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.
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.
Because they were so stylish and the only ones in the world to be made of hardened leather. Take a look:
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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 🙂
I just got off the phone with Gianni. Today it was easy to get a hold of him because, having fallen during a mountain bike race, he just cracked three ribs and now he has to rest quite a bit. That’s why he put himself in charge of the phones, accounting, and is staying put for a while. Such an easy target I might call him back tomorrow!
As we were chatting, I told him that I wanted to visit his cousin for lunch because he has an Italian restaurant in Palo Alto, not too far from us. He said: “Make sure to call me at home when you are there and I will buy you lunch!” It turns out that he means to pay him next time he sees Mario. Gianni is the elder among his cousins so I am curious to do this. I don’t want to get a free lunch, but I would like to see his face when I tell him that I have his cousin Gianni on the phone.
One of the reasons for me to call him was to get the picture of him drawing new products in the Aeolian Islands. I had seen the picture on his website and it looked great: a wonderful setting with the sea and the Island of Alicudi in the background. If you are ever trying to figure out a beautiful place to visit in Italy that is off the beaten path, this is certainly a good example. We are going to use the picture in our next Calendar (and possibly every calendar thereafter) and wish to go there.
As usual, Gianni was busy creating something new. He said that demand for his products in his native island (Sicily) is growing at a healthy rate so he is designing, among other things, a Trinacria key chain–a symbol of Sicily. I can’t wait to get this because many Italian descendants in the US appreciate Sicilian symbolism and I think that it would really add to our selection.
Thank you for reading my post. Don’t forget to use the coupon code I disclosed in a previous post to get 10% off anything on the Marcopoloni site during the month of November. Also stay on top of new additions by signing up to our newsletter below.
I’ve never been much of a conformist. I wasn’t a paninaro growing up in Milan in the 80’s and I don’t subscribe to expensive brands for the sake of the brands. I just want what I think is the best stuff in the world. Is that too much to ask?
What I noticed early on in my life was that name brands could sell sub-par products at high prices just by slapping their logos on it. Kudos to their marketing departments, but I want something that is better quality and fits my tastes.
Don’t get me wrong, I like some of the luxury brands. For example, growing up I though Armani was great. But now I see that they make their shirts in Tunisia. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I have had the luck to travel through all of Italy. I’ve been to every region and talked to a myriad of artisans, both great and not so great, and some truly amazing. And those amazing artisans make amazing stuff. So instead of getting an Armani shirt made in some factory in Tunisia, I would prefer to find an amazing artisan that still makes amazing shirts.
In my photo above I am comfortable with my look. The shoes, scarf, and jacket are by Maledetti Toscani. The belt and belt pouch by Campomaggi. The key chain by Gianni. I wear everything with pride knowing that each item is the best of its kind in the world or very close to it–it is, so far, the very best that I could find.
Of course I can’t find everything that is awesome on my own. If you know of a great artisan, anywhere in the world, please let me know so that I can explore more greatness. Thank you for reading my blog, use offer code DANI10XK to get 10% off anything in the store until 11/30/2015. For more updates about our great artisans, make sure to sign up for our newsletter. We send up to six every year.
You might know Baha. Baha is a jeweler in New York whose artisanship is amazing.
When it comes to delivering his more expensive masterpieces Baha needed something that even he couldn’t create. An outstanding jewelry box worthy of the treasure it holds.
When he came to me for help, I immediately thought of Peroni, who, among many other things, also makes jewelry boxes. And, as you should expect, they are not just any jewelry boxes. Unlike the eyeglasses cases, which are made of hardened leather, Peroni jewelry boxes use the same leather wrapped around a wooden box. The wood supplies the hardness while the leather without any stitches gives it an amazingly luxurious feel.
Unfortunately, just like we can’t carry a catalog of Baha’s jewelry, we have not grown enough to carry Peroni’s jewelry boxes, yet. Baha is going to customize his (if he decides to go forward with them) by engraving his logo with gold leaf. If they arrive I will make sure to take pictures and show them to you. This leads me to the point of this post: if you are on a quest to find something extremely unique, high quality, and authentic, please get in touch with me as that is my passion and I would love nothing more than embark on the quest.
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Volkswagen was recently exposed for having its cake and eating it too.
In Italy we say: “occhio non vede, cuore non duole”, which, loosely translated, means: “what you don’t know won’t hurt your feelings”.
It often seems to me that this is the road-map that business follows to profits. Some say: “that is the way the world works,” but I believe that there are plenty of people in business who do not sell their soul to profits and are still able to “make” it. In some cases, they do extremely well because they have figured out how to provide something that people really want.
Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) said the Romans, so this must have been a problem for some time. With globalization came an opportunity to operate under a cloak of mystery. So how is the buyer going to be able to beware? How do we know whether the label is true or not? Should I not buy the $3 t-shirt because it was probably made by kids who sleep on the factory floor? Does the Mazda in my garage that gets good gas mileage have software installed that achieves good gas mileage by blowing past emissions standards? The answer is common: “we don’t know! And we can’t possibly know.”
Thankfully someone exposed Volkswagen.
In my line of business cheaper imitations abound. We try to warn and educate customers by posting on our web site about cheaper imitations:
Hidden cost resulting from lack of durability not included.
Hidden cost of using lower quality materials not included.
Hidden cost of poorer craftsmanship not included.
Hidden cost of using underpaid workers not included.
Hidden cost of the environmental impact of manufacturing products in less-regulated countries not included.
Hidden cost of using production methods that are harmful to humans and the environment not included.
Hidden cost of losing generations-old traditions in craftsmanship not included.
Hidden cost of contributing to the use-and-dispose culture not included.
We really try to vet our artisans. I found that the best method is to ask the right questions and let time verify the answers. There is a lot you can learn from people over the years. That’s why we now take a long time before adding a new artisan. There has been a situation where we later realized that what appeared authentic actually was not, and we dropped those products. So we learn from our mistakes.
My question to you is: where do you stand on this issue? Are we crazy to want to tell our customers exactly who it is that made what we offer and how?
As the years go by and we realize that Gianni has been making his leather keychains for 30 years by now, it is not surprising to see them in shops everywhere around the world. It is also not surprising that they invariably seem to be better than the “other” key chains, especially the blatant imitations.
That long experience coupled with Gianni’s love for the products is what makes the difference and ultimately sets them apart. The Tuscan vacchetta leather he uses has become really expensive and Gianni’s keychains, although not dirt cheap, are priced low for the quality. I see keychains by Bottega Veneta advertised for $300 and I scratch my head because those keychains are really boring compared to Gianni’s. Clearly there are people willing to pay for a brand name. What we offer is the highest quality for the right price: a value proposition that appeals to me a lot.
There are three keychains that I would describe as classic: the Snaplink, the Giamaicano, and the Classico. Each has compelling features, what they share in common is that they all can clip onto either your belt or belt buckle.
The Snaplink is the most popular and also my favorite. I clip it to my belt buckle, it is designed to look like a belt with buckle and the buckle actually works–making it easy to add and remove rings. So it is very convenient at a valet or when dropping your car off for service. I had to replace mine after exactly 10 years because the clip slipped off. The leather was still in great shape.
The Giamaicano is what I consider the most stylish because the braid is awesome to the touch. It might be nicer than the Snaplink but it doesn’t have the valet feature. The clip is the easiest to use inside a bag with a keychain d-ring.
The Classico comes in a wider array of colors including my favorite, blue. It is the only one that can clip around a belt. This is great when your pockets and belt buckles are not in close proximity. Because you are able to choose exactly where the Classico will hang you usually can tuck your keys away.