When I was 6 years old, a family moved in down the street from us. They were a family of five: a newly single mother of four children: three girls and one boy. The two youngest daughters were close to my age, one was a year younger, and the other was two years older. Our family liked them immediately. This fact is made more interesting because they were the complete opposite of us.
Our family of three at the time ran on cleanliness, order, bedtimes, a set dinner time, scheduled times to practice music and do homework, and so on and so on. I remember being put to bed at the same time alllll year round, even when it was summer and the Ontario sun went down at 10 p.m., I was in bed at 8 p.m., listening to children play outside on their summer holidays.
This family was the opposite. They ate when the food was ready. They did the dishes when they felt like it instead of immediately after dinner. Bedtime? It changed daily.
This doesn’t mean the mom didn’t parent; quite the opposite actually. She was a very involved mother: taking her kids camping, reading books together, dancing in the living room, showing hospitality in her home by feeding people and cutting hair, and the list goes on. I never recall hearing her lament that she was already a busy single, working mom of four and had enough of children, and so no, there were to be no other children sleeping over or tagging along on our camping trip. Instead, I was often brought along with them. Camping. Walking. Dancing in the living room. I was always welcome in their home, a whole block and a half away.
The oldest daughter was a few years older than me. She too was an enigma. She worked downtown in one of the big stock broker companies, so she was required to always dress professionally. And she did. But not by spending a lot of money, by using her eye and creativity to put together fantastic outfits. I admired the effort she put into looking good. Or maybe she didn’t and it was effortless. That’s even more annoying.
Eventually she married an Italian boy and they settled in just a few blocks away from where her mom and siblings lived. Their tiny home was always beautifully decorated, and once again, on a budget. Some people just have the gift. They can look at a blank canvass and make it beautiful.
Around the same time we moved to Mexico, they moved to Italy. Last year on our European adventure, we finally got to visit them in Tuscany. They live in a beautiful spot just outside of Florence. Even though it had been years since we spent any real amount of time together, we had no lack of things to talk about. Catching up on everybody we knew, as well as the comparisons of learning new cultures and the adventures that come along with that, kept our conversations flowing for a few days.
Never mind the cappuccinos made by her husband. Gah. Being served a cappuccino and biscotti while overlooking the rolling hills of Tuscany with old friends was not too shabby a way to end our vacation. To be honest, many times when I am having a hectic day or feeling overwhelmed, I picture myself on that patio, with that cappuccino, overlooking those Tuscan hills.
She is much like her mother in that she loves reading and writing. In fact, she’s published 3 books, two on her life in Italy and one about her life growing up. Anybody who has left their home country and moved somewhere that requires adjustment will love reading her stories. Her first book A Zany Slice of Italy and her second A Zany Slice of Tuscany are great reads for any expat.
I could tell a million stories about this family, and I know they will come up throughout this blog, but right now lets talk about focaccia.
Why haven’t I made focaccia before? Why didn’t I know it was so simple? And not just as in ‘she made it look easy’, it IS easy.
When I wanted to make it for the first time the other day, I used the recipe for her focaccia in the back of her first book. I was surprised at how fast it came together and how easy it was to make. I shouldn’t be surprised. My Croatian friend with deep Italian influence would not steer me wrong.
She said I could blog it. So here it is. And I am sure there will be more of her recipes showing up around these parts. Cooking is just another area she’s good at. And another reason we will always be connected.
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1 TAB sugar
- 1 TAB salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 TAB olive oil
- more olive oil for brushing on top
- optional toppings: fresh rosemary sprigs, cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions, burrata, mozzarella
Mix flour with yeast, salt, and sugar. Combine warm water and olive oil and add to dry ingredients. Mix well and knead for five minutes, adding more flour when necessary. Form dough into ball and coat with olive oil. Leave dough to rest in a warm spot about an hour or so until at least doubled in size.
Brush a baking sheet with oil. Punch down dough and fit into baking sheet. Leave for an hour until it rises again.
Punch fingertips all over dough to make indentations. Sprinkle top of focaccia with a mixture of olive oil and water. Sprinkle salt on top. Bake in a pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned. About halfway through add any toppings. If adding cheese, I like to add right at the end so it just melts ever so slightly.