Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Noshtalgia: My First Cookbook


Back when I was a college student, I set off to spend the second half of my junior year in Florence, Italy. I was so full of enthusiasm. I had already been to Italy twice, I had studied two and a half years of Italian, and I was a fine arts major going to study art in Florence ~ so I just knew it was going to be a good time. I remember some of the other college kids at the airport crying tearfully as they parted from their parents. In contrast, my parents saw me bound off through the airport security - dry-eyed and ready to go!

In Florence, I had an apartment with 3 other American gals right in the heart of the historic city center. The view from my bedroom window looked out at the Palazzo Vecchio, and directly down onto the Ponte Vecchio. It was a pretty great scene.

My time in Florence was the first time in my life that I was in charge of all my own meals. Before this, I really didn't have much experience in the kitchen. I had helped my mom with various things, and I had learned how to make pizza from scratch... but I was mostly used to eating whatever my mom cooked, or whatever was being served in the dorms.


Before happily waving goodbye to my parents at the airport, my mom gave me a really great present: my first cookbook. I was already a vegetarian, and she very thoughtfully got me a book called "Italian Vegetarian Cooking." Best of all, the book had measurements for each recipe in both metric and American measurements, so I knew to ask for a 1/2 kilo of tomatoes at the market. I used this cookbook as pretty much my sole reference in the kitchen during my many months in Italy. Mostly, I made simple pasta recipes, and bit-by-bit I started to develop a few kitchen skills.

In Florence, back then, there weren't supermarkets with produce. Instead, a hungry shopper either went to a small neighborhood vendor, or to the large central market - which was very near my school. I fell in love with the process of going to the market to buy my fruits and veggies. It was a fun way to practice speaking Italian, learn new words, and (over time) I learned which vendors would be patient with me as I spoke in Italian to ask for the right veggies. As you may know, being in a foreign land can be quite lonely. The comfort of a small conversation and a shared smile at the produce stand meant a lot to me. Over time, my Italian language skills became quite good, but I've never lost my affection for the role that these small interactions have in keeping life bearable and meaningful.


These days, I have so many cookbooks that it's a bit crazy, and from time to time I clear out the ones I never use. And yet, I've hung on to this book - mostly for its sentimental place in my heart. I just recently remembered it, and decided to break it out and make something for dinner. I decided to make the Minestrone Genoese - a lovely minestrone soup laced with a good dollop of pesto. It was great! I know it's not really pesto season, but back in the summer I made a big batch of pesto and froze it in ice cube trays... so all I had to do was just defrost a couple "pesto ice cubes." I hadn't ever thought of putting pesto into my minestrone soup before, but that was a very good idea!

The soup was very hearty and delicious, and it felt very sweet to be cooking from this book and remembering such a special and formative time in my life. Thanks again, Mom! 

10 comments:

  1. So lovely! Your pesto soup sounds delicious too :)

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  2. Aw, what a great story! I can see why you couldn't part with that one. I totally agree with the sentiment of this post and feel it in my own life too. Like the music that we play, the foods that we eat definitely fill out the story on certain parts of our lives. When we're just learning to cook especially cookbooks play a huge part in that. Just as the song "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" would take me back to a very specific time in my life as a struggling actor in LA working as a cater waiter, so would Vegan with a Vengeance take me to my Glendale apartment figuring out what it meant to be vegan and how to conquer a tofu scramble or tempeh sausage.

    Great post, Amey! I'm so glad you're keeping up the noshtalgia posts!

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  3. Adorable! My high school look is was exactly your college look. :)

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  4. Heart heart heart (I don't know how to do icons!!) Isn't it funny how people have such radically different recollections of the same situation? I have only the vaguest memory of giving you that cookbook (though your mention of the American and European measurements struck a chord.) I do clearly remember shopping for the giant suitcase, and recall your bubbly excitement about this adventure, which was literally life-changing for you.

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  5. Produce markets forever!

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  6. I love this post! It immediately made me think of my own first cookbook after moving away from home. Vegan Planet got me through a lot of meals and really helped me establish my first skills in the kitchen. So fun to remember these things!

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  7. that soup looks amazing! i love the pesto addition!

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  8. I love this story and post! I should have done more like that when I was in college. And I was just telling my husband the other day how I longed to live somewhere that I could walk down and purchase my produce for each day's meals.

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  9. I love this post, it takes me back a long way and I truly love your vegan bowl...too cute.

    http://nuestracena-vegancuisine.blogspot.com

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  10. Lovely post! Living in Florence is where I really had to cook for myself for the first time, too! I also had to deal with a gas stove, that you had to light with a match, for the first time. Not very fun! Oh man I miss it so much. Your post brings me back!

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