hand prior to expansion.  The human ability to create something of this magnitude was astounding.  I guess the builders wanted the visitor to think about how God has given us the innate ability to create.  Around the outside of the structure are  glass cases of popes that have been embalmed and are on display.  The altar is about the size of a small cabin;  a miniature building inside of a monstrosity.  A friend of mine decided to buy us tickets to the top of the Basilica for a view.  For a few Euros, you can climb countless stairs to the top for a view of Rome.  The souvenirs are a bit odd, like an ashtray with Jesus, the Pope, or Mary.  If the souvenirs do not interest you can then head towards the edge of the building for a 360 landscape view of the ancient city of Rome.

As we walked down the steps back into the main part of the basilica  once again, I could only think of how much food, clothing, or health care could have come from the amount of money that goes into maintaining this structure.  I try not to focus on the past and look towards what the Church has done for people around the world in the present.  I hope that the amount of time and money spent in the past on this creation is willingly transferred to those in need today.


Today I was listening to one of my Dad’s favorite songs, ‘Good Times’ by the legendary Sam Cooke.  The lyric, which is in fact the title of this post, made me think about letting go and just enjoying everything about life.  I’ve traveled all over the world, but living in another country is an entirely new eye-opening revelation.  If I sound like I am being a little dramatic, then you are following me exactly.  When I travel throughout a country, I still have in the back of my brain that the return home is inevitable.  If you are anything like me, right when you pull out of the driveway to head to the airport then you immediately say to yourself, “10 days away from home”… Or however much time you have off.  Living abroad, the sense of ‘return’ vanishes.  When I moved to Italy, I was immersed day-to-day with a foreign language and a variety of delicious exotic food.  Every single one of my senses were overloaded with an unknown world far and away from anything familiar.   Upon engaging with the Romans, I noticed that my personal space was instantly under attack!  At one point I thought they were trying to give me an Eskimo kiss by touching noses together and rubbing.  This was not the case and I eventually realized I was another typical standoffish American.  The United States is a culture of individualism, which is sometimes a fantastic characteristic, however this is not how Italy operates or any Latin culture for that matter.  While living abroad, I met more people and developed friends while out by myself than I ever have in the United States.  In America, almost all of my friends have been either introduced to me by another friend or I have met them at work.  Whether it was sparking up a conversation with people at a pizzeria, a laundry mat, or in a coffee shop, there always seemed to be another friend waiting to be discovered.

Our Roman friends that we met at the Forum in Rome, Italy

The most fascinating aspect to going out in Rome with a group of friends was to see how some Europeans would meld their groups with ours.   Our ‘Group A’ (Americans) would meet their ‘Group B’ (Italians/Spaniards/etc.) and before the end of the night everyone would have exchanged numbers and decided to meet later in the week for lunch, dinner, or coffee.  It was all for camaraderie and socializing in order to deepen one’s friend base/family.

A society of interaction was so comforting being so far from home.  I have tried to analyze why parts of Europe seem to be more of a conducive environment than America, to having an engaging conversation with strangers, but can’t put my finger on it.  Like I mentioned before, the standard arms length distance between strangers is crushed when you enter a country such as Italy.  I will admit that I felt this to be intrusive and even rude at first.  But, after I understood the spirit of Italy, I understood the connection among it’s people.  I don’t want to seem too philosophical, but having family plays such a huge part in Italian life and I believe they wanted to bring any kind soul into their ‘family’.  For example, when I am interacting with my immediate family, all rules of personal space are thrown out the window and the warmth of home, love, and closeness takes over.  I believe this is probably how a majority of the Latin cultures operate, but I can only speak for Italy.  Being able to connect with a random stranger and allowing them into your circle forces you to give them a bit of trust.  I guess I always had some sort of trust issue with strangers as many Americans do.  We were constantly told as a youngsters to, “never ever talk with strangers”, and this was undeniably great advice up to a certain age.  I carried that sense of fear of strangers into my adulthood and it thus thwarted any sort of deep interaction with a person I had only met an hour ago!  I am not saying that I now grab any stranger by the arm in Italy and say, “Brother!  How are you??  How’s about a cappuccino? Then we can go to my house for a meal!”  But letting go of that tense gait in our stance and just letting life come at you can be extremely rewarding! If living in Italy taught me anything besides how to eat like a Roman, it was to trust a little bit more, engage a little bit more, and do not be afraid to open a small aspect of your life to a stranger.  Now don’t go around yelling out your credit card number and giving copies of your passport to random people, but combine a little wisdom, with a little spontaneity.

Spending a night socializing in the square in Rome, Italy

As they say in Italy, “Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro.”  Which means, “He who finds a friend, finds a treasure.”