Friday, July 12, 2013

the eckstein children cook dinner!

Pizza. Gelato. We have been served about two tons of these delicacies over the past ten days. It was time to give something back. Or, at least, work for our dinner.

Keri and I both got in good runs. I had seen on the map what looked like a park northwest up the Arno about a mile. The park appeared to abut the river and be at least a couple miles along. Of course, maps can be deceiving, particularly for those places that like to lock up what should be public parks and gardens. I decided to give it a go, nonetheless, and ended up finding a wonderful running route -- flat, wide asphalt with plenty of shade. I even saw some number of other runners and walkers. You'd be hard-pressed to find this park on any Florence tourist map or guidebook but I can assure you it is there and offers a really wonderful route. The name of the park, which I just looked up, is Cascine Park.

After breakfast, we walked over to the Florence Synagogue and Jewish Museum. Keri and I had visited here before, and were struck by the much, much higher level of security this time around (e.g., a glass sally-port security door and bans on cellphones and cameras). The "museum" is totally unremarkable, with a few displays and artifacts that give one very little sense of the history of the Jewish community here. The synagogue, as we had recalled, speaks for itself. It was built in the late 1800's, around the same time as the one in Rome, and in the shape of a shortened cruciform, like many mosques in Turkey and the Middle East. The building has two floors and a domed ceiling in the middle. The interior is covered with gorgeous Moorish frescoes and mosaics. The total effect is striking. I suspect the entire Jewish community here is no more than a couple thousand. I cannot imagine this wonderful building gets the kind of use it deserves.

After a quick lunch (pizzettes for the kids -- much better result than our first effort) we walked back across town to the Palazzo Strozzi, named after the long-time rivals of the Medicis. At one point, the Strozzis were the wealthiest and most powerful family in Florence. That ended in 1434, when the Medicis exiled them from Florence. The Strozzis later married into the Medici family, returned to Florence and constructed their own palace, about one-half mile from the Medici Palace.

The Strozzi Palace now hosts art exhibits, concerts and other cultural events. Among the exhibitions presently on display is The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence 1400-1460. The exhibit is good on its own. We wanted to take the kids to see it as we had read that there had been an specific effort to make it accessible to children. The museum did that by, among other things, giving us a separate family-oriented discussion guide to take through the exhibit, as well as sketch pads and colored pencils for the kids. There are further several rooms and displays set up to prompt children to engage -- to feel with their hands the various media in which sculptures were made, to pick out on a computer screen those images they had seen that they most identified with a particular theme, etc. We were there for the better part of two hours -- and I think Lauren and Owen came out with at least some sense that art serves as a valuable form of human expression.

After a compulsory rest stop at the flat, we were off to our cooking school, inTavola, which is a couple blocks on the other side of the Arno. (Pictured are Lauren, Keri and Owen as we cross the river, hungry and ready to cook.) InTavola runs several different types of cooking classes, including one a couple times a week called, simply, Pizza and Gelato. As those make up two of the food groups for our children (pasta and chocolate being the others), we figured it would be a good fit.

We got to the school a bit before 630. Our class had twelve students (including us) spread over three tables. We started by flattening out our (pre-prepared) pizza doughs and placing them in our individual pans. Our teacher, Antoinio, then walked us through making dough from scratch, which we all promised to do when we got home.

After the pizza doughs were taken away for their first cooking, Antonio walked us though the basics for gelato and sorbeto -- the ingredients, the importance of having proper proportions, and why these desserts sit deliciously between liquid and solid. Lauren and Owen were tasked with beating and hand-mixing the ingredients for those items on behalf of the class. (As you can see here, they are both taking their jobs quite seriously.) When those were complete, Antonio walked us though making something he called "sweet salami," which was really a concoction of mashed up tea biscuits, chocolate, butter, and egg yolk. The resulting mixture is formed into a small cylinder and placed in the freezer. When it is served, it is cut up like a salami and specks of the tea biscuits in the darker chocolate resemble specks in a salami. Sweet salami = tasty.

As the gelato and sorbeto went through the ice cream maker, our semi-cooked pizza doughs were brought back out so we could added mozarella and basil, sending them back for a final cooking. The evening almost turned into a total loss when Owen, having been told the pizza was really hot, immediately touched the pan. Keri and I called out and he pulled his hand back. Cold water seemed to remediate against any potential first-degree burn, but the emotional trauma of having his parents call him out in cooking class lingered. Owen's defense, by the way, was that Keri said the pizza was not; not the pan. In any event, time healed the burnt feelings and Owen rallied to enjoy his hard work.

We then walked downstairs to the wine cellar, where a table had been set up for us to enjoy our work. Bottles of white wine and fresh foccaccia (which had been made with some extra pizza dough) placated the hungry students, at is was well past 830. The pizzas came down and there was some effort to make sure each person got the pizza s/he had prepared. As cooked pizzas tend to resemble each other, I thought this a fool's errand, but others seemed to take it quite seriously. Regardless, the pizzas tasted great, as did the wine.

When they brought out the sweet salami, I helped myself to several pieces of that, as well. And then, when I really did not need to eat another bite, out came the vanilla gelato and strawberry sorbeto. I finished mine, and had several bites of Lauren's. At that point, the staff came over, pried my hands off a third dish and told us it was time to go, but not before having our class's top students pose for a picture with their teacher.

Lauren and Owen had a great time -- as did their parents. I am not sure any of us was sufficiently inspired to attempt these dishes when we get home, having prepared them. Actually, I am pretty sure it is now just a matter of time before Chef Owen (a persona he takes on in the kitchen) forces us to make one or more of these. Keri and I just hope it is on a Saturday night so our sitter, Miss Laura, can bear the brunt.

1 comment:

  1. Papa and I will be over for pizza, gelato and sorbet when you get home--ok, we'll give you a couple of days for jet lag!!