Everything Tastes Better in these Handcrafted Japanese Bowls

A bowl of udon

Just like beer tastes better in a proper glass than a can, and cappuccino tastes better in a ceramic cup than a paper cup, it’s no surprise that Japanese noodles taste better served in a proper, handcrafted noodle bowl.

As soon as we received these new donburi (bowls for noodles or rice) from Koito Pottery in Japan, we knew we’d have to give them a try. That night we whipped up some ramen noodles (NOT made from scratch – that is not something that can be whipped up), and it was honestly the best quick-made ramen we had at home. The next day I made some tofu-tamago-toji-don (stir-fried tofu and spinach encapsulated in a fluffly egg-omelette-type thing, served over rice), and again, the bowls somehow turned it into a fancier, tastier version of this rather basic meal.

So yes, these noodle/rice bowls are magic. The blue-black coloring – a unique characteristic of the pottery made by Dai at Koito Pottery – enhances the visual appeal of the food it contains. The not-so-smooth texture gives you a tactile experience of the wabi-sabi concept. Each bowl is one-of-a-kind, a product of a 100% manual process that requires steady, expert hands and decades of experience.

Last night we had some left-over tempura (thanks, mom!) so naturally, we had tempura udon. I was ready to dig in when I remembered at the last second to snap a photo – so let it be known that taking this photo delayed me attacking my bowl of udon! But boy, was it delicious. I don’t know when I can enjoy a hot bowl of udon in Japan, but at least with these bowls, I can have a little taste of Japan at home, anytime I wish.

SUPER Quick and Easy Japanese Cod Roe Pasta Recipe

Japanese Cod Roe Pasta

Japanese Cod Roe Pasta
Japanese Cod Roe Pasta with Nori Seaweed Topping

As a kid and recent immigrant to the US, I remember being teased by a classmate because “you people eat raw meat!” As a kindergartner, I must have been offended by his derogatory tone – but what I remember more clearly is my amazement at how misinformed he was. “Are all Americans this ignorant?,” I wondered.

Thinking about it now, that kid was probably referring to our consumption of raw fish … something that was probably considered barbaric by the average American way back then. But fast forward a few decades … and my bets are on the grown-up, hippy version of that kid being a “woke”, proud, self-proclaimed lover of sushi. I supposed we have come a long way in cultural acceptance, at least in the food – or foodie – sphere.

Cod roe pasta is not something new to the Italian menu, but the Japanese version of it has such a wonderful mix of flavors that it’s become a popular item on the Japanese menu.  Butter and soy sauce is truly a match made in heaven, and the addition of the cod roe elevates the umami to a whole new level. This pasta is incredibly simple to make – yes, you can prepare the sauce while the pasta is boiling – and requires just a handful of ingredients. If you can get your hands on some tarako (Japanese salted cod roe), the flavor-to-effort ratio is off the charts!

Ingredients:

  • One pack of dry spaghetti (1 lb)
  • Two sacks(?) of tarako (Japanese salted pollock roe) – or mentaiko (spicy version)
  • 1/3 Cup milk (I used whole milk)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • Cut nori (dried seaweed) – optional
  1. Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water – keep it al dente, and reserve some pasta water
  2. While the pasta is cooking, mix the tarako, milk and soy sauce in a small bowl
  3. When the pasta is ready, drain and toss with butter
  4. Mix the tarako sauce into the pasta, add pasta water (1/2 Cup or more, to desired consistency)
  5. Sprinkle with cut nori and enjoy!!

I know it’s only 10am, but I am already looking forward to my lunch …  leftovers!

The First Peroni Frames in The United States

You may recall that we went to Pitti in January, but what you do not remember for sure is that I bought a pair of frames from Peroni while I was there.

Why?

Because they were so stylish and the only ones in the world to be made of hardened leather. Take a look:

Daniele with the first Peroni frames to come to the States.
Daniele with the first Peroni frames to come to the States.

And why am I telling you now?

Because my sight has declined to the point that I really needed progressive lenses. So I went to the optometrist at Kaiser Permanente, had a lovely chat with the optometrist, then another with the expert in mounting frames and BOOM now I have two pairs of glasses. One is the Peroni one and another for every day use.

The expert was very nice but she was not sure that the lab could fit the lenses because leather is not a material they have ever worked with before. That was better than the response that another lab gave me months ago: “absolutely impossible.” I had to ask her to try and that if it was not going to work I would buy another frame. She made a visible note of my promise and said: “they will be ready in three weeks.”

Much to my surprise they were ready yesterday, after basically 4 business days. I never thought that I would be this excited about getting a pair of glasses, but the nuisance of putting on and off my reading glasses was really starting to get to me. I took my wife with me and then, as a reward, we went to eat ramen at Orenchi–critically known as one of the top ramen shops in the area.

Why would I mention Orenchi?

Just to give you something that compares to these Peroni frames. Just like their ramen is super delicious, but served in a hole-in-the-wall spartan setting, these frames are super cool, but not your lightest or most comfortable.

If you are willing to pay the price and love these frames, get in touch with me and I can see if I can bring some in for you.

Happy seeing!

Daniele

At Pitti Peroni Made Me Feel

This was the first time for us to go to Pitti. But we had seen plenty of reports showing men at the edge of fashion posing for pictures outside the medieval fortress (Fortezza da Basso) that hosts the event. It is really quite interesting to watch, because among the colorful coats, shoes, sunglasses, hats, and beards lie some true gems of style worth following. The rest is a reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that “de gustibus…” (old Latin saying meaning “of tastes…” you cannot comment).

Then, far more subdued, are scores of impeccably dressed men who appear to be tending to important business and can careless if they are photographed. They certainly made me feel like I could use a little extra style.

These were my thoughts when we got to the Peroni booth. We saw a much more sober display that was proud to show new prototypes to be introduced later this year. As we entered the booth we began to realize that the Peroni catalog can be had to fit almost any style: the color selection seems to cover the entire spectrum… And then wow! It was then that I fell in love with something new: hardened hide eyeglasses in blue and yellow.

I haven’t given them a name yet, but they will for sure become part of the Marcopoloni catalog. I tried them on and after a few adjustments they started fitting on my head and they stopped sliding down my nose. I absolutely loved them and I bought a pair (against all rules) because I had to have them right away. Now that I have a frame I will finally go to the optometrist

Now I am the only one at the show with THESE cool glasses. I wear them with the default glass that doesn’t help me read at all, and love it. I posted the picture on Instagram and Facebook and sat there admiring it while a few likes trickled in (I have a very small audience). I know. This does not sound like me, it is vain and narcissistic. But let me feel young with the confidence of the middle-aged man: it is a wonderful feeling.

I Am Back, or at Least I Should Be

I have not blogged in a very long time. But, since I decided to seek a contract position as a software developer, I have been extremely focused on that and it involved a lot of preparation. After I got MongoDB Developer certification and after I completed my study of Node.js, I was ready to interview.

In Silicon Valley there is an over-abundance of programming jobs, and I was lucky to have a lot of opportunities. Ultimately, Cisco Systems turned out to be the best match and that is where I have been since the middle of August.

Cisco is on the other side of town and I am lucky to live close to the light rail that drops me off right in front of my Cisco building. So I have a solid 45 minutes each way to tend to business, whether it be personal, Marcopoloni, or Cisco. So today, after almost two months into my new routine, I decided to return to writing, hopefully on a more regular basis.

So life is a lot more hectic now and I don’t have as much direct contact with all the beautiful creations that we bring in. But Marcopoloni is also my essence (not just Emi’s) and I want to remain close to it.

You might be able to imagine that I have adorned my cubicle with Marcopoloni ware. As I go to work every day I always have an Antartidee desk clock on my desk, along with my Murano glass tumbler and my Kissa Koito pottery cappuccino cup. The computer goes in a Santarelli briefcase, I always use my Snaplink keychain, my Nicola, and a belt from either Dionigi or Campomaggi.
Today I am also wearing my Stupendo ankle boots and my Maledetti Toscani leather jacket. I am surrounded by Marcopoloni stuff and rightfully so: I love it. But when I get to work I stand out like a sore thumb. Not in a good or bad way: people have different interests, at least on the surface. There are people who love Italian wine, people who roast their own coffee, people who bike to work, and people who have their lunch delivered through Uber: all things that I am glad to share.

I am missing a decent wall hook. A hook that hangs from the cubicle partitions would make me very happy. I would use two: one for my bag and one for my coat. I will ask our friends at Antartidee because you never know, it might have a market.

There you have it. This is how I am rolling right now. I still keep in touch with my customers so feel free to drop me an e-mail!

Third Time Is The Charm

Basic Focaccia

Basic Focaccia
It turned out very well. It was perhaps a little insipid, but some salty olives made it wonderful!

Well, in my case I can not settle for this. From a point of view of getting something right, this was a successful attempt. It was edible and quite enjoyable… if you did not know how it might have tasted.

There Is Always Room for Improvement

I made this focaccia because we had our friends over. Our friends are my Guinea Pigs when it comes to my food-related experiments. They will tell me the truth and the truth did come out: good but a bit insipid (though it went perfectly with the salty olives they brought) and what’s up with the lack of toppings? Even last time I had a little sprinkle of onions, which was quite enjoyable.

The truth is that I forgot, which leads me to my next point.

Practice Should Make Perfect

In the rush of getting the focaccia in the oven and not missing any of the recipe’s steps, I forgot to add any toppings (which are not mentioned in my recipe). Though it sounds unbelievable that I forgot them where I hadn’t forgotten them in my two previous attempts, I think that the reason is that I don’t have the whole procedure engraved in my brain yet. More practice is required. If you ask me to make Spaghetti Alla Carbonara, I will do it right every time because I have been making it for so long. But when it comes to focaccia I am going to have to try a few more times.

Delicious and Natural

Now that I have produced an edible version of focaccia I feel that I can recommend that you try it at home too. It is not very difficult, and the actual working time is less than making pasta by far. The ingredients are very basic (flour, water, yeast, olive oil, salt, and a bit of white wine) and natural. Maybe some day I will make a whole wheat version of it, but I am not there yet.

From A Wonderful Corner of Italy

Focaccia exists in a thousand varieties in every corner of Italy. It is one of the best street foods that I grew up with and every region has its variants (in fact, every baker worth of the name probably has a favorite variant considering that the toppings can vary a lot). I am focusing on the traditional focaccia genovese, which originated in Genova around the XVI century. This article tells you where to try it if you are ever in Genova. Some of the pictures of the bakeries are really inviting! Who’s going to Italy with me?

My Second Shot at Focaccia

Homemade Focaccia

Homemade Focaccia
My second attempt at making focaccia at home.

A Little Background

I did not mention this in my previous focaccia post: I really love focaccia because the bakery in the street where I lived in Milan made excellent focaccia and I spent a few summers as a young boy in Liguria, the region where focaccia originated, and I can still taste how good that focaccia was. This is why I am so determined to have awesome focaccia again. It used to be that anywhere you went in Italy would serve decent focaccia. That is no longer the case: even in Liguria, I have walked into bakeries that did not serve good focaccia. Like with all good things, I think that it should be preserved and I am trying to teach my kids how to make it (we’ll see if I am successful in a few years.)

Determination

I don’t want to call myself an artisan, because that is such an honorific (not horrific) title that only accomplished craftsmen deserve. But artisanship requires determination as you are most likely to fail at first. As you well know, I failed miserably on my first attempt that after a couple of weeks I decided to try again. I re-read the recipe, I compared it with my notes from my first attempt and decided to learn from experience this time. The dough turned out better (I kneaded it for longer), it was properly salted, I did use a higher temperature, and, most importantly, I did pour a string of olive oil on top of the dough before it went into the oven.

New Mistakes Or Learning Lessons

Unfortunately, I fell prey of a horrific habit of mine: when I like an ingredient I use too much of it. Because salt was very lacking during my previous attempt, not only did I increase the amount of salt that went into the dough, but I got a little happy sprinkling the sale grosso (large salt) on top of the dough spread out in the pan. The result was so salty that it was inedible. After scraping some of the salt I really enjoyed it but it was still too salty because it wasn’t possible to remove enough salt. Too bad! I had the top salt measured correctly the first time… Couldn’t I do the same thing?

Another thing that wasn’t ideal was the oven temperature. I used 420 Fahrenheit this time and tested it a little too soon. The crust was hard and the dough wasn’t fully cooked when I first cut it so I had to put it back.

What Will I Do Differently Next Time

It’s pretty obvious that next time I will use less large salt and will try to go back to 395 degrees for a little longer than 20 minutes. If that works I might be celebrating and you will hear about it 🙂

My First Focaccia Attempt

My first attempt at focaccia was far from a success.

My first attempt at focaccia was far from a success.
My first attempt at focaccia was far from a success.

It Begins with A Passion

I am constantly trying to expand my Italian cooking horizon. When I try something new I usually fail and this time was no different. My lifelong passion for artisanally made products manifests itself at home with my desire to master Italian cooking. In particular, I love handmade pasta. But before I can deliver delicious creations I have to learn how to make them right, something that takes time and dedication.

Likewise, our very accomplished artisans, go through a similar cycle. A lot of sweat, blood, and tears accompany the introduction of a new product. And the first run sometimes is not the best and later variants surpass it in some way. That is the inevitable value of experience, and, when you think that Imperio Rossi has dedicated more than 50 years to making Murano glass, you realize that experience and dedication mean a lot.

Failure Is Simply Part of The Learning Process

Now, my focaccia was edible, but it was light years away from tasting like the focaccia I enjoyed growing up in Italy. I realized some mistakes and there are some changes I would consider next time. My mistakes were that I didn’t sprinkle the focaccia with a drizzle of oil before putting it in the oven, that I didn’t put enough salt in the dough itself, that I baked it for too long. Next time I am going to make a smaller batch so that I have less to eat in case it doesn’t turn out well. I am also going to knead it for longer after the dough has risen, and I might use a bit higher oven temperature. With these changes alone I expect a better result next time, but whether or not that is enough to make the perfect focaccia remains to be seen.

I have seen my artisans fail in the process of creating the perfect product. Some of the early Campomaggi wallets, for example, had a little too much character built in with credit card slots that were too tight for credit cards or shapes that were pretty far from rectangular. I have seen him make leather jackets that were absolutely awesome, but totally uncomfortable. We now have great wallets by Campomaggi, and I bet that some day we will have totally awesome leather jackets as well. Failure is simply part of the learning process.

Erase The Memory of Failure

What erases the memory of failure is trying again and again and finally getting it right. I am not going to give up on focaccia. Just like with my Tortellini Mantovani, I will eventually get it right.

And when I do get it right, it is going to be so awesome! And that awesomeness is my passion.

Campomaggi in Via Della Spiga Is A Big Deal

If Via della Spiga means nothing to you let me explain why it is such a big deal for me.

Yesterday, Campomaggi announced that they will open their flagship store in Via della Spiga, 5 in Milano tomorrow. Although I had heard the rumors before now it is official and it is happening for real.

Prodotto Artigianale on The Label

“Prodotto Artigianale” on the Campomaggi label means “artisanal product”. Back in the Eighties, when Marco Campomaggi was making his first bags by hand, I was witnessing the concentration of fashion, style, and luxury in Via della Spiga. That is also when I witnessed the difference between industrial pret-a-porter products and artisanal one-of-a-kind creations: a difference that I now label as the difference between canned-made and handmade. Campomaggi values a product that is handmade to the point that he has ensured the uniqueness of each item is enhanced by his patented distressing processes. If you look at the label, it wants to tell you that his unique soul, rooted in his past, has created each item… artisanally.

Milan Wasn’t Always The Capital of Fashion

Italy always created wonderful artisanal products, and Milan already had luxurious shops in Via Montenapoleone and other medieval streets next to Via della Spiga. But it wasn’t until the seventies and eighties that Italian fashion designers created world-renowned brands that made Italy the place to go for certain styles. That is when Milan became an amazing shopping destination, offering all the best brands in the Quadrilatero della Moda (Fashion’s Rectangle–referring to the area around Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga).

The Rise of The Artisanal Brand

Not all brands were huge powerhouses like Luis Vuitton and Prada. Besides a few of the historical stores, like a butcher, that have survived in the area, some alternative brands also started finding success, especially in Via della Spiga: Fabiana Filippi, Brunello Cuccinelli (which had two stores and Campomaggi is replacing one of the two) celebrate their artisanal roots as the source of their value. Campomaggi fits very well on this stage and the stage will help spread the word about how we need more style that is unique to each one of us.

This is what Marcopoloni is trying to bring to you: a unique style based on superb artisanship coupled with a personalized service so that you can get exactly what is right for you. It is easy to get started: just get to know Emi or me with a quick e-mail about what you wish to do. We’ll personally help you from there.

Integrating with QuickBooks Online Using Node.js

With the new year here and the holiday rush behind us I have a month (before tax season arrives) to dedicate to the one project that we see as the holy grail for a small business like ours: Quickbooks Integration.

I, being the nerd that I am, always wanted to integrate accounting with our order management system. Emi, who knows that some things are better outsourced always said: “no way.” The process of moving transaction to the desktop version of QuickBooks was “automated” by exporting customer and order data to “.IIF” files and then importing them into QuickBooks. This worked fine for invoices, but sales receipts would not allow us to put our order number in the number field in QuickBooks. This meant that after the import I would have to move the order number from another field where we sent it temporarily to the number field. A real time saver! Oh, and another thing. Our special sales tax codes for our city and county? Yes, they would come through but not actually select the correct code. So we had to go through every single invoice and sales receipt and select the correct tax codes for orders in Campbell, or in Santa Clara County.

I am in charge of importing orders. When I get busy and I can’t do that for a while I have months worth of orders to import. Invariably, checking for the correctness of the imported data would put me to sleep, or close to it. Let’s face it: I really hated it, and really wished that I could develop my own accounting application… “the data is already there!”

In my previous post I talked about how I had been watching the development of QuickBooks Online and always had to pass on it because it didn’t support inventory management. But that is no longer the case and even multi-currency support is in the works.

I am a full stack JavaScript developer. I don’t code in PHP, Java, or .NET, which are the server languages that are well documented on the QuickBooks Developer page. I have to use Node.js to accomplish this. I struggled to figure out how to make calls to the API that were not documented in the example that I had. Luckily QuickBooks support sent me a link that changed that and it was smooth sailing since.

Now I’m testing my cloud application to send (at a click of a button) customers, sales receipts, and invoices to QuickBooks Online. I hope to be able to go live this week in time for processing sales tax reporting. If I don’t I will be very, VERY sorry!

I hope that this story can help some other business owner out there who is considering a solution to problems like ours. I will let you know how it goes next week!