Please welcome Simona Carini, an Italian with cheese!
I don’t want to disappoint you readers, I just want to introduce you to the best woman I met in 2011.
When I first met Simona Carini in Oakland while taking a wonderful trip through California, suddenly David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners” started to play in my head.
“I’ve nothing much to offer. There’s nothing much to take,” she seemed to sing along to the White Duke, but I soon understood it was a gentle kind of understatement.
In Italian she told me that what you should live for are the freedom and passion that come from trying all the possibilities life gives you and she showed me how.
I was totally stunned and I’m sure you’ll soon understand why.
Here you are – a little reportage on, as I like to call her, this Magician of Everyday Life as told in her own words, by her own pictures, through her own heart…
Let me tell you a tale … Once upon a time there was a book-loving girl. In the girl’s neighborhood in Perugia there was a bindery. When the girl walked past it she would look in the window and try to understand how books came to life there. The bindery was a sort of magic place. She dared not go inside.
Fast forward some years to California: the girl (now a woman) and a student at Mills College in Oakland, makes book arts part of her master’s degree in interdisciplinary computer science.
Her childhood dream came true: she learned not only to bind books in more ways than she could have imagined, but also to make boxes and to decorate paper. She has continued to practice and to learn thanks to the San Francisco Center for the Book and the North Redwoods Book Arts Guild.
When I asked my mother for her recipe for potato gnocchi, I was expecting approximate quantities for the ingredients. Instead, she gave me exact measurements for potatoes and flour and an injunction not to use eggs. While I have made variations on her original recipe for potato gnocchi, like the one in which I used purple potatoes, I would never dream of disagreeing with her as far as the eggs go.
The word gnocchi is hard to pronounce for Americans. According to my husband, the only way to learn is to marry an Italian drill sergeant.
Once I started making bread at home, I could not stop. Together with making cheese, baking bread has become a physical need. I cannot imagine not doing it.
One of my favorite books on bread is Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf. If you open my well-used copy, you’ll probably be hit by a small cloud of flour coming out of the pages. It’s a beautiful book, with nice recipes, beautiful photographs and interesting personal stories. In the headnote, Lepard narrates how he got to taste pane di mais (maize bread) for the first time in Italy. The ingredients for this bread include polenta and corn flour. The beautiful shape and color of the bread made me want to make the recipe: the outcome made me do it again.