Articles in Travel
Being away from your family and friends while living overseas can make Thanksgiving one of the loneliest days of the year for a North American expat. For that reason, trying to prepare your family’s traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the trimmings becomes an obsession for many.
The sourcing of ingredients and having the right cooking equipment are the biggest obstacles to re-creating the typical dishes found on your family’s festive table. During my years living in Asia, I have prepared traditional Thanksgiving meals for more than 1,000 people from a home kitchen, but not without having to substitute ingredients, change cooking methods or simply break away from tradition. Here are some tips to assist you when thrown a culinary curve ball.
Roughly plan your menu at least a couple of weeks ahead of celebrating Thanksgiving. During your regular grocery runs, scout the shops and markets to see if any non-perishable, specialty items you will need are on the shelves. Purchase them if they are available, as other shoppers will quickly follow, looking for those same prized items. Check with market vendors to see if they will have certain items, and place an order with them to guarantee they are part of your holiday larder.
Locating a turkey, the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal, is of utmost importance for many expats. A few fortunate cooks may be able to purchase an expensive imported bird from a high-end grocer or from friends who have access to an embassy commissary, but most will have to search their local markets to see if any gobblers are for sale. Whether you are able find a local turkey or have to settle for some other type of fowl, make sure you clearly communicate with the market vendor that you want the bird to be dressed, i.e. de-feathered, eviscerated and head and feet removed. If you don’t, you may need to quickly learn some new butchery skills.
More from Zester Daily:
If you are lucky enough to get a turkey, you next need to confirm that your oven, if you have one, can comfortably accommodate something this big. Most ovens sold in Asia are still on the small side to efficiently cook a large turkey.
It has been my experience that the turkeys, ducks, geese and even chickens in Asia have lived a roaming life resulting in strong, tough legs. Faced with these challenges, a day or two before Thanksgiving dinner, I routinely take the legs off, brown them with some onions, carrots, garlic, a pinch of cloves and black pepper and then braise them in water or stock for several hours until they are tender. The bonus of using this method is you can take the cooking liquid and reduce it to make a flavorful gravy. I then finish by roasting the breast in the oven. If you don’t have an oven, you can either poach or steam the breast.
If you are looking to change things up, you may want to entertain turning to a local favorite restaurant to help prepare a regional delicacy, such as a Peking duck, a roast suckling pig or tandoori turkey, to use as your meal’s centerpiece.
Trimmings and side dishes
Fresh cranberries most likely won’t be accessible to make cranberry chutney, but there are many local fruits that serve as good alternatives. Apples are currently in season, citrus fruits are making their way into the markets and pineapples or green mangoes bring a nice acidity to the meal. The key is to ensure that the flavors of your chutney compliment the menu and you create a balance of sweet and tart flavors.
Asian markets may lack the root vegetables — parsnips, turnips, celery root — that signal a fall harvest, but there are some fantastic substitutes. Broccoli, bok choy and a host of greens in the cabbage family are good stand-ins for Brussels sprouts, while the varieties of sweet potatoes and yams you find locally are excellent replacements for the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes you may be accustomed to.
If your stuffing gets its crunch and flavor from celery, look to vegetables like kohlrabi, celtuce or Chinese celery instead. Head to a nearby five-star hotel to purchase multigrain bread for your stuffing or, for a gluten-free alternative, use cooked local brown rice.
What about dessert?
No Thanksgiving meal is complete without a pie or two. Nuts such as walnuts, cashews, peanuts or a combination of the three will ease your regret at having no pecans for your pie. Likewise, pumpkin pie elicits oohs and ahs from its devoted following. Canned pumpkin is a challenge to find, and there tends to be only one type of pumpkin available in the markets. To make your own pumpkin purée, peel the pumpkin, roast, steam or boil it until tender, then drain and purée. I find the pumpkin can be a bit watery, and it is best to cook the puree over medium heat on the stovetop for about 10 minutes to reduce the moisture content. The purée is now ready to use for your pie recipe.
It’s still Thanksgiving
The most essential ingredient of any Thanksgiving larder is the people around your table. You may not be able to have immediate family fill the seats, but you can include new, close friends with whom to share your family’s traditions. Ask your guests to bring a dish from their country to add some of their culture to your feast.
Carrying family traditions abroad is a great way to re-create a semblance of “home” to celebrate Thanksgiving, but trying to prepare an exact replica creates added stress and increases the likelihood of failure. Be open to tweaking the dishes with accents from your travels or flavors of your current culinary environment or those of your guests. I can assure you that these creative menu changes bring lasting memories and may even create new traditions that will appear on your table at future celebrations.
Top photo: Fresh foods you find at your local market often make suitable substitutes for traditional Thanksgiving ingredients. Credit: Cameron Stauch
When my husband was invited to practice his art of painting in rural — the word was emphasized many times in the acceptance letter — Ireland, we jumped on it and decided to go right away rather than wait until summer. Our stay was from Halloween to Christmas, covering the major holidays, which were pretty much nonexistent for us that year.
Winter is perhaps not the most perfect time to be on the rough and wild Atlantic coast of the Emerald Island — which, as you quickly come to understand, has to do with the copious amount of rain that falls. It was cold. And damp. Our cottage was stone, and there were gaps in the ceiling that allowed a view of the sky. My husband’s studio was heated, but for me, getting warm and staying that way was the challenge of each day. The recipe called for lots of hot water and alcohol.
Finding warmth in Ireland
Here’s how it worked. First, we were told not to use hot water unless it came from the night storage, a concept we found hard to follow but eventually understood: Electricity is cheaper at night than during the day, so water heated at night is more economical than water heated during the day. So I started the day by submerging myself in water that was as hot as I could stand and staying there until I really couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I dressed in an infinite number of layers that padded me like the Michelin Man, but they kept me warm until noon, when I repeated the process.
More from Zester Daily:
About 3 p.m., when the light caved, I joined Patrick, my husband, in the pub across the street from his studio, where I had a hot whiskey with lemon and clove — divine because it warmed my hands as well as my insides. Then maybe I had a second one just to seal in the hint of warmth that I was sure was coming on. These drinks were pretty mild as alcohol goes. Even two weren’t nearly as strong as the real Irish coffee I had in a pub in a nearby town, where the combination of caffeine, sugar, booze and cream was simultaneously such an upper and downer that your day was done by the last sip. By comparison, the hot whiskey was like tea.
When we returned to our cottage, it was dark outside and cold inside. The first task was to light a peat fire in a fireplace that would never become hot it so dwarfed our expensive bundles of peat logs. There was a heater on one wall, which, if you leaned against it, could make a small portion of your bottom warm, but that was the sum total of its effectiveness.
Because cooking dinner helped produce some warmth, we headed to the kitchen. When Patrick would get a bottle out, it wasn’t that nicely chilled red wine temperature we’ve come to appreciate, nor was it frozen. But it was so frigid you might want to wear mittens to handle it. The wine glasses, too, were like bowls of ice. So we lit the burners on the stove, placed the bottle and glasses among them, and waited until the bottle felt right. By then the glasses would be, too, and dinner would be nearly prepared. We ate it huddled against the big metal fireplace that at least suggested coziness.
Finally, I’m ashamed to say, the best part of each day came, and that was getting into bed and lying on the enormous heating pad that worked like a reverse electric blanket: warming the bed rather than lying on top of you. Finally, here was warmth, and it stayed — regardless of the wind and the rain, which sounded like it was shot from nail guns. While in bed I read a lot about the famine years and tried to comprehend how people could be this cold and starving and yet continue on, while I was being such a wimp about it all.
Christmas in Dublin
By Christmas we were in Dublin, which felt very far from County Mayo in every way. The hotel room was warm; people were festive and jolly; the food was varied and good; there were amazing cheeses to be found; and a farmers market was filled with treats. The pubs were bustling, and there were warm cobblers with cream or mushrooms on toast for breakfast. I’ve never loved Christmas that much, but in Dublin it felt like a real celebration, with music on the streets and a big feeling of happiness in those around us. Of course, that’s when the Celtic Tiger was a big glossy cat, but it was last year, too, when we were there and the economics were quite reversed.
By far, the best holiday scene was one I had the good fortune to happen upon, and it had nothing to do with food. I was walking down a street when I noticed at least a 100 Santas standing together in front of a rather grand building. They were talking and smoking in their Santa outfits. That alone was quite something to see, and I would have been utterly content if it went no further. But then all at once the door of the building opened, and the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, stepped out, and all the Santas burst into boisterous song: “We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!” And they cheered the president in her red dress, and I think they might have tossed hats into the air.
Top photo: County Mayo, Ireland. Credit: Deborah Madison
There’s no shortage of wineries in Piedmont, Italy. Some, especially those that make blockbuster Barolos and Barbarescos, are grand and world-famous. Their wines feature on top restaurant wine lists and take pride of place in the cellars of wine collectors the world over. Securing an appointment to visit requires a personal introduction and/or a certain chutzpah, with fluent Italian a distinct advantage.
On the other hand, for every grand and famous estate, there are a half-dozen pocket-sized domaines, known only to a few cognoscenti. They specialize in gem-like wines made in tiny quantities, which they nurse to maturity with tender loving care. Many of these smaller, lesser-known wineries welcome visitors — including English-speaking ones — by appointment, receiving them with simplicity and rare generosity of spirit.
Cascina Fontana in the village of Perno, perched on a ridge in the misty Langhe hills just south of Alba, falls neatly into this gem-like category. It is headed by Mario Fontana, the sixth generation of his family to make wine here, together with his wife, Luisa, with help from mamma Elda and occasional aid from sons Edoardo and Vasco. With just 4 hectares (9.8 acres), Mario makes the four classic red wines of the Langhe region: Barolo and Langhe Nebbiolo, both from the Nebbiolo grape, as well as Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba. He describes his wines as “genuine, natural, true expressions of nostro territorio — our land and our culture.”
Weather makes or breaks Italian winery owner’s spirits
I visited in May this year and found the usually cheerful Mario looking uncharacteristically glum. “It was a long winter, followed by a miserably cold, wet spring,” he admitted.
More from Zester Daily:
They finished harvesting at the end of October and a delighted Mario was able to report by mail that after all those anxious moments earlier in the year, he was overall quite satisfied with the vintage. But it’s early, he admitted. “I always remember what my nonno (grandfather) Saverio, my greatest teacher, used to say to me: ‘The grapes are harvested in fall, but the race is not over till the final lap is completed.’ ”
On that May visit, gathered around the huge oak table in Mario’s newly converted tasting room with a group of wine-loving friends, we tasted the results of earlier vintages that had completed their final lap.
First came Dolcetto, bright, pretty, thirst-quenching and (at 12.5% alcohol by volume) relatively low in alcohol — perfect with a simple salad of vine-ripened tomatoes and local mozzarella with home-made grissini. Next came Barbera d’Alba, a blooming delight, deliciously fruit-driven and just right with slivers of air-dried sausage from the local butcher.
Mario’s Langhe Nebbiolo, which (like his Barbera) spends a year in small oak barrels, some of them new, is a proper wine, not just (as is too often the case) a poor relation of Barolo that didn’t quite make the cut. Finally, with a steaming plate of manzo brasato al Barolo (beef braised in Barolo) made with love by Mario’s mamma, we worked our way around several vintages of the eponymous wine, each one elegantly structured, beautifully balanced, understated and oozing with class.
Cascina Fontana wines are imported into the United Kingdom by Berry Bros. and Rudd, wine merchants by appointment of the Queen and the Prince of Wales. Check Wine Searcher for stockists in the U.S.
Top photo: Grapes growing at Cascina Fontana. Credit: Kim Millon
Provence in the south of France has certainly gotten all the glory with its jet-setter reputation. After all it has the Riviera with Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and Cannes while its neighbor to the southwest Languedoc seems like a distant cousin.
More from Zester Daily:
Most people probably can’t name any place in Languedoc. However, Languedoc offers some delights for the non-jet-setting crowd. It’s quieter than Provence, it’s beautiful, and one can encounter food as good as — and some would say better than — in Provence. That’s impossible to judge of course, but I do find myself often leaning to certain dishes rather than the popular tapenade from Provence.
One such dish is a great salad from Languedoc called anchoïade, a tomato and anchovy salad that is a celebration of land and sea. As its name indicates, the star of this salad must be the local anchovies that are salted directly off the boats coming into the small ports of Languedoc or the Côte Vermeille in Roussillon.
For this reason your typical oil-soaked anchovies in little cans will not do. For this dish to be anything remotely notable you’ll need nice plump, silvery, salted anchovies. Anchovies like these are sold by the Sicilian firm Agostino Recca available at the grocery and gourmet food section of Amazon.
Because the tomatoes are equally important, I call for specific cultivars that I either grow or like, but you can use any kind of homegrown or farmers market-type ripe tomato, heirloom or not, as long as they’ve got full flavor. Anchoïade can refer to a kind of vinaigrette that has anchovies in it or to this salad.
Anchoïade (Tomato and Anchovy Salad)
Serves 4 to 6
16 salted anchovy filets, rinsed
1½ pounds ripe Principe Borghese or Early Girl tomatoes, quartered
3 to 4 ounces imported green olives (28 to 32)
2 large eggs, hard-boiled, shelled and quartered
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup very finely chopped red onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Soak the anchovies for 2 hours in water. Remove and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Arrange the tomatoes, olives and eggs on a platter. Drape the anchovy fillets over the tomatoes artfully.
3. Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, red onion, salt and pepper.
4. Dress the tomatoes, without tossing, and serve.
Top photo: Anchoïade salad with anchovies and tomatoes. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
L’orto del professore, the professor’s garden, is riotous, an unruly tumult of beans and squashes, tomatoes and peppers, cabbages, kale, lettuce, cucumbers and wild things, too. When I visited il professore a few weeks ago at his home near Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, there were green beans twining up poles and low borlotti bush beans (the kind that, when dried, get turned into zuppa di fagioli); there were climbing squashes, long, pale, snake-like squashes — Sicilian favorites called cucuzza – and big, round pumpkins in various shapes and shades of yellow-stained orange; there were eggplants and tomatoes and cabbages and peppers in all sizes and degrees of heat.
Everything grew together in helter-skelter fashion, and there was also growing everywhere a surfeit of what you (and I) might call weeds — but they all had names and they all had purposes, from familiar purslane, growing close to the ground, so healthy and delicious in salads, to tall plants of amaranth with their graceful pink flower stalks laden with seeds. There was also lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album), nettles and mallow (Malva sylvestris), all valuable sources of food for anyone who knows what he’s about.
More from Zester Daily:
And the professor knows what he’s about. He is a noted gardener, forager and expert on all manner of living creatures, but especially those that grow in the ground. My friend Salvatore, himself no mean forager of wild greens, always tries to spend time with the professore when he’s visiting his native Sicily from Umbria, where he’s lived the last dozen years or so. It was Salvatore who took me to meet the professore after a morning during which the two genial gentlemen had rambled through the pine forest above Piazza Armerina, looking for mushrooms but without notable success. Salvatore had supplied the professore last spring with seeds of cavolo nero, a type of kale that’s a foundation of wintertime tables in Tuscany and Umbria, and now he wanted me to see how the plants had done in the unfamiliar environment of central Sicily. In brief, they had done spectacularly well in this hotter, drier climate, growing thick, dark, blistery, blue-green leaves that, when stripped of their tough central stems, would be steamed or fried or added to soups.
It’s sometimes hard for outsiders to understand the kind of niche levels of consumption that exist in Italy. It’s fewer than 400 miles from Salvatore’s garden in Umbria to the professore’s in central Sicily, and yet cavolo nero is as exotic in Sicily as some Chinese herb might be in New England. Just as no one in Umbria would think of using the fragrant dried oregano that is so ubiquitous in Sicilian cooking, so no one in Sicily, as far as we could tell, had ever tried to grow cavolo nero. (In U.S. markets, where it’s been appearing for several years now, cavolo nero is sometimes known as Tuscan kale or lacinato kale.)
Is there religion in a garden’s riotous profusion?
I admired the professore’s success with cavolo nero, but I was more interested in the garden as a whole and its riotous profusion. I can’t think when I’ve seen a garden that looked more undisciplined, even abandoned. Used to the trim and tightly weeded rows of a New England vegetable garden, I was undone by what looked like an uncontrollable wilderness. And yet the plants were healthy, with no trace of bugs or diseases. As we stalked through bean patches and clambered over pumpkin vines, it suddenly struck me. “This is a very Catholic garden,” I said. What did I mean? “Well, it’s wide open to anything and everything, saints and sinners alike.” (At least that’s how I see it.) The professore laughed. “I’m not a Catholic,” he said. “I’m somewhere between an atheist and an agnostic.” “So was my father,” I replied, “but he had a thoroughly Protestant garden, straight rows, tidy, neat, disciplined.”
Can that be? Is there really such a thing as a Catholic garden or a Protestant garden? It’s fun to think about, and maybe there’s a bit of truth in it. We continued our banter as we made our way back to the house, where a lovely lunch awaited us — pasta with tenerumi, fresh from the garden; a sweet-and-sour braise of rabbit with caponata, that great Sicilian combination of eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic and olive oil (talk about Catholic!) on the side; and a dessert of simple slices of chilled melon. All prepared by the professore’s wife, whose 94-year-old mother, a testament to the virtues of this Mediterranean, fresh-from-the-garden diet, joined us at the table.
Now, you may be asking, what exactly are these tenerumi? Tenerumi are the tender (tenere — get it?) green leaves and budding tips from that same cucuzza squash, the long, snake-like squash I mentioned earlier that is such a favorite in Sicily, and, like the oregano I also mentioned above, quite unknown in more northern parts of Italy. The squash itself is a summertime favorite, harvested when young then chunked and stewed gently with other vegetables. It’s considered cooling, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, which goes back to Hippocrates, if not earlier. But the leaves and tender shoots of the plant are also edible, and indeed prized in Sicily, and they were growing all over the professore’s orto, putting out delicate white flowers. (The white flowers mean that technically this is a gourd not a squash, which has yellow flowers.) I’ve seen tenerumi leaves sold in New York City Greenmarkets and I imagine they’re probably seasonally available in other parts of the country as well. They are deliciously refreshing and slightly astringent and, when cooked with pasta, make an exciting and unusual first course. The professore’s wife prepared her tenerumi by slicing the leaves and part of the stems, discarding any tough or wooden stem ends along with the tendrils, which won’t soften with cooking. You should have about 4 cups of fresh sliced tenerumi for the following recipe.
Could you make pasta con tenerumi with other types of squash leaves, too? I don’t see why not, as long as they are not too big, old, tough or covered with prickles. The leaves and shoots of young zucchini and other types of summer squash would be just fine, but I wouldn’t use the big, old, hairy leaves of pumpkins or hard winter squash. You can also order seeds for cucuzza from Growitalian.com (search for zuchetta) and plant them in your garden next spring, just like zucchini. Harvest the squash (sorry, gourds) when they’re not more than a foot long, and pull off the leaves and tender shoots whenever you feel the urge — you can go on with this all summer long.
Pasta Con Tenerumi
This makes enough for 4 servings — and note that it’s more of a soup than a pasta and should be eaten with forks and soup spoons.
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to garnish the bowls
About ½ pound small cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 small fresh chili pepper, seeded and chopped (or to taste)
A big bunch of tenerumi leaves and shoots, prepared as above, to make 4 cups
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups of water
1 pound spaghetti, broken into 1-inch lengths
Cheese to grate over the top (pecorino Siciliano or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1. Add the garlic and oil to the bottom of a 3- to 4-quart stock pot and set over medium heat. Cook, briefly stirring, until the garlic has softened, but do not let it brown.
2. Stir in the halved or quartered tomatoes and the chili pepper and continue cooking, stirring until the tomatoes start to give off juice and the bits of chopped chili have softened.
3. Add the cleaned tenerumi leaves along with a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Stir very well to mix all the ingredients together, then add about 6 cups of water and bring it to a simmer.
4. Let the liquid simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the leaves are tender but not falling apart. While the leaves are cooking, break the spaghetti into approximately 1-inch lengths.
5. When the leaves are sufficiently cooked, stir the pasta into the pot along with another pinch of salt. Let it cook till the pasta is done — approximately 8 minutes, or according to your own preference.
6. Serve immediately in soup bowls or on plates. Add a generous dollop of extra virgin olive oil to the top of each serving along with a handful of freshly grated cheese. This is often served in summertime at room temperature, but in the chilly days of autumn I prefer it as the professore’s wife served it — hot from the pan.
Note that some people like to add a potato or two, peeled and cubed, right at the beginning, along with the tomatoes.
Top photo: The professore in his garden, holding up one of the cucuzza squashes he grows. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
You’ve heard of Positano, of course; Amalfi and Ravello, too, no doubt. How about Furore? Maybe not. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Furore, Italy, is a just a little bit of a place, a random collection of houses, vineyards and lemon groves strung out across a series of near-vertical terraced slopes perched precariously above the shimmering Amalfi Coast.
Even residents describe it as “un paese che non c’è” — a village that’s not really a village. So why mention it? Because Furore is home to the Marisa Cuomo boutique winery, which, as Carla Capalbo observes in her vade mecum “Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania,” has become “synonymous with the rise in quality of — and interest in — the Costa d’Amalfi DOC wines.”
More from Zester Daily:
Wine has been made for centuries up in this rugged hinterland of the Amalfi Coast, but it was of inferior quality, sold in bulk and never destined to stray far from its homeland. Marisa Cuomo and her husband, Andrea Ferraioli, both from local winegrowing families, recognized the potential of the terroir and also of the indigenous grape varieties planted here, some of them unique to the area. About 20 years ago they resolved to take the village’s winegrowing in a new direction. “They put Furore on the map,” confirms their daughter Dorotea Ferraioli, who is responsible for marketing and also for tours and tastings. “They wanted our little paese to be known worldwide.”
Why it works in Furore
Realizing that the only way to go was up, they decided to focus relentlessly on quality. They improved practices in the vineyard, invested steadily in the winery, carved a breathtaking cellar straight out of the rock face behind the house and hired an enologist to oversee winemaking. They began to bottle all their own wines and to age some of them in small oak barrels and proceeded to market them with flair to an eager public — Italians first, swiftly followed by an international audience thirsty for wines from the much-loved, much-visited Amalfi Coast.
Today the winery works with 20 hectares (50 acres) of vines, planted on vertiginous slopes all the way from Furore round to Vietri. The vineyards in and around Furore are wholly owned; the rest are worked by the winery in a cooperative arrangement.
You need to see the vineyards above Furore to understand the extreme challenges involved in working this terrain. The vines, almost all pre-phylloxera and ungrafted, are planted at the foot of the walls that prop up the steeply stacked terraces, at altitudes ranging from 100 to 750 meters (328 to 2,460 feet) above sea level. Their branches sprawl out horizontally along pergolas made from long, tapering poles, which are cut from the chestnut trees that proliferate high in the Monte Lattari way above the village.
Training the vines along pergolas in this way, explains Dorotea, is not just a picturesque regional tradition; it’s also the most convenient solution, perfectly suited to the rigors of the terrain while making the most of the limited space available. The branches provide a dense canopy of leaves beneath which the grapes dangle, protected from the relentless sun. On the ground below, zucchini, pumpkins and other vegetables flourish gratefully in the shade. Two crops are thus grown in one tiny, precious, precarious space.
The winery makes white, rosé and red wine from a whole bunch of little-known, indigenous vine varieties that are still part of Italy’s precious heritage. Top of the white range is the barrel-fermented Fiorduva (“flower of the grape”), a fragrant blend of Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli, three varieties unique to the Amalfi Coast. Furore Bianco, described by the sommelier at the Casa Angelina restaurant in nearby Praiano as “semplice ma non banale” (“simple but by no means ordinary”), comes from Falanghina and Biancolella grapes, both typical of Campania. Rosé and reds are made from Piedirosso (“red-foot”) and Aglianico in varying proportions.
Next time you’re on vacation in Positano or Amalfi, look out for Marisa Cuomo wines. They’re are widely available in restaurants, bars and shops along the coast. Best of all, find your way up the winding road to Furore and pay the winery a visit (from January to August only). Then look out for the wines when you get back home. (Wines are exported to the U.S., Canada, Japan and Switzerland). When you’ve tracked down a bottle of Fiorduva or Furore Rosso Riserva, uncork it, close your eyes, picture those dizzying slopes and sun-baked terraces, take a gentle sniff, breathe in the scents of the Amalfi Coast and remember the sheer back-breaking labor of love that has gone into the bottle.
Top photo: Grapes growing at the Marisa Cuomo winery in Furore, Italy. Credit: Cantine Marisa Cuomo
Five years ago at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, Turk Murat Demirtas ate a meal that changed his life. It wasn’t beef with red peppers or kung pao chicken that moved the Istanbul resident, who was vacationing in the United States at the time, but what came after: a fortune cookie.
“‘What is it?’ I asked my friends. I had never ever seen this product! Then I opened it and read my fortune: ‘Your new business will be successful,’” Demirtas told us recently in the front office at ForFun, his small fortune cookie factory — Turkey’s first — in Istanbul’s chichi Nisantasi district.
More on Zester Daily:
A lawyer specializing in copyright and branding, he saw great potential for the novelty food in his own country, one with a historical affinity for fortune telling. In the Ottoman era soothsayers advised sultans in Topkapi Palace. Today Turks still practice kahve fali, or fortune telling from coffee grounds. After returning home, Demirtas shared his hunch with his American partner (and now fortune cookie fortune translater) Douglas Groesser, a teacher at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, and founded ForFun Fortune Cookie in 2009.
Demirtas’ road from lawyer and dance teacher (infectiously enthusiastic, he moonlights as an instructor of salsa, samba and belly dancing) to fortune cookie maker was anything but smooth. When he tried to purchase equipment from Boston company Sci Technology, whose president invented the world’s first fully automated fortune cookie machine, he was refused.
“They didn’t trust me,” Demirtas says, but then Groesser’s mother stepped in. After a few phone calls on his behalf the company relented.
So he and Groesser spent a week in Boston training to use the machine. “Crazy! It’s very complicated!” Demirtas said. The partners then placed their order and returned to Turkey. There, the government denied their application for a license to manufacture.
It took six months to convince the licensing bureau, whose officials couldn’t comprehend that a food containing paper, such as fortune cookies, would be safe to eat.
A new recipe for Turkish fortune cookies
Local ingredients presented the next obstacle. In addition to white sugar, Sci Technology’s recipe calls for corn flour and cornstarch, ingredients expensive in Turkey that Demirtas had to replace with wheat flour to bring costs under control. The new batter was so sticky that it gummed up the machine. Finally Demirtas and Groesser flew Sci Technology founder Yongsik Lee to Istanbul, where he worked with the duo to tailor the local batter to the machine’s requirements. The unintended result is a better fortune cookie, crisp and delicious compared with America’s spongy, artificial-tasting one.
ForFun’s 2009 launch — the biscuits come in chocolate, strawberry and zade (plain, or vanilla) flavors — brought new challenges. Like Demirtas, most customers had never heard of the fortune cookie. Some popped the entire thing in their mouths, paper fortune and all, which prompted Demirtas to redesign ForFun’s packaging. The box now prominently features the phrase “kir, bak, ye” (crack, look, eat), which is a clever play on kurabiye, the Turkish word for cookie or biscuit.
Demirtas also had not taken into account the Turkish tendency to take a fortune literally. “Turks love fortunes because we know that if you really believe what you read, it will happen,” Demirtas said. But that also meant that his cookies’ fortunes shouldn’t be too cryptic, vague or negative. One customer called ForFun to complain after opening a cookie with a fortune advising “Be careful.” Another, after reading “Just wait,” for three hours refused to leave her table at the restaurant where she had opened her cookie.
Now the cookies contain more propitious snippets. Demirtas’ current stock of fortunes — about 1,000 in total — comprise passages from Buddha, Mevlana and Greek philosophers, phrases suggested by friends and dance students, and simple directives. One of the most popular: “You need to go to the beach.”
Demirtas’ initial impulse was on the money. ForFun, which distributes to grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses (in Laleli, an Istanbul neighborhood with a large Russian population, pharmacists give the cookies away with prescriptions), and fills custom orders, boasts a yearly production of about 500,000 cookies. With customers all over Turkey, Demirtas is thinking about purchasing a second machine to increase production.
But one thing the business isn’t immune to is politics: June and July protests in Istanbul and other Turkish cities buffeted sales. They’re coming back slowly, said Demirtas, who blames continuing concerns among Turks about possible military action in Syria.
Top photo: ForFun fortune cookies in Turkey. Credit: David Hagerman
Imagine being 7 years old and being offered an array of cookies and cakes for breakfast every morning. For my son Liam, that was one of the highlights of accompanying me on a six-week long research trip through the European Mediterranean the summer after he finished first grade. I also took my best friend’s 20-year old daughter Rachel, Liam’s beloved babysitter, so he would have somebody to play with. Nonetheless, it was sometimes not very much fun for him to be dragged from one place to another just so his mom could find and eat great food. Liam has always loved great food too, but constant traveling can be hard for a 7-year-old.
It was all worth it for him, though, when we arrived at Il Frantoio, an old olive oil farm that is also an azienda agrituristica, or farmhouse hotel, in the southern Italian region of Apulia. Il Frantoio is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Every room in the elegant house has been lovingly restored by the owners, Rosalba and Armando Ciannamea. Wherever your eye turns, it falls on something pleasing to see. Olive groves, some of them more than 500 years old, with beautiful, huge trees, stretch for miles within the whitewashed walls of the property. Armando produces several different olive oils, and the farm also produces wheat, fruit and vegetables, everything organic.
More from Zester Daily:
The beauty of the place and the unforgettable dinners may or may not have been lost on Liam. What he will always remember about Il Frantoio is that they served cookies for breakfast. Every morning, when you cross the quiet courtyard and enter the dining room, you encounter a lace-covered buffet with bowls of fruit from the farm’s orchards — plums and peaches, apricots and nectarines in summer, apples and pears in the late fall — and baked goods from the kitchen — several varieties of cookies and cakes, breads and pastries made with flour ground from Il Frantoio’s own heirloom wheat; homemade jams and honeys. Pitchers of fresh orange and grapefruit juice are covered with handmade lace doilies to protect them from flies. Needless to say, Liam woke up early every day and couldn’t wait to get to breakfast. He always went straight for the cookies.
Italian Butter Cookies with Anise and Lemon Zest
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
180 grams (6 ounces) unsalted butter, preferably French style such as Plugrà, at room temperature
125 grams (⅔ cup) sugar
55 grams (1 large) egg
1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons aniseeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
275 grams (2¼ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 grams (1 rounded teaspoon) baking powder
1 gram (¼ teaspoon) salt
1. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy and pale, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beaters. Add the egg, lemon zest, vanilla and aniseeds, and beat together.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, beat into the butter mixture, just until combined. Gather the dough into a ball, then press down to a 1-inch thickness. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days, or place in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours. Alternatively (if you don’t want to roll out the dough), remove spoonfuls of half of the dough and plop them down the middle of a piece of parchment paper to create a log about 2 inches in diameter. Fold the parchment up around the log to and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer. Repeat with the remaining dough.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 F with the rack adjusted to the lowest setting. Line baking sheets with parchment.
4. Cut the dough into 2 or 4 pieces, and roll out one piece at a time on a lightly dusted work surface, or preferably on a Silpat, to about ¼-inch thick. Cut into circles or shapes, dipping the cutter into flour between each cut, and place 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Keep the remaining pieces of dough in the refrigerator or freezer.
5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, turning the baking sheets front to back halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
Note: You can brush the cookies before baking with a little egg wash if you want them to look shiny.
Chocolate Walnut Biscotti
Makes about 4 dozen biscotti
125 grams (1 cup, approximately) unbleached all purpose flour
120 grams (approximately 1 cup, tightly packed) almond flour
60 grams (approximately ½ cup) unsweetened cocoa
10 grams (2 teaspoons) instant espresso powder or coffee extract
10 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder
4 grams (1/2 teaspoon) salt
55 grams (2 ounces) unsalted butter
150 grams (approximately ¾ cup, tightly packed) brown sugar, preferably organic
110 grams (2 large) eggs
10 grams (2 teaspoons) vanilla extract
100 grams (1 cup) walnuts, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, almond flour, cocoa, instant espresso powder if using, baking powder and salt.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater with a rubber spatula and add the eggs, coffee extract if using and vanilla extract. Beat together for 1 to 2 minutes, until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater. Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed until well blended. Add the walnuts and beat at low speed until mixed evenly through the dough. The dough will be moist and sticky.
3. Divide the dough in two and shape 2 wide, flat logs, about 10 to 12 inches long by 2 ½ inches wide. The logs may spread while you bake, so it’s best to place them on two parchment-covered sheets. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until dry, beginning to crack in the middle, and firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes or longer.
4. Place the logs on a baking sheet and carefully cut into ½-inch thick slices. Place on two parchment-covered baking sheets and bake one sheet at a time in the middle of the oven until the slices are dry, 30 to 35 minutes, flipping the biscotti over after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Top photo: The breakfast table at Il Frantoio. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman