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Monday, September 06, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta, Part I: Italy

This is part one of a three part series.

Not everyone can travel the world to clear one’s head after a painful divorce, as did the Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” But it’s such an attractive idea that there are actual ‘Eat, Pray, Love' vacation tours.

In fact, if I remember correctly, Gilbert had a book contract before she even left on her trip. The rest of us are chained to the routines that pay our bills, but getting a little creative can give us a much-needed break.

Gilbert chose to explore Italy for its language and cuisine; India, for its meditative ashrams; and Bali, to come full circle in a year that began with an earlier trip to Bali. That inspired a series of poor choices that ended in adultery and divorce.

I choose Augusta, for its affordability, convenience and surprisingly diverse cultural opportunities. And by doing it our way, no one gets divorced.

Italy (Eat)

The author begins her quest in Italy. While the first meal she eats in the novel is spaghetti carbonara, that’s a rustic peasant’s dish of pasta, eggs and prosciutto or bacon, which you can make at home in 10 minutes. (See the easy recipe at the end of this column) But she moves on to a plate of tender, flavorful veal. So start your journey with the menu at Aiken’s Oliv’a (an acronym for Our Little Italian Villa), which is run by Chef Bradley Czjaka.

Czjaka was formerly at the Partridge Inn and the Four Seasons in Hawaii. And he makes a veal scallopine with baby arugula, truffle oil and shaved parmesan that will have you saying, “Hooray for tasty, tasty baby cows.”

If beef isn’t your thing, move on to the Berkshire Prosciutto and Gorgonzola Stuffed Pork. Or go San Remo with the Laughing Bird Shrimp with Spaghetti and Bottarga Cream. There are even vegetarian options like Black Truffle and Cauliflower Agnolotti with Pine Nuts that’ll make you wanna slap Deepak Chopra.

Drink plenty of wine with that meal – I like the way the black pepper notes of their Valpolicella accent the savory veal. But don’t torture yourself - drink what you like. Don’t worry about the calories. This meal should be about transcending the culinary norm. Choose the freshest, most layered flavors and textures you can find.

If you have your meal on Sept. 17, you can leave Oliv’as and enjoy an Italian tradition: Opera. The beautiful Denyce Graves will perform at the Augusta Opera’s presentation for the Westobou Festival. She’ll be singing a selection from several of her signature roles including Carmen and Delilah - as well as spirituals and beloved folk songs. Okay, so Carmen and Delilah are both sung in French, so…

If you have your meal on Sept. 18, you can enjoy Augusta State University’s A Night at the Opera. Professor Patti Myers whips talented youngsters into professional singers every year. As part of the Westobou Festival, they’ll sing arias and scenes from the great operas of Mozart and other composers. Some of them might be in Italian. But opera, itself, is the experience you’re looking for. Don’t worry about translations, about getting each individual word or about understanding every nuance. Just let yourself be swept away by the lush and powerful music. And marvel at the talent in this town.

Next, try a language course at Augusta State University's Office of Continuing Education. Their Italian 101 class begins Oct. 5. If Italian’s not your thing, feel free to choose another language. Whatever feels good, natural or exiting. This is about cultural immersion and increased understanding about the world we live in.

If you swore off the language lab after high school, all you really need to know to get safely around Italy – or the Jersey Shore - are the following phrases: “Non parlo Italiano,” “Dove è la stanza da bagno,” “Sì, amerei alcuno vino ,” and “Per favore non colpirmi, Signor situazione.” They translate to: “I do not speak Italian,” “Where is the bathroom,” “Yes, I would love some wine,” and “Please don’t hit me, Mr. Situation.” Feel free to find your own translations for other languages.

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta, Part II: India (Pray) publishes in two days


Simple Spaghetti Carbonara

The eggs in this recipe cook when they come in contact with the hot pasta. You can use other meats like pancetta, prosciutto or ham instead of the bacon.

* 1 lb. spaghetti pasta
* 8 slices bacon, cut in half crosswise
* 4 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
* 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Set bacon aside. Set skillet aside; do not rinse or wash.

Cook the pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, cream, garlic, half the Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, and pepper in a medium bowl and beat until well blended.

When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving about 1/3 cup cooking water, and immediately add to the skillet with the bacon drippings. Place over low heat and toss for 1 minute, scraping the pan with tongs to loosen pan drippings.

Stir in the egg mixture and toss thoroughly until combined. Add pasta cooking water as needed until a creamy sauce forms. Add the bacon and remaining cheese and toss again to coat. Serve immediately.

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