Friday was the start of my Break. For the first time in quite a while, I will have a month without work obligations. And with school over and done with, I feel like I can breathe.
CK met me a few months before I started graduate school, and we began dating just after my first semester. It occurred to me that he didn’t know how Meals with Morri used to be, how often I used to be in the kitchen creating things. But with graduate school, working, and trying to be active, Meals with Morri went from being an eight or more posts a month phenomenon to maybe one or two.
But last night, after my walk from work, and a number of feral kitties demanding attention and petting along the way, we celebrated the best way we knew how: homemade food and a movie.
|First attempt at cauliflower crust pizza, adapting from this recipe.|
|We ended up using coconut instead of almond, which changed the texture a bit, but still yummy.|
Finishing graduate school has been a little anti-climactic for me. It brought a lot of nostalgia and fear of the unknown with it. It brought the realization of how exhausted and frustrated I was. It brought sadness that I really haven’t celebrated finishing, and missing the chance to walk with peers I actually knew because I was abroad. But being abroad also brought experience with how NGOs work, and also getting to spend over two months with a person I love. I was able to spend the summer doing what I set out to do; now it’s a matter of figuring out the next step (or three) of achieving my goals in finding a job and living with my man by 2015. A tall order, but hey, it’s worth it.
The other thing I noticed too was how my energy level and mental stamina increased significantly once I had turned in my last assignment of my last graduate course in early July. At the time, I was too tired to really think up of recipes, but I did completely change the Meals with Morri set-up. I created separate pages for recipe categories, and recreated the overall look of the site. At the moment, I’m working towards linking my creative outlet in recipe making and sharing to what I want to do with a career: combining the conflict analysis and resolution discipline with farmers’ rights and sustainability issues.
August will be the month of really learning how to use my camera to its peak potential, and really enjoying my break with CK in Rome. I have many ideas for future recipes, and what and how I want to continue sharing my as well as other people’s stories through food.
Living in the Mediterranean has been like a pleasant wake-up call to food quality and freshness. In the United States, things like mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinegar are ‘meh’ at best. I’ve seen artisanal mozzarella products sold at farmers markets, but it wasn’t until CK insisted I try one during his visit in December that really changed my mind about this cheese.
To be fair, they do sell the cheap-o kind in the markets, usually in plastic bags with whey for one euro each. And they’re okay. But the stuff you want to get is usually found in the cheese section, and by sight alone you can see how the quality differs. When I first tried it, I experienced something of cheese nirvana. The balls are typically slightly firm on the outside, but when you cut into them, the softness runs onto the cutting board like the yolk of a sunny side up egg. And the taste, goodness me, the taste of these things is not the mild, almost tasteless mozzarella I’ve been having for the majority of my life. Oh, no. This taste is more pungent, salty, with a sour, fermented finish. It melts in your mouth, and you can’t help but savor the work that went into making something of such high quality.
Enter balsamic vinegar. In the United States, what we think of balsamic vinegar is essentially wine vinegar with grape must and caramel coloring. It was my favorite growing up. But when CK took his parents and me to Eataly (a store that resembles the love-child of Whole Foods and Ikea), we were able to taste something a little closer to the real thing. I was blown away by how thick the vinegar was, how flavorful it was, and the depth of those flavors. It was rich and sweet, but not overtly or cloyingly so, and it is the most divine pairing to mozzarella. To be fair, the vinegar we tasted wasn’t what I’d call the Holy Grail of Balsamic Vinegar, but I found that it was just a step below it, and likely the best to find without going to Modena and searching for a finished batch of what ends up being a twelve-year aging process.
Nonetheless, both ingredients made undoubtedly a delicious Insalata Caprese for two, and it was nice to be so mindful and engaged in making what ended up being a wonderful lunch to celebrate break.
Insalata Caprese for Two
2 Large handfuls of Rocket (also known as Arugula)
2 Buffalo Mozzarella balls
1 Large tomato
16 Fresh Basil leaves
2 tsp. Balsamic vinegar*
On two large plates, place an equal amount of rocket in the center of both.
Slice the tomato in half, and into thin strips horizontally, to lie onto the rocket.**
Slice the mozzarella similarly, and place on top of the tomato.**
Add the basil leaves on top, followed by a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Serve immediately, chilled, either as a dish to a multiple course meal, or by itself.
Makes 2 Servings.
*You really don’t need a lot of balsamic vinegar, just enough to splash a little flavoring here and there.
** I did mine a little more artfully. I used a circular biscuit cutter and layered the tomato, cheese, and basil in that to maintain shape.