Sunday, December 6, 2009

Welcome to Giovanna's Trifles

 Eating herring (the Dutch way) in Groningen, the Netherlands

"Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle." -Michelangelo
Unless there's lots of crème anglaise involved. And a little sherry. --Giovanna

Giovanna's Trifles is a food blog.  You'll find that whether I'm writing about Portland, Oregon (where I live), traveling, or family, the undercurrent is always food.  

This is probably because I grew up in Berkeley, California in the 1960s and 1970s.  Chez Panisse opened when I was 8; my parents were among the original owners.  I remember being introduced to Jeremiah Tower in 1973.  "So you're the little girl who likes pâté and crème anglaise."  (I hasten to add I never actually ate them together).  My mother was the pastry chef there from the beginning until her retirement in 1997.  It won't surprise you that food was central to our lives. 

I blazed onto the restaurant scene when I was 11, putting together hors d'oeuvres plates at Chez Panisse.  My career was nipped in the bud when a waitress brought back an artichoke plate, saying the mayonnaise's placement looked 'funky'.  When summer ended, I returned to the 5th grade, and concentrated on fractions and state capitals.  I never tried to cook professionally again (though I did slice salami and make pâté sandwiches at Pig By the Tail--Victoria Wise's charcuterie--, and work the lunch counter at Ratto's).  Instead, I became a proficient home cook.
I moved to Portland in 1987 with my husband and our newborn daughter.  For the next 20 years I was primarily an at-home mother to our three kids.  Last year, with only the youngest still at home,  I needed to start looking busy.  I had been writing for the past ten years, and started publishing stories in 2006 (there are links to articles in Gourmet and Culinate in the sidebar).   A blog seemed like a good way to write regularly, and explore the things that interest me.

Before I could start the blog, I had to find a title.  'Giovanna's Trifles' was perfect.  I like trifles (the dessert) a lot--custard of any kind is one of my very favorite things.  But I also like the other kind of trifles, which some people might consider frivolous.  It's not that I'm a flighty person; I care about plenty of "important" things.  I just don't like to write about them (and I'm not that good at it, either).

My father left a comment on my post about Berkeley cafes in the 60s.  He remembered my sister (8 years old at the time) sitting at the table the very day of the photo, saying "Berkeley is the best place in the world, and this is the best place in Berkeley."  These small, perfect moments are the ones I like to remember, and they tend to remain the most vivid to me.  To be able to bring back other people's memories is, well, the icing on the cake.

A note about travel.  You might notice my children are all over the world.  Here's the explanation.  While I was in high school, my family hosted exchange students from Brazil, France, and Sweden.  Both my sister and I were exchange students for a year after high school.   (She in the Netherlands, I in Denmark).  My husband was born in Czechoslovakia, and came to the U.S. with his family when he was 24.  They came the old-fashioned way, sneaking across the Yugoslavian border in the middle of the night.  Pavel carried a salami and a snorkel (it's a long story) in his backpack.  They had left their friends and family behind in Czechoslovakia, not knowing when or if they'd see them again.   Once in Austria, they were granted political asylum in the U.S.

I always hoped our kids would want to be exchange students.  It's great to learn a second language, and I think it's especially important for American kids to see more of the world.  But I also thought it was the best way our kids might understand what their father and his family experienced, coming to a new country, not speaking the language, all on their own.

My wish came true: our oldest daughter spent 6 months in France in high school (living with the woman who had lived with us as a girl), 6 months in the Dominican Republic after high school, and then went to university in the Netherlands (a bigger adventure and more affordable than U.S. colleges--even with the dollar's decline).  Our son spent a year in Ecuador after high school.  Now he has a girlfriend in Punta Arenas, Chile, who he is planning to go see just as soon as he has the money.  Yes, I've noticed that it's at the end of the world.  Our youngest daughter, a junior in high school, is currently on exchange outside Naples.  Her stories, like mine, seem to revolve around the food she eats there: the squid in its ink, the rabbit roasted in the fireplace of their country house (where they recently went to harvest the olives).
For the last couple of months I've been running a weekly series, 'Back for Seconds'.  On Monday or Tuesday I post the first of a two-part piece, about a food from my past. It might be an ingredient, or a food I ate long ago and far away. The food may be exotic or run-of-the-mill, but either way, it meant something to me, and I want to revisit.  The second part of the post goes up Tuesday or Wednesday. It's the 'now' answer to Monday's 'then'. Mondays I go back for seconds, in my memory.  Tuesdays I go back for real seconds; perhaps a recipe. Or maybe a visit to a restaurant or market. Or even my freezer.  These have been particularly fun for me, especially the series visiting cafes from my past (here and here).

Other favorite posts include a guest post ( 'Giovanna's Maple Creams') that I wrote for David Lebovitz (which gave me my biggest blog traffic day ever).  I got to write about candy.  How fun is that?  Another favorite is the post I wrote on James Beard's birthday, about my hazy memories of a childhood breakfast with him.  I'm planning on doing some further James Beard in Portland stories--watch for them.  And of course, Eat as Fast as I Can Jam,  because I love writing about my husband, Pavel, who is always such a good sport (even when I make fun of his accent and his jar-a-day jam habit), and such a good friend.  Oh, I am lucky.

A few minor details:  I have a facebook page, called, well, 'Giovanna's Trifles'.  I post new blog entries there, but also links to other articles and blogs that interest me (and hopefully some of you as well!).  Please come over and visit.

If you want to read about me avoiding work, contemplating treats, or just killing time, you can follow me on twitter.

Last of all, I don't like scallops or mangoes.  I know it's strange, but there it is.  On the other hand, don't even try storing containers of pastry cream or crème anglaise in my refrigerator.  I'll eat them (the same goes for pie dough).  And if you're curious why I have plums all over Giovanna's Trifles, read my post Back for Seconds: Prune Plums.  I do like them. 

P.S. You can email me at giovanna dot zivny at gmail dot com.