Regenerating & Reusing the Excess; White Chocolate Truffles with Roses & Cardamom

Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-23
Disclaimer: All the pretty printed gift tags, stickers and postcard (plus an unpictured apron I can’t wait to show you) have kindly been offered by Zazzle. If you need any sort of high quality printed accessory —from personal cards to stationary and design— make sure to check them out. They ship over Europe and the US. They have also printed a high quality calendar of my photos that I give away on my instagram.

Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-11

I. Letting go of the unhealthful and regeneration

The holidays are (almost) over. We’re in 2016 (Isn’t this number a little too large?!). I hope you have had some relax and resting time, maybe with some loved ones, maybe away from them, maybe on your own. I hope you have not been absorbed by the rush of shopping and the stress of having everything ready and everyone satisfied. Because let’s face it; despite the joy, the lights and the jingles, the holidays can be very stressing. So one can ironically be glad, that “we’ve made it through this year too”.

But this isn’t how it should feel. These holidays should be about enjoying ourselves, and our friends and family. Often it happens that we spend too much; we spend too much money, we buy too many gifts, we cook we too much food and we eat and drink way more than being full (to the point that we feel physically bad, and that could even make us feel worse about ourselves), too much chocolate, too many drinks.

Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-8
Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-3

I think this is the problem. The excess. The unnecessary. Please don’t think that I am against the spirit of the generosity and abundance of the holidays. But I do believe that more than often, these holidays leave us exhausted and dried out rather than refreshed, because we don’t drive our spending resources (money, energy, love, time) in the healthy direction. We need to let the energy flow, recycle and regenerate itself. We need to connect, first to ourselves, and then to others. And let go, of things, food, and interactions that are neither satisfying nor healthy for us.

Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-26
Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-18

I think this is my resolution for the new year (it just occurred to me!); letting go of the unhealthy and unnecessary and letting it all flow. 2016 is already a year of great changes for me that I await with enthusiasm and some fear to be honest. Some of these changes have already begun. I am moving; moving out, to be precise. And I hope I can let go and be let go of soon, for everybody’s health’s sake.

Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-28

II. Reusing Christmas Candy and Chocolate

In Italy, the holidays have an epic end: La Befana or the Epiphany. The holiday of January 6th is celebrated slightly differently here than other Christian countries. La Befana, is basically a good witch who rides a broom stick, Continue reading

2015: Resolutions, Party Food Links & a Squid and Lentil Soup Recipe

This year has been unexpected. The first which post-it resolutions are still sticking to my mirror, despite the notorious moving. And oh, the moving, which cut my 2014 right in half. My twenty-fourteen started with high hopes while riding on steady waters. The embryo of this blog was officially conceived early in February and it took me months to add up the pieces. Meanwhile, at the end of February I got the notice on having to leave my beloved home; A large apartment in a lovely neighborhood of Rome in which I had a tiny-but-pretty room. It was a girls’ apartment. We had fun. I lived there for three years and 5 months. It was my home. New Year's Resolution | Party Food | by Lab Noon

Twenty-fourteen brought yet another reality to slap me in the face; It was the last year of my twenties. It got me scared, got me running around, got me listening to an eternal tick-tock-tick-tock. I wished I had accomplished something, something tangible. I wanted to create something; An establishment, a solidity, a firm piece of ground. Then things got wildly out of hand. Suddenly –and painfully– I realized that somehow most of the things I thought I had desired for a long time were no longer attractive to me. First there was confusion, then recognition and after that came the cold frustration; Of feeling trapped in an establishment, a solidity, a firm piece of ground that no longer fits me but I don’t know if I’m ready to break out of it. Steady is my frenemy. I can’t live neither with nor without it. Twenty-fourteen got me questioning everything I have gathered in my life. I want to get some answers in twenty-fifteen. I want a tiny sprinkle of ease, I want a ton of energy and inspiration, I want a good intuition, I want to remember how to trust my guts again and take the jump. And I want good health to allow me to pursue all that.

And then, for the billionth time: I want to be physically active (again), I want to re-start my yoga and I want running to become my thing in twenty-fifteen. I wanna be one those people who run all the time, no matter what.
I wanna learn how to become an organized person, inside and outside. I’m soon gonna be a 30 year old woman. I just can’t afford to be this messy. 
I wanna read more (this one has been in my new years resolutions for like the past fifteen years).
This might sound surprising but I want to cook more. I haven’t really cooked as much as I wanted to and should have lately. I want to create more; I want to get down to my editorial design activity and create more pretty stuff that are not just food. This was also the original idea of Lab Noon. It’s supposed to be a laboratory at the end.
And, as vain as this may sound, I want to always remember to love myself, most of the times.

It’s usually not my intention to write all types of personal stuff here. I want to be bright and positive in this space. I want this blog to transmit something nice. So, sorry if I didn’t sound so much so in this post. Twenty-fifteen is going to be my moment of truth, you might’ve guessed. I needed this note for myself. So tomorrow won’t be just another night turning into another day for me. What about you? What are your resolutions for the new year? Is there anything that you want to change? Wether you seek deep changes or just minor ones, I wish you a great new year, in which you’ll dream and laugh more, in health and prosperity. Happy twenty-fifteen!

My type of Party Food

Was I planning a New-Years-Eve gathering at my place, I would prepare a lot of finger food, little bites, crostinis, bruschettas and canapés. The idea of having a base such as bread (toasted), or any other base on which you can add a topping, or a spread makes the perfect party food for me. It’s easy and –with the work of planner mind– can be cheap too. The interaction would be another lovely factor. You could prepare the base and prepare toppings/spreads in different bowls and people could serve themselves. Then I’d prepare one huge salad with a carb base, such as rice, bulgur, cous cous, quina etc, with fresh veggies. I never like New Years Eve food to be too much, heavy and time-taking. It’s not Christmas. Actually it’s right before January, the universal month of dieting and getting back to shape.

Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

In Italy, no matter what type of dinner you’ve had for New Years Eve, you must have some lentils with Cotechino. They say lentils bring you money (c’mon bring on those lentils). Cotechino is some sort of raw salami that is sold in vacuum packs inside boxes around this time of the year. What’s more Cotechino must be the only kind of italian cold cut and cured meat that not only do I not enjoy, but I don’t even touch it either! But heaven knows I can never say no to lentils. So I always try to remove the fat and pieces of Cotechino from my lentils. The recipe that follows is is orange-marinated squids on lentils soup (my version of calamari e le lenticchie). I had prepared it a short while ago but posted it only in Italian (this holiday season was so hard for translating). I think It would make a great simple lentil dish for Capodanno (New Years Eve in Italian). But we’ll get to that later. I have made a tiny collection of recipes from bloggers around the web that reflect and/or inspire what I would make at a pseudo-gathering for the New Year’s Eve. Some of them are new, some of them are not, but they’d all make great party food recipes.

Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

 And to end the evening the Italian way, and wishing all those lentils bring us money, here’s my recipe of squids & lentil soup. Continue reading

In Praise of Winter Celebrations & a Festive Chicken Pomegranate

Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon
“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”

-Rumi

The Light, The Darkness & Winter Celebrations

Days have been getting shorter, and the nights longer and longer. The wind has been growing colder and sharper. Morning light comes up late and lasts only for few hours. It’s the journey of Earth through the seasons, the alchemy of mother nature. We keep our hectic work-shop-work-shop Christmas rhythm as if nothing was happening. But we’re wrong. We have been dwelling in darker days since the beginning of Summer and in a short time, on December 21st to be precise, the night will be the longest of the year. And just as it always happens in life, after the longest time of darkness, light is born. The cold season arrives but there will be an instant of more daylight and then sun will set later and later, just until the first day of Summer. The eternal cycle of life and death, the light and the darkness. The dance of the Earth and the Sun.Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon The Winter Solstice has been an ancient feast in many pagan cultures and has influenced many other winter celebrations during time. It marks the birthday of The Light, Mehr or Mithra, the Zoroastrian deity of light. In Iran, it has been celebrated for thousands of years, by the name of Yalda, the longest night of the year, in which people stayed up late, gather friends and family, brought the fresh and dry fruit and grains they had stored since harvest, lit many candles and read poetry or told stories to chase away the demon (the darkness) and welcome the light of the new day. Most winter celebrations have deep roots in this seasonal change and the battle of light and dark. The Roman Mithra was born on December 25th, and so was Sol Invictus (The Unconquerable Sun), marking the Roman Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, a festival to celebrate the sun. The Jewish Hanukkahalso known as the Festival of Lights falls around the same period. And last but definitely not least the most popularly celebrated winter celebrations of all, Christmas is also celebrated on the same December 25th.

All these winter celebrations, as distant and different as they seem to each other now, have been influenced by the birth (nativity?) of the new light and have left their finger prints on one another. I am madly fascinated by finding the similarities and the common roots of ancient customs around the world.  The human race has imaginatively managed to interpret the nature’s unceasing-yet-constant changes into many many beautiful local or global celebrations.
As I told you, I haven’t grown up with Christmas, as it’s not celebrated in Iran. However I have grown up with Yalda. The usual celebration in modern-day Iran is not that complicated. The essential elements are dry or fresh fruit. The dry fruit or Ajil consists of unsalted nuts, raisins, dry apricots and/or peaches. Fresh fruit must absolutely include pomegranate (it symbolizes light!) and don’t-ask-me-how, watermelon! I have no idea how the summer fruit has made its way all through winter (it is said people stored in cold basements to keep it for the winter), but in this period since I can remember grocery stores in Iran burst up with pomegranates and watermelons. Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon Traditionally friends and family gathered and sat around Korsi (a low table with a heater beneath and covered with a large blanket) and topped it with sweets and fruits. They read poetries and told stories to pass this long night. (I will be holding a Yalda storytelling workshop for chidlren, in Maxxi muesum of Rome on December 20th & 21st, in the occasion of the exhibition Unedited History, Iran 1960 – 2014 in the same museum. If you happen to be in Rome by March 29th don’t miss it.) 

The Food & Persian Food Bloggers Recipe Round-Up

Since Yalda is a major Persian feast and winter celebration that is really little known around the world, we (some of Iranian food bloggers) have decided to make another recipe round-up just as we did in the beginning of Autumn to celebrate Mehregan. Please check out the beautiful Persian-inspired recipes by these talented people at the bottom of this post. I’m sure you will find great ideas for this festive season, no matter which of these feasts you celebrated. You can find and tag our content for Yalda in the social media by #PersianFoodBloggers and #PFBshabehYalda hashtags.Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon I won’t be surprised if I find pomegranate in many of these recipes since it’s the main protagonist of this celebration. My recipe definitely does. We have some great recipes containing pomegranate molasses which is a heavenly ingredient. As great as it tastes, I have found out that the commercial product whether in Iran or outside is full of chemical agents, additives, preservatives and way too many ingredients. So thanks to a tip from Jamie Oliver I decided to make my own. All you need is 100% pomegranate juice (it’s worth the search, trust me), a couple of tbsp of sugar and a pinch of salt.

This recipe of chicken pomegranate is simple, healthy (though not quite light, as it’s the holidays season) and undoubtedly a crowd pleaser. The sauce is sweet and sour to right point and freshened up by the pomegranate seeds. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender inside, wrapped in the aroma of saffron. And last but definitely not least, the texture and richness created by chopped almonds and pistachios turns it from a normal chicken pomegranate to a real holiday dish. It would be great to be served with Persian steam-cooked Basmati rice, but it’s not necessary. We ate it with some homemade sourdough bread and it was just as fine.Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon A word on chicken: On normal days I avoid supermarket chicken all together as industrially produced chicken is pure cruelty and also unhealthy. If I do have to buy chicken though, my options would be 1. get free-range chicken directly from the farmer (which is very very difficult where I live), 2. look for free-range chicken in organic shops, 3. look for free-range chicken in normal supermarkets. Fortunately here in Italy you can usually find pollo ruspante, or free-range chicken in big supermarkets. The color of the chicken is a live yellow, unlike the pale industrial chicken.

I have been inspired by a recipe from the north of Iran called the pomegranate stew. Not to be confused with the classic and world famous Persian chicken pomegranate stew with walnuts called Fesenjan. Continue reading