Cucina Povera - 'the food of the poor'

The girls and I have been studying Italy lately.  We enjoy camping out on a subject and digging in deep.  It's not hard (obviously) for me to dig deep into Italy.  We started with studying where our Italian relatives came from - learned about Ellis Island, then turned our attention to working on learning Italy's 20 regions - and what makes them distinct.

While searching for information about the Campania region - we stumbled upon this BBC series that has captured us, called 'Two Greedy Italians'.  I was jumping up and down in my kitchen, actually - when I realized this show includes my favorite Italian chef - Gennaro Contaldo.  Remember him? I've posted a LINK to his video on how to make home made pasta.  I feel like he is family to me, somehow.   I just LOVE watching him cook, hearing him passionately talk about food.

In this episode, these two crazy, hungry Italians share about how 'poor man's food' - or 'Cucina Povera' came out of very difficult economic times in Southern Italy.  It led to food like pasta & pizza - when the more expensive food items were out of reach for most families.

We talked about Cucina Povera in the kitchen as we tried rolling out our own 'fusilli' like the 89 year old lady on the documentary had done.  (Wow, what a skill!  Ours took 4 hours, and didn't look half as pretty as hers).  

The next day, we talked about it some more.  I didn't have 'anything' for lunch... but I DID have that dried pasta, and onion and garlic.  We picked some collards from the garden, sauteed them with onion, garlic and a tiny bit of anchovy for flavor.  I dumped in some cooked garbanzo beans and even threw in a leftover cooked sweet potato.  After the pasta was done, we tossed it with our sauteed mixture.  Longing for some Parmesan which I didn't have... I remembered that Italian families who couldn't afford cheese on their pasta would toast some stale bread crumbs to sprinkle on top, instead.


We basked in the glory of that simple lunch.  All of our bellies were full - even though our meager pile of home made dried pasta had looked so small to begin with.

We can relate to Cucina Povera.  We live on a small business income - my hard working husband supporting the six of us.  Although we are so grateful that his work has stayed steady - there still can be gaps of several weeks when we have to make things stretch.  This week was one of them.  As I looked over the cabinets and fridge - I had to prioritize the bills that are due this week - and make some smart decisions about how to make what we have on hand  last until that next check comes.  I usually take lots of deep breaths and quietly pray for creativity.  This time, the lesson fit too well into our studies not to discuss it with the girls.

I order bulk items from a co-op (which allows me to get them at near wholesale price) so I usually have a good stash of wheat/kamut (for grinding into flour), a good selection of beans, dried corn and rice.   Then we have our large garden, which is nearly done at this time in November.  But we still are harvesting some items.  

It was fun to talk openly with the girls about it.  'OK ladies.  Let's get creative.  We get to use 'Cucina Povera' this week and figure out how to make some great meals with what we have.  Want to help me think? What do we still have in the garden to pick?  "Swiss chard!"  "Beets & carrots!" "Radishes, kale, collards".  These cuties lit up as they helped me decide if we should do cooked beets, or slice them raw for a salad.  We talked about the fact that although we don't have any meat on hand, we DO have a lovely full bag of bones and scraps for making soup stock.  We put those in a pot to simmer, and enjoyed the wonderful smell that it brought to the house.  

We did purchase a bag of potatoes, simmered onion and garlic and picked herbs from the garden to sautee in some fresh bacon grease we'd saved.  Nothing 'povera' about those aromas.  A lovely potato & carrot soup emerged from our home that night.  Some of the beet tops were chopped and added at the end.  We smeared toasted bread (baked the day before) with a home made fennel pesto (from the recent trimmings of our fennel bush that would soon freeze) - put the crusty bread in the bottom of each bowl -and ladled the warm goodness on top (an idea that Gennaro & Antonio had inspired). We had a raw beet, radish, carrot & kale salad that had marinated in some vinegar while the soup cooked.  Of course, I thought about how good that soup would have been with some lovely sausage floating in between the potatoes, or how nice some Parmigiano Reggiano would be melting on top....

But that meal was delicious.

 The girls slurped down every bite and went back for more, and husband said it was his favorite meal in weeks.  It sure DID get me in touch with the exact things that my Italian ancestors must have done.  Saving scraps, bits of fat, meat and things can stretch and give incredible flavor to humble food like potatoes and stale bread.  

It was interesting to hear some questions that the girls asked that day - "Mom, are we poor?"  They ask these kind of questions at different times.  Sometimes it's "Are we rich?"  My answer is usually the same.  

"We are both.  And we are neither.  We can feel either way, depending on who we compare ourselves to."  This is where our discussion floats to Haiti, The Philippines, Mexico or other places I've visited - and feeds my longing to take them to these places.  My favorite way to look at it is that "we have exactly what we need."  

Although I'm just learning the word for it, Cucina Povera to me, is a good friend.  It has been with me for years.  It challenges me to think above my struggle and dig deep with creativity.  To stop comparing my life to the friend who never sweats when she has to buy groceries, but instead, remember my great-grandparents who were rewarded (as I am) with the deep satisfaction of making something really, really good out of 'nothing'. 

Ordinary World Changer. HAITI, here I come!

My cousin Amy is a world changer.

I have been watching from afar, as she and her amazing friend Jenn (both under 26) developed a passion for the people of Haiti - and have raised funds and started their own ministry:  Second Mile Haiti - a home for malnourished children and their mothers.

Amy is gentle, compassionate & a skilled nurse, and though I haven't met Jenn yet - I can tell that she is a visionary with awesome administrative & leadership skills.

Jenn too, is a world changer.

They seem to be a dynamic duo and the evidence is in the incredible progress they've already made.  They have already purchased land in Cap Hatien, Haiti and have nearly completed finishing the buildings on the property:  a clinic, education building, recovery homes, apartment - all within 17 months of solidifying their vision.  AMAZING.

jenn and amy second mile


When I say I've been watching from afar for the past few years of my cousin's life...  I'll be honest - I've been watching with LONGING from afar.  I had done shorter term trips to Brooklyn, NY & Mexico trips as  a teen.  I met my hubby just before leaving on a 6 month trip that included Korea and The Philippines. When Jeremiah and I were first married, we traveled together to Indonesia to stay with a friend.  Back then, before having kids of our own - we felt a tug to involve our lives ( in some way/form) in overseas work.  And later, it was a big part of our decision to homeschool.  We've dreamed of raising our kids part of the year (somehow) in a developing country.  We've wanted them to  see that this American life we lead is not the norm for most of the world.   We want them to be touched by the beauty of people in different cultures.  With people who live with poverty and yet are full of  joy.

In moving to Colorado to buy a home and start our little family - we did not know what we were in for:  years of intense job struggles, having FOUR daughters, starting and failing at a small retail business, deciding to homeschool, beginning a life of church-in-the-home-and-whole-of-life,  struggling with health issues through diet & natural remedies.  We've been in Colorado for 10 years now and it has been a ride.  Those old dreams of travel and purpose faded to the background as we focused on surviving.

Part of my spiritual journey has been my own struggle for significance.  I lived with a deep fear that unless I tried very hard, my life might not matter.  I was anxiously looking for ways in which I could make a BIG difference in the world.  I didn't want my life to be 'ordinary'.  I wanted to do something important with it.

I felt frustrated that in my Mommy routine,  my 'big dreams' of overseas impact seemed worlds away.  Instead, I was living with small business debt - struggling to buy groceries, drowning in diapers and laundry and feeling like a failure in many ways.   In the midst of all this, I was not alone.  And my struggles were not for nothing.

Our marriage was being strengthened through hardship, humbling circumstances and lessons in forgiveness.  I was being taught how to be thrifty and resourceful with little.  The financial and health struggles led to an unexpected love for gardening, I never knew I had.  I've developed a deep love for my little neighborhood community here in Loveland.  I do lead a very un-ordinary life! (I grow food, eat lots of fermented things, butcher my own meat, homeschool, and experience 'church' in the home)... this wasn't exactly what I had in mind...  and yet it has opened up for me a life that I LOVE.

Eventually, I've begun to embrace where I'm at - instead of wishing I was somewhere more significant. Instead of striving for a 'better, more 'significant' life - I'm relaxing.  Trusting  that the passions and gifts God has put uniquely inside of me are there for a purpose.  I'm learning to love the job I've been given as a Momma, Lover, Food-Cultivator & Educator right here in Colorado.  I can admit something:

I am a world changer, right here, today.

I am an ordinary world changer with a God who specializes in making beautiful things out of hard things.

I am God's beloved child.  And so is everyone else.

I'm changing the world as I raise my daughters, love my neighbors, show up for my friends and continue to keep my eyes open for opportunities where my passions and gifts can be spent on the needs of the world.

Last month... Amy emailed me.

She told me that they (the Haiti world-changers) had been reading my blog.  She said they were inspired and wondered if I would want to come out and help them with food gardening/homesteading ideas for the land there.

I almost peed my pants.

I thought of those dreams of overseas travel (pushed down deep, the ones I had named unrealistic & unattainable).  The financial battles and handfuls of daughters and piles of laundry and unorganized drawers and mountains of dishes had not completely buried them.  Uncovering those old dreams beneath these 10 years of life... they look different.  Maybe because I am different.

So I'm heading to Haiti in a little over a week!   I'm going by myself for 10 days - (to soak it all up, help with what I can, make plans, share ideas).  I'm also stopping in Florida at ECHO to view and learn from their tropical education food gardens.  (excited squeal)  I have SO much I hope to learn.

echo garden

Second Mile will be housing 12 mother and (malnourished) child pairs at a time at the recovery homes on their property.  They will be teaching the women job skills, health care knowledge (to care for their own babies).  They want to have a large food garden with animals to supply as much of their own food needs as possible, as well as sample small home gardens for the women to learn creative ways to grow their own food and become as self-sufficient as possible.

tania ride home

I hope to help by getting my hands dirty,  jump-starting ideas on composting & soil prep, roof-top gardening, gardening in small spaces, vertical-trellising, small livestock production and how it works into the garden.

Once I get home, we will continue to pray and plan for more trips with the family - however the need & opportunity arises.   I want to return with my other half (who is the practical skill behind my dreams) and our girls at some point.  This is a new adventure for us - but SUCH a fitting one.

Amy, Jenn & I could use your  help.  I thought I would enlist a few more of you ordinary world changers...

They have been busy raising funds for buildings, solar electricity, medical supplies and it's been amazing to see funds come in.   They are currently low on funds for their food gardens and it would be amazing if we could raise some extra money so that we might get started on some projects while I am there.

If you would like to be a part of this, please click here.   Click on DONATE NOW and add in the comments that you want to donate to the food gardens.  So simple!!

We also have big dreams for our own homestead in Loveland.  We will be partnering with an incredible friend and gifted neighbor to add a wood-fired bread oven to our property.  We hope to add rain water barrels and a  Tilapia pond in the near future.  Our vision for our home is that it would be a helpful place and inspiration for our local community as a learning garden, sustainability center and resource.  I have dreams of teaching classes at my home on composting, soil management, food preservation and cooking someday.  Now that we are beginning this adventure in Haiti - I can see how our experiments in sustainability may be a wonderful asset to share with them as well.

2012-04-26_09-55-01_773 2012-04-26_19-05-51_192 2012-06-20_19-08-36_364 2012-07-08_18-54-59_122 MAY 2012 txs grdn 082 MAY 2012 txs grdn 084

We each have our own unique passions and skills to share with the world. We are all ordinary world changers!

Thanks for being a part of my journey and for doing your part to offer yourself to the world in your own beautiful way!


sarah picking DSC_0028SarahDSC_0406 DSC_0048