Roman Holiday: A Trip to A Local Italian Market

Food is the stuff of life, right?

A good meal not only sustains us, it’s the heart of so many holidays, celebrations, and family get-togethers. The dinner date. Catching up with old friends. The client lunch. Meals are where we make memories, toast to health and happiness, and delight in the most tantalizing of flavors, as well as the fruits of someone’s labor, be it family or a professional chef.

Food reminds me of my heritage and family traditions. I am Serbian, and grew up with my Grandma baking potica, a traditional Serbian sweet bread made with walnuts and honey in a flaky brown and cream-colored spiral, and sarmas, a meat mixture wrapped in cabbage leaves boiled with tomato sauce, sauerkraut and Polish sausage for hours, at every Christmas dinner.

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My family came from a small iron ore-mining town with a large immigrant population and lots of different cultural delicacies. So we enjoyed baklava, spanokopita, porchetta, antipasto, fresh crusty Italian bread, spaetzle, hard salami and delicious salty cheeses.

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Foccacia

Now that my grandparents are gone, and I am living in a different city, I don’t eat the foods of my childhood every day. However, we still make our Serbian sarmas every other Christmas. It’s a big production, but luckily my Grandpa taught us all the little tips and tricks before he passed (like freezing the cabbage beforehand and then boiling the whole head, so the leaves peel off easily and whole).

When my husband and I are both so busy with work, and life is hectic, we just don’t always have the time or energy to shop for fresh ingredients, or spend a lot of time in preparing authentic ethnic cuisine on a weeknight. It’s much easier when a meal comes in a box, and you can just pop it in the oven or microwave. But so much of the heart, soul and emotional symbolism of eating a good meal is lost with this lifestyle.

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As much as I love grocery shopping (I always shop when hungry…gasp…so taboo) at a big chain grocery store, whenever I have the time, I visit my all-time favorite, family-owned, authentic Italian grocer – Cossetta’s. It’s more than a mere grocery run. It’s a full-sensory adventure. 12047167_1229474950412007_5034716741244026546_nThe smells, the bright colors…you’re transported from the neutral palettes of most everyday life.

In the late 1800’s a young man named Michael Cossetta came to St. Paul, Minnesota from Calabria, Italy, and settled in a little Italian neighborhood in St. Paul called the Upper Levee. By 1911, he opened a tiny food market called Cossetta’s, which drew customers from everywhere who appreciated his quality foods and genuine hospitality.11930928_1229474957078673_2699722492694218449_o

Since 1984, Cossetta’s has been known for its award-winning pizza, homemade sauces, handmade Italian sausages and welcoming staff.  Cossetta’s recently celebrated it’s 100-year anniversary, and the fourth-generation family decided to expand the tradition to include all the Old World sensations and offerings a customer could experience in Italy without actually traveling there.

It’s about an hour from my house, but well worth the trip. Since I don’t get to Cossetta’s frequently, I like to stock up, and freeze some things. Because everything is so fresh, I can’t help but buy all of the ingredients for at least three nights of Italian meals in a row.

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“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” The Godfather

Since most people (like me, with little self-discipline) are too busy devouring their meal to remember to save room for dessert, Cossetta’s has smartly located the impressive Pasticceria — their pastry shop, where you can purchase an authentic cannoli pastry like you would in Sicily— in front of the regular market.

Only after I’ve filled a box with all of my favorite cookies and splurged on a cake, I head to Cossetta’s full Italian Market , featuring everything you need to make an authentic Italian meal, from antipasti to pizza, bracciole to parmigiana, masterpieces with only the best imported or home-grown ingredients. 11998952_1229965397029629_5135466810060602391_nMost of the time, I take shortcuts by buying Cossetta’s freshly made dough and thick, spicy pizza sauce, and then topping with their chewy, salty fresh shredded mozzarella (pronounced Moot-za-relle by my Italian friend from Long Island), which I buy by the quart.12004140_1229474900412012_9185852308898427024_n

It’s so good that sometimes we can’t resist digging in to the shredded cheese before we get home. If I’m not up for cooking, I might take home a chef-prepared meal.

The meat market is full of the freshest cuts of meats with romantic Italian names, straight from Carmela Soprano’s kitchen. I always buy Cossetta’s meatball mix in bulk, pepperoni for our pizzas and sandwiches, hard salami, spicy sausage links for my pasta and gravy (Sauce? What’s that?) several porchettas (a pork roast covered in Italian spices and seasonings), Italian beef roasts, veal cutlets, and thinly cut and rolled bracciole.

12019778_1229475070411995_6510653163129296253_nWe love meatball subs on crusty, demi-baguettes, baked fresh that morning. It’s our first night meal. Meatballs on our baguette, covered in marinara and heaped with mozzarella, with parmesan sprinkled liberally on top, then placed under the broiler. Yummo!

Second night is pizza night.

The first Sunday is a roast. Because Sundays were always the day my Grandma made a roast for the family. And a spicy hot porchetta sandwich with pepperoncini peppers tastes great with a cold beverage and a football game on TV.

I know that Cossetta’s is our own local gem, but if you haven’t found a local ethnic grocer in your area, it’s probably because you haven’t looked. Whether it’s Greek, Mexican, Asian, or Ethiopian, I guarantee you will find a grocery store that will transport you to another place, a vacation destination in your own backyard. Fall is the perfect time to start stocking up for the winter ahead, when you’ll be so glad you have some delicious meals to look forward to.

So go, already! Mangia!

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Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee,  gained 10 pounds just writing this post.

Fun with Photo Books: The Lost Art of Real Live Albums

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When it comes to the latest in reading technology, I have the Kindle, an iPad, an iPhone 6 Plus. But nothing will ever replace the feel of a hardcover book in my hands.

I crave the intimacy of holding a book, its weight, an unbroken spine, the smell of fresh pages or of an old book, its antiqued pages rendered almost transparent by time, the satisfaction of anxiously flipping the page to see what the next will hold.

These are the things I can’t give up.

But photo albums are a different beast, right?

It’s nothing short of revolutionary to have all of your photos available in just a swipe or a keystroke online. Years of photos are stored in chronological order on Photobucket, Flickr, Facebook, or Instagram, out there in the ether for eternity…never to be lost to fire or flood. Plus you can share them instantly, in real time, with everyone you know, plus strangers, too.

Then last week, I ordered yet another camera online. It was Best Buy’s Deal of the Day and it was an offer too good to pass up! To my surprise, because it wasn’t advertised, I got a FREE Shutterfly 8×8, 20-page, hardcover photo book with my purchase (a $30 value.) A digital download just appeared in my cart, which was really nothing more than a link to the Shutterfly site where I could create my book.

I’d just gotten a new puppy in December. I had literally 100s of photos sprinkled liberally throughout Facebook and Instagram. I decided it was worth my time to sit down and create a book.

The fact that Shutterfly let me upload all of my photos directly from Facebook was a huge time-saver. I didn’t have to hunt through all the December folders on my PC to find the photos from my Puppy Shower. All my best (no outtakes, blurry images, etc.) photos were stored by event in Facebook.

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Yes, I had a puppy shower. What? You mean everyone doesn’t do that?

Having created a couple of photo books in the past I knew that I wanted to pay the up-charge for glossy pages, and no black backgrounds. Matte, black pages show fingerprints! However, I did like the matte cover. So I paid an additional up charge for that.

Before I started laying out the individual pages, I uploaded all of my best photos to Shutterfly first. Once you start a project in Shutterfly, it creates a gallery for you to upload photos to, and as you use each photo, it disappears from the gallery. That way you don’t leave out any of your favorites.

Then rather than simply inserting the photos chronologically, I tried to tell a story from beginning to end. As you can see from the title page, the photos are somewhat chronological, newborn puppy, the puppy shower, the first day home. But I also used specific photos that lent themselves to the template I chose. All the photos fit a square format. And the colors complemented each other.

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My little fashionista – her big fashion spread.

After that, I had pages that were themed, Weezy playing in the snow with her brothers, Weezy’s favorite toys. Weezy’s most adorable outfits, sleepy puppy, and so forth.

Once I was finished, the book was so cute, I couldn’t help but pay for expedited shipping. So the whole project ended up costing me about $20.

The end result, however, is PRICELESS! I love it. I have to admit, I swooned a little bit when I opened the package, removed the plastic and smelled those fresh glossy pages.

Unlike old-school photo albums, I now have a thin, hard-cover book, that’s no thicker than a children’s book, and sits neatly on my bookshelf. Nothing cumbersome, like the Mead Trapper Keeper of yore, with photos falling out, or flimsy cellophane pockets. Plus, Shutterfly also supplied an electronic link to the entire book, including front and back cover, so I could share it electronically by email, or Facebook if I wanted to.

There are a number of photo book sites available online. I’m just very pleased with the quality of Shutterfly’s. I think a lot of people think photo books are just for baby pictures, wedding albums or family vacations. But they’re not!  I love creating photo books for out-of-town guests when they come to visit. I send the book to them weeks later after they’ve returned home. And I know how much it’s appreciated because a fabulous friend of mine chronicled our entire trip to Louisiana in a gorgeous photo book, capturing everything from my face covered in powdered sugar from my first beignet, to our up-close and personal encounters with alligators roaming Avery Island. I cherish it! I can relive the whole adventure.

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Gnomes and other little creatures frolicking in my fairy garden.

If you’ve ever fancied the idea of publishing your own book, whether on a hobby, like gardening, birding, embroidery, or writing a children’s book, creating a photo book is a great way to get your feet wet. For instance, I love needle-felting and creating little gnomes and other creatures, and placing them in miniature vignettes. My friends look forward to seeing my posts on Facebook, (or at least they pretend to) so last year I put together a photo book of my miniature scenes as a personal holiday gift.

If you have online folders full of photos from your garden, or your hikes through the woods, or boating adventures, take an hour or two and drop them into a photo book. You’ll be surprised at how quickly a book comes together, and how satisfying it is to see your memories come to life in a story, one that you can pull down from the shelf and relive again and again.

For more ideas on using your favorite photos in the real world, be sure to visit www.smartperks.com next week for tips on decorating your home with your photography and personal artwork.

-Melanie

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life include her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.

 

Addendum: I received this information on the duration of the free photo book promotion from Best Buy Customer Care.

After research, I would like to let you know that most of the cameras we carry come with a free shutterfly photo book. Best Buy regularly includes Shutterfly Photobook codes as promotions for purchases of Digital Cameras, DSLR, Computers, and other products. These codes are a great value to the customers, and are extremely popular. If a specific camera comes with it, the free shutterfly photo book is marked as free bonus item however, we are not certain when this promotion is going to last. This is a partnership between Best Buy and Shutterfly and, I believe the promotion is continuously good until advised by Shutterfly otherwise.