Nelly Writes — Stories

Flavors of the Riviera in Alameda, California

I enjoy reproducing the smells, textures and atmosphere of my hometown Genoa. I get a kick from introducing my audience to the secrets of garbanzo bean flour farinata or torta making. To explain the way real pesto is made and used in Genoa. To stretch my dough as thin as paper and get that silence full of awe is my reward for the long hours of work and the stress of my multi-task performance. Two days ago I packed my car full of food, ingredients, pictures, & magazines to show and drove to Alameda to teach to 70 people "The Way we Cook in Italy, specifically in Liguria."

Italian marketDuring the one-hour long trip while inhaling the familiar aromas of focaccia with onions; torta with zucchini and marjoram; farinata with rosemary... I was rehearsing my lecture: "I have to remember to talk about how the reason that garbanzo beans are so widely used in the Mediterranean is because they grow in poor soil. This will give me the opportunity to talk about the Mediterranean diet which was a life style due to the meager resources of the area. And don't forget the story about Stefano sitting on my freshly made torta with onions," I was saying to myself. "Maybe I should mention that student who went to Italy and was unable to eat focaccia like the ones we made in class. No wonder! For he had been to Umbria, not Liguria!" At that point I was waiting at a stop light. I glanced self-consciously out of the side window to see whether the gentleman in the car next to mine had noticed that I was actually talking to myself.

All of a sudden I remembered the time I was teaching a workshop on beans and I forgot to take with me a huge pot of cranberry beans that I had prepared at home.

"Only a few days ago I needed at least 12 eggs for my menu in Los Altos. The moment I announced to the class that we were ready to make zabaglione I realized that I hadn't brought any." I smiled to myself. "I was good at keeping my cool though. Speaking in Italian, I instructed my assistant Lalla to go get some eggs. When she came back, twenty minutes later, the class was hardly aware that I had switched nonchalantly to an egg less part of the menu. Talking about forgetting things... Did I put in my crate that basket full of lemon leaves that I need to make the cookies?" I was not smiling anymore now.. "I think I did. I certainly picked them from the tree, but did I put them in the car?" Since I couldn't turn around nor stop because I was on the freeway, I tried to detect the fragrance of lemons, but of course the mixture of onion/basil/rosemary was more powerful. "I guess I'll have to live with this doubt until I get to Alameda." I tried to console myself by figuring out how to substitute them or what jokes to make in case there were no lemon leaves in the car.

When I arrived at my destination, keeping my fingers crossed, I peeked in the crate. VoilĂ , I found my basket neatly packed under a pile of other ingredients. Whew!

MarketplaceIt was time to set up class. Soon the expectant crowd would arrive. After half an hour of work my mise-en-place was ready: several trays of prepared ingredients, arranged in the order I needed them for the demonstration, were lined up on the counters. Another series of baking sheets full of focaccias, tortas, farinatas were ready to be cut and served. From a huge pot on the stove was arising the appetizing scent of the inevitable minestrone alla Genovese. I quickly dismissed a familiar worry "Is there going to be enough food?" I realized that the quantity would have easily fed an army, just the way I like it.

"This place doesn't really look like my Antica Sciamadda store in Via S.Giorgio. There is no wood-burning oven and no marble counter top. There is not even a resemblance of my white-tile walls, but it sure does smell like it" I thought with more than a tinge of nostalgia. I put on a tape of Italian songs for background music. While I was waiting for the class to begin I reviewed my recipes, gathered my thoughts and prepared to launch in the magic of evoking a land, an atmosphere, a culture and a life-style with only my words, a few pictures, and the food as witnesses.

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"I come from a country where food is a central part of life. My passion and mission is to share my love of food and cooking with my students. Also to give them the inspiration and tools to create memorable meals and live meaningful experiences in the kitchen." - Nelly Capra