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Six Degrees of Separation: A Memorable Meal at La Morra

By August 4, 2014 asking questions, Boston, building relationships, getting out of our comfort zone, inspired by others, working in restaurants

You know when things line up so well, you can’t stop smiling or for a moment bathe in the feeling of wonder at how magical life can be? This is how I was feeling when I was preparing to leave for Boston a few weeks ago.

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As I mentioned in my post about o ya a couple weeks ago, this was my second time to visit the city of Boston. I had been dreaming of returning since the beginning of this year. Then I was offered an invitation to come out to visit a friend for a few days off of the coast of Boston, on one of the Elizabeth Islands. How could I have resisted? The timing could not have been better, as I had a chunk of free time in July. Indeed -things lined up nicely!

As you might imagine, I work my travel plans around food experiences. I had a mental list of places that I wanted to dine while I was in Boston. Josh DeCarolis, a chef who runs the kitchen at Mateo in Durham, is from Boston. I ran my list by him, telling him that I would be willing to have some flexibility with my plans if he had any suggestions. He told me about an Italian restaurant, La Morra, where he worked for a number of years. I have enjoyed Josh’s cooking style, which is as he is – very Italian. I trusted his judgment when he told me to make some time for his old stomping grounds, La Morra.

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The next phase of this story has to do with my friend Peter, who is from Boston. He and I worked together at Magnolia Grill. I knew as soon as I met him in 2011 that I wanted us to be friends.

I asked Peter to listen to my list of plans. I wanted him to give me the scoop on public transportation in Boston. When I said that I had decided to go to La Morra, he expressed his approval. He said the La Morra has been one of his favorite spots for years.  His pottery studio was near there, and he has had many meals at their bar with their longtime bartender, Bernie. La Morra even served espresso in Peter’s handmade cups.

Fast forward a couple of days – Peter and I were sitting at my table enjoying dinner together. I was texting with another friend, Jesse, who lives in Boston. Jesse and I worked together in a couple of restaurants in Nashville, TN. His uncle owns a bistro, the Tin Angel, which was the first restaurant where I worked in Nashville.

Jesse and I were discussing dates, attempting to figure out when to meet up while I was in town. I asked where he was working these days, assuming that I should check out where he works for a meal. Then I ignored my phone for a bit – re-directing my attention to my dinner companion, Peter.

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Peter and I continued our conversation, which was mostly about specifics of the Boston subway.  I checked my phone and saw the Jesse had responded to my question. He said that he works at a place in Brookline called La Morra. I responded internally, with a “get out of here!” Then I handed my phone to Peter and said, “will you check this out!”  Needless to say, I was definitely going to La Morra for dinner.

There are restaurants where I want to eat when I want my palate to have a new adventure. There are restaurants that I go to for comfort. There are certain restaurants that I will choose simply for the sentiment. I am not a total food snob.

La Morra was one of the coziest places that I have ever been for dinner. Peter nailed it when he said that the bartender, Bernie, was worth her weight in gold. She was warm, welcoming, funny, and incredibly knowledgeable about the food and wine. I enjoyed sharing my first evening in Boston with her.

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La Morra is known for their pasta, which is made in-house with an imported Italian pasta-making machine. Their food was un-fussy, as any fine Italian meal should be. Here’s what I ate at La Morra: smoked wild bass salad with fennel, pate di baccala, fried squash blossoms with a drizzle of honey, a seasonal green salad, and house-made pasta with zucchini ribbons and lobster.  If you’re in Boston and in the mood for fresh pasta, join Bernie at the bar for a lovely experience. Please tell her I said hello!

This story is one of many that I have about synchronicity of crossing paths with people and places. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to create connections with so many wonderfully talented and fine people in the culinary world. I have said it many times and will continue- food brings people together. It transcends boundaries in a way that many avenues cannot.

Lesson: Before I thought of consulting with Josh about my dining plans in Boston, I had my list well-defined. I was thrilled that I shifted my plans to make room for dinner at La Morra. It’s a beneficial exercise to take the blinders off and be open-minded about new possibilities. We never know what we would miss otherwise. A good question to ask in any situation would be: “What other options are possible that I am not thinking about?” 

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Getting to know Summer Squash

By June 8, 2014 asking questions, curiosity, personal growth, practice, so much to learn, summer veggies

IMG_0019Considering the many years that I have spent in the kitchen, and the many nerdy health-food kicks that I have gone on, I am here to tell you that I learned something new today. I learned about the health benefits of summer squash.

What was I doing studying these benefits anyway? I am glad you were wondering! Knowing a lot about food – or any topic for that matter – can lead to something dangerous. It can lead to people thinking that they are “know it all’s,” it can lead to putting a stop to one’s own curiosity, and it can lead someone to taking a lot for granted. I took summer squash for granted. I feel a bit ashamed for it. I feel like maybe I sold them out a bit. I swear, I didn’t mean to. I will certainly not do it again – to squash or any other vegetable for that matter! Each and every vegetable has a unique essence. It has a unique flavor that it provides to the world. Each vegetable deserves appreciation for its contribution to the dinner table.

For a moment or two I forgot how well squash plays its part. It’s not fancy or highly prized like truffles are. It doesn’t get anywhere near the attention that the garden fresh tomato receives every summer. What can I say? I grew up eating a lot of squash in the summer, and even though I truly love it, I took it for granted.

During my years of working in restaurants, no one ever asked me detailed questions about summer squash. I am willing to bet that other people have taken it for granted, too. How about people who didn’t grow up in the South? They are probably not even familiar with summer squash to begin with!

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So here’s the deal, according to Wikipedia: summer squashes are a subset of squashes that are harvested when immature, while the rind is still tender and edible. Technically speaking, squash is a fruit of various members of the gourd family (according to The New Food Lover’s Companion). Squash is native to the Western Hemisphere. There is evidence of it being eaten in Mexico as far back as 500 B.C., and in South America more than 2,000 years ago. Squash is generally divided into two categories – summer squash and winter squash. I will tell you more about my favorite winter squashes next time.

All parts of the summer squash are edible. They are comprised mostly of water, so they are a low calorie vegetable choice. There are 18 calories in one cup of summer squash, which provides 32 percent of your daily value of vitamin C. It is also high in niacin and vitamin A.

Summer squashes themselves come in a number of varieties. The most common ones are yellow crookneck, zucchini, and patty pan, which can be yellow or green. Summer squashes have a mild flavor. They are nicely complemented with flavors of onions, garlic, and fresh herbs like basil and oregano.

You can fry, roast, bake, steam, grill, or sauté summer squash. They are popular in a dish called ratatouille, which comes from the French region of Provence. In the southern region of the United States, summer squashes often get put into casseroles. That is definitely one of my favorite renditions. My dear friend and fellow foodie Fran Moore loves squash as much as I do. I am going to share Fran’s squash recipe with you in my next post.

Lesson: Sometimes we can miss some gems in life because we get a bit too comfy thinking that we know a lot about “this or that.” We can always learn more. Our lives will be enriched and certainly more enjoyable with a healthy drive for learning and asking questions. The most “zealous for life and learning” people I know on this planet have a question that drives their work: “What is it that we do not know, that we do not know, that we do not know yet?” How about that for a question to ask yourself at least once a day?

If you are interested, you can learn more about their passion for learning and expertise at globalprocessology.com

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