What Makes a Good Ramen?

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that is a staple of the Japanese diet. Although many non-Japanese will think of the 29¢ (or however much they cost these days) packet of instant bachelor food, true Ramen is an artform, to say the least.

I used to love Ramen because they taste good,without knowing why or caring enough to find out. Then one day, I caught a Japanese documentary on TV that followed one man’s fight to revive his struggling Ramen shop. I never saw a bowl of Ramen the same way again.

This poor man, let’s call him Mr. R, was on the brink of losing his Ramen shop. But  his failure was completely self-induced; he had no respect for his own profession. Walking into his shop one would be greeted by a dark, dingy space, laundry hanging in plain sight, and an almost creepy, unmotivated middle-aged man reading the paper . The TV show then hired one of the top Ramen chefs in Japan (not to be confused with Top-Ramen chefs) to whip Mr. R into shape and help him turn his failing business around.

Mr. R  had to start over from the basics. What particularly struck me was how he would wake up at 3 in the morning to start preparing the dizzying number of raw ingredients that make up the Ramen broth. Then he would return to the shop a couple of hours later to check on the progress of the broth. Finally, after hours of simmering and readjusting, the broth would be ready to be evaluated by the top chef … only to be told it is not worthy of any customer. He had to keep trying , day after day, until he got everything exactly right.

To his credit, Mr. R made a remarkable turn-around … but only after he changed his attitude towards the art of Ramen-making. He went from a lazy bum who was trying to make ramen to make a living, to someone who is passionate about what he does, and who sacrifices his blood, sweat and tears to achieve the perfect bowl of Ramen. His reward would be a thumbs-up from a satisfied customer … something he probably never experienced until that day.

So if you ask me, a good bowl of Ramen is more than the toppings or even the ingredients … it’s Ramen that embodies the spirit of its maker.

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Why I Love Handmade Italian Leather Bags (Part 3)

Last week I claimed that Italian leather is world class but that it was not enough to cause me to love a bag. For that to happen, the artisan has to be passionate about working with the best leather on Earth.

If you search for Italian leather briefcases you will come across a multitude of designs by a multitude of suppliers. So what makes a leather briefcase so special that I would consider it worth loving? I set all the bags on my desk and let time do its magic. Eventually, some bags will speak out. If a briefcase doesn’t speak to me it is not a work of art and it is out: it can be handmade and made with the best Italian leather but it has no soul.

After eliminating the uninspiring, I turn to those bags worth owning that make me say: “wow, that is a nice briefcase”. There are many bags like these: my Affari by Vincenzo fits this description. I like how it is designed, I love its leather and the craftsmanship that put it together, and, most importantly, I feel like it is an elegant accessory and a practical way to carry my laptop for business.

Then there are the ultimate briefcases, the ones that make me fall in love. I can immediately think of two: the Documenti briefcase by Bojola and the Santarelli Italian leather briefcase by Marco Campomaggi. The Bojola bag is very classy: so much so that I really want to be seen with it. The Campomaggi briefcase is so good looking and masculine that it embodies how I want to look: it taps into my aspirations so well that I cannot resist it.

Awesome doesn’t happen by accident: it requires the love of a passionate artisan poured into it. I guess that I don’t love handmade Italian leather bags after all. What I love is awesome handmade Italian leather bags.
Italian leather briefcase

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Super Simple and Quick Porcini Pasta

Last night we were in a pinch – it was getting late, and we had to make something for dinner that didn’t require a trip to the grocery store. Thanks to Eliana, we had a bag full of porcini mushrooms, picked and dried by her grandmother in Italy! We wanted to do something a little different from our normal porcini risotto, but most of the porcini pasta recipes we consulted required heavy cream, something we did not have.

So, we improvised. Here is a SUPER simple and quick porcini pasta that can be made with ridiculously few ingredients:

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • a handful of dried porcini mushrooms. This is the minimum. More is better.
  • enough beef bouillon cubes to make about 2 cups of broth
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1Tbsp butter (optional)
  • one box of dry pasta (of course fresh would be great if you have it!)
  1. soak the dried porcini in warm or hot water for 10-15 minutes.
  2. start boiling the water for the pasta at this time.
  3. remove the porcini without discarding the water – wring dry, set aside. Chop up the larger pieces, if desired.
  4. pour the remaining porcini juice through a sieve (I use 2 plies of paper towl) into a microwaveable container.
  5. add enough beef bouillon cubes to this porcini juice to make beef-porcini broth, then microwave until hot.
  6. peel, chop and fry the garlic in 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil on low heat.
  7. add the butter (if desired) and porcini, stir-fry for a coupe of minutes.
  8. add the beef-porcini broth and stir to make sure the bouillon(s) have dissolved. Let simmer on low heat until the pasta is ready (al dente!), then coat the pasta in this broth and serve. There will be no “sauce” left, but the pasta will absorb all the flavor, color and aroma of the porcini mushrooms.

May not exactly be restaurant-quality, but given the time and effort involved, it’s deceptively good. This dish was gobbled up as quickly as it was made. Enjoy!

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Why I Love Handmade Italian Leather Bags (Part 2)

In my previous post I talk about some of the first reasons why I developed an appreciation for Italian leather products. Now I ponder the question: Is Italian leather really better?

My short answer is: “yes.” But for me it is not enough that something be made with Italian leather.

Although I have to admit that my knowledge of leather products from other countries such as Morocco, Argentina, or India is limited, the long leather-making Italian tradition has resulted in some manufacturing processes that yield the highest quality product while minimizing the impact on the environment.

Sure, I love top-grain vegetable tanned leather because of how it feels, looks, and regenerates. But what I really like is what a person who fell in love with leather can make, with his or her hands. Unless an artisan can tell me about his or her passion and love for leather and working with it… I can not get too excited.

But there is more, and I will explain that next.

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New Campomaggi Bags – Suede with Attitude

New Campomaggi Bag in Distressed Suede

New Campomaggi Fontana Messenger Bag in Distressed Suede

We love how Marco Campomaggi keeps pushing the envelope when it comes to distressed leather bags. His new lineup of Distressed Suede bags have given “suede” a totally new look – and a good dose of attitude.

Neither soft nor delicate, his suede bags go through the patented distressing process just like his other bags, giving them the  rugged, vintage, signature “Campomaggi” look and feel. Finished with brass rivets and studs, these new Campomaggi bags will surely delight long-time fans and first-time owners alike.

See all Campomaggi bags.

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Why I Love Handmade Italian Leather Bags

One of the sayings that I grew up with in Italy was: “vender cara la pelle” which literally translates to: “to sell one’s skin dear” meaning that you will fight your best fight to the end.  The word “pelle” means both skin and leather in Italian.

Leather is incredibly durable and versatile. Last year, I saw a news report that talked about a pair of handmade leather shoes unearthed in Armenia that were some 5,500 years old. The news caused me to reflect on how we have relied on leather to protect us and serve us in a variety of ways for a very long time.

In Italy, people seem to have a very strong connection to leather products. A lot of people dedicate their lives to working with leather, and the streets are filled with windows displaying those products. As an Italian, If you don’t have leather appreciation in your genes, you will learn it.

So, there is the first reason. I have loved leather for as long as I can remember. More on the topic in my next post.
5,500-year-old shoe

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Happy New Year!

I would like to wish happy new year to all of our customers. May 2011 bring you happiness and joy.

Thank you for a great 2010!

-Daniele

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Did you like your Christmas gifts?

Did you give or get a Marcopoloni product as a Christmas gift? We heard back from a handful of customers but would always like to gather even more feedback for our artisans. That is how we can make improvements and develop new ideas.

The products that generated the most feedback were the Freccia iPad Leather Bag and the Campomaggi leather bags. Our customers seem to be pretty enthusiastic about those. Emi got a Giudi credit card case, the CARTA. Since I have just a few credit card slots in my wallet (I bought it when I couldn’t dream of the number of cards that you get when you have a baby), I am starting to think that one of the new ones we are going to get from Giudi in the new year has my name on it.

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Switching to the new Fedex web services

A few weeks ago, just as the number of shipments was starting to rise for the holidays, Fedex moved our account to use their new web services interface even though we had not implemented it yet.

We were reminded of the pain of filling out forms online to print labels, until the next day it was all back to normal.

It was interesting that instead of Fedex apologizing for the faux pas, I had to promise to complete the transition by March 2011, even though their official deadline is May 2012. So now it is time for me to get to work.

Of course, there is no official documentation for using their web services using ColdFusion. So I am going to do a little more digging. I hope that I will not have to resort to using PHP.

This is a very important part of our business, and definitely worth implementing. We have integrated with Fedex in our shopping cart to give you exact shipping quotes and delivery dates and times for your orders; in the “my account” section you can track packages; and in the order maintenance section of our intranet we print labels.

The new web services will integrate with more functionality. We hope to be able to give our international customers quotes that include duties. This would make it possible for us to ship with Fedex and take advantage of the detailed tracking information that they provide.

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Our Christmas Bestseller was the LIRA Italian Leather Wallet

As the rush to get all the holiday orders shipped is nearing the end, I took a moment to look at what sold the most this Christmas season. I was surprised to find out that our best seller this year was not one of the new bags that are doing so well, but our always-popular LIRA Privacy ID Italian Leather Wallet.

Wallets were so popular this year that we will probably run out of the LIRA wallet soon. Since it is my job to forecast sales and plan inventory… I have to hand it to you: you exceeded my rosiest forecast.

For those of you that now have an authentic Italian leather wallet waiting for you under the tree, I feel like spoiling the surprise a bit: there is a 64% chance that it is dark leather.  This also surprised me a little. In the past, the split between dark leather and black was closer to even.

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