Just a spritz

Flashback: September 1, 2007

I highly recommend sampling regional cocktail specialties everywhere you travel and selecting one as the signature drink for that trip. It's a lovely way to slip into the rhythm of the local environment and provides instant recall of fond holiday memories long after you've gone home.

Behold the Aperol Spritz,
known in Northern Italy as a Pirlo.

In the dialect of Brescia, the birthplace of both my husband and this yummy cocktail, the word "pirlo" means "fall" and refers to the way the Aperol falls into the wine when they're mixed.

For Jen and I it had a slightly less poetic etymology, derived from the consequences of one carafe too many.

This spritzer, made up of sparking wine (usually prosecco or Franciacorta), Aperol, and seltzer, is typically served as an aperitivo before meals to stimulate the appetite - as if our appetites needed further encouragement. It is, however, commonly acceptable to enjoy a pirlo at any hour. A permission we appreciated wholeheartedly.

A quintessentially Italian refreshment, the spritz is the perfect accompaniment to people-watching in piazzas. Simple yet sophisticated, it's far more festive than plain prosecco and more chic than a cliche Cosmopolitan. And for those who wish to channel Audrey Hepburn on a Roman Holiday, it's much safer than a vintage Vespa.

The are many versions of the spritz, most of which were born in the Northeastern provinces due to their proximity to the prosecco and Franciacorta wine regions. And although this tipple is native to Northern Italy, for me this specific iteration is a touchstone for our three magical days in the Eternal City - which we invoked with alarming frequency once we got back.

Below is a list of 6 variations on this classic Italian refreshment.


In order to properly qualify as a Spritz, the following rules must be adhered to:

40% white wine (prosecco or franciacorta)
30% sparkling mineral water, preferably highly carbonated - NOT soda
30% from a range of liquors, depending on the region

Spritz Veneziano (Venice)
1/3 white wine
1/3 mineral water
1/3 Campari, Select or Aperol
a slice of orange if using Campari or Select.
if using Aperol, a slice of orange or green oilve (or both)

Spritz Trevigiano (Treviso)
5/10 prosecco
3/10 Aperol or Campari
2/10 mineral water
3/10 “whatever you like”
a green olive or a slice of orange

Spritz Padovano (Padova)
1/2 prosecco
1/2 of one or more Aperol, Bitter, Cynar, Campari, Gin.
an olive or a sliced of orange

Spritz Triestino (Trieste)
1/4 dry white wine
1/4 Campari
2/4 seltzer or mineral water
lemon rind

Spritz Udinese (Udine)
1/3 Verduzzo or Friulano (Tocai)
1/3 mineral water
1/3 Aperol or Campari
lemon rind

and last but not least,

Spritz Bresciano, a.k.a. il Pirlo (Brescia)

1/3 Prosecco or Brut
1/3 mineral water (very fizzy) or soda
1/3 Bitter Campari or Aperol
lots of ice and a slice of orange


Magic mushrooms and minor miracles: Part II

Flashback: September 1, 2007 - 4:30am

Mom, you're going to hate reading this, but at least you know it has a happy ending.

When we last left off, our heroines had just polished off the most amazing truffled pasta and an incredible little dessert bearing the same name, and were about to fall victim to a human trafficking scam...

...at least those are the sane thoughts that finally worked their way into my mind as I closed the door of random-bar-man's car.

I don't know what possessed us to not take our own taxi - though the fact that we had absolutely no idea where we were going might have carried more weight then than it does in hindsight - but for some reason we agreed to drive with random-bar-man and hot-Italian-guy to a club in Trastevere along the Tiber River.

I verbalized my observation that this is exactly the kind of thing one reads in the papers after naive tourists are abducted in a foreign country that makes everyone back home wonder, "What the hell were they thinking??" To which Jen replied, "Well...the young guy seems nice and normal enough. He wouldn't go if he didn't think it was safe, right?"

Madonna mia.
What the hell were we thinking?

The movie Taken didn't come out until a couple of years later, but I seriously think watching it should be a pre-requisite for all female passport applications. Of the many miracles we were granted that night, living to tell the story was certainly one of them. I thank God on a fairly regular basis for this, and for all else that subsequently ensued.

Anyway, as we sat quietly in the back of random-bar-man's scary-mobile, I was distracted from the potential disaster at hand by the fact that I hadn't used the servizi since we left the restaurant hours ago. I had no idea where or how far the club was, but to make matters worse, in a spontaneous burst of national pride, our host decided to take us Gianicolo Hill to show us the most breathtaking views of Rome.

I might have been more enthusiastic if I wasn't so terrified that we were unwittingly being brought to a sacrificial altar in the woods.

As my companions marveled at the panoramic vistas, I set about on more pragmatic matters. Like searching frantically for a port-o-potty. Finding neither a port-o-potty nor a sacrificial altar, I decided to be grateful for the lesser of the two evils. Uncomfortable as it was, at least we no longer appeared to be in imminent danger of mysteriously disappearing into the autumn night.

Eventually we made our way back down the hill to the club. It was quite a cool scene actually. And whoever random-bar-man was, he was obviously well-connected and we were escorted past a long queue of drunken Romans directly to a VIP area in the center of the club, poolside.

Relieved that it looked like we would indeed survive our lapse of sense and sanity, I made a beeline for the nearest bathroom which, naturally, was tucked behind yet another impossibly long queue. Mr. Big (now upgraded from random-bar-man) came to my rescue and escorted me to the VIP facility which, I was traumatized to discover, was nothing more than an elevated private squat toilet, complete with a shiny stainless steel floor that sloped at a worrisome angle and a malfunctioning door lock.


Did I mention I was wearing 4-inch YSL stilettos?

Anyway, after surviving that ordeal - which was only mildly less disturbing than the thought of being kidnapped, ritually sacrificed or sold as sex slaves - I retired to our swanky VIP area where my Butter Cookie had a Negroni waiting for me. Amen to that!

Unfortunately, Mr. Big was also waiting for me. So whilst Jen and hot-Italian-guy chatted each other up all night, I listened to Mr. Big wistfully tell me how much I reminded him of his late wife - though the only thing I could fathom us having in common was that we were both at least 25 years his junior. I'm quite certain I earned "Wingman of the Year" that night. But luckily, the Negroni's were flowing freely.

Sometime around 3am we were finally deposited back at our hotel, only to find it locked with a huge iron gate. Of course. After all, "this was a respectable hotel and what kind of guests would possibly need to gain entry at this hour?" chided the judgmental look on the face of the Mother-Superior who reluctantly let us in.

"Lucky ones," I thought to myself. "Really bloody lucky ones."

I counted miracles in lieu of sheep that night, every last one I could think of.
All but the one I hadn't even realized had happened yet...

Magic mushrooms and minor miracles: Part I

Flashback: August 31, 2007, 11:45pm

There was much debate as to whether it would blaspheme that transcendent dish of trofie if we were to indulge in a final dessert course at Maccheroni - which would have been about our 7th. I was completely sated and would have been perfectly happy to slip into a food coma back at the hotel, but Jen was positively spellbound...

Seduced by the black magic, my little Butter Cookie was determined not to end the evening until we found another kind of tartufo: that which could only be found in the Piazza Navona at Tre Scalini.

Named for its resemblance to a black truffle, there are dozens of other restaurants with their own versions of this fabled dessert, but after having served what is dubbed as "the original black truffle" for the past 65 years, Tre Scalini has apparently mastered a legendary secret formula for these delectable balls of deliciousness.

How could I argue with that?

Despite the fact that it was only 400 meters away, the famed piazza somehow managed to elude us for an hour. But much like the truffle-hunting pigs of Provence, Jen would absolutely not give up until she'd found her prize. Unfortunately, unlike the farmers who accompany the pigs, I was hardly dressed appropriately in my 4-inch YSL stilettos.

Still, I managed to survive and when I finally hobbled through the right alleyway, we were rewarded by a gorgeous panorama of the piazza.

I swear I heard a choir of angels singing.

Even more rewarding was scoring a corner table at Tre Scalini where we promptly ordered the tartufo: chocolate-covered ice-cream bombs with whipped cream and a cherry center.  Almost as promptly, two Roman guys descended like vultures, eyeing us in much the same way that we were eyeing our tartufi. We could decipher very little of what they were saying, save the requisite bella, principessa, and Madonna Mia! that all Italian men are trained from birth to bestow on gullible American tourists. But after a sleepless night followed by a 9-hour flight and nearly 17 hours of walking, I wasn't feeling terribly sociable and I just wanted to enjoy my tartufo in peace.

Enter yet another Italian guy. This one, in an attempt to be chivalrous, asked if the others were bothering us and said something in Italian that dispersed them rather quickly. Probably something about us expecting them to pay for their own coffees.

I wasn't immediately convinced that our hero was any more sincere than the others, but since his English was actually comprehensible, Jen invited him to join us. Apparently his linguistic prowess came from living and working in Holland for the past 10 years which, whilst good for his converational skills, I found terribly odd. I mean really, what kind of Italian voluntary leaves Italy to live in Holland of all places? Surely he must be some kind of deranged pot-smoking deviant in disguise. Or at the very least, have a severely warped sense of judgement.

As the bar began to close, we stood to part ways and he asked for our contact details - which, again, I found odd since he was only in town for a wedding that weekend. Still, I was more than happy to give him Jen's information so we could just go home.

But alas, there is no rest for the wicked. The bar owner, who had been sporadically chatting with us all evening, invited us to join him at an outdoor club along the river. I was dying to go to sleep, but it was Jen's first time in Rome and I just couldn't say no to the girl who always said, "Yes!" to life.

And so, we continued our adventure...but only after scooping up every last bite of that amazing tartufo.

If ever you find yourself in Rome, put it on your list of absofreakinlutely-must-do's.

Tartufo alla Tre Scalini
serves 8

Admittedly this is a total shot in the dark as the authentic Tre Scalini recipe is, indeed, a closely guarded secret. But after compiling the elements of various recipes based on my recollection of flavors that have haunted me for the past 5 years, I'm happy to say that this one is pretty damn close.

Of course, it's pretty hard to go wrong with ice-cream, chocolate and cherries...

3 cups chocolate ice cream, slightly softened
8 brandied cherries
1 pkg. semisweet chocolate chips, 12 oz.
1/2 cup butter, 1 stick
1-1/2 cups chocolate shavings
Freshly whipped cream, for serving

With a larger ice cream scoop, carve out 8 "strips" of chocolate ice cream and round them into snowballs, working a cherry into the center of each. Set them on a baking tray covered with wax paper and leave in the freezer for at least 30-60 minutes.

In the meantime, use the top of a double-boiler to melt the chocolate and butter together over hot (not boiling) water, stirring until blended. Allow to cool for 20 minutes.

Spread the chocolate shavings on a piece of wax paper. Then retrieve your ice-cream balls from the freezer, making sure they are firmly frozen. If they aren't, stick 'em back in until they are or you'll have a molten mess on your hands.

Spearing each ice-cream ball with a fork, quickly dip and roll it into the melted chocolate before rolling it in (or sprinkling it with) the chocolate shavings. Put it back on the wax paper and return to the freezer immediately.

After they are once again frozen firm, cover each of them securely with plastic wrap. These can be prepared 2 to 3 days earlier and stored in freezer. Remove from freezer 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with freshly whipped cream and a striped chocolate wafer stick.

Obviously there's no culinary chemistry here that will miraculously alter the flavors much from their original state so try to use the best quality ingredients you can find. Whatever you do, I beg of you: do NOT use those horrific maraschino cherries that they sell in jars at liquor stores. Their day-glo hue comes from artificial coloring only after they've been soaked in lye to remove all of their original cherry color and flavor. Ick.

Luckily, you can make delicious, homemade cocktail cherries in about 20 minutes.

Brandied Cherries
recipe courtesy of Sloshed

1-1/2 pounds dark, sweet cherries, pitted
scant 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 small cinnamon stick
1/4 cup + 1/2 oz brandy

Combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the cherries and simmer on medium-low for five minutes. Remove from heat, toss the cinnamon stick, and stir in the brandy. Allow to cool completely before placing in a jar.


That old black magic

Flashback: August 31, 2007, 9:30pm

If hedonsim had a pasta equivalent, it would be trofie al tartufo nero.

That morning we had nixed the idea of visiting the Sistine Chapel. Both the thoughts of spending half of our last day in queues and waking up at an unholy hour to catch a private tour were enough to rationalize this quasi-blasphemous omission, despite reports its sheer magnificence often makes people weep. This later proved to be a pivotal decision.

We opted instead to enjoy our night out and the infamous plate-licking special at Maccheroni was next up on our agenda. I am happy to say, it absolutely lived up to the rave reviews it's been receiving for years. It was incredibly rich, making it impossible to eat quickly so we were forced to linger for hours and savor every gorgeous bite.

After we half a plate and a quartino or two under our belts (literally), we bordered on the obscene. Moaning softly, faces twisted passionately - if anyone saw us they might fear us in need of an exorcism. This was the ultimate in food porn.

At one point, in a fit of divine ecstasy, Jen suddenly exclaimed,
"F*k the Sistine Chapel, this trofie is making me weep!"
I wholeheartedly agreed and held my breath, waiting to be struck by lighting.

Several hours later, after polishing off two appetizers, a second entree and another quartino (or two), we came to the end. And although we couldn't bring ourselves to lick the plate outright (though at one point it was a serious consideration), we managed to scrape it spotless.

Tragically, since this trip occurred before I started obsessively photographing everything so I have no photos evidence of this testament to this near-holy creation. Then one day, whilst drunk-Googling for inspiration, I stumbled across this:


I was super psyched to find this photo on this travel blog, not only to offer up a bona-fide visual, but because it's comforting to know that in a world of ever-changing menus, there are still some places you can count on to deliver solid standbys. The trofie al tartufo nero has been on deck at Maccheroni at least since we were there in 2007 and was still there as recently as 2010. It's probably been on their menu since the beginning of time. And if there truly is a God, it will still be there when I go back.

Trofie is a traditional pasta similar to fusilli but smaller. Sometimes called trofiette, the thin, tight twists are perfect carriers for delicious clingy sauces like this one. It's pretty easy to find, but in a pinch, linguine or tagliatelle are good substitutes as well.

Although I failed to elicit the original recipe from the chef (leaving me yet another good reason to improve my Italian), I did find this one and I'm happy to say, it's as close as you can get without being there.

Black Truffle Sauce
Adapted from Chef Michael Mina, Aqua Restaurant, San Francisco
Yields about 2 cups

1 leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped
1-3/4 cups shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups dry white wine
2 large fresh thyme springs
1 oz preserved black truffles, finely chopped (here's a reasonably-priced resource)
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon black or white truffle oil (or to taste)

Wash chopped leek in a bowl of cold water and drain but don't pat dry. Put the leeks, shallot and garlic in a 4-qt heavy saucepan, cover and steam over low heat using only the water still clinging to the leeks. Stir occasionally until softened, about 6 minutes. Add wine, thyme and truffles and bring to a boil, uncovered until most of the liquid evaporates, about 12 minutes.

Add stock and boil for approximately 25 minutes or until reduced to about 2 cups. Stir in cream and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes or until reduced to 2-3/4 cups. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into another saucepan, pressing on and discarding the solids. Whisk in truffle oil and season with salt and pepper.

Toss with fresh al dente trofie.

You might want to consider wearing a bib. I am so not kidding about the plate-licking. We may have refrained in the restaurant but at home, all bets are off.


Cappuccino e cornetto

Flashback: August 31, 2007

We landed in Rome at 7am, having not slept a wink despite many well-intentioned recommendations to the contrary. But I mean really, WHO can fall asleep with the excitement of spending the next three days in Rome just lolling about one's head? Subsequently, we were exhausted upon arrival. Served us right. Fools.

Not surprisingly, our room wasn't quite ready - indeed, very few things are ready at 7am in Rome - so we set out in search of coffee. We asked the lady at the hotel reception where we might find a nice cafe to sit and have a coffee while we waited. She answered quickly in Italian and smiled half-heartedly before she walked away. I caught only a hint of what she said which, loosely translated and contextualized by her attitude, I took to mean something like, "There are no cafes open at this God-awful time, you clueless American tourist girls. Stop bothering me with your silly little questions. I am terribly busy looking fabulous."

A moment later, her co-worker appeared so we asked again and he confirmed, in English, that indeed most of the cafes did not open until 10. "OK," I said, with the eerie calm of a sociopath about to have a psychotic break, "how about this: did you have a cappuccino this morning before you came to work?" "Si signorina, of course!" "And where did you get this cappuccino?" "Oh, there is a small bar just around the corner..."


When we walked in we were mesmerized by the scene: steam rising from multiple espresso machines, the gurgly sound of frothing milk, the clanking of cups on saucers and spoons stirring sugar, a mountain of fresh oranges yielding nice pulpy juice, lovely breakfast panini and pastries beckoning from the counter, and the steady buzz of Italians ordering each other around behind the bar. We swooned and christened this our base camp for the weekend.

Retreating to the small sidewalk tables, we relished our first authentic Roman breakfast: the classic cappuccino and cornetto. Not an especially noteworthy breakfast, but a memorable one nonetheless.

Perhaps it was the morning sun filtering through the trees, the clacking of stilettos as a pack of supermodel-esque women scurried by, or the joy of simply being in Italy with my partner in crime...whatever the reason, it was one of those perfect moments in life that feels like the happy ending of a Julia Roberts movie. I could almost see the credits scrolling across the sidewalk.

A good cappuccino and cornetto will forever bring me back to this moment.

Alas, I wish I could offer up the recipe for a perfect cornetto but I haven't found one.
Then again, I haven't really looked.

There's nothing particularly magical about a cornetto - even a really good one. For me, its merits are inextricably linked to the atmospheric details of a bustling breakfast bar. The kinds of details that I cannot recreate at home, nor would I want to.

It's one of those experiential treats that is simply, divinely and unequivocally Italian.

Far be it from me to mess with that.


And they're off

Me & My Butter Cookie, August 30, 2007

As we settled into our seats, I went about the business of nesting with various lotions and potions and a healthy supply of herbal tea while Jen dutifully pulled out the stack of guidebooks and email suggestions she had been collecting for the past week.

With the precision of a tactical cartographer, she began strategically mapping out our weekend by cross-referencing all the places we were going to eat, what their specialties were and what important monuments were in the immediate vicinity. Away from the touristy restaurants near the Colosseum was a small local osteria with excellent pizza. The oldest gelateria in Rome was somewhere around the Trevi Fountain. A cafe at the Piazza Navona had the best tartufo in the city. A little hole-in-the-wall cafe around the corner from the Pantheon makes super-secret cappuccinos. And a restaurant offering a to-die-for dish of trofie that was purported to induce spontaneous bursts of plate-licking.

The level of preparation she invested in this gastronomical vision quest was amazing. Hell, if it were up to me, we would have just wandered into whatever cafe we happened to be passing by when we got hungry. That was the extent of my plan.

Although both approaches have their merits, in this particular case I must admit...her way turned out better.

I often muse at the fact that so many wonderful aspects of my life are a direct result of my Butter Cookie's purposeful meal planning, the most obvious being my present status as a happily married ex-pat, but not the least of which is a genuinely soulful appreciation for food.

To enjoy a good meal with someone like Jen is truly a pleasure and our three-day food fest was nothing short of a transcendent experience. Since then, food has inextricably worked its way into my fondest memories, with the tiniest inklings of certain tastes and smells spontaneously transporting me back to many magic moments in time.

For this reason, this blog is a bit of an homage to our friendship as well. A tribute to our shared passion for that plate of trofie that literally moved us to tears.

Of course, it's distinctly possible that the free-flowing vino da tavola may have exhorted some influence over those tears...

But I like to think it was the trofie.


The grand plan

Flashback: August 25, 2007

So, now that the logistics were settled we needed a plan.

"Well alrighty, Little Miss HotShot," I thought to myself, "now what? Exactly what is it that you are so bloody eager to do in this city that you simply can't do at home?"

The answer came swiftly and quietly:

absolutely nothing.

The last thing I wanted to do for 3 days was run myself ragged all over town just to stand in queues with hoards of loud, sweaty tourists. I am not sympathetic to their complaints about Roman toilets nor can I comprehend why some of them religiously adhere to the notion that one's level of comfort is directly proportionate to the relative position of a given outfit on the continuum of fashion abominations.

Seriously people (you know who you are), think about it: if Italians can walk around on cobblestone streets, steep hills and narrow stairs for their entire lives without sporting Nikes, Birkenstocks or Crocs, you can probably manage it for a few days too.

But I digress...

What I really wanted to do was simply pass the time doing whatever it is that we would have been doing over the holiday weekend at home: enjoying each other's company sitting in cafes, shopping for things we can't afford, people-watching and gossiping over cappuccino, and consuming immoderate quantities of pizza, pasta and prosecco.

Nothing terribly exciting really, but for the fact that the pizzas would have those papery-thin yet impossibly flavorful wood-fired crusts, the pastas would be perfectly al dente with gorgeous sauces clinging to every delectable bite, the cappuccinos would have just the right amount of foam, the stuff we can't afford will at least be runway-worthy, and we would be people-watching in piazzas (with pirlos in hand) where the cacaphony of Italian chatter would be music to our ears and little Italian kids crying "Mamma! Mamma! Mamma!" would sound like singing cherubs, unlike the shrieking wombats that are indigenous to our home.

Most importantly, we would be doing all of the above in Italy.

At this point in my life I thought it was the closest I would ever get to experiencing an authentic slice of life in il bel paese. To enjoy the luxury of lazing about a cafe, lingering over coffee or a glass of wine, blissfully unconcerned with tour bus schedules or any other marker of time. To admire historic monuments from afar, perhaps recording a snapshot or two but absent an obsessive need to photograph every last doorknob. To casually wander past the grand buildings, the fountains, the narrow streets dotted with gelaterias and cafes, breathing in the majesty of this beautiful city.

To sit still and be quiet, letting its essence seep into my skin and marinate in my veins rather than chasing it all over town like a rabid paparazzo.

That was my grand plan.

Having lived in several versions of paradise from California to Thailand, I had no delusions about the realities of life in a place that naturally appears idyllic to anyone who is temporarily liberated from banal concerns like paying bills, going to work or doing laundry. But all those things were waiting for me back home and since none of them would have stopped me from enjoying a care-free holiday weekend in Chicago, I could confidently say that even if I did have such things to worry about here, I could just as easily shove them aside and enjoy three lazy days with a friend.

To this day, I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend in Rome...


Once upon a time...

(August 19, 2007 to be exact)

...in a far-away land, a young urban Chicagoan had a meltdown.

Incensed that her then-current boyfriend was off visiting his family in Switzerland for the entirety of August whilst she had nothing equally fabulous on her holiday agenda, her insanely competitive ego went rogue and autonomously composed the following text:
"Anyone want to go to Paris or Rome for Labor Day?"
This S.O.S. was immediately disseminated to her gallivanting girl gang with the hopes that their fervent enthusiasm for spontaneous escapades might extend across the pond.

She didn't think for a moment that anyone would seriously consider dropping everything to pop over to Europe with ten days notice, but that was fine with her. She was used to traveling solo and of course, in her pathological bid for oneupmanship it would be much cooler (and far more mysterious) to go by herself anyway.

In the end, following many sincere expressions of interest and promises to check on flights, one person actually came through: her little Butter Cookie.

That would be Jen, the heroine of this particular tale...

Yes, that's right. My fairy tale starts with an awesome girlfriend rather than a boy. Following one of the all-time greatest and utterly bizarre first dates ever, Jen and I had been inseparable for the past 18 months. She was my rock. A co-conspirator and expert enabler whom I could always count on to say, "Yessss!"

Luckily, this trip was no exception.

Since we had both been to Paris within the last year - and because we share an insatiable obsession with all things Italian - we opted for Rome. Within 24 hours we had our flights booked and Jen scored us a wicked cool deal on a hotel.

We had to celebrate. At Quartino. With pizza.

A week later, we were on our way...

Pizza Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons)

First of all, let me just say that real pizza is thin-crusted. I am passionately committed to this position and have, from time to time, considered starting a campaign to ban the use of the term "pizza" in relation to those crazy deep-dish pies that we make in Chicago. But at the moment my activist energy is being channeled elsewhere.

I offer up this recipe with the caveat that it is virtually impossible to reproduce in a home kitchen that which can only be borne of a brick oven. So if your kitchen-ego can handle that, go for it and have fun.

Two secrets to creating a great pizza, one with a well-crisped crust that finishes baking in the same time it takes the topping to cook, are intense heat (upwards of 800 degrees) and direct contact of the dough with the heat source.

Since most conventional ovens top out at a mere 500 degrees, the closest you can get to recreating this environment at home is to use a pizza stone by placing it in a cold oven (per the manufacturer's directions) and letting it preheat with the oven. I also recommend using a pizza peel - those wide wooden boards with the long handles that you always see hanging in pizzerias - to safely slide the pizza onto the stone.

I hope to master the art of dough-making one day, but thus far I've not made the attempt. If I were to try it, I would probably start with this recipe. In the meantime, I have pretty good luck with store-bought dough and have found the par-baked crusts from Fox and Obel to be highly successful in emergency situations.

Whatever you choose, the rest goes something like this:

1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes
3-4 marinated artichoke hearts, quartered
5-6 black olives packed in brine (you'll want the sweet variety)
1/2 cup finely sliced mushrooms
2 ounces finely sliced ham, shredded
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella
a handful or two of arugula (optional)

Spread the tomato and the mozzarella. Technically the other four toppings should each be housed in its own quarter of the pizza, but here is where I deviate from tradition as I prefer the Quartino's version with everything mixed together. Either way, drizzle with a few drops of olive oil and bake according to your dough instructions. If you like, throw some fresh arugula on top just before serving.

Best enjoyed on a summer patio with a good friend and a pirlo.


The luxury of hindsight

I should have started this blog in 2007.

But back then I had no idea that the events that were about to unfold would change my life forever. I expected it to be a fun girls' weekend in Italy, no doubt full of stories worth telling, but at the time it was just another randomly-inspired freak-out trip.

Ok, in all honesty, it wasn't really that random. But more on that later...

I was going to date my posts as they occurred chronologically, in an effort to lend some structure and context to what would otherwise be a chaotic stream of consciousness that even those with a Ph.D in crazy-talk would find challenging to follow.

But stories are organic, living things. Over time, they change, adapt and evolve as we do, distilled in hindsight as the emotionally-biased perspectives of real-time slowly separate themselves from the raw truths that come to define our history.

So I think it's important to acknowledge if and when something is being written in retrospect with the luxuries of time gone by: wounds healed, laughter shared, lessons learned. And the all-important opportunity to implement revisionist history.

I'm back in Chicago for a couple of weeks to pack more of my stuff. I'm going back to Holland soon and this time, it's for good. Really. At least until summer...

Turns out Chicago isn't the only one having trouble letting go. Which is ironic because I've been trying to leave here for years.

After living in LA for 2 years following some hare-brained idea to go to law school (even though I had no desire to be a lawyer) I moved back to Chicago and immediately started working in Florida where I commuted every week for nearly 5 years. Two years ago I was planning to move to DC until I went to visit Tanya while she was studying Spanish in Spain. A month later I started taking Italian classes and made up my mind to move to Italy. Last year all that changed and I took a detour - a big one. This year I  am a newly-wed expat sort-of living in Holland. Sheesh.

I don't really know where this story begins. In theory one could say that everything we've ever done leads us to this exact time and place in our lives. Actually, that proves itself up in practice as well. We are planning to be back in Rome for the upcoming Mille Miglia. On deck is a walk down memory lane.

With that, I invite you back to the beginning of this particular story:

Chicago, circa August 2007, and the random text that started it all.
"Anyone want to go to Paris or Rome for Labor Day?"
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