Saturday, April 26, 2014

Easter empanadas

Like any Type A personality, this Easter break I went on a wedding planning hiatus and instead invented another project for myself.

Every now and then I get on a kick of wanting to do something that I have never done. Sometimes it is well organized and planned out, like the time I went sky-diving in college, and sometimes it is totally on a whim, like my last weekend's empanada obsession.

When it comes to baking, I generally just leave it as “I can’t”… or that I need supervision if I do. I am a fairly decent cook. I am not a baker. I boil it down to the fact that I am virtually incapable of following instructions. With cooking, I tend to do whatever I want and refer back to the recipe only now and then to see how off track I am. To go off-roading with baking, you need to understand chemistry. And I don’t. I have had cakes sink, pie crusts shrivel, muffins burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside... I am a chemist’s nightmare.

Probably the root cause of my obsession: DC's Julia's Empanadas
So I don’t know why this past weekend I became possessed with the spirit of an empanada maker. This is neither in my general realm of ability, nor is it in my comfort zone. I also don’t know what relation empanadas have to Easter, but for some reason, I had to accomplish this for Easter brunch.

The process began in my very typical way of showing up at the grocery store without the recipe and having to guess the ingredients. Not only did I have to guess what they were but I had to guess what their Italian names are. Armed with the Google translate app and a comparable recipe from my Smart Phone’s internet browser, I still got home to find out that I bought polenta instead of cornmeal and baking soda instead of baking powder. Over the course of the day, I also realized that the recipe required a rolling pin, (which I did not have) … and a baking sheet, (which I also did not have)… and wax paper, (nope, didn’t have that either)… and ideally empanada molds, (do you think I would have molds of any kind?). Luckily, I was able to buy, borrow or make an equivalent to all of these things. 

Two other things I did successfully buy at the grocery store though were:
  1. Pre-made dough (in case mine turned to stone). 
  2. A massive amount of chic peas (in case I scrapped the whole idea and made hummus instead.) 
So far, no explosions...
Yet with guidance from a friend, a call to her professional chef/ father and help from another friend whose Napolitano roots made him a natural with rolling out dough, the suspicious looking concoction turned from a granular flaky mess into something not only malleable but delicious.

Emapanada molds work!
The roasted vegetable filling (that I winged of course) turned out great, and with the baking sheet and empanada molds I borrowed, I made 3 very nice batches of golden brown empanadas.

They made it to the oven!

I can do anything! I felt.

And though that’s not true, I have a new Easter tradition. Maybe I can even strike baking off of the list of “I can’ts”. Perhaps next year I can attempt the real Italian tradition, the Colombo… but I’ll buy chic peas just in case.

My Empanadas! Not bad for a novice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two different count downs

Easter is five days away which is good news for me because my dreams of chocolate are getting more vivid… I could smell it in the last one…

Image from Yours Fondly
This year was definitely my toughest lent to date. I gave up all sugar, from not adding it to coffee in the morning to abstaining from all desserts (gelato included!) in the evening.

I spent the last 40 days turning down all variety of sweets … or accepting them (usually chocolate) to stash them away in my freezer for safekeeping until after Easter. But with only five more days, I can make it. However, while I am on the verge of succeeding in that one Lenten observance, I am failing in another.

Chocolate shoes
This lent, I also promised to write once a week. Writing for me is like running. I don’t feel entirely healthy unless I do it regularly. Yet, though I have been good at running lately (I completed the Verona half marathon in February), I have not been good at writing, as you may or may not have noticed.

Giulietta & Romeo Verona Half Marathon & They also had a chocolate festival
Part of it is that I am out of the habit, which is why I thought lent a good time to reintroduce it. Aside from the religious aspects of lent, I have also learned that 40 days is a pretty good amount of time to form a new habit or break a bad one. Lent would have been a good time to get back into the habit of writing…

This feeling of remorse for me is a bit reminiscent of last year. Some of you may recall that my Lenten resolution was to give up complaining about Rome (specifically the people and services in Rome). I did so poorly thought that I then decided to give up chocolate for the 40 days after lent. It was a sort of self-imposed “talking-to”. 40 days of not commenting on late buses, rude people, broken services or chaotic everything would have been good for me. But the habit was too engrained.

My brother in law also gets excited about chocolate
But perhaps again this year, I will impose a post-lent promise/talking-to: To write once a week for 40 weeks. It could work. I already have a lot of new stories about wedding planning in Italy.

And that’s the other count down: the count down to my big fat Italian wedding! Yes, dealing with the legalities of three countries, having people fly in from probably ten and working with a mixed bag of traditions, it’s going to be a total zoo and completely legendary. So far, no talks of a roasting spit in the front yard though which is good.

As you can see, a lot has happened since Mexico: visiting family in Toronto, getting engaged in Vancouver, searching for a venue in Umbria and Tuscany, finding a wedding dress in the weird underground wedding sub-culture of Rome… It's been a busy 4 months.

Castle of Love: the brochure of one of the venues we looked at...

But with wedding planning comes a whole other cultural experience of Italy which I would be happy to share: Living like an (engaged) tourist. Get ready puffy dresses, shellacked wedding cakes, cheesy songs and outdated traditions: here I come, or more appropriately, here comes the bride.


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