The Visual Diary of Summer in Puglia, SAVEUR Blog Awards Nomination & A Salad with Watermelon, Tomatoes and Local Herbs

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I. The Heat and The Gratitude 

The distance between the desire to lay on a white beach on a hot summer day with a cool beer in hand, and the first hot drink during a rainy day that already smells like Autumn, might feel like a blink at times. In Italy though, that blink can last for several months. Several, hot, exhausting months of merciless summer. I guess at the age of 32 and long after school holidays I should be mature enough to confess that no, summer is not my favorite moment of the year, thank you very much! 

In fact, I believe had it not been for berries, stone fruits, melons, figs and fresh sea food, I would not even enjoy summer. And I am sure, that if it wasn’t for frisa (Pugliese hard bread to be soaked and seasoned before serving with fresh cherry tomatoes) I would probably starve in hot, humid days that cooking, along with any other activity seems plainly impossible. 

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Please accept this rant about the unacceptably hot summer as a justification for my absence here. Complaints and nags aside though, I have been quite busy. Determined to swim against the tide during August, when all Italy literally shuts down to go on vacation (read “to the beach”), I decided to stay in Rome and work. And work I did! But before August, the month of limbo and transition in Italy, I headed south towards my beloved Puglia, for a brief vacation.

In this post, I try to write only a few words to set the mood and leave everything else to the images, as a visual diary. As you can see there are tons of them, and it took the great part of summer for me to select and edit them (I listened to the whole series of Harry Potter audiobooks in the meanwhile! An utter delight!).

I also add the simplest, most refreshing non-recipe for a summer salad with watermelon chunks, a variety of tomatoes and tons of aromatic herbs.

Of course, the post can’t be completed without thanking you immensely for having nominated me for the prestigious SAVEUR blog awards for Best Photography! The news came as the most pleasant surprise just when I was about to leave Puglia for Rome. I am still speechless and drenched in bliss for this. There’s still a little time to vote, so please keep supporting me! (Update: Voting time is over! Thanks for the support.)

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II. The Pugliese Diary

I stayed in the same country side home that I have been visiting for the past two years; old, authentic and rustic. Built in a dry yet fertile land where ancient olive trees have deep routs in the red earth, grey and white Trulli host guests and a small garden provides the necessary vegetables to feed us all summer long. The eggplants, zucchinis and green peppers are satuèed in local extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes end up in jars of “sala” (tomato sauce) to dress pasta dishes all year long, and even grapes are conserved in alcohol with anice seeds to served as post-dessert after a long meal. 

Meals were often simple and fresh. Local cheese (read tons of burrata and a lot of mozzarella nodini) from nearby masserias (Pugliese farm houses), taralli and olives. Of course, frisa were in the order of the day, and we ordered fresh orecchiette and panzarelli (fried dough filled with tomato and mozzarella) from another nearby masseria. 

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Speaking of these typical Pugliese farm houses, I went for a visit of the dreamy Masseria Potenti too! Masseria Potenti, a remodeled fortified-farmhouse-turned-into-hotel, is our venue for The Puglia Encounter Workshop that I will host at the end of October together with Emiko Davis and Alice Adams. I can’t wait to be back there, to chill by the pool, to wander around with my camera and to go treasure hunting in Grottaglie, the land of magical Pugliese artisan ceramics.  Continue reading

The Layoff, A Praise to Creative Work & Gradara Workshop Recap

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Read Betty’s recap post about Gradara Workshop here | Read Zaira’s recap post here | Valentina’s post coming soon. | My recap starts at point 2 of this post.

I. The Gentle Layoff or a Note to Self

After the huge ups and downs that started in my life last year, early this Spring, it started to feel more steady, workwise speaking. After a six month internship in an startup office, I was hired as the content manager; I’ve worked on the blog and the social media of an interior design website. An exciting adventure and a very full time job, that demanded for almost all of my energy.
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However the euphoria of the new job did not last long. Soon I started feeling restless, as what I did, although thrilling, was not much creative. I started missing working in the the creative/artistic/culinary world. 

Now that I look back to the end of July, I can see clearly how attending the Gradara Workshop —hosted by talented ladies Betty, Zaira and Valentina— was a turning point. I had never met these girls in person, and it was my first time at Valentina’s home, but somehow I felt at ease with whatever was going on, things came naturally to me, I was at the right place at the right time. 

As I came back to Rome, I started to feel uneasier every day at work. I tried to remain focused at my deskjob but I felt out of breath as I dreamed about cooking, shooting and creating something instead of organizing documents. 
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At a certain point, on September 1st when I woke up in the morning, I looked at the rays of the early sun outside the window, then sat on the bed and… started to cry! The mere idea of going back to that office for a long, indefinite time made me feel plain miserable.

Later when I was washing the breakfast dishes, all I could think about was the need for a big change, a revolution.

The big change arrived some hours later. On that same day, I was, very nicely, laid off.

And, odd as it may sound, I felt relieved! I felt that my chance had come, I could do whatever I wanted. This is an opportunity. Now I can dive back into creative work and start anew! 

It wrote these words down immidiately, in order to record my precise intinctive reaction to this apparently bad news; down at the bottom of my guts I was feeling lighter, content and not worried at all. 

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That night I went to bed quite late. The subconscious did its dirty job. I jetted awake, very early, feeling quite anxious.

So, I left This note to remind myself to trust my instinct. To remember, always, what my reaction was to this. To know that I can do better. This is not some self-helping acknowledgin or inspirational note. It’s what it is. 

Do not forget it. Do not forget how miserable you felt on the morning of September 1st, thinking about going to office, and how things lightened up and how you sincerely smiled, after many days, when on early evening of the very same September 1st, you were fired.”

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Here I also inform you officially that as of October 1st, I’m available fulltime for jobs for Photography, blogging, cooking lessons, workshops and graphic design, food tours in Rome/Italy and recipe developing for brands and editorial products.

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No better moment than this to finally publish this memoirs of three days of pure creativity with like-minded people, with a touch of magic that only true passion at heart and crafty hands can bring to life.

2. The Gradara Workshop, The Italian Riviera, July 2016

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It was Summer time at its peak. The Italian riviera, where Valentina lives, was hot, humid and adorable.

I got on a train from Rome’s Termini station that took me towards north one day before the workshop. There, in the station of Cattolica Valentina, Zaira and Betty were waiting for me. Though it was the first time we met, we clicked immediately; we shared the stories of our lives and a laughter or two.

That evening we had the best piadina (Italian authentic flatbread from the Romagna region, wrapped around cold cuts, cheese and vegetables), somewhere looking over the sea. A simple, incredibly convenient dinner that represented the charm of local Italian regional gastronomy at its best.

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On Friday, we harvested and arranged flowers, wrapped the gifts for the attendee (incredibly gorgeous looking Raku ceramic bowls by Freaky Raku), froze peaches for the welcome drink. Betty, Zaira and Valentina went through their keynotes and slides.

By the times the attendees arrived to the garden of the Solfrinis, the sun was low, and our beautifully styled Summer table was decorated with fresh fruit, crystal glasses, roses and flowers from the countryside and olive branches.

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We were a group of talented, sensible women from all walks of life, different religions, and three different continents; In a moment where the world is being teared apart by hatred and fear, we gathered around from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Croatia, Turkey, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iran and celebrated our similarities, while each expressing uniqueness through our personal stories.   Continue reading

A Simple Persian Pumpkin Dessert, Fading Borders & The Travel to Iran

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I. On Home & Borders

I always have contrasting feelings whenever I travel to Iran. When I am about to leave, when I just get there, in the middle of the trip and by the time I am back in Rome I always experience very intense, and diverse emotions. No matter how many years have past since I left my country —eight, to be precise— each time, I fail at the vain attempt of keeping a sort of neutrality.  It’s that very simple word, with its captivating sound, that causes all the confusion. Home. The more time passes, the more I am convinced that I can no longer attribuite that word to one physical place, but more to a sensation, as it also said here long ago.  #BeautifulIran Visit Iran Pt.1 | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-57

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I firmly believe that our times will be later named as the era where borders began to disappear. Those borders, are more than the imaginary lines between territories that decide who can get to a certain fortune/misery and who can’t. The borders between our cultures, our lives, our food, are fading away. And I am one hundred percent for it. 

Whenever people hear about my cooking stories and the supper club (more on that soon!), usually they first thing they ask is “Do you cook Iranian food, or Italian food?“. My answer to that question is always none. As an Iranian who has lived in Italy for more than eight years now, I can never say the food I cook a hundred percent Italian or Iranian. I have been contaminated —in the best way possible— by the culture of totally different country, that happens to have one of the best cuisine of the world, I have inherited an incredibly sophisticated and refined culinary tradition; and in between, I have tasted the world! I have met a lot of people from different countries. “Who cares what your passport say, or even if you’ve got one. Let’s eat!“. Show me what you got, I wanna try it all.

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We are not all that different after all. Not just food wise (you might find it surprising how some Italian and Iranian dishes are similar, like I said here), we human beings, at the end of the day like and dislike the same things. No matter where we come from, what spices we use more in our food, and who we worship, we like to be happy and safe. We hate to know that our family is danger. We all aspire to live a better life. We want to put some pieces together to make prospect. Some of us, like me, are much luckier than others. I wanted to attend a conference for food bloggers in London. I wanted to learn more, to make this blog —therefore my business, my life— better. But because of those imaginary lines, borders, I couldn’t. Despite the time, money and energy I had put in it to make it happen.

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Those who don’t have the our privilege of living in safety and peace, spend much more of time, energy and money, to try to aspire to live better. They risk their lives, just for having a mere chance at that. Can —and should— those imaginary lines really determine who can, and who can’t get a chance to aspire for a better life?

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II. Seasons Change, Everlastingly. So Bring a Pumpkin Dessert.

Nature is the best example when it comes to show how really similar we all are, in spite of our names and documents. All human beings celebrate the change of seasons and natural changes of the nature. We might’ve interpret it in different ways through history due to our different geography and history, but we are all talking about the same fact.

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By now that October is already here, we all have tuned into Fall. Shorter days and cooler breeze. The comeback of the blankets on sofas and soups on the stove tops. The return of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cacao. It’s time for the last harvest of the year and to get ready for the cold season. Dry fruit is more popular. Walnuts and hazlenuts. And of course, the glorious, orange presence of pumpkins, butternuts and kabochas. All types.

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In ancient Iran, at these times of the year, they celebrated Mehregan. It’s a festivity of harvest, they say. They brought red fruit and many legumes. They celebrated all together.  It was exactly last year at this time when I had the honor of joining of other Persian food bloggers for a recipe round-up. Last year, I shared the recipe for a perfect matrimony between Persian and Italian cooking, —Lentil Risotto. This year, I am sharing a recipe so simple it could be from anywhere. At the bottom of this post you can find the links to all the other Persian food blogs sharing seasonal recipes for the occasion of Mehregan. Remember to check them out! My mom used to make this simple Persian pumpkin dessert during school days, —because it’s so simple and healthy that it doesn’t count as a treat. (and I absolutely hated it! That’s because back at my school days I hated pretty much every vegetable.) Continue reading