Name: Laura D’Amelio
Blog Name: An Italian-Canadian Life
Where were you born? Scarborough, Ontario
Where are you living now? Pickering, Ontario
Why did you start your blog?
There was a collision of three things in my life that made this blog finally happen. The first is that I’m a professional writer and content strategist but I had little time to write for myself creatively. I was looking for an outlet that would force me to write weekly. Second, my maternal grandparents passed away and without them my family was struggling to recreate some family recipes that had never been written down. I needed an excuse to get these recipes recorded, with proper measurements. The third thing to happen was that my application for Italian citizenship was denied even though I had rights to it. (Even though my parents were born in Italy, rules had changed as they do often there.) This made me question who decides your culture: those who issue passports or those who live it? The blog finally came to be to explore what my Italian life is here in Canada – how it is defined, how I live it and who I am.
How did you decide on your blog name?
I wanted the blog to be about more than just recipes, but a way of life. I wanted the title to reflect this, but also distinguish from Italian-American culture and traditions which can be quite different in some American regions (think Jersey Shore). So An Italian-Canadian Life was born. For me personally, it’s also a play on an old favourite TV show “My So-Called Life”, since my “so-called” Italian-ness was called into question by my citizenship application.
What do you blog about?
I blog about Italian food, culture and traditions. I tend to focus on Southern Italian dishes based on my family history. When it comes to food, the blog has a recipe section that includes traditional meals that my family has made since they immigrated to Canada. But I also have a section called “Mangia” (a conjugation of the Italian verb meaning “to eat”) that talks about food preparation, slow cooking, ingredients and preserving which is a big part of Italian cooking.
What post are you most proud of and why?
In October of 2012 I was selected to be one of Lidia Bastianich’s “Favourite Bloggers.” Lidia is a restaurant owner, author and TV chef on PBS for shows like “Lidia’s Italy” where she cooks authentic, traditional Italian foods. As she was launching her “Lidia’s Favorites” cookbook, I was able to receive an advance copy and feature one of her recipes on my blog: Pan-Seared Steak Pizzaiola. My blog posting was also promoted on Lidia’s website and by her publisher. Lidia is known as the “Grandmother of Italian Cooking in America”, so this was an honour, particularly in the first year of my blog and as the only Canadian blogger to be chosen.
Which post do you wish received more love and why?
I had an early post about the “Italian Food Pyramid” that had been an idea in my head for years. In elementary school, I remember learning about the Canada Food Guide “food pyramid” (essentially the food groups) and I remembering hating everything on that pyramid. (Why weren’t rapini in the vegetable section? I ate scamorza cheese, not cheddar!) So I made a replica of the food pyramid using typically Italian foods. I thought that like-minded Italians would find this amusing, but also non-Italians could learn a bit more about authentic Italian ingredients, since some Italian meals such as pasta and pizza have become so mainstream anything is thrown in or on them. I followed it up with an Italian Dessert Food Pyramid to explain the hierarchy of after-dinner digestives and foods as well. Neither ever got the traction I hoped for unfortunately, but I still love them.
Which post’s success surprised you and why?
About two months in to blogging I posted a recipe for Spelt Pasta dough, done two different ways. This has been, hands down, the most successful posting on the blog. The recipes where created on a lazy Saturday, just playing around in the kitchen, and I took photos in case I decided to use them on the blog. It turned out it was the first posting where I really started to get into the flow of food photography. Everything started to click with that post for me as a blogger, but I didn’t think the recipe or subject was all that exciting or personal. These were the first of my photos that got accepted to Foodgawker and Tastespotting, so that helped the traffic to the post plus there is a lot of interest in whole-grain or alternative pasta recipes.
What is one (non-kitchen) gadget you can’t live without?
My gut reaction to this question is “Iphone”! I’m able to monitor my blog though the WordPress app, save recipes right when I have an idea, keep in touch with readers and take inspiration photos. But really, I can live without my iPhone. While she’s not a gadget, my mother is really the necessity to me. When it comes to food, she’s the technique expert, family memory and recipe sourcer. We have a lot of fun digging up old recipes or testing and putting them back together from memory.
What is one kitchen gadget you can’t live without?
Anything wooden! Wood spoons, wood spatulas, wood cutting boards, wood dough boards: there’s some magic in all of them whether it’s leftover from my grandparents who used to own them or it’s just right for Italian food. The spoons and spatulas don’t scratch pots and pans, and the boards are perfect for kneading and even serving. And the big plus: they look great in photos for the blog. A close second for kitchen gadgets is my Kitchenaid Mixer.
Favourite food, care to share a recipe?
Despite my whole family and husband loving pasta – made fresh, as lasagna, you name it – I’m really a meat and potatoes girl. Rustic fried potatoes (in Italian: “patate fritte”) with fresh vegetables from the garden are my favourite. This is a typical dish from my mom’s region of Calabria and it’s essential that these are slow-cooked and crisped to a golden brown. It’s delicious and epitomizes what makes Italian meals famous: slow cooking, simple and seasonal ingredients, using what you have, and serving family style. You can find the recipe on my blog.
What else should we know about you that may or not be in your “About Me” page?
My parents used to own a restaurant when I was young, they sold it when I was about 8 years old. While much of my “food history” has to do with cultural traditions, so many of my younger food memories are from the restaurant and family being together around food including cousins, grandparents, and aunts. If I was at the restaurant for a meal, I used to always ask my father for pizza for dinner and he would always serve me veal parmesan instead (though he would give me two huge helpings of mashed potatoes – my favourite!). If I was lucky and my grandfather was spinning the pizza dough, I’d get a pizza in the shape of an “L”. While I know restaurants are a lot of work, I dream of a future restaurant or bakery in the family. Also, I don’t cook exclusively Italian at home. I love Thai food, sushi, Indian, you name it. In restaurants I’ve tried meals with kangaroo, crocodile, bear, bugs, and more, all for the love of food.
What makes your blog unique?
I believe An Italian-Canadian Life is unique in the way it features traditional Italian food in its’ complete context. By this I mean that I do my best to explain how ingredients are created, why they are used and how they are treated. For example, why a certain cookie recipe uses honey instead of sugar (sugar was rarely available during hard times) or the symbolism behind some ingredients. Also much of the cooking is centred around preserved harvest items like tomatoes, eggplant or pork (as examples) so I’m also trying to capture the process and recipes for traditional preserving, including even the techniques used to grow vegetables. An Italian recipe really does showcase a whole way of life – that’s what I’m trying to capture.
Connect with An Italian Canadian Life on Social Media