There are two things true about living in the city; either it’s incredibly easy to stay in-shape or exceedingly difficult. You can take the former route, with the countless metro steps and chasing after trams, forgetting lunch in favor of Outlook, or cocktailing post-workdays and putting dinner plans on snooze. With the non-stop neon fitness centers dominating metro stations or inside office ground floor entries, one would have to consciously resist sweating and detach from the pressures that urbanites almost always should take a certain pride in physique. As for me? Well, let’s just say that for all the butter I consume I try to make a good old fashioned sweat session a priority. After all, I am an early bird and someone once told me that one should consider working out to be a hygienic ritual as normal as taking a shower. Maybe he is right, or maybe he just lives in the city.
“Dobrý den!” I bellow to the blond reception girls over my Sonic Youth playlist at my neighborhood gym. I am greeted in return with teethy grins and mouthfuls of pink bubble gum. As I take my two hotel-white towels and pass by, they return to their Instagram accounts and fiddle about with pictures of the tank top, mall wandering boys. Their voices soon are a vapor as the locker room men swallow them up. They are built like trees, the Slavs. Their blue-collar looking bodies, still youthful and solid like stone. They roam about the mirrors, parade in their best underwear, and swim in cheap spray can deodorant that they somehow believe doubles as cologne. The aerosol spray overtakes the scent of burning hair from the hairdryers. Their voices deep and husky, muscular even. They boast in twisting Slavic words in cigarette burnt voices. With a protein shake in one hand and a phone in the other, they seek muscle admiration but mostly they want your envy as they stand about and linger in their shorts. Not nasty in disposition by any means, the Slavs, I have just grown tired of such pageantry. It’s a swim day after all and I’ve got some laps that won’t swim themselves.
I’m quite fond of swimming on my back in some sort of inverted breaststroke. I start my workout off with this and stare at my reflection above. The bleached white lacquered ceiling formed like a wave mirroring me as I cup my hands and move out over the water. I can see my blue and white checkered swim trunks and my brown eyes. After a lap or two I might start to feel like I don’t recognize myself. Age, after all, is a cruel witch and will soon rob the Slavs, those girls, the mall wandering boys, and myself of it all. It’s just a matter of time, I think, as I push off the pool wall and create my own large white wave. I plunge and burrow my head into the water and wonder if one day my wave will reflect, too.
I am fortunate here in the city to meet and come across all types of people. Especially as an expatriate – we are a different type of folk. More often than not, the expats I meet are memorable, outgoing, and (thankfully) quirky. Yet above all they are fantastic teachers. From travel stories to literature suggestions, the conversation between expats never beaches itself in boredom. Over the course of the last year I have been in a fond banter with an Italian who can talk about a dizzying array of topics; cooking being one of them. Tasty, traditional Italian cooking to be precise. Although I have been to Italy a handful of times I have never learned real classic Italian cookery. “What are those fried, like, rice balls?” I asked, remembering street food in Milan. “Well have you ever tried meat-stuffed olives that are filled then fried? It’s called olive all’ascolana. You should make it sometime.”
With the creation of The Bell Kitchen, he’s been a barrel of ideas, a true wealth of culinary suggestions with the first being Insalata di riso, featured below. It is a perfect summertime salad that can be served chilled or at room temperature. Note that the key to success with this Insalata are the ingredients – not necessarily counting proportions. The following recipe has omitted Italian ham (a traditional addition) as well as leaving out cheese. Both can be added and are encouraged to be, actually. For me, I wanted to keep the recipe vegetarian friendly for my better half.
It is a snap to make and a perfect idea for a summer picnic. I think it’s fantastic for a light meal at home after work and can be prepared the night before.
This summer, I only hope to share with you more Italian recipes as we move through the months. In the meantime, Buon appetito!
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 2 cups uncooked Basmati Rice, or similar white rice
- 1/2 cup cooked cherry tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced and sauteed
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup black or green olives
- Salt, fresh cracked pepper, EVOO
- Fresh basil, chopped
- (The following ingredients can be decided by the homecook. For 2 cups rice, I added 3/4 cup of each)
- Pickled mushrooms, washed, drained, and quartered
- Pickled red peppers, washed, drained, and sliced into 1/8" pieces
- Pickled small onions, washed, drained, and halved
- Bring stock to a boil and add the rice, reduce to low, and cook for 13-15 minutes.
- In a small sauce pan, saute garlic and add sliced cherry tomatoes. Cook and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the washed and drained pickled ingredients. Add the olives and the tomatoes/garlic. Combine with a drizzle of EVOO. Add rice, lemon juice, additional EVOO, and seasonings. Combine thoroughly and taste. Correct seasonings, if required.
- Serve either chilled or warm
- If you haven't washed your pickled ingredients thoroughly, correct taste by adding a tsp of white sugar.
- For a non-vegan, non-vegetarian option, add cubed Italian ham and a mild Italian cheese, like Pecorino Romano