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Locked down but not out in Italy

Singing from the balconies! One nice thing about this crisis ... solidarity! “Guess you’re not living like a tourist anymore,” was the funny, truthful and somewhat gut-wrenching message of a friend the day the lockdown in Italy began. Today is day 6. My beloved Italia has been hit hard with the COVID19 epidemic. With the second largest elderly population in the world, the epidemic has meant a disproportionate amount of deaths in the country. So though I haven’t been worried about contracting it myself, this isn’t about me or someone like me who, if contracted it would probably have a sucky couple of weeks and then recover. It is about if someone like me contracted it and then spread it to a person with a complicated health history or an elderly person with a weakened immune system. Eerily orderly: Lines for the grocery store, each person one meter apart In a country with no concept (and no physical room really) for personal space, and in a city with reproachable hygie

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.