Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Focaccia Pugliese: A Process

This week marks a month since Dad passed away. I don't know how much I'll share about the months (years) leading up to his death, considering I didn't share much of it as it was happening. But today, right now, it feels right to write. This post is not a logical place to begin in writing about grief. But then again, grief has no logic to itself. Sure, people find logic enough in it to assign such a thing as "The Stages of Grief." Lest that fool you, there is no rhyme or reason to the order of emotions, the twists and turns, highs and lows, that unbury themselves at any given moment. You do laugh again, you smile - I've smiled and laughed many times in the past 28 days. You find joy in things, you are awestruck by beauty. In many ways, the world truly does keep turning. But in other ways, it doesn't. How can it when this person is no longer a part of it? When you can no longer share experiences, thoughts, laughs, questions, hugs.

This past Saturday, in an attempt to have as close to one of those experiences with Dad as now possible, I got in the kitchen. I put on his old Kaldi's t-shirt (a shirt that Jonathan and I lovingly got him in honor of his love for our local coffee shop's cappuccinos), I turned on Miles Davis (his love for music, specifically jazz, is one of the most tangible reminders of him -- close to 500 CDs' worth!) and I started my attempt to replicate Dad's Focaccia Pugliese recipe.

The thing is, Dad didn't really have a recipe that he used. He used his eyes, his hands, his sixth sense of what ingredients needed to be thrown together and, ta-da, the rest of us magically got to eat delicious homemade focaccia. The same applies for his panzerotti and fresh pasta. But, one thing at a time - the first step: perfecting the focaccia.

I researched and compared recipe after recipe. I talked to Mom and together we pieced together the basic ingredients we knew were involved. Many recipes call for using boiled potatoes, but I didn't remember that ever being a part of Dad's focaccia (Mom confirmed that). Apparently home bakers in Puglia (the southern region of Italy both of my parents are from) use potatoes in their focaccia to make it more moist, but the slices you buy from the panificio (bakery) would not include potatoes...so I guess Dad was going after that fresh-from-the-bakery taste ;-)

We came up with our list of ingredients: bread flour, water, yeast, olive oil, salt, sugar (for dissolving the yeast), diced canned tomatoes, green olives and dried oregano. I combined recipes from here and here, subbing in diced tomatoes for fresh tomatoes and added green olives. We couldn't remember how long he let the dough rise or how hot he turned on the oven. What I do remember is him laying a blanket over the bowl where the dough rested and rose, so I proudly did the same.

So the recipe I followed was 2 3/4 cup bread flour, 2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. honey, 1 Tbs. yeast, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 cup warm water. I let the dough rise for 90-120 minutes. I oiled a 9x13 baking pan and spread the dough out, pressed down to create little indents to place the diced tomatoes and green olives. I then sprinkled salt and dried oregano over top and brushed olive oil all over. I first baked it at 400 for 20 minutes, then at 425 for 25 minutes.

Next time around, I'll follow my instinct (and the yeast bag's instruction) and dissolve the yeast in warm water with sugar (not honey) separately before combining all ingredients - even though the recipes said to throw it all together. The focaccia seemed denser than my memory serves and needed a little more air in the middle. I'll also bake the focaccia at a higher temperature to begin with and maybe let the dough rise for longer than 90 minutes. And I'll add more olive oil on top, because, well, who doesn't love more olive oil! But really, it needed a little bit of a darker color, a crisper top. But as a first attempt, I was really pleased. The smell and taste were just as I remember, and we all know smell is a huge trigger for memories.

I'm already looking forward to my next Saturday in the kitchen, tinkering with this in-the-works recipe, acquainting myself with Dad's favorite jazz tunes, and having our new-found tradition of a Saturday baking date.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Paris, Day 3 - Sacre Coeur, Le Marais, Monet and Eiffel Tower by Night

Our final day in Paris was maybe my favorite, despite it being the rainiest. It seems on the last day we did the most wandering and meandering through city streets in between planned stops.

We started the day by making our way up to the church of Sacre Coeur. Our way up very much summarizes the journey - even getting out of the metro station involved climbing up a spiral of stairs to get to the street level, and then we rode a funicular to the top of the hill. 

(Dioramas, I want one of you for everything!)

When we exited Sacre Couer, we walked a few blocks to the art markets of Montmartre. Here we took a pit stop for some cappuccinos, shared a Nutella crepe and did some window shopping and people watching.

Once we left the Montmartre area, we took the Metro to Le Marais neighborhood, a part of Paris I just wanted us to explore. It's where we had my favorite macarons of the trip at Lenotre Bastille. We ordered two and the shop clerk gave us two more for free (really, we weren't charged for them!). That alone makes the place go down as my favorite, but the macarons were lovely, delicious flavors to boot.

We ended up at Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris and where Victor Hugo lived. It had been raining off and on all day, so walking beneath the overhangs of the square was a nice, quiet break. We window shopped in all of the art galleries that call the square home, and it's one of my favorite memories of Paris - a simple late morning, nothing hurried or too frantic.

We had a quick bite at Paul bakery (look how cute the little Euro Cup soccer player pastries are below!) and then got on the Metro to head to Musee de l'Orangerie, home of Monet's beautiful room-size water lily paintings.

Alright, confession time - that 2-Day Museum Pass we grabbed expired June 20, but the only indication of that was a handwritten June 18 on the front of the ticket ... so yours truly forged a June 19 on it (guilty, guilty!). It was just in the name of seeing art more quickly, ok! 

Now that that's off my chest, on to the art! 

That museum is truly one of my favorites - it's such a unique house for art. 

We ended our day by visiting the Pantheon - the Parisian version, that is. It's another interesting landmark, formerly a church and then a secular building of government. Evidence of both times remain and create a striking contrast. The basement is a crypt with tombs of several historic figures, including Rousseu and Voltaire. 

Ok I lied, we didn't end our day there (writing this I'm realizing, holy moly, this day was packed!) We walked through the Jardin du Luxemburg on our way back to the Metro station. As was the rest of the day, it was rainy, but look at the garden still looking all spectacular!

For dinner (you're going to laugh) - we had Japanese food. Look, there's only so much French food you crave at any given time, and this place close to our hotel really hit the spot for us. So no regrets. Plus, that night we had plans to go back to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up by night. So an easy dinner was a must.

Since the EuroCup was going on in France, there was a Fan Zone viewing area set up on the grounds in front of the Eiffel Tower. We went through three or four rounds of security (our small tripod caused much concern each time but we got to keep it in the end!). It was a cool experience that we probably won't get to be a part of again, and it was a great way to bid adieu to our time in Paris.

(In case you're wondering why that's not the French flag on the tower: Every day of the EuroCup there was a competition among the teams that played that day to see which fans were more present on Twitter. That evening, the winning country's flag would shine on the Eiffel Tower.)