Tag Archives: Italy

Laura’s Best Winter “Food for the Muse” Recipes: Pasta Bolognese

While I am taking this time of dormancy to write, and enjoying what Haven Writing Retreats alums are saying about creativity here on my blog, I am also cooking up a storm!  It’s the perfect balance to the act of writing because while characters and stories dwell and grow in my mind, with food creation, there is an immediately met trajectory.  I create it:  people eat it.  Complete creative arc!  We will finish the Haven Winter Blog series this week.  I hope you are enjoying these musings on the creative process.  In the meantime…here is one of my very favorite things to create, perfected over many years of trial and error…never before written down.  From my kitchen to yours!  May it fuel your muse! Buon appetito!

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Bolognese Sauce

(with apologies to the people of Bologna– this is an American woman’s best stab at what you do, and will always do, much better than this lowly lover of your cuisine)

I have learned to make this sauce over the years from the family I lived with in Italy, to Italian friends along the way in Chicago and Montana, and by cooking it over and over and becoming its friend, as with all favorite recipes.  It is my go-to happy meal and my family’s too.  Cook it when you need inspiration, when you feel inspired, when you’re in the dumps, when you want to dance in the kitchen for half the day, when you just…need…to…remember what it is to delight in holding beautiful lovingly grown manna in your hands and turning it into a blissful creation.  Sharpen your knives, clear the cutting board and counter, turn on some great music, (perhaps a bit of vino), and let’s go!  I serve this on the first night of my Haven Writing Retreats!  …food for the muse…

Note:  This is for a gallon of sauce!  It will feed a lot of happy people.  You can also freeze it.  I use about a quart for a box of pasta.

To begin:   The Sofrito– which is the base for many Italian sauces and soups

sofrito

Sofrito Ingredients:

2 yellow onions

4 cloves of garlic → 2 tbsp minced

4 cups chopped carrots

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

 

Additional ingredients:

1 6oz can tomato paste

2 cups organic whole milk

2 cups dry white wine

3 28 oz cans of Italian whole plum tomatoes, hand crushed

 

Meat:

4 slices very thick pancetta, cubed

2 lb ground pork (no spices)

1 lb ground beef

 

Step: #1:  Meat

Add olive oil to cover bottom of pot

Let oil heat but not smoke

Add cubed pancetta

Remove pancetta when fat is rendered and brown (should take about 4 minutes) with slotted spoon so the grease stays in the pot — Don’t burn

Add ground pork

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (note:  you don’t want the meat to stew– you want it to brown, so add each meat so that it touches the bottom of the pan)

Add ground beef

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (ditto)

Set all meat aside and cover with foil

Step #2: Sofrito (cooking process takes about 20-30 minutes)IMG_0125

Saute onions in pot at medium heat, add large pinch of good salt, [no pepper until end-- makes it bitter]

Once onions are transparent and beginning to brown, add garlic, stir, add carrots

Once carrots begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, add celery and parsley, don’t brown

Cook sofrito until all liquid is absorbed

Step #3:  Combine meat to sofrito, and add liquidsIMG_0135

Add all browned meat and can of tomato paste, cook 10 minutes stirring occasionally to avoid burning

Add milk and wine, let cook ~15 min or until liquids are absorbed and bubbling

Add the crushed tomatoes and remaining juice (I like to do it by hand rather than buying diced tomatoes.  It’s a feel thing.)Pasta Bolognese

Let sauce gently simmer for an hour, adding salt to taste during the processIMG_0141

 

 

 

 

Step #4:  Assembly:

Bring water to a rolling boil in stock pot, add salt

Cook pasta until al dente– This pasta sauce can be served with any hearty pasta.  I like papardelle, penne, and rigatoni the best.


Strain in colander

Add sauce to stock pot and warm on low

Keeping burner on low, add pasta, grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste (a cup or so), fresh ground pepper to taste, and stir lightly until pasta is coated (this is key, and too many Americans skip this step and pile the sauce on naked noodles.  Bad form!  The sauce never really marries with the pasta.)

Plate and garnish with fresh chopped Italian parsley

Serve additional fresh ground pepper and grated Reggiano for people to add themselves.

YOU WILL HAVE VERY HAPPY PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE…who will all know that they are eating food made with love.

Enjoy!

yrs.

Laura (and my daughter, Ella, who cooked this with me, took the photos, and recorded the recipe which had never before been written down…and told me a long time ago that my food was “made with love.”  High compliment.)

 

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January 2012 Haven- Small World (A Case For The Trajectory Of Intention)

It is my not-so-humble opinion that people say “what a small world,” too much in not-so-small-worldish moments.  For instance, if you were raised in Montana in a ski town of 2,300 people, and you travel to Seattle and you tell someone you’re from a ski town in Montana…and they say, “Whitefish?” and you say “Yes, in fact!” and they say, “Do you know Joe Schmo” and you say, “You mean Joe Schmo of the Schmo Schmos??? I used to DATE Joe Schmo.  I almost MARRIED Joe Schmo!” well then…I’m not that impressed. There are exactly two ski towns in Montana.  And both populations totaled, it’s about the size of a small liberal arts college.  I went to a small liberal arts college.  I pretty much knew everyone.  And I considered marrying a handful of them.

Now here’s a small world incident that actually does impress me.  It happened this week.  And it happened to me.  And three other unsuspecting characters.

I was minding my own business, going about the post-holiday dig-out from emails, broken ornaments under couches, dried out cedar boughs, and stale headless gingerbread men…and a package came.  It was for me.  I opened the box, figuring it was a tardy gift like most of mine were this year, scanning my brain for who might have me on their list, and lo…it was a box wrapped in purple tissue.  Nothing Christmasy about it.  Two weeks after Christmas, and someone had sent me something.  That someone is my friend Alison.  My kids deemed her Alison Wonderland when they were little, innocently, but it has stuck because she is that friend that remembers every birthday, writes long heartfelt newsy notes, sends gifts to both kids even though only one is her god-child.  She sends hardback books, always age-appropriate, always a Caldecott prize or something enriching.  My kids love Alison Wonderland.  And so do I.

This time Alison outdid herself.  It was a long thin box.  Jewelry.  I don’t know about you, but at age forty-five, I’m beginning to get grandmother gifts.  Pot Pourri.  Room spray.  Soap.  Candles.  As if I smell bad.  Or my house smells bad, like maybe I’m incontinent.  Jewelry is divine.  So I opened it with a little lust.  And there, shimmering in silver, smoothed in leather, was the coolest damn bracelet I’ve seen in a long time.  It was a horseshoe with two leather straps lined in orange ribbon (my favorite color) that snaps.




I don’t know if you’ve seen the cover of my book, but if not, here’s a reminder.

It wasn’t my idea to put a horseshoe on the cover of my book, but it has grown on me.  The idea of strength in hardship.  The illusion of where strength lies.  A steady horse suddenly without a shoe, so suddenly lame.  No, our strength is inside us.  That’s what I’ve learned and that’s what my book is about.  And Alison Wonderland knows that I could use a little strength right now in my life.  So she sent me a reminder.  A talisman, if you will.  I put it on, snapped it, positioned the shoe so that it is on my inner wrist, pointing up, filled with strength.  And when I feel not so strong, I put my thumb in its cleavage and breathe and feel better.  Beautiful gift.  Beautiful friend.  I called to thank her.  She’d seen this jeweler’s work at a fundraiser in Hartford, Connecticut.  Thought of me.

So here’s the small world part, and I’m telling you:  I really think angels exist.

Two days later, I’m sitting at my desk going through my morning emails with my green tea, and I see a note from a friend of mine in Italy.  I met her in Seattle years ago, not because she was a friend of a friend, not because either of us were from Seattle and had gone to school together or because we were part of some sort of work environment.  I had lived in a house in a little alley in Eastlake and had moved next door.  I was on my new front stoop.  She was on my old front stoop.  I said, “Hey, I used to live there.”  She invited me over.  I saw that her only furniture was a piece of plywood over two sawhorses and a computer, said, “Oh…you’re a writer.  Me too,” and there began a friendship that probably has totaled less than ten hours in physical vicinity.  She lives in Rome now.  She writes and teaches.  I live in Montana.  We keep in touch via email.  She’s a kind supportive open soul.  The kind you carry with you as you go but that doesn’t demand much.  We all need friends like that.

So…I’m always happy to get a message from her.  This one read:

“Because the world is ever smaller, the other day I was chatting with my dear friend Jessica who used to live in Rome (and Montana) and she recounted to me that she had designed a horseshoe bracelet as a gift for a writer in Montana … and that she was now reading her book and wanted to get in touch with her … And then she asked if I had ever heard of the book and it’s author.  Well, of course you know the answer!”

Head to toe chills.  You’ve got to be kidding me!  Now THAT is a small world.  It turns out that her dear friend Jessica is a beautiful jeweler and lives in Providence, RI.  (And is my new friend, because you don’t blow this s*** off!)  I’d like to introduce her to you, because she is the perfect example of turning a dream into a reality.  And when “coincidences” like this happen, far be it from me to keep them to myself.  From intention to intention to intention, crossing oceans and the Rocky Mountains, a chain of thoughtfulness and deliberate living.  Let us remember the power of intention and how it can unite kindred souls.

Meet Jessica Ricci:  

I make jewelry. This is what I tell people when they ask me what I do, but I always feel strange when I say this, as if I am not telling the complete truth. 

The truth is, I am kind of making this up as I go along, and how I come to a finalized piece is much less than a master craft and much more than a product.

In my former life (I mean life before 30) I worked and studied to be a journalist in Rhode Island and then New York City. In one of those moments that are hard to recreate, I moved to Rome with a vague idea of becoming a foreign correspondent, but taught English instead.

Maybe to keep my mind off of this perceived “failure,” I began visiting the weekly Roman flea market, finding myself rustling through dirty boxes of bric-a-brac, collecting things that had no business cluttering my medieval apartment. I did this with the kind of passion you see in stamp collectors or bird watchers.

I became especially obsessed with the antique Italian prayer cards that depicted saints who met their mostly grizzly demise in the face of belief. By the time I unearthed them, they arrived tattered with intentions, scribbled with prayers left by generations of old Italian women in black.

The prayer cards and other obscure objects I found there seemed to me like beautiful slices of life that should be more than discarded formerly important things that travel from flea market to flea market. I wanted to freeze all that they mean — all those thoughts from all of those people.

Jewelry was the most obvious way and something I had always dabbled in. In a process that happened in two languages and languished in Roman pace that seemed to move backwards at times, I taught myself a version of a an ancient craft that I practice today. It has taken me back to the United States to a life I had not intended.

As a child I didn’t see myself trading a digital watch for a Masai spearhead in a Tanzanian market, but I am never more confident, honest, and tenacious than in the moments I get off the plane and eventually into an area of possible finds.

This summer I had the opportunity to add another adjective to this list.

I spent a month in Puglia, Italy in a remote one-church town called Martignano without a car unless road tripping to a market. I was left without an option but to bike from tiny town to tiny town if I wanted to see such dazzling theatre as the village priest blessing all the animals, from dogs to chickens.

It was on one of these twenty-mile bike rides that I had an overwhelming feeling of what I have come to describe as self-reliance.  The impetus wasn’t just being okay with being alone; it was more like being assured that I have everything I need.

I took this wave of self-reliance with me as I scoured the markets that were full of charming old horseshoes that the locals would hang for good luck. I thought that the horseshoe would be a perfect motif for the Puglia collection, but the likelihood of finding a small version was slim.

Like most of my good finds, it was at the end of the day — just when I had given up on finding the perfect piece — that I stumbled onto a shack replete with little horseshoe charms.

Back in my studio in Rhode Island, while carving the wax I created from the horseshoe, I thought about the self-reliance that anchored me as I went where I wanted to go, did what I wanted to do, with no one watching. I gave this particular piece this “intention” in a way, in a hope, that like the pieces I find in the markets, it will contain what has come before. 

 

 

 


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Signs, Designs, Italy

(for Melinda)
People say that there are no coincidences. I profoundly and purely believe that sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s an overly convenient way of thinking. And sometimes I want to believe it more than others. Sometimes we are looking for signs.

I spent most of August in Italy. I went this time not needing to prove myself in museum knees. Or postcards. Or checked-off lists and well-obeyed itineraries. I went with my friend and daughter and I went to receive the gift of a “victory lap” after a few years promoting my memoir. I went to eat, pray, love. (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

And whether you believe in the power of intention or the manifestation of intention or signs or divine design…I will tell you this: A sculpture followed me. Dare I say stalked me. I started to imagine what it is to have Heaven dance and clap and rejoice in a human’s awakening to a great mysterious power not being at all mysterious. I started to believe in angels.

If you ask a surgeon if you need surgery, that surgeon will likely say yes. If you ask a writer if books are important, he or she will say yes. If you ask an art historian where you could have full frontal and even mystical experiences with art, they might direct you to Italy. If you say you love sculpture, they’ll tell you to go to the Loggia in the Piazza Signoria in Florence. That’s the side of my mind that thinks in overly-convenient thinking justifying what happened this August in Italy. Here’s the other side:

I swear, I didn’t mean to have this happen. I swear I went to eat browned butter and sage ravioli. I swear, I actually don’t pay that much attention to sculpture. I like canvas and paper, ink and paint. The closest to three dimensional that sings in my heart is relief. Not exactly emergent creatures. But not this time.

This time, from Milan, to Florence, to Pietrasanta, I was shoulder to shoulder with every sculpture I encountered. The marble tears. The marble creases in robes and skin. The toes which are all of our toes, wedded to the earth and our pain and loss and fear and consciousness of our non-marble mortality. In museums, piazzas, street corners, and chin-to-the-sky encounters with bell towers I wept with the collective non-marble We mirrored in the marble We. I saw my whole life in those sculptures. Every emotion like my life flashing before me, like they say about the moments before death. Like they say about no coincidences.

And still, there was one sculpture in particular that followed me. Like it would not let go. Like it had something to tell me.

Michelangelo believed the sculpture was in the marble waiting to be released. He released it. I received it. But this was not Michelangelo. This was Lorenzo Bartolini.

I first saw this sculpture on a plaque on a wall in the Poldi Pezzoli in Milan. It was commissioned by the lady of the house to show her grief after her husband’s death. Its rawness and courage spoke to me. Taking a stand for your emotional truth in marble. Its power and its presence were large in its physical absence, as the sculpture was currently touring in a show in the Accademia in Florence. I bought the postcard to remind me of the power of this sculpture I’d likely not see. I’d put it on my writing desk. I’d look to her powerful emotional choice in my own emotional choices– bouyed by her sadness and yet released in her marble. I forgot the name of the sculptor.

Then a friend arranged for me to go to a private family gallery in Florence. The Romanelli gallery. She thought it was beautiful and full of history—two things I love. She told me little else. I went. I went with my daughter. As the owner of the gallery, the lovely Rubina, was showing me around, I was sorting out my intrigue with the feeling of sacred space, the presence of the place of creation with the place of exhibition, the information she was giving me, the pointing of my daughter’s hand—everything slow motion. I heard and sensed: originally a church. A family of sculptors. Famous. Major museums. Multi generations. 1860. Rodin was friends with Romano Romanelli. They shared the same model, Isadora Duncan. Camille Claudel used to walk in and out of the studio. Rodin. Camille Claudel. Early influencers of my life as an artist. Pilgrimage to the Rodin museum in Paris. Rilke’s home. Rilke. Early influencer of my life as an artist. And there was a bronze of Isadora Duncan in the corner.

And then my daughter pointed with fervor. “There it is!” There was the sculpture that lived at the Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, that was out on tour at the Accademia. Only rough.

“It’s the original plaster,” Rubina told me.

And I replayed her gallery tour. She’d said that after it being a church it was the studio of a famous sculptor. I asked her to repeat it.

“Bartolini,” she said. “There’s a show of his work at the Accademia right now. That sculpture is on exhibit. It’s a portrayal of a woman’s grief.”

“I know,” I said.

“This was his studio. He created that sculpture here. In that room. This is its plaster counterpart.”

I walked in and out of the studio. I tried to feel the flesh behind the marble.

The next day my daughter and I went to the Accademia. Not to see David. I’ve spent hours admiring David. We went to see the grieving woman. Her toes so folded underneath the heft of her body and the heft of her grief. Her head so heartbroken and almost-hopeful. I wept.

How are we released?

How are we held captive?

How are we to receive the legacy of messages? Is Heaven really clapping its hands when we pay attention?

And further, what do I need to learn about grief? That it is made of marble and flesh? That it does not go away? That it is holy? And naked. And even beautiful?

What are our lessons? Who are our teachers? What is right before our very eyes that we cannot see?

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Haven: Endings Bring Beginnings

Haven Newsletter January, 2011.

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This month I am featuring the author, Susan Pohlman of the beautiful memoir Halfway to Each Other (Guidepostsbooks 2009) which is set in Italy during a time of transformation in her marriage and in herself.

Our Theme:  With Every Ending, There is a Beginning.

Windows by Laura Munson

Part of the beauty of having a published book is meeting other writers who have long been hard at work at your shared craft, swapping stories from what otherwise is a very insular, quiet life– except of course, during book promo. My new friend Susan Pohlman knows all about both. But more than that, she knows what it is to write a memoir about a rough time in her marriage. To have taken the very deliberate journey not only to move her family to Italy for a year in hopes of saving her marriage, but to have written through her pain and discovery in her wonderful memoir: Halfway to Each Other.

We spoke on the phone yesterday for almost two hours, and one of the things which sparked a host of sharing and collective understanding had to do with the notion of endings being beginnings. People ask me all the time how I could possibly not take my husband’s words, “I don’t love you anymore” personally. How I could keep from engaging the drama around those words, and how I could practice empathy and even forgiveness with him. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’ve learned a lot about myself in this year of interviews and subsequent reflection. Yes, I loved this man. No, I did not believe he truly had run dry of love for me. Yes, I saw this as a crisis of his own soul brought on by years of career failure, fear, and desperation. But there’s another component of this that I have left out of most of my interviews, and which perhaps I’ve only just now landed upon.

In that moment when he made that heartbreaking proclamation, I felt a deep sense of relief.  And even of gratitude.  He had come to the end of something.  And when we come to the end of something, that’s when things happen.  For good or bad.  That’s when there is a window in which change and healing can take place.  Susan and Tim had come to the end of their marriage as they knew it and they took a stand for it by changing their lives– selling their house, surrendering their belongings– going on an epic journey together with their children.  There are people who talk about that sort of drastic move.  And people who actually do it.  They did it, and it provided that window and that healing.

I didn’t want to be with a man who was telling himself inwardly that he didn’t love me anymore. When he spoke it, it gave us that window.  We healed through that time right here in our own home, but it was still a deliberate act he performed in speaking those words.  And a deliberate act on my part to give him the space he needed to work through his crisis.  It might seem cowardly or cruel of him to utter those words, but I never viewed it like that.  He was putting the end to a stage of our marriage that no longer fed him.  And in that act, he found a renewed love.  When I told him that I didn’t buy it—that I really felt this was about his relationship with himself and that he was transferring his own feelings toward himself onto me, he could have said, “Nope.  I don’t care what you think. I’m out of here.”  But he didn’t.  He saw the window.

Where are the endings and beginnings in your life?  Where are the windows and what would happen if you opened them and took in that first breath of transformation?  Please enjoy this insightful essay by Susan Pohlman, and feel free to share your own stories and questions. We will both be here to read and reply. Yrs. Laura

Marriage in Tough Times
Letting go by Susan Pohlman

Writers need other writers. We are called to the same tribe on this lovely planet, scribes who have been given the exquisite burden of capturing the human condition in all of its glories and shames on paper. We can’t help ourselves. Sometimes our stories are thrust into the general consciousness of society, and sometimes they sit quietly in drawers and upon shelves waiting to be summoned.

Our genres connect us. It is a thrill for me to find another writer who is inspired by similar truths. Like hikers who have traversed an unexplored canyon from opposite sides, we have arrived at the same meadow. Sitting down to talk of our journeys is one of the experiences that makes the long hours of pecking away at the computer well worth it.

I had the pleasure of chatting with one such writer, Laura Munson, author of This is Not The Story You Think It Is. What was supposed to be a quick phone call of introduction turned into a lengthy conversation that I will hold close. We shared our experiences of family life and why we chose to fight for our marriages rather than flee when bitter disillusionment came knocking on the door.

I loved her book. I loved that she held firm to her own core. Like the strong mast of a sail boat in a raging storm at sea, she did not break. Though she would endure conversations that no wife wants to hear and rejections that pierced her heart, she understood that there are times when a spouse’s words reflect the pain in his own soul, not hers. She was willing to give her husband time and space and did not internalize that decision as weakness. Rather, such choices exhibit great emotional and spiritual strength and a willingness to surrender to outcomes unknown. The exact qualities that marriage takes sometimes. It is familiar territory.

In May of 2003, while hosting a business trip to Italy, my husband and I took a break from entertaining clients and walked along the Ligurian sea where Christopher Columbus had learned to sail as a boy. The elegant beauty of Santa Margherita lulled us into silence as we ambled along, lost in our own thoughts. We had been married eighteen years, had two beautiful children, and a cozy home on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

From the outside, our lives were idyllic, but on the inside we were painfully disconnected and confused. Neither one of us could figure out (and trust me, we tried every avenue known to man) why we had become so miserable and lonely together. I knew that our days were numbered since I had quietly, and with paralyzing despair, hired a lawyer prior to our trip. What I did not know was that a mere five minutes in the future my husband, Tim, would utter the phrase that would open a window for us, and change our lives forever. He stopped, asked me to move my empty gaze from the blue of the sea to the blue of his tear filled eyes and said, “I could live here.”

These four simple words began a gut wrenching, two day conversation that ended with our signatures on a year’s lease to an apartment in Genoa-Nervi. Tim would quit his job, we would sell our house, and move our family to Italy. We would choose to regard our past eighteen years together with reverence even though our emotions were roiling below the surface heated by years of accumulated hurts and disappointments. We would start over. Maintaining the sanctity of our family, we decided, was worth trying. It was irrational, ridiculous, reckless and the best decision of our lives.

Two months later we were living in Italy. Our children, Katie (14) and Matt (11) were doubtful and fearful at first, but as we slowly slipped out of the constraints of our fast-paced Los Angeles lifestyle, we found something far sweeter. We traded in the American Dream for a dream of our own as we slowly realized that our lifestyle in Los Angeles had started, at some unknown point, to work in opposition to the values we held dear. A fine line that we had failed to notice as we ran across it, to-do lists in clenched fists.

By drastically simplifying our lives, struggling to learn a foreign language and navigating our new Italian village lifestyle, we learned what it felt like to be a family again. The challenge put us all back on the same side of the fence. Teamwork and active problem solving in a new culture provided opportunities for intimacy and abundant humor. It was both therapeutic and exhilarating.

We realized that over planning our family’s life had stifled the excitement of discovery. Dawn to midnight schedules that had filled each day extinguished any possibility of happenstance. Letting go of shoulds and musts and adopting an attitude of “let’s see where this takes us” allowed for the rebirth of enchantment and delight, two important elements that feed one’s soul. Adventure became a surprisingly powerful and restorative way of life. It forced us to live in the moment and be present for each other.

The experience was beyond our wildest imaginings and taught me many things. Some are the same truths that Laura and I shared on our phone call. Besides the fact that we both found Italy to be the land of enchantment, we agreed that sometimes beginnings are disguised as endings. That relationships are not a destination but about transformation, and if we choose to see the closing of a chapter for what it is, it doesn’t have to destroy the family.

The ending may be the end of a dream, the end of a career, the end of a lifestyle, or the realization that reality doesn’t quite match what we always thought our lives would look like. And that ending might be messy. It might throw the family off its axis as it hurls tough words and inconvenient truths across the very room where your first child was conceived. But endings end, too. And that’s where the magic can happen if we open our hearts to possibility and unforeseen circumstance that may decide to just lay its beautiful self before us like a furnished apartment overlooking the Ligurian Sea.

Endings and beginnings are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes, especially when the stakes are great and we are deeply hurting, the only thing that keeps us from flipping the coin over is fear. It is important that, as couples, we cultivate courage and embrace the whole of marriage. Appreciating that the good times allow for celebration and the tough times offer unimaginable opportunity for growth.

Susan Pohlman is a freelance writer living in Scottsdale, AZ. Her essays have been published in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, Homelife Magazine, AZ Parenting and Italiannotebook.com.

She has written three, award-winning short films. The Toast received two awards in the 2008 TIVA-DC Peer Awards, and Here,There, and Everywhere received awards in four categories in the 2009 TIVA-DC Peer Awards. The Misadventures of Matilda Mench won best screenplay in the 2010 Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project and the 2010 CINE Golden Eagle Award for best Independent Fiction Short.

Halfway to Each Other is her first book and winner of the relationships category in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It has been shortlisted for the Inspy Award.

You can reach Susan at: http://www.susanpohlman.com 

Blog: http://susanhpohlman.wordpress.com/

Twitter @susanpohlman

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Eataly– Bless you, Mario Batali.


I love markets. Whenever I’m travelling, whether it’s in a third world country or in a massively gentrified city, I try to go to the central market. It not only is a feast for the senses, but it holds the pulse of the place. One of the highlights of my book tour, and I mean SERIOUS HIGHLIGHT, was dinner with my fabulous agent and gal-around-town New Yorker, at Eataly. Run don’t walk. This is the sort of place that makes me want to weep for joy whilst in its walls, and weep for deprivation whilst back in Montana– where the grocery stores just don’t have live uni or kobe beef or towers of Parmigiano Reggiano or…well, you get the picture. Here’s the scoop:

Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, is finally here in New York. Two years after Oscar Farinetti opened his groundbreaking food and wine market in Turin, Italy, he has teamed up with Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich of Batali-Bastianich (B&B) Hospitality Group to transform a 50,000 square – foot space in the Flatiron District into New York City’s premier culinary mecca.

The marketplace located at 200 Fifth Avenue (the former Toy Building) is the city’s ultimate destination for food lovers to shop and taste and savor – an extravaganza includes a premier retail center for Italian delicacies and wine, a culinary educational center, and a diverse slate of boutique eateries. This gourmand’s delight features cured meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fresh fish, handmade pasta, desserts and baked goods and coffees.



Here’s what The New York Times has to say about it.

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Extending THE SENTIMENTAL RECIPE CONTEST! Send in by 10/10


In my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS, I include a recipe that I hold near and dear. Not because it’s particularly hard or original, but because of what it represents to me. It is the tomato sauce commonly made in the summer by Tuscans and put up in jars for the winter. They call it the Pomarola sauce, and for it they use the freshest tomatoes from as close to the sea as they can find. The goal: to capture summer.

To me the Pomarola sauce captures much more than that. It is a symbol of a year in my life in which I found my heart language in a place and a family far from home. It is a symbol then, of finding home inside myself in a time of my life when I was morphing from child to adult. It is with this heart language that I went into the “rest of my life” and it was this heart language which I revisited with my daughter 21 years later (a few years ago). I had longed for it for all those 21 years, aching for it, naming it as the most important year of my life, yet not granting my return. I had realized a few dreams, some of which felt within my control: Getting married, having kids, building a home in Montana. Writing books. But I couldn’t seem to get those books published.

So after years of longing for it, I realized that I needed to stop basing my happiness on things completely outside of my control. I could write the books, and I could submit them for publication, but the rest was out of my hands. I decided to embrace the freedom of this surrender. And I started to look at the un-realized dreams of my life that I COULD control. Going back to Italy, with my daughter, to live with this wonderful family, was just that.

So I booked it and went.
One afternoon, my Italian host mother, Milvia, showed us how to make this sauce, how to can it, what to look for in ingredients. It was magical.

Little did I know that my new philosophy of surrender would be put to the test in a way I never dreamed, when my husband announced he wasn’t sure he loved me anymore and wanted to move out—this just two days after my return home from Italy.

There began a season of my life depicted in my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, wherein I got the chance to practice what it is to embrace the present moment in a place of creating, not wanting. Of claiming responsibility for my own well-being despite what was going on with my husband. Of focusing on beauty and freedom and even joy. On p. 295 you will find a scene in which I make this sauce with my children, shopping for just the right ingredients, and spending the day up to our elbows in tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil, parsley. carrots, celery and pots of boiling water. On p. 300 you will find the recipe.

In re-visiting those pages now, six months after my book’s publication, I find it not coincidence that we came up with twenty-one jars of sauce. Instead, it feels quite deliberate, subconsciously. As if each jar represented of year of not claiming a dream that was completely within my control, and focusing so hard on another dream that was not.

So I pass on this message to you, in the form of a recipe. What is your Italy? What do you deprive yourself of that you CAN create in your life? What place do you long to re-visit in your life? So often I find that there is the nurturing element of food attached to our fondest memories and even our wildest dreams. Afternoons in a kitchen with a grandmother, a holiday feast with family in town from far-away places, picnics on a beach, a particular glass of lemonade. I’d love for you to share those sentimental recipes here. And a scene or story that shares why you hold that food, that memory, so dear.

The winner will be randomly selected and will receive a free signed copy of THIS IS NOT THE STORY OU THINK IT IS. I look forward to this sharing. Yrs. Laura

My Italian Family’s Pomarola Sauce Recipe
This is a light sauce that is the epitome of the summer harvest and is usually canned to capture summer in the middle of winter. It must be made with the freshest Roma tomatoes to get the right consistency, preferably from somewhere close to the sea.

Sauce for one pound of pasta. Serves six.
2 1/2 pounds unpeeled ripe Roma tomatoes
1 onion
1 clove garlic (Americans generally use more garlic than is the Italian custom.)
1 stalk celery- just the white part, not the leaves
1-2 carrots (depending on how big they are)
3-5 leaves basil
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley- no stem
A pinch of salt
A pinch of white sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cut tomatoes in half. Cut vegetables into small pieces. Rough-cut basil and parsley with scissors. Put all ingredients into stockpot. Simmer, covered, very slowly until the carrot is soft and can be easily mashed with a fork (about an hour and a half). Then pass everything through a passatutto, or food mill– a wide-mouthed hand-cranked strainer. Keep turning the passatutto until only the seeds and skins are left. Then put the sauce back on the stove until it reaches a boil. You may need to cook it for a bit longer to ensure desired consistency.

If you’d like to make a big batch of this sauce for canning, then adjust ingredients proportionately, adding an extra hour or so before passing the ingredients through the food mill, and after returning the sauce to the stove. Working with eleven pounds of tomatoes at a time is a good amount.

At this point you can serve or keep it in the refrigerator for a week, or put it in jars. Use the ones that have a self-sealing lid– which pops as the sauce cools and provides a vacuum seal, making it possible to store for months. The wonder of this sauce is in its fresh ingredients and its simplicity.

Here’s a blurb for my book written by my dear friend and literary hero. If you haven’t read his “Brother’s K,” you simply must.
“With amiability, wit, and a modicum of self-pity, Laura Munson’s memoir reminded me of the twenty-one jars of organic tomato sauce she and her children hand-made. A chapter is like a jar lid: if it doesn’t pop as the contents cool, the seal is faulty and the sauce is worthless. Exhausted from their all-day effort, mother and kids sipped hot chocolates and listened as twenty-one jars cooled. To their satisfaction, they counted twenty-one distinct pops. In reading this brave memoir I counted about the same.” —David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and God Laughs & Plays

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The heart language of an Italian family.

In 1986, I sat in a classroom at the Syracuse University school, in the Piazza Savonarola in Florence, Italy, waiting to meet the people who would be my host parents for the next year of my life. I was nervous. I didn’t speak a word of Italian. I’d chosen Florence precisely for the art and the gut-spawned sense that it would be good for me to be mute for a year, or at least wildly misunderstood. I was in rebel mode, and I needed to slip sweetly into humility. I needed to get rid of the fight and get into receiving the beauty and power of life, and what better legacy of beauty and power than in those streets. I threw my eight years of Spanish out the window, and arrived in Italy thinking that you spelled the word “ciao” like this: Chow.

A lot of the students looked like they’d already spent a year in Italy, dressed in leather and capes, chatting and drinking espresso long before Starbucks hit the American scene. I felt small and invisible. One by one, students were paired with their Italian host families, lugging their suitcases and duffel bags down the parquet floors, out to the grainy honeyed light of the city. I was the last one left. It felt a lot like gym class. Before the teacher could call my name, a man who looked like Picasso, with large blinking doe eyes, stood up in a blue workshirt and jeans, nodded and smiled at me like he was rescuing me from waiting a second longer, like he was choosing me, wrapped his calloused black-etched fingers around my duffel, and walked toward the door. I guessed the nod and the smile had been our hello.

He opened the door of a tiny car called a Panda, similar to the 1960s Topolino (means Mickey Mouse), and I climbed inside, smooshed up against my bag. He lit a cigarette, smiled and nodded again, said something in Italian which I of course didn’t understand, and careened us through the streets of Florence, out to the highway, and through the Tuscan countryside. I beamed with measures of invigoration and confusion. Our host families were supposed to live in town. This was not town. How was I going to pound the pavement of the Renaissance in what was looking, ten, twenty, thirty miles out of the city? I wanted urban grit, not Cyprus trees and vineyards. Plus…there was the question of “the rest of the family” and if it existed.

We pulled into a pea gravel driveway, an old mustard stucco edifice standing proud with arched windows, topped in terracotta tiles. A woman was standing at the front door, wiping her hands on her apron, bubbling over with words clearly spun of homemade love. She kissed both of my cheeks. I held her a little hard for our first meeting.

The father took my bag inside, and I just stood there smiling, wishing I could tell her everything. That I was smart and kind and trustworthy and would help out and…and…and…please like me! I’m really not a rebel. I just need to be re-booted.

But I didn’t need to say anything. She took me inside, gave me a helping of a thick bread soup called papa al pomodoro, which is to this day my favorite comfort food, (made from the week’s leftover bread, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and olive oil—sort of their version of mashed potatoes), and afterward an espresso. Then she introduced me to the cat, the grandmother (la Nonna), the housekeeper, the pot of sauce simmering on the wood-fired stove, and suddenly, I realized, I was home. I was a daughter in this house for a year. I didn’t know if there were other children. It didn’t matter.

Then the father came down and took my hand and walked me out to the back porch where all of Tuscany spread out in quilts of olive groves and vineyards. He didn’t need to say a thing. Stunning is stunning is stunning. He paused a while to let me take it in.

Then he reached up to what I soon realized was a walnut tree, and picked a nut. He moved us over to a fig tree, and picked a fig. Then he did a little hand play like a magician before the tah-dah, cracked the walnut in one hand, popped the nut meat into the fig, and held it in front of my mouth. Then he opened his mouth, pantomime, and I knew to open mine, and in popped my first fig, filled with my first fresh walnut. I chewed. The little fig seeds bursting between my teeth.

He watched, like: well? There was no way I wasn’t going to love this, he was sure of it.
“Mmmmmmmmm,” I said, which is the same in every language, I imagine.

Then we went inside to see the villa. I later learned that it was inhabited long before America was even discovered. Its foundation was built c. 1420-30, the first floor in the late 1700s, and the second floor in the late 1800s. It came into this family in the mid 1900s when the patriarch fell in love with the Italian style gardens, (think Boboli), a rarity for such a small property. From every window, you could see gardens, or hills or olive groves or vineyards or vegetable gardens.

This was clearly a family who loved land and the fruits of good soil, and it all came to a fervent dance in the glorious kitchen, a warm and never-dormant place of maternal pride and creation; a long table suggestive of a big family and many stories told.

The living room was an ode to  stone, with its large fireplace and smooth floors. I would later learn that Florentines were stone masons. The banister and chandelier were wrought iron masterpieces and I would also learn that the paternal side of this family was a long line of blacksmiths, explaining my Italian host father’s hands.


The dining room walls were done in fresco by, I would later come to learn, their famous artist uncle, Silvano Campeggi, the table set in lace, large windows letting in that grainy light so that it looked like a Dutch Vermeer. Up the steep stone stairway were three rooms off a central second living room, a harpsichord in the corner. The ceiling high with wooden beams across white stucco. What I soon realized would become my weekend country room, their primary residence in the city, was fit for a princess– the bed frame, twisted in the same skilled wrought iron, the wardrobe and bureau, priceless antiques, lovingly kept to a shine.


These people were not necessarily rich. They were simply longtime stewards of place. And they were teachers and parents to me for one of the best years of my life. It turned out there were children in this family. A lovely daughter, Elisabetta, who has become a true sister to me over the years and who now lives next door with her children and her British husband—all of them fluent in English, and a talented musician son, Francesco, who has taken over their city flat.

When I returned with my daughter 20 years later, I was thrilled to find that they’ve turned their country home into a Bed & Breakfast, also hosting dinners for tourists in the Chianti area.  This is a family of  true Tuscans, fiercely proud, as they should  be, of their region’s tremendous heritage.  Elisabetta, after years of working in the fashion business (Gucci and Ferragamo to name a few), now offers custom insider day excursions around Florence, serving as personal shopper at exclusive and/or off-the-beaten-path artisan shops, personal docent in the world famous museums, ushering you through the streets of Florence to places you might never know to visit like the Ferragamo Shoe Museum, or a silk factory truly fit for kings (the Grimaldi family of Monoco and the Kremlin to name a few of their clients) with silk worms at work and an age-old show room flanked in bolts of the most exquisite fabric I’ve ever seen…booking luncheons in private homes overlooking the Arno, and on an on.  My daughter and I got to spend a day with Elisabetta, touring the city of Florence in a way I’d never experienced it.  But that’s another blog post.  For now check out her website.

I am so thrilled to be able to share my Italian “family” with you. I wrote about them in my book, and I love them. They are touchstones for me. Cairns. Gatekeepers of the soul. It is my deepest pleasure to introduce you to Milvia and Luigi of the Renzoni family. If you’re travelling to Florence any time soon, you might be lucky enough to eat a walnut filled fig and bask in this unspeakable hospitality.
For theirs is heart language.

For information about the Villa di Riboia and how to book a stay at this fantastic family home in the Tuscan countryside, go here.

And this is me, returning after 20 years, happy.

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