Mary Altier

Food Related Stories

Mary Altier
Lombardy's Lakes Como and Maggiore, by Mary Altier
Published: The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana

"The delicate aroma of Ravioli di Zucca (pumpkin ravioli) wafted up from the steaming plate. I anxiously took my first bite of one of the Lombard region's classic winter recipes. When I bit into one of the tiny white pillows, a unique combination of flavors burst in my mouth. Fresh cooked pumpkin, onion, grated Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, sweet and sour fruits preserved in mustard, and crushed Amaretto cookies are blended together and wrapped in pasta dough, which is tossed with melted butter. This dish alone is reason enough to visit Italy's Lake Region in winter.

At a nearby table, twenty local men and women enjoyed the ravioli as the first course of their pre-Christmas banquet. They laughed and talked as they sipped a local wine, the ruby-red Barbera di Otrepo' Pavese Bonarda. The group had come to Varenna's liberty-style Albergo-Ristorante Olivedo on the ferry from nearby Como for a holiday celebration. The relaxed scene was in sharp contrast to the frenetic activity of Milan's Malpensa Airport, where we had arrived from the United States just three hours earlier.

In winter, the sky is clear enough to see snow on the nearby mountain peaks above the deep-blue lakes. We were not the first people to be enchanted by the area. For two thousand years writers, composers, and artists have been paying tribute to the region's beauty. Virgil wrote poetry and Monteverdi and Franz Liszt composed music in honor of the lakes. Stendahl used the area as the setting for the first scenes of his novel, The Charterhouse of Parma."

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Seduced by Sicily, by Mary Altier
Published: The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana

"In Sicily you can attend opera in an historic opera house, ski on a smoldering volcano, and sun yourself on a white sand beach. Sicily has been attracting visitors for centuries with its varied landscapes, sophisticated cities, and ancient archaeological sites all easily accessible by public transportation or private car.

And the food! The Greeks, Romans, Normans, and Arabs did not just leave Sicily the dramatic remains of their buildings, they also influenced its cuisine. The Romans called Sicily 'The Granary of the Empire' because the island produced so much wheat. The Arabs introduced date palms and oranges, which they watered with an innovative irrigation system. Salt cod, still a popular Sicilian dish, is a remnant of Norman times.

Today local farmers grow tomatoes, zucchini. eggplants, artichokes, endive, fennel, mushrooms, broccoli, and all types of beans. Sicily is one of the most important regions in Italy for the production of olives, olive oil, and wine. Figs, almonds, pistachios, and a several types of citrus fruit are grown on the island. Fishermen still catch swordfish and tuna, although these fish are not as prevalent as they were before the waters surrounding the island were depleted of the once abundant seafood."

Please contact Mary Altier at 831-684-1340 or if you are interested in purchasing any of the stories above and would like to read more.

Umbrellas Cinqueterra

CinqueTerre, by Mary Altier
Published: The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana

"When the conductor called out "Riomaggiore," my husband and I left the train and immediately felt the warm October sun shining down on us. We quickly entered the long tunnel leading to Via Colombo, the town's main street. We had arrived at the southernmost village of the magical Cinque Terre (Five Lands), the group of five towns that cling precariously to the Ligurian coast.

While the food is excellent in Cinque Terre, the exceptional scenic beauty combined with the opportunity to take the breath-taking hikes between the towns drew us there. To the north lies Monterroso al Mare, then Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. While hardly a serious hiker, I enjoy what I call "urban hiking." After a strenuous walk there is a chance to take a break with an espresso, cappuccino, gelato, or a slice of pizza or focaccia and a cold drink in one of the towns.

Because the coast's moist salty air makes it difficult to bake yeast bread, the Ligurian people developed focaccia, a flat unleavened loaf topped with salt, sometimes sage or other herbs, and olive oil. Today fresh rosemary, olive, sun dried tomato, and many other types of focaccia are found all over Italy, but traditionally it was eaten plain, topped with chopped onions, or stuffed with cheese and garnished with fennel seeds.

Restaurant La Carmagnole

Taking Food Nice and Slow, by Mary Altier
Published: Santa Cruz Sentinel

" 'Thank God Mother Nature closed the door that no one has managed to open. The truffle has not yet become industrialized.' Renato Dominici, the avuncular owner of restaurant La Carmagnole, addressed a group of 60 international food enthusiasts assembled at Salone del Gusto 2000, on the Piedmontese white truffle.

As he spoke, young men and women wearing starched white shirts and dark pants served one of Chef Dominici's creations. A tiny quail egg yolk sat on top of a combination of partridge shreds and paper-thin slices of truffle, with a meat juice soaked crust base. Throughout the packed room, noses dove towards plates so the excited diners could sniff the ancient earthy aroma. They lifted their forks to eager lips. The long awaited moment had arrived.

The Truffle Tasting Workshop was one of the highlights of Salone del Gusto, a combination food celebration and trade show held biannually in the outskirts of Torino, Italy. Slow Food, a grass roots food movement based in Italy, sponsors the event. Journalist Carlos Petrini founded the organization fifteen years ago as a reaction to the opening of a McDonalds on Rome's Spanish steps, which he considered to be 'the cradle of Italian culture.' The organization strives to slow the world's consumption of fast foods. One author described it as 'The Greenpeace of Gastronomy.' "

Please contact Mary Altier at 831-684-1340 or if you are interested in purchasing any of the stories above and would like to read more.


Mary Altier

Ramadan in Morocco: Sharing Food and Ancient Traditions by Mary Altier
Published: Santa Cruz Sentinel

"Dates, hard boiled eggs, flatbread made from lamb fat and spices, a honey saturated confection called chabakia, a creamy yogurt drink, and a bowl of date powder with ground almonds sat on the plastic table cloth. These dishes are all part of the traditional Moroccan menu for the breaking of the fast, or futor during the holy month of Ramadan. On the first day of this annual religious period, the Bouchar family of Casablanca surrounded the round table, waiting patiently to hear the call to prayer from their portable radio.

When they heard the call, designating that the sun had officially set, the family eagerly reached for the treats that Mrs. Bouchar had spent all afternoon preparing, and began to eat and drink for the first time in twelve hours. The women went to the kitchen to bring out steaming bowls of Harira. This rich soup combines garbanzo beans and lentils with tomato, onion, and parsley. The exotic flavor of the broth comes from turmeric, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, black pepper, and the lemon juice, which is squeezed on at the table. The pungent aroma made our mouths water.

Similar scenes were taking place throughout the country. The entire population of 27 million people, as a Moroccan friend had explained to us, 'ate the same exact foods at the same exact moment, whether they were at home or away.' In Rabat, the Moroccan capital city, we saw a McDonald's sporting a banner reading - in English - 'SPECIAL RAMADAN Menu Futor.'"

Please contact Mary Altier at 831-684-1340 or if you are interested in purchasing any of the stories above and would like to read more.


Thai Ingredients

Tantalizing Thai Flavors, by Mary Altier
Published: San Jose Mercury News and Honolulu Advertisers Food Sections

Last spring our Thai friend Sayan Khana arrived at our rented apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, loaded down with local ingredients. He carried lemon grass, galangal, and Kaffir Lime leaves as well as little boxes of fresh coconut milk and small plastic bags of Panang curry paste. Formerly a monk, then a resort chef and now a longboat fisherman in the Andaman Sea, Sayan chopped the food, then tossed it into a wok and saucepan that he placed on the two-burner hot plate. Soon the small kitchen was filled with the pungent aroma of garlic, curry paste and chili peppers. Within an hour we sat down to eat chicken with vegetables, stir-fried lotus stems, and Panang curry, accompanied by boiled jasmine rice and cold Singha beer. Sayan's meal rekindled my love affair with Thai cooking and renewed my determination to learn to cook it when I got back home to California.

My infatuation with Thai food began 17 years ago with my first visit to Thailand. I bought some cookbooks in a Bangkok bookstore and, as I traveled throughout the country, read about the cuisine that is said to appeal to all of the senses. Since T'ai tribes began migrating to Thailand from southern China just after the birth of Christ, there are many similarities between Thai and Chinese cuisines, namely stir-frying and the dominance of fish and noodles. Although the two are similar, Thai is a unique cuisine, a fusion between Chinese and many other influences.

These influences combine to form the country's complex cuisine, a tribute to the Thais' ability to translate the foreign into something uniquely Thai. Initially I had been intimidated by this complexity. In my earlier attempts at Thai cooking, I found preparing a multi-dish meal difficult and wondered if the results were worth the effort. With my passion for the flavors, I decided to take another stab at making Thai cuisine a part of my everyday meal-preparation repertoire, not just something I did for company.

Easter Sweet Breads

A Sweet Slice of Easter, by Mary Altier
Published: San Jose Mercury News Food and Wine Section

Easter breads are an important tradition throughout Italy, with dozens of varieties available, depending on the region. My family's roots are in Vitulazio, a small town northeast of Naples, close to Caserta. While our family recipes are traditional to the region of Campania, individual cooks probably adapted them once they got to America.

As a child I thought that the best one of my grandmother's recipes was a sticky confection she made by spreading syrup, pine nuts and walnuts over a round of cinnamon flavored dough, rolling it up, and frying it in sizzling hot oil. Once it was fried, she made it even sweeter by dousing it with another round of syrup that sank into the crisp fried dough. We called it pregnant pizza and begged for the center-cut slices, which were the sweetest and nuttiest.

The adults preferred a lightly sweetened yeast bread with eggs baked into the top and pastea, a rectangular pie filled with a custard-like concoction of eggs, sugar, butter, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, and either farina or rice.

This year, as the crocus and narcissus began to appear in my garden, the arrival of spring reminded me of my grandmother's unusual Easter delicacies. I decided to seek out and recreate the recipes for the dishes she called Pizza Figliad. Pane di Pascua, and Pastea.

California Olive Oils

Domestic Oil: California Olive Oils, by Mary Altier
Published: California CEO

"California olive oil production has exploded over the last decade, with much of the increase in production coming from people with more passion than land. 'People who have 20 or more acres are creating a culture based on a healthy diet and the visual impact of the trees on the landscape,' says Bruce Golino. From his Santa Cruz County ranch, Golino sells young olive trees he has propagated from mature trees imported from all over the Mediterranean region. He says that his customers range from people who want a few back-yard trees to produce enough oil for their own table, to commercial farmers.

One of the pioneers in the rebirth of the California olive is 82-year old Nan Tucker McEvoy, heiress to the San Francisco Chronicle publishing dynasty. Ten years ago she was looking to buy a peaceful country place where she could enjoy time with her grandchildren. She happened on a 550-acre parcel in northern Marin County, once part of a Mexican land grant. She decided to plant olive trees in accordance with the agricultural zoning of the land.

Enlisting the counsel of Tuscan olive oil expert, Mauritzio Castelli, she put in Italian trees as well as a sophisticated irrigation system and top of the line Rapanelli extraction equipment. Her 11,000 olive trees on 74 acres produce approximately 1,500 gallons of Tuscan-style extra virgin oil annually, making McEvoy the largest producer of estate-grown olive oil in the country. The award winning product sells out every year."

Please contact Mary Altier at 831-684-1340 or if you are interested in purchasing any of the stories above and would like to read more.


Corporate Cooking

Corporate Cooking, by Mary Altier
Published: California CEO

"Today, instead of river rafting or rock climbing, we are going to cook together,' said Emile Mooser, owner of downtown San Jose's award winning restaurant, Emile's. He spoke in his charming French accent to 25 information technology workers from the Cadence-Diablo Product Line group. These men and women, wearing handsome red aprons imprinted with Emile's logo above their company name, listened attentively. On one Wednesday morning in July, these high-tech workers were about to begin a five-hour session of cooking as team building, which their manager hoped would be a recipe for success.

The energetic Emile, who has been cooking professionally for 50 years, displayed a spreadsheet that listed the dishes to be prepared and the ingredients and equipment necessary for each. 'Cooking is like a symphony,' he continued. 'We must plan and work together. If one of us is playing off-key, it will be obvious.' Some of the team members seemed intimidated by the complicated four-course menu. 'It will be a piece of cake. By 11:00 A.M., we will have everything in place,' the Swiss native assured them. 'For that, we use the expression: la mise en place. '

'The four rules for the day are: safety, cleanliness, co-operation, and teamwork.' He asked if anyone in the group had ever attended a team building/cooking event. One of the engineers had, so Emile designated him as a team leader, along with two others. The Chef divided the entire group into three smaller teams, two of which followed him into the main kitchen to work on the gnocchi, chicken breasts, shrimp, and risotto."

Please contact Mary Altier at 831-684-1340 or if you are interested in purchasing any of the stories above and would like to read more.


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