I’ve not written for a while. I was in Ghana for work and the time just got away from me. No big adventures on that trip; I barely got out of the hotel. I did manage a trip to the not-very-interesting market where I was pleased to see a bust of Abraham Lincoln, from whom I am proudly descended.
I will say one thing about Accra: the sidewalks consist of wooden and stone planks with many holes in them, under which runs a river of raw sewage. Scary. What’s with all the planks lately is what I’d like to know.
I’ve been anxious lately. I hate that I haven’t been able to post much here in recent weeks. I’m working on a complex project with a tight deadline. I’ve been traveling far too much and the dogs are giving me attitude. I was very anxious about the election. Fortunately that has now been resolved in a way that brings me joy. I’ve not been to the gym in ages, mostly because of aforesaid travel. I also blame the mysterious incident of the muscle that somehow pulled itself in the middle of the night while I was fast asleep. And oh yeah, I’m lazy.
Now I know and you know that the best cure for anxiety is
Xanax soup. Fortunately the American Academy was hosting a soup-themed event recently and I went along. The Academy was the brainchild of Charles Follen McKim, a super famous 19th Century architect. He designed the Agricultural Building for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. By the way, I highly recommend Eric Larson’s great book, The Devil in the White City, which tells the parallel stories of the building of the Exposition and of H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their deaths. He built a hotel complete with gas chamber, dissection room and crematorium and when he was done with the bodies, he sold them for medical research. Many of the victims — no one knows how many there were — were young women who came to Chicago to get work or to see the fair. They stayed at his hotel (he rented exclusively to women) and then just disappeared. He married a couple of them and just bumped them off when he got bored. Creepy.
McKim established the American School of Architecture in 1894 as a place for artists to study and be inspired by all of the glories the Eternal City has to offer. In 1911, the school merged with the American School of Classical Studies to become the American Academy in Rome. Today, the Academy offers artists, scholars and writers the opportunity to hang out in Rome doing incredibly interesting and creative things. It’s located on the Janiculum Hill just down the road from me in beautiful Monteverde.
I spent a semester in Rome studying classical archeology 800 years ago and we used to hang out in the Academy’s library, which was awesome. Some of the Academy’s Fellows also taught at my school, the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies. The Academy owns the Villa Aurelia across the street. Villa Aurelia was built as a summer estate for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese in 1650, was Garibaldi’s headquarters during the French siege of Rome in 1849 and was bequeathed to the Academy in 1909 by then-owner, Philadelphia heiress Clara Jessup Heyland (shout out to my home town!). More recently, it was the scene of the wedding rehearsal dinner for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. So there you go.
Since 2007, the Academy has hosted the Rome Sustainable Food Project, which was created with the involvement of Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame. The RSFP provides the Academy community (and lucky guests) with fresh, seasonal food, grown in the Academy’s backyard or sourced from local farmers and artisan producers. You can become a Friend of the Academy, which gets you invited to various lectures and other events (and enables you to eat lunch there with up to 10 guests). Join. You’ll thank me.
Mona Talbott, a Chez Panisse alumna, was the RSFP’s first Head Chef. Sadly for us, Mona has now returned to the US but not before she had penned the first two volumes in a series of cookbooks, each on a single subject, featuring favorite dishes from the Academy’s communal table. The first, Biscotti (written with Mirella Misenti), was about cookies and the second, Zuppe, is about soup. Thought I’d never get there, didn’t you?
The Zuppe-launching event started with presentations by Mona, Alice, Chris Boswell (the Head Chef that replaced Mona), one of the kitchen interns and a local supplier. Here’s what we ate: canellini bean, escarole and meatball soup; dried fava bean and chicory soup; spicy carrot soup; and chickpea, pumpkin and farro soup. There was also pizza bianca stuffed with prosciutto and provala cheese and with garden kale, sheep’s milk ricotta and arugula pesto. And cookies made with Amedei chocolate (the world’s best, according to Food and Wine). Yes, I ate everything.
The soups were delicious, particularly the spicy carrot one. I bought the book so I can recreate them at home. Now I’m anxious about what this will mean for my waistline.