Reading the words that guided me through the last two years, I see a pattern.
In 2018, I chose craft and seasonality. My plan was to hone my skills, working like an artisan, and have a seasonal approach to life, not just to cooking. I didn’t want to waste time, waiting for the next season. I longed for being present, in the here and now. This gave birth to our Facebook group, Cooking with Juls’ Kitchen, and to our favourite hashtag, #myseasonaltable, which has now more than 10k entries.
Last year I embraced simplicity.
I would still follow the craft and seasonal approach, but I was aiming to do it with simplicity. To take action, I cut my hair, a short pixie cut which I am still loving after all these months for its practicality and its clean style, especially as I started swimming again. I bought less clothes, choosing quality over quantity: a new camel coat that will keep me warm for years, a deep blue and a coffee brown cashmere and wool jumpers, perfect over a pair of jeans, with more elegant trousers or underneath my favourite linen apron.
Workwise, it has been a challenging year, but we tried to follow our guiding word, simplicity. This led us to have less clients, but more interesting and rewarding projects, and an extraordinary cooking class season.
Along the way, though, I realised this was not enough.
There have been moments when I felt the urge to do more. I had a physical need to create and share more recipes, host more classes, organise new workshops and retreats. To be honest, I was itching to write that book I’ve had in my mind, and heart, for years. I wanted to meet more inspiring people, learn new techniques, hone my skills, send more newsletters, record new podcast episodes.
A few seconds later, my introvert side would whisper to pace myself, to do less. I craved more time to read, walk and swim: I missed the days when I would cook just for the pleasure of it. All I wanted was to spend more time with my family and close friends, traveling, or simply getting bored, watching the clouds running after each other in an open sky.
This is the main worry of any self-employed creative: you want to do more, better, but in the meantime, you crave for more time to be creative and nurture your inspiration.
Always on the run, always late, or too busy to meet a friend for a coffee, always working on a last-minute assignment, with no time to garden.
Many ideas and projects are simmering on the stove, but then we realise just a tiny fraction of them all.
It’s like cramming your stove with muttering pots, stirring sauces and stews, filling the air with mouth-watering smells, and then serving just an omelette. It is perfect, made with your fresh eggs, buttery yellow, soft and rich, but it is just an omelette. You spent energy, ingredients and your most precious resource, time, to cook a feast, and eventually you brought to the table just an omelette. Too much hassle.
This is how I feel most of the days, exhausted, holding a small plate with a perfect omelette, standing in a messy kitchen that I have to clean afterwards.
2020 will be a challenging year for many a reason, not least as it is a leap year.
We’ll have to grow as a company, and as a couple, learning from our mistakes, celebrating small victories, guarding our sparkle of creativity, choosing the less beaten paths. We don’t want to follow, we wish to lead our own journey, at our own terms. Ambitious, I know.
This is why I chose intentionality as my 2020 word.
I want to choose, not to be chosen. I yearn to use my time wisely, work and create, allowing myself to get bored, as this is when the Universe speaks more clearly. To be free, you need dedication, focus, intentionality.
I don’t want to waste time in projects that won’t be rewarding or that won’t make me a better human being. This is also why I aim to use Social Media intentionally, to build a community, not to scroll absentmindedly my feed or to compare my work and myself to other people, falling in the self-doubt trap.
I want to pick the right words when I write, to put my finger on the exact feeling: I will write for myself, to get better at it – craft is still one of my guiding words, after all – to answer an inner need for clarification. And I will write for you, to put down in words what it feels like to cook, and eat, honest, Tuscan seasonal food.
I will be intentional when I take a photo, capture a moment, just like when you single out a significant memory for a Polaroid.
Then, I want to be intentional when I shop, buying what I need, possibly from local producers, reducing the food waste, thinking ahead about meals, occasions, pleasure. I’ll be intentional when I eat, savouring each bite, the crispness of a winter radicchio salad, with the citrusy note of an orange vinaigrette, or the aroma of sun ripened tomatoes in summer, with the accent of a single, balsamic basil leaf, which marks the difference from boring to outstanding.
But more importantly, I want to be intentional in my free time, when I am with the people I love, when I walk, or swim, or cook a quick dinner.
A few days ago, I found this quote on Instagram: wherever you are, be all there, which perfectly summarises my intentions. At least, I won’t burn my dinner again!
I don’t know if this will be the solution to our chronic lack of time, but it will certainly help us to live an intense and rich year, to savour each moment, the good and the bad, to celebrate small victories, to find the energy and resources to face the new challenges. We will lead our lives in the physical world, within a community of people.
Which is your 2020 word? How do you want to feel this year?
An artichoke carbonara to be intentional in the kitchen
I wanted to begin the new year with a recipe, too.
Shopping for this recipe, I realised that you have to be intentional. You don’t need just artichokes, but fresh firm artichokes with a long thick stem. Cook your artichokes as you prefer (stewed, baked with potatoes and breadcrumbs, in an omelette, in a tart, stuffed with tuna and pecorino cheese, in a flan), then reserve the stems. Use them quickly, until firm, as they tend to wither and get brownish very soon.
Peel the stems until you expose the white soft part inside – if you haven’t ever tried this part of the artichoke, you’ll be surprised! This is where all the flavour is! – and slice them thinly in rounds. You’re going to use the artichoke stems as they were guanciale, or pancetta, in a wintery vegetarian carbonara. If you can not find artichokes with a good, firm stem, use the artichoke itself to make the carbonara. Clean it and slice it very thinly, then cook it in exactly the same way as the stems.
As for the eggs…
Choose the freshest eggs – one per person – a generous handful of grated pecorino romano, a few artichoke stalks, some salt and pepper, your favourite pasta. This is all you need for your artichoke carbonara.
I chose this recipe also because a few months ago my dad built a chicken coop, a wish I had for years, and we adopted five chickens. Two Tuscan hens, reddish brown, funny and calm, two Leghorns, which are snow white and quarrelsome, and Bianchetta, a black and white hen which is Tommaso’s favourite, shy and sweet. Finally, after all these months and some subtle threats, they are all laying their eggs daily, and I am the happiest woman in the world. On Instagram, they told me this is also because the hens were waiting for the winter solstice to pass.
Hens laying cycles are stimulated by the light… so welcome back in the season of light, and eggs!
And now, to the recipe for the artichoke carbonara…
- 3 artichoke stems
- ½ lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 eggs
- 50 g pecorino romano, grated
- freshly ground black pepper
- 180 g tortiglioni pasta, or spaghetti
- Prepare the artichoke stems. Peel them until you reach the whiter, softer part inside, rub them with half a lemon to prevent them from browning. Slice them in rounds, then collect them in a pan with olive oil and a crushed clove of garlic.
- Brown the artichoke stems on medium-low heat, until soft, then set aside.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water.
- In a bowl, prepare the eggs for the carbonara. Break in two eggs, then add the grated pecorino romano, a pinch of salt – not too much as the pecorino is already quite salty –, and a generous pinch of ground black pepper. Whisk with a fork and set aside.
- Drain the pasta al dente, then toss it into the pan with the artichoke stems. If the pan is cold, reheat it briefly.
- Pour in the beaten eggs and toss well. The heat of the pasta and artichoke stems will work on the eggs to create a rich, creamy sauce. Do not heat the pan again, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Dust with more pecorino cheese, some black pepper and serve immediately.
Serve the artichoke carbonara with…
Holidays are over, but in my book, there’s always a good reason to celebrate. This is a meal with a festive mood. The infectious joy of a rich bright yellow carbonara, the clean and appetising taste of the radicchio, cannellini bean and chicken salad with pickles, and, to finish, an elegant pear and chocolate cake.
- Cannellini bean and chicken salad, with pickles and radicchio. I have a soft spot for chicken salads, you might remember this one, with preserved lemons and herbs. Using the meat of a whole chicken slowly cooked in the broth is incomparably better than cooking just the chicken breast. Add radicchio, cannellini and some pickles.
- Pear and chocolate cake. The olive oil gives the cake a humble and homely flavour. It is an elegant cake, though: look at the pears, sliced and arranged on top of the cake, baked in the oven and caramelized under a sprinkling of brown sugar and some knobs of butter.
- Speaking of being intentional when we write, I loved this article by Elisabeth Sherman: 5 ways I refuse to describe food in 2020. Next year I will not use language that shames people for what they eat or pushes weight loss on them — or myself. She lists among these words Detox, cleanse, and toxic, or sinful, naughty and the opposite guilt-free. I’m adamant about doing the same.
- Read this article if you want to be more intentional when you cook and eat: The Meat-Lover’s Guide to Eating Less Meat, by Melissa Clark for The New York Times. Becoming vegan would be the most planet-friendly way to go, followed by going vegetarian. In my case, those diets would be a professional liability, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I’ve got the willpower to stick to either one. I love meat and dairy too much to give them up entirely. But eating less of them — that I can do. I especially appreciate the 6th point: make every bite of real meat count.