…to a new URL! I will still be writing about food, health, sustainability and cooking at my new website, marianacotlear.com. If you’re a current e-mail subscriber of this blog, I’ll take care of signing you up over there. If you’re not a current subscriber, what are you waiting for?
Given the galaxy of experiences a year can bring, digging around for a superlative moment is a bit of a silly pursuit, and not something I normally do. But here’s one particular story that rises to the top of my memory bank this year. It’s an example of how serendipity and food can interfere with the mundane to produce the sublime.
I was in Turkey, first, though that’s not where this takes place. A friend’s wedding had brought me to Istanbul, where I had been fortunate to visit once before. Originally, my post-wedding plans were to spend a week traveling around the south of Turkey with a hodgepodge of friends’ friends. But poor weather and misaligned travel objectives (ok, my overarching desire to drink coffee in the sun, eat delicious things and generally avoid several 12-hour bus rides) pushed me to look for an alternative. I was close to cutting the trip short and flying home, frankly. But the night before we were supposed to leave Istanbul, a random search of flights revealed a round trip to Naples for an unmissably cheap price. Italy it was!
The friends I polled in the brief hours between this decision and my arrival in Italy were nearly unanimous in their recommendations: Skip Naples, they said. It’s ugly. It’s dangerous. There’s nothing to see. Take the train straight to Rome and Capri.
So I followed their advice. Except for a brief pause in Naples. A pause for lunch.
Having bussed from the Napoli airport to its train station, I lugged my roller bag through the terminal. I had one hour before my train. I had just landed in Italy. More specifically, in Naples. I wasn’t going to grab a train station sandwich.
Past confused travelers looking for sightseeing tours, I wound my way to the informazioni. In my best “Italian” accented Spanish, I tried to convey what I was looking for. I have an hour. I need to find a delicious pizza.
Slowly the man understood my insistent request. A smile crept over his face. I should send you to Da Michele. But you do not have time. He started scribbling on a piece of paper. There is a place, here, two blocks from the station. They will make you a great pizza. I know the chef. Give him this paper, and he will treat you well.
It’s hard to know whether to follow a recommendation like this in a town as well-touristed as Naples. Savvy travelers are taught to be wary of kickbacks and any establishments near hubs like train stations. But I got a good feeling from this man, and I didn’t have much of a choice. My time to eat was running out.
My roller bag and I took a bumpy ride the two blocks to the place where this restaurant was supposed to be, past a mishmash of signs for buffalo mozzarella and unsavory-looking characters. It was hard to find. I got frazzled. I took a wrong turn. I lost time.
By the time I found the place I had lost the nerve to relay a message to the chef and just sat down. Platters of fresh looking antipasti were staring me in the face and I was hungry. A waiter smiled at me with curiosity as he poured water. I didn’t see any tourists. To my left, two well-appointed businessmen shared plates of tomatoes and raw fennel with parmesan. I’ll have that, I told my waiter. Then I’ll have a pizza.
When my antipasti arrived, the businessmen leaned over and smiled and gestured. You copied us!
They asked where I was from and why I was taking pictures of food.
New York! Another patron in the restaurant exclaimed, I have family there!
My lonely lunch as a solo traveler had turned into jovial restaurant-wide banter in fragmented Italian, Spanish, and English. I couldn’t tell if I was in on the joke or I was the joke, but I didn’t care.
Meanwhile, my businessmen friends got deep into a conversation with the waiter and called over the chef, conspiratorially. I cleaned my plate of the olive oil-drenched vegetables and sat back in satisfaction.
Are you ready for your pizza? The waiter smiled at me. I was.
The pizza came.
The pizza was shaped like a heart.
The pizza was shaped like a heart. I had been on Italian soil for less than two hours and a restaurant full of new friends who I would never see again delivered me a pizza in the shape of a heart.
Maybe the pizza was the best I ever had. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the flavor of pure happiness was all that mattered in that moment. That’s the moment that got frozen in time.
I don’t think I stopped smiling for the rest of that day. Certainly not as I left the restaurant and said goodbye to my new friends. Not as I thanked and re-thanked the train station information man who sent me there. Not as I boarded a train to Rome. And definitely, definitely not as my seat mate introduced himself: Ciao, I’m Armando. I study sustainable wine making in Pisa. Where are you going?
The internet’s been aflutter this week with news of Beyonce’s newly inked $50 million promotional deal with Pepsi. According to the New York Times, the deal is being heralded as a sea change for the ways corporations engage in promotional campaigns with artists. Part of the funds will go to directly invest in Beyonce’s creative projects, to be applied at her discretion. From the Times (emphasis mine):
“Pepsi embraces creativity and understands that artists evolve,” Beyoncé said in a statement. “As a businesswoman, this allows me to work with a lifestyle brand with no compromise and without sacrificing my creativity.”
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that Beyonce’s partnership with the soda giant reflects “no compromise.” Given the pop star’s relationship with healthy food champion Michelle Obama and her previous work promoting exercise for Let’s Move! (a White House initiative designed to combad childhood obesity), a highly visible deal promoting sugar sweetened beverages seems like a pretty big conflict of interest.
On a personal level, I’m sad. I like Beyonce and admire her seemingly genuine interest in using her pop cultural power for good. I’ve held a longstanding dream (a pipe dream, maybe) that she and husband Jay-Z (who performed at Barack Obama’s final campaign rally) could leverage their enormous influence to lead a media campaign that makes healthy eating cool. Instead, the pop star is lending her cool to a company that contributes to one of the leading causes of childhood obesity.
Several high-profile food policy and public health advocates feel the same way, and they’re taking strides to push back on the deal, or force Beyonce to donate some of the funds to charity. Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nutrition advocacy organization, issued a widely-distributed public letter asking Beyonce to reconsider the sponsorship. Here’s an exerpt:
Food policy and nutrition expert Marion Nestle also weighed in, calling Beyonce’s Pepsi deal a “slap in the face to Let’s Move!,” while environmentalist Laurie David tweeted “‘Pepsi targets its marketing to African-American kids’ Why does @Beyonce want her fans to get diabetes?”
I don’t think Beyonce wants her fans to get diabetes, nor do I think she intentionally humiliated the White House. Beyonce has reportedly been working with Pepsi since 2003, and it seems this new deal was a giant, exciting, and lucrative expansion of that partnership. Nevertheless, she and her team failed to look at the broader implications of what this highly visible relationship would now mean in terms of her stated values, her previous work to fight childhood obesity, and the changing tide in the public consciousness about the role of soda in fostering our nation’s greatest threat to public health.
I don’t know what will happen with Beyonce and Pepsi in the aftermath of this criticism. For now, I expect they will come up with some way to incorporate physical activity into the partnership as a way to steer the conversation away from sugar and calorie consumption. Beverage companies have long championed exercise as a way to emphasize a balanced lifestyle and avoid claims that their products promote obesity.
In the long run, however, I expect that pop stars and public figures alike will start to think twice before accepting big money (or any money) from soda companies. This is heartening news: in ten years, a partnership between someone like Beyonce and a company like Pepsi will be unthinkable.
My family grew up on the Pacific coast of Peru, so we have a pretty serious love for fresh seafood. Unfortunately, these days, with apocalyptic reports that overfishing will bring us a fish-free ecosystem in the near future, it can be a challenge to navigate responsible consumption of our acquatic friends.
There are some great guides out there; mostly, they say, avoid most really big fish and stick to traditional methods of capture. The specifics, however, can be daunting: a certain fish species caught using certain methods might be A-OK in one part of the world, and entirely NOT OK in another. So though it’s wise to do your best to avoid the fish on the “avoid” list, it’s sometimes hard to get all the information necessary to make the right decision.*
As a result, if you want to feel relatively good about eating good fish and not go bankrupt, you should do it rarely, and you’ll probably have to fork over a pretty penny for the privilege regardless. In my family eating seafood has become a bit of a celebratory indulgence. Luckily, holidays call for just such an indulgence! At least, that’s the rationale I put forth to my mother in an attempt to convince her that we serve a whole fish baked in a salt crust this Thanksgiving.
And It’s Laughably Easy to Make from Scratch
HEY YOU, Thanksgiving chef. Yes, you–you know who you are. You’ve been cooking up a storm since Tuesday evening, haven’t you? You’ve been battling with yourself and your loved ones for days: stuffing cooked in the bird, or apart?
Soon enough you’ll be painstakingly roasting that prize turkey, taking its temperature and basting it every 27.5 minutes. Your carefully dotted marshmallows will ooze over the sweet potatoes you roasted, mashed, and whipped. Your green beans will have been steamed and blanched to a remarkable viridian hue. The unbelievable flakiness of your new pie crust (2011’s major innovation?) will win you accolades for years to come.
And yet–after all this effort–minutes before the meal you will reach for that can opener and you’ll plop out the perfunctory cylinder of crimson red gel that is unfacetiously referred to as cranberry sauce.
What is up with that?
Put Your Breakfast in a Jar
As you may recall, I have had my struggles with breakfast. It’s such an important meal, yet one that is hugely challenging to do well in our hectic lives.
As someone who values breakfast, but is decidedly not a morning person, I need something that’s as quick and portable as it is healthy and satisfying. It’s a tall order–and despite my best efforts, I continue to come up short.
Enter the Portable Parfait.