Rastro Flea Market


So one of the things that I love to do when traveling is to get a dose of REAL LIVING in a city and that usually entails going to a local market or to a flea market. I fiddled through my Rick Steves travel book and read something about the Rastro Flea Market. I know that in the past, I have seen lots of awesome antiques that you only hear about. Being that I was in Spain and knowing that the Spaniards dominated history along with the Portuguese during the Age of Exploration, I was bound to find some cool history stuff floating around, or so I thought.

I got up super early in the morning and walked all the way to Rastro Flea Market from La Latina neighborhood. It took me a good 20 minutes to get there because I got turned around a little. On the way there, I passed a local corner bar. I had to laugh hard to myself because I saw a couple guys heeled over at the bar looking like they passed out or were literally just waking up. One of the guys was dressed up in a flamenco costume with a slit that exposed his really hairy legs. His buddies were wearing fedora hats and keeping their bachelor friend afloat. Also, he had a beard that would put a pirate to shame. These guys must have been at a bachelor party and they “fiesta’d” ALL NIGHT LONG! I remember on my walk around the streets, I saw lots of empty beer cans. On top of that, I saw a drugged out couple that were getting hot and heavy at around 7:00 AM. They were completely out of it. You had to be there! Every morning in Madrid, it is not strange to see street cleaners cleaning up tons of bottles and cans. There is also a smell of urine and stale beer, the usual. I still don’t let that bother me. I LOVE MADRID!

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I finally came up to a long street where I saw tent stands. The locals were definitely out and I was one of the few tourists with camera in hand. As I strolled along, I got the realization that there was a lot of cheesy items. If anyone could capture the disappointment on my face, it would have been priceless. I would compare it to a small kid eating a delicious ice cream cone, only for it to completely plop off the sugar cone and onto the pavement. I really felt like I was going to waste my time, but I was still optimistic. I saw scarves, a few cheap looking antiques and felt like I had seen all of this kind of tchotchke stuff in other countries. I even recall picking something up and seeing that it was made in China. There were the touristy Spanish fans, T-shirts and leather goods. I’ve seen the same spread in Argentina at the San Telmo market. I was able to snap a few cool shots though.

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I felt like I was in a B rated film when I was watching all kinds of locals buying super cheap things. But then again, I had to also remind myself that Spain is going through a lot of economic hardship. I saw people buying spoons, plastic containers, cheap pots and pans and all kinds of little things for their apartments or flats.

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Honestly, I would skip the flea market, or literally do a walk through and then just go check out something more interesting like a church tour, a museum tour. Just don’t plan on buying anything. Maybe you can score cheap postcards or flags, but I wouldn’t count on anything super interesting. I don’t want to be cynical, but I felt like my time could have been spent somewhere else. Just remember not to make this a main event for your day.

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So, I don’t like to pick up “touristy” things, but I do regret that I did not get one of these posters, specifically a Flamenco one with my name. I would have loved to have put this in my classroom! Oh well….gives me another time to come visit Spain to buy one!

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This stand had  every little kitsch thing you could imagine that you would find at the airport or at a gift shop. If I was ambitious enough, I would have bartered and found out how much certain little things were to gauge other prices at gift shops just to get a real idea of how much price gouging takes place at the local gift shops. I didn’t bother.

A Couple Days in Sevilla Spain


June 5th sevilla: woke up at 8 am. Almost had breakfast at a fish place, believe it or not! Was so excited to try the place because there were a ton of locals, but when I arrived, it was a fish restaurant! Thank goodness for my basic Spanish. Instead I looked for a place that would serve bakery goods. Went to Historico Horno (bakery). I had a pan de tomato y queso (bread with tomato and cheese) and a cafe con leche. The lady behind the counter was all business and not really friendly, but I understand her work ethic. People are not at this bakery in the morning for a worker that is yapping too much. People want to sit down, eat and get to work. Besides, the Spanish have siesta. This means later on that customer can come back and actually have a conversation, sip coffee, eat something, go home and take a nap and then get back to business. I admire this practice and tradition!  I loved sitting at the bar and watching all the different pastries being called out in Spanish. It was a great Spanish lesson for me. I started recognizing all the different pastries and sandwiches and were calling them out in my head. Yes, I’m silly like that. A lot of bread with just olive oil was ordered, which surprised me. I guess when you live in a country that has phenomenal olive oil, then simple and fantastic ingredients make sense like fresh bread and olive oil. I even saw a guy sprinkle a little pinch of salt on his bread.

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I scooted over for a couple guys on my left. The locals were getting ready to go to work and I was making sure that I wasn’t the “stupid” and “annoying” tourist. It was a sunny day and based on the conversations that I heard, it was going to be a sweltering hot day. Went upstairs to use the restroom before I was off and enjoyed seeing some displays of jamon serrano legs and olive oils etc.

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By the way, the word “Alimentation” means market. I figured this out through observation in Madrid, Toledo and now Sevilla. After I left Historico Horno, I sat at Plaza Nueva. I walked around the plaza and even ventured through some random streets. I had scheduled a tour of Sevilla with a lovely lady named Concepcion at 10:00 AM. She never showed. Then I looked again at my email and noticed that she was meeting us at 10:30 AM. Concepcion was recommended by my Rick Steves book and her tour was well worth it! While I was waiting, I saw some guys roller skate by that were dressed up as fawns. Wish I got a picture of that!

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Went on tour with Concepcion. She discussed the history of the 3 kings of Sevilla. When you walk around you will see a symbol everywhere. I think I recall seeing this symbol on a bench, a man hole cover and on several buildings. The symbol that you will see is a word “No8d0”. I listened intensively to the tour, but I was caught up with looking at so much detail I forgot what the real meaning behind the symbol was. I did catch something along the lines that it translates to “no medegar do” and means something like “you didn’t abandon me”.  As you look at the architecture around Sevilla, you’ll notice 1920’s style buildings with a mixture of Renaissance influence, Moorish buildings and even Baroque accents throughout. It’s an architecture & art  lesson waiting to be told and explained in depth. So if you are a sucker for detail, Sevilla has a lot of stories to be told.
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While we were strolling around listening to Concepcion’s stories, she mentioned habits of the people of Sevilla and Spain. Spanish people save up their money and buy clothing around December and July. July is the “Rebajas” month or “Sale” month to shop. You can see clothing being reduced to almost 70% off! While we were passing by the windows of shops, we saw a person making tassles for curtains, the old school way. As a form of measurement, these guys were walking back and forth with the tassle string for a concise measurement. Hard to explain, you just had to watch them.
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La Juderia” is a must see area of Sevilla. The Jewish Quarters are defined by a large standing wall. It’s like Venice, Italy in the sense that you just see crowds of people wandering around together, getting lost. If you stick close to the walls that enclose this area, you’ll be able to figure how to get out. When the Catholic Kings took over during the course of Reconquista, they allowed for Jewish people to convert. They gave them 4 months to convert or their fate ended up in torture or death. You can figure out what most of the Jewish families did. Most of them practiced Judaism secretly, but were even scared to do that. If you follow the large walls, you will eventually run right smack into the Alcazar (summer palace of the Sultan) that is built in mudajer style. I can’t tell you how much of a surprise this place was me. I have to say that I might have enjoyed the Alcazar more than the famous Sevilla Cathedral. I’ll write more about these lovely places in a different post. Too much to comment on.
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If there a color to associate to Sevilla, the color orange comes is their official color. Still today, when I think of Sevilla, orange or “naranja” will forever stay in my mind. I saw women wearing beautiful tangerine color clothing, especially skirts. I saw a pair of orange espadrilles for sale in a fashion display. I saw lots of orange paint in the Alcazar, in the detailed tile work and in many paintings in the Catholic Cathedral. Also, the streets are lined with orange trees EVERYWHERE! And even though the oranges and large and look refreshing, you cannot eat them. They are according to the Sevillans, “sour as hell”. Concepcion also mentioned that in the month of December, tourists get orange bombed in large numbers. The orange trees produce really heavy oranges and they just snap right off the tree and onto tourists heads. Of course if you are an avid and professional “people watcher”, this would be the event of a lifetime to watch!
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Even the gazpacho, the tablecloth and even my beer had hues of orange
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I met a lot of cool people on the tour and ended up swapping emails and contact info. I ended up meeting with a few of the people on the tour later that day. But, I felt like I needed to sit and take in all the information that I learned and saw quietly somewhere. I wandered around the streets and found a cute cafe that had an alleyway. I sat in the alleyway and ordered a cafe con leche and some jamon iberico and pan con tomate y aceite de olivos (bread with tomato and olive oil). I sat and observed people’s eating and socializing habits. Occasionally, I received a sad stare from a few people and I could tell that they were thinking…”Oh, how sad…she is by herself” What was I thinking? THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!! I have absolute and complete freedom and I was on my own time and my own dime! I enjoyed every second, minute and hour of my leisurely time. For those of you that have a hard time enjoying quiet time to yourself, challenge yourself to sit, watch and think. You’d be surprised what you pick up on in regards to human nature and habits! ENJOY!
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Cordoba, A Real Local Feel of Spain


So Cordoba is a really small town, or at least I felt that way when I was there for two days. It’s a local experience and if you want to feel like you live in Spain, I would imagine that this place fits the bill. The charm of the town is in the people, the local shops, the local foods, and the old buildings that have so much history. I stayed in Old Town, so I really don’t know what it is like to travel outside in the other parts of Cordoba, so my view is very biased. I imagine that there are beautiful villas in the countryside with olive & pomegranate trees and even vineyards. I hope to go back to Cordoba with a rental car in the future.

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I stopped at a local  bakery really close to La Mezquita and close to my hotel. As soon as I entered and sat down at the bar stool, everyone stared at me. I purchased a bocadillo with ham for 5 euros. The ham was a little tough, but I was happy to feel like a local for at least 20 minutes. I saw the owners talk to each person as they came in. I just wish I could pick up on some of the conversations. I picked up a few words about the weather, but that was about it. Although I love traveling alone, there are those moments, when you feel alone and Cordoba made me feel that way. Because everyone seemed to know each other in town and especially around the shops close to La Mezquita, I started to wish I had friends or family with me.

I think my loneliness started to set in when I realized that siesta does occur in Cordoba and things don’t open up till 12:30 pm. From what I gathered, shops opened up around 5:00 PM as well. I still till this very day, don’t know the actual times when stores opened up when I was in Cordoba for two days. The siesta made me lazy and I didn’t feel like doing much at all. I was however interested in taking photos wherever I could. I packed my camera bag and wandered and literally got lost in the side alleyways and corridors and cobblestone roads in the mystic old town areas.  I had heard that Cordoba had beautiful patios, so I thought I would go and see what I could find. I found a lot of cool things to photograph in the La Juderia (Jewish Quarters). The buildings were close together practically hugging each other and on each corner there was something mysterious or fun to photograph.

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As I got more into the siesta mode, I just liked the quiet and calm of staying in Old Town. Once La Mezquita closes down, the area that surrounds La Mezquita gets REALLY QUIET. So for some of you that like more night life, I would recommend that you stay around Plaza Del Colon. For those of you that love to shop and people watch, you can do that around Plaza Del Colon as well. I sat down at a cafe and had a cup of coffee, a pastry and then even a tinto de verano. I sat at that cafe for at least 3 hours. I watched people smoke cigarettes, feed little scraps of food to their dogs. I watched little kids kick a soccer ball back and forth. I just sat and journaled and enjoyed EVERY MOMENT OF IT!

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It’s so refreshing to see the relaxed nature of everyone in this town. The easy going flow of this town allowed for me to decompress, to think about my present and my future.

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Walk…..just walk and be. You’ll find all kinds of cool things to experience. I loved walking into small shops that specialized in breads, meats and candies. I remember walking into a cute little candy shop that made marzipan and chocolate. A mom was letting her little child pick out the cute little fruit shaped marzipan candies. The smile on this kid’s face was priceless.

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There are so many other things to say about this town, but go and experience it for yourself!

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Visiting La Mezquita in Cordoba Spain


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July 7th: woke up early for free admission to La Mezquita . If you wake up early, then you can go to the church and get in for free (Gratis!) Make sure you are dressed to be respectful. Ladies, this means, wearing a shawl or something that covers up your shoulders. Also, make sure if you are wearing a dress or skirt that is longer than the knee or just above it. Always be a good ambassador. They are strict here, which I appreciate. Guys, you should wear pants or slacks and a t-shirt, no tanks.

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Waking up early and touring La Mezquita was awesome!!! It was everything I expected and more. The left side of cathedral had better lighting for openings in the ceiling that the Christian Kings put in later during the time of the Reconquista. You could see older arches and newer arches stacked upon each other. Just to give a quick history lesson, the visigoths (a Germanic tribe) were in Cordoba first, then the Muslims (Moors) came and lastly the Christian Kings kicked the Moors out. So, as you can see this building has been through A LOT! It was bewildering to see the beautiful Islamic style arches and then walk around and see Catholic carvings and pictures of Jesus. The Mihrab was stunningly beautiful painted with shiny golds and hunter green shades. I could see moon shapes and flower shapes in many of the panels. You have to note that these panels and spaces were hand painted by many individuals and are painstakingly lovely. A Mihrab is an opening in the wall or a niche that is pointing towards Mecca, so it is a very important part of the building. If you were to make comparisons, it would be like walking into a Catholic Cathedral and walking towards the altar. When standing in front of a Mihrab, you will see more etches and intricate designs that go into the wall. You may even see beautiful tile work or Arabic writings if you look really closely into the designs in the ceiling part of the Mihrab.

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Barely anyone was inside which made my experience better. Daily routines for maintenance were taking place early in the morning before flocks of tourists came in. There was a man cleaning the floor with a zamboni machine. I had to step aside so that he could clean the floors to shine. I was in the building for more than an hour. A early morning Catholic mass was taking place. There were speaker phones that were attached to several columns and I decided to go and stand right next to one. I didn’t feel brave enough to go and sit at mass. I feel like if I knew my Spanish a bit more, I could listen along and know when to be respectful. What a trip to listen to a Catholic mass that used to be a mosque. Talk about cultural diffusion! It is a surreal and mystical experience. For just a minute, I felt as if all the religions of the world had no hostilities and that every religion in the world was on the same page. This mosque has its religious differences set aside, because they kept the beautiful parts of the Catholic Church and they kept the exquisite parts of the mosque.

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Walking around, there is just so much detail to absorb and to feel. I had to touch some of the columns to try and feel what this building had gone through in history. It amazed me that this building had gone through several hands in history, yet maintained a quiet and serene and pristine beauty. Before I left, an Australian lady was so kind enough to take a photo of me inside the cathedral with the beautiful pink and creme arches. We exchanged a quick conversation and we both agreed that it was a spiritual and reflective experience to walk around with only less than 10 people inside. I finally decided to go outside and sit in the sun. I felt a sense of completion and purpose. I was exposed to these beautiful arches of Cordoba when teaching my AP World history students about the Ummayad and Abbasid dynasty almost 7 or 8 years ago. Something about the arches, haunted me and drew me in to its enticing story. The arches were so perfect, so geometric and so simple, yet they inspired me to travel to Spain. Kids that I have taught still taunt and tease me about the arches. I was able to tell them that I actually went and saw them!

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As I sat outside, girls were getting denied at door for not having shawls. This was the first place that enforced this rule and I appreciated this. I witnessed some small birds, possibly swallows flying around like a swarm of bats. At one point, I thought that maybe the birds were bats and still I have yet to answer that. I sat close to a water fountain and watched the local people and tourists hang out by it to be purposely splashed with water because of the escalating heat. It gets REALLY hot in Cordoba. There was some kind of bell device attached to the water fountain that made chiming noises and many people were videotaping it, including myself. Cordoba, is definitely a place that feels local. You can tell who is a tourist, who is a student and who lives there. I wasn’t used to the change in pace since I had come from bustling Madrid and Sevilla, but now when I think back and reflect on my experience, I would go back and enjoy it all over again. One more thing to note, is to go and check out the outside facade of the building as the day progresses with the sun placement. The light and dark of the day bring about a feeling as if the building is still alive and breathing. I can’t explain it, you just have to go and see it throughout the day. Oh…and if you get hungry, go eat a slice of Spanish tortilla (egg, potato & onion) at Bar Santos, you will thank me later.

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Fabulous Fish Display in Madrid


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Found this lovely monkfish with a pepper in its mouth while doing my daily walk on Calle Cava Baja in Madrid! I appreciate oddities wherever I travel and this goes in my book as one of the most RAW & RED statements EVER! Take This!

I was so lucky to stay next to Calle Cava Baja. You really feel the energy of people when walking on this street around the evening time. People are clinking their glasses of tinto de verano and red wine while conversing in exciting conversations. Spaniards love to travel in groups of 4 or 5, or at least that is what I picked up. Age was not a factor at all! I saw people in their 20’s to 30’s socializing with 50 and 60 year olds. How beautiful is that? Go check this street out and life will course through your veins.

Cute Cooking Show: The Little Paris Kitchen


Was watching the cooking channel and came across a cute show called “The Little Paris Kitchen” starring Rachel Khoo.

It’s a BBC special. I just adore hearing her British accent. Reading up a little on her biography, she decided to go live in Paris to study at “Le Cordon Bleu”. Of course that is one of my dreams, but not sure if that is in the cards or my future at the moment.

The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo

Rachel cooked a dish called “tartiflette” The ingredients included lardons (cubes of smoked bacon), julienned potatoes, Reblochon Cheese, butter, onions, white wine and a bay leaf. She paired her tartiflette with a simple salad and said it would be a great spring or summer dinner (can’t remember which).

Her kitchen was cute, small and practical. She was lighting the stove with a match and moving around in a small space. I appreciated this, because my kitchen is small and seems helpless. Watching shows like Top Chef and other famous celebrity chef kitchens, everything they do seems so easy because they are fully equipped with top of the line products. Yeah….I would be cooking like a celebrity chef if I had a huge ass kitchen and every cooking tool you could imagine. So her humbleness was refreshing and inspiring. I love her mosaic tiled wall.  “Si tou vois Mere” song by Sidney Bechet played while she was sauteeing her dish! I also caught a fun and sweet song called “Je Suis Seul Ce Soir” by Swing 41.

She finished off the show with a parfait glass of decadent chocolate mousse.

I look forward to ordering her book. She cooks from the heart, smiles a lot and makes cooking seem easy. I like that, especially with the crazy schedule that I have. The book looks like it has great photography and her fashion is fun to watch. Happy Cooking! So glad I channel surfed today and found her! She’s on BBC!

Famous San Domenico Uovo Ravioli


Of course I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Episode where he was whisked away to Emilia Romagna in Italy. There were two sections in this beautiful episode that struck a chord with me in a GOOD WAY! I am awestruck when I see people using old world methods to make something delicious. I love how Europeans, especially the Italians are in love with making things from scratch and love fresh ingredients. I get goosebumps when I see or hear about generations of family members or workers who uphold a tradition for something as simple as making a ravioli, noodles, or some kind of a special dish. Of course I am a sucker for history!

I was especially inspired by the story of Chef Michael White. Chef Michael White decided to travel to Emilia Romagna to study under chef Valentino Marcattilii at Ristorante San Domenico in Imola. He studied and learned how to butcher old world style. He asked every question he could about Italian cooking. He studied the culture, the ingredients and fell in love with daily routines like shopping at the local markets. He got to know the local butchers very well and got to know the local cheese maker in his village. It was through these daily adventures, that he fell in love with the culture and fell in love with old world style food.

The second thing that made me gasp in a good way was the famous San Domenico Uovo Ravioli that he cooked on the show. This ravioli is so famous that it has made its way to Chicago, New York and other major foodie cities. I have yet to try it, but let me try to give you an idea.

Imagine sinking your teeth into a tender “al dente” hand made ravioli that oozes out a creamy orange yolk. Nestled inside this beautiful ravioli frame awaits some ricotta cheese & spinach. Sprinkled on top are decadent thin slices of white truffle, flakes of parmigiano along with dashes of fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt. It sounds heavenly! In fact this dish was originally crafted for an Italian royal, so the phrase “fit for a king” is absolutely true.

I’m sure you can find this dish in a major city like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. I was able to find a similar recipe on the web. Copied below is the recipe for Uovo Da Raviolo via Mario Batali on the Food Network. Hope you can be inspired to put on that apron and cook, if so, let me know how it turns out. Buon Appetito!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 small white or black truffle, shaved
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, plus more for garnishing pasta
  • 1/2 cup fresh sheep’s milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup spinach, blanched, drained and chopped
  • Scant pinch nutmeg
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 recipe basic pasta dough, recipe follows
  • 7 very fresh eggs
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted and kept warm

Directions

In a non-reactive bowl, combine 1/2 the truffle shavings, the Parmigiano, the ricotta and the spinach, mix well, and season to taste with nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Set aside.

Roll out the pasta dough to the thinnest setting on a pasta rolling machine. From the thin pasta sheet, cut 12 circles with a 6-inch diameter. Set 6 of the circles on a sheet tray dusted with flour, cover withplastic wrap and set aside.

In the center of each of the remaining 6 circles, mound an equal portion of the ricotta mixture. With the back of a small ladle or spoon, hollow out a well in the center of each mound. Carefully break the eggs, 1 at a time, into a small bowl, and transfer 1 yolk and a bit of white into the center of each well. It is imperative that the yolk remain unbroken.

Cover each filled circle of pasta with an unfilled circle, and press the edges together with fingers to seal.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Gently, using a wide spatula, lower eachravioli into the water to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the water and place gently into a 12 to14-inch saute pan with the remaining butter, shave the remaining truffle over, add a generous grating ofParmigiano-Reggiano and carefully put 1 on each plate.

Mound 3 1/2 cups of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the eggs and the olive oil. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and oil and begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.

As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the mound to retain the well shape. The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands. Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly reflour the board and continue kneading for 6 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Roll or shape as desired.

Picture of the famous San Domenico Restaurant in Imola, Italy.
Ok, I lied….there was one more thing that inspired me, CULATELLO! A place that you should schedule in your future travels is Antica Corte Pallavicina Anthony Bourdain and Chef Michael White both bought a culatello together that they will share in 2 years.
It takes about 2 years for the ham to set to its deliciousness. The story of the culatello genius’ discussed how every component into making this delicious salt ham takes special care, time and passion. The window placement in the ham cellar for sun and air, the hanging of the ham and even the trussing of the string around the ham are all important in the final product. I appreciate all the little details that each of these ham artists are experts in. We need more people to learn to appreciate the little things. You can see the love, sweat, tears and history in the detail. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on the bigger picture and often forget the time and consideration that goes into something this lovely.