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culinary concierge, blog

ViaMedina is a culinary concierge service providing private chefs, cooking lessons, exclusive events, and interactive food and wine tours.

Fire it Up! Guanciale Fresca

Summer is here, and especially in Italy that means finding new and creative ways to not have to use your oven so that you stand a chance of surviving the searing heat of the season. Plus, while Italy might not have the same tradition of grilling and barbecuing as the United States, there are still plenty of ways to get your cook on outside and make it a pretty spectacular event. 

It's still fairly commonplace for homes in Italy to have an outdoor cooking area, and many include a wood fired oven. That's right, it is really just that idyllic around here that people have pizza ovens in their backyards that they can just fire up and do some incredible cooking with. Yes friends, everything you've heard is true and yes, you are entitled to the jealousy raging in your belly. 

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Dum Vivimus Vivamus. While we Live, Let us Live Well.

My mother's birthday is 11 June. This year, 11 June was also the day that our dear friend Nikki got married and where I was given the honour of performing their ceremony. Hell, our cats turned two years old on 11 June. It was a day for celebration. I wanted to say so much to my mother, but I only found the time to give her a short phone call. But her voice on the other end of the line was light, filled with her contentment and the lightness of years that I can only hope are growing lighter on her shoulders. Mom, I thought of you all day, and all night.

 

But when we woke up the next day, we got news that in Orlando, Florida, 49 people had been killed by a man who had stormed a club and held them hostage in one more act of hatred and violence. One more person for whom we will have to find a reason to explain his acts and whose ancestry will in some way become proof positive that what he is, and what he has done is some way an invasion of a foreign presence in what was once a great America. Somehow with a social media feed that was marred in tragedy, I would not bring myself to celebrate my mother's birthday, because I could not risk being told that I was trivializing such sadness by not focusing on it. And I couldn't do that to my mother.

 

You see, as the years go by and my distance grows I feel even deeper inside of me and know that I will always be American, and I learn

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Gorgonzola, Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok I know, there are a lot of gimmicks out there these days, and every one is serving the next weird combination in a mason jar or on a shovel or something so I would understand if you'd dismiss this recipe as another bit of hipster whimsy. Lord knows that when i first dreamt up the idea i thought of them as gimmicky, and it took me years to actually give it a real chance. But the more I made them and the more I've developed the recipe I think they're not only delicious but a really interesting bit of culinary logic.

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Sagra Season: A Primer

Ah, Italia. The drama of the ruins, the majesty of its great cities; the art, the architecture, the beauty...

Wait, wait. 

While all of that is true and important and life changing, it's very surely not the whole story of what makes Italy what it is. Chiefly of course because that description is missing the most important pastime in the country: food. Italy without food is like the ocean without fish; glorious and wonderful and awe inspiring but lifeless.

But of course, everyone knows this right? Everyone's got a checklist: eat a cacio e pepe in Campo Fiori or a Margherita in Marechiaro, a tortellini in Bologna and then die happy. But that's just scratching the surface of the food culture here. 

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Traditional dishes of Tuscania

Our adopted home of Tuscania is about 80km north of Rome and 30km south of Tuscany, in an area known alternatively as Tuscia, Maremma, or that stuff you pass as you leave Rome to go to Florence.  As such the culinary roots of the area are an extensive tangle of Roman specialities like pasta (cacio e pepe, amatriciana and our favourite mystery, carbonara) combined with some of the canonical Tuscan dishes like cacciatore, acquacotta and porchetta. There are also some pretty incredible offal and organ dishes within this library that, while not for everyone, are still a really worthwhile thing to try out. 

For a little town there's a lot to choose from, and recipes will very according from one family to another. And trust us, this is in no way a definitive list; we'll keep adding as we go and if anyone has a dish that is a must, we'd love to hear from you. 

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The First Annual ViaMedina Easter in Tuscania Roundup!

For most of us, Christmas is really the star of the yearly holiday show: besides the obvious draw of presents, it's got the kind of participatory appeal that really manages to catch on, and just enough crossover between Christianity and popular culture so that those celebrating from the sidelines really do feel connected to the starters on the field. It's a time of ugly sweaters and big dinners, and for most a mass or even two. 

Easter on the other hand, is another thing altogether. In my family in New York it was the time that our most profound guilt complexes came out for air, expunged as it were by the intrepid Lent sacrifices that usually involved us having to give up something awesome for a time period and not quite knowing why. Sure, there was some fine eating to be had particularly in the form of macaroni pie or timballo, a maelstrom of long pasta and lard (though now its Crisco) that we would eat on Easter Saturday before the obligatory Easter Ham. 

The thing is, Easter as a commercial holiday is sort of a hard sell; sure, the bunnies and eggs are great and they probably test well with kids (well, unless they are these bunnies) but there is always a looming sense of sacrifice that hangs over Easter. It's an important holiday, to be sure, because its full of a distant kind of repentance that makes us feel ever so slightly guilty tucking into that giant ham roast or our third chocolate bunny. 

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Pasta Party- Cauliflower Leaf Pasta dough/ Cauliflower Ravioli in Brodo

Any good myth of origin is always a kind of underdog tale-a rough and tumble fighter who rose up from nothing to become a champion despite the odds being stacked against them. You know, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks with a heart of gold but has been written probably because of that one time he got into a fight at the roller rink with the football captain. Well, cauliflower leaves are a lot like this: delicious, full of potential and yet often tossed aside and written off like a bad metaphor. Well, consider this recipe that come from behind movie with Coolio, and consider us Michelle Pfeiffer. 

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Tell Me, O Muse: The Immortal Technique of Pecorino Marras
Each man delights in the work that suits him best. 
-Homer, The Odyssey

Some legends have it that the fearsome Cyclops of Homer's Odyssey was in fact a humble cheesemaker that was just misunderstood by his neighbours. Indeed it is thought that the passage in which his craft is described is among the first mentions of cheese productions; perhaps the poor Cyclops got a raw deal on the whole telling of the tale and has been forgotten for his trade. But you know, it isn't such a leap: cheese is a powerful food and those who know how to tame that beast into the form we know are in some way a bit fearsome. As the author Clifton Fadiman once said, cheese is milk's leap toward immortality, and few people know this better than Francesco Marras. 

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Nikki's Chickens

Here at ViaMedina, we have the great fortune of having a wealth of collaborators with whom we have cooked, eaten, and worked over these past months. As a member of the core crew, Nikki has helped us about a million times with everything from Sagras to Thanksgiving dinners; we thought that now might be the best time to acknowledge how generally badass she happens to be. Nikki moved to Italy and went to work at her fiancee Tiziano's family plant nursery where, with her highly applicable background in fashion marketing, she started tending to the chickens that once belonged to Tiziano's grandmother.

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Olive Harvest 2015: Don't Call it a Comeback

Of all the many things that make Italy a special place, the olive harvest is an undeniable contender for the top of the list. It's got just the right ratio of ritual to pragmatism which is a crucial element towards most of my existential quotients. Because I must confess that I am a sucker for a good ritual; I've very nearly joined a handful of religions for the ceremonial perks, only to be ultimately saved by my fundamental disinterest in long term commitment and lack of enthusiasm for changing my name to something my mom would have to look up to pronounce. 

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Working the Room, or Why I Love being a Waitress

When I left home at 16, my father had only one piece of advice for me. He told me, “whenever you're in doubt, work at a restaurant; at least you'll always eat.” My first job was at the Sidewalk Cafe on East 6th street in New York and I worked the graveyard shift, from 1am-9am. Now, twenty years down the road I have accumulated an archive of experiences that makes me great company on a long flight or a killer team member in Trivial Pursuit. I have travelled to very nearly all corners of the world and have had the fortune of working on projects that meant something, often everything, to me. I very nearly completed a PhD in Political Science and if you really wanted to hear about my thesis I could tell you in painstaking detail. I have been a part of things and I have gone at things alone, and I have often straddled the precipice between points of no return and yet have managed to come back in one very seemingly not broken piece.

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