Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Year in Review

The year is almost over. In a few hours, 2013 will be a distant memory. In taking stock of this past year, I want to avoid the easy platitudes a new year inspires people to spout. It wasn't all rosy, but neither was it hellish. It was an odd year of growth. I'll do what I do best and just bullet outline what I feel to be the truth of my 2013. It's not just what I did and where I went, but also the defining moments and events that were taking place within me.
  • The first half of 2013 was a blur of job interviews, sleeping in and watching Jerry Springer religiously at 11am every morning. I'm thankful that all of these activities, particularly the last habit, vanished once I got my new job. Some people may hate the 9-5 routine, but there's nothing like a little structure to restore your sanity. It helps that I come in every morning and work with a group of people I genuinely like.
  • My weight as of December 31, 2013: 211 pounds
  • I still struggle with caring what other people think of me. I know it's a waste of energy and it's none of my business what people think of me, but not until this year did I finally accept that this will be a lifelong demon that I will succumb to at times; and other times I will kick straight back to hell.
  • In late May, I traveled to Trumansburg, New York by Cayuga Lake and was enchanted by Taughannock Falls:
    Taughannock Falls, Trumansburg, NY
    Copyright © Jack Aiello  •  www.jackaiello.photoshelter.com
  • In late July, I traveled to Seneca Lake and discovered beautiful Watkins Glen:
Watkins Glen State Park
Copyright © Jack Aiello  •  www.jackaiello.photoshelter.com
  • At times, my mother will infuriate me, and when she does, I will remember that she shows her love through food. Christmas Eve Dinner, December 24, 2013
Linguine with Clams
Photo Courtesy of Marylisa Terzulli
  • I learned that if I want to grow, I have to let myself off the hook.
  • The phrase, "Not all those who wander are lost" is very true. And I figured out the difference between the one who wanders and the one who's lost. It's fear.
  • I have to admit my trip to Utica in October was a bit of a bust, but I still managed to find beauty in that old train station and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

 Utica Train Station, Utica, NYAdirondack Scenic Railroad

  • And as 2013 winds up, I will celebrate it alone - by choice. It's not sad, it's not pathetic, it's not anything. As I quietly take stock of my life these past 12 months, I will reflect on all the good things going on in my life: my family, my friends, my photography, my constant desire to improve myself, and my acceptance that sometimes I will fall short. But the important thing is I will keep trying.
A Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pasta e Fagioli Made Easy

Pasta e Fagioli
Why does my photography blog look like a Food Network page, all of a sudden?  Well, I told you that my site might take some twists and turns, and besides, I don't entirely ignore food in my photography. Because the weather has been so foul and cold lately, I feel like talking about my favorite Italian comfort food, pasta e fagioli, or Pasta Fazool as it's more commonly referred to in the U.S.

Pasta e fagioli is an Italian peasant dish that doesn't require a lot of fancy ingredients. It's meant to be hearty, simple to make, absolutely delicious and will keep your tummy warm and full during those bitter cold winter months. This is my father's recipe. My dad, for many of you who don't know, was a well respected chef for Elaine's Restaurant in New York City during its heyday in the late 70's and 80's.  Here we go:

  • Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves of smashed garlic
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • About 2-3 Tbsp. pancetta cut in small cubes
  • 15 oz can of White Cannellini Beans (if you don't have this in your pantry, the beauty of pasta e fagioli is that it can be made with any kind of beans. Try red kidney beans, even chick peas if that's what you find)
  • A squirt of tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (I prefer TuttoRosso crushed tomatoes with basil)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  •  About a cup Elbow or Ditalini Macaroni
  • Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese and ground black pepper for garnish
In a large pot, drizzle just a little olive oil at the bottom. Doesn't need to be a lot, just eyeball it.  Add the crushed garlic cloves, small pinch of red pepper flakes and the pancetta. Under low heat, saute everything for a few minutes until the garlic becomes golden and the pancetta starts to crisp.

Add 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes and let everything cook for an extra few minutes under the low flame. Squirt some tomato paste in there - eyeball it, no more than a tablespoon - and stir. Next, add the entire contents of the cannellini beans - do not drain the can. Continuing under the low heat, cook the beans in the tomato sauce for another ten minutes.

Now here's a twist to the recipe that is crucial: with a stick blender, or a masher, start pureeing or smashing the base mixture of beans and tomato sauce so that it transforms from a bright red, to an almost orange/pink color. Note, don't smash all the beans. Continue to cook under a low heat for a few more minutes.

Add the water and the chicken bouillon, and under a medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Next, add about a cup of elbow or ditalini pasta and stir frequently until the pasta cooks to al dente.  

Initially, your pasta e fagioli will look soupy like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •  www.jackaiello.photoshelter.com
but once you let it rest for 15 minutes, it'll start to thicken and appear more hearty like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •  www.jackaiello.photoshelter.com
Sprinkle with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some fresh ground pepper.

A few notes
  • I prefer using the Tuttorosso brand because their crushed tomatoes contain basil bits and comes already salted. Some other crushed tomato brands are unsalted.  That's fine to use, but then the chicken bouillon cube might not be enough flavoring and you may have to salt to taste. Just play with it.
  • Let's talk Pancetta. Pancetta helps round out the dish, but the goal here is simple, simple, simple. If you can't find pancetta at your local supermarket, just leave it out.
  • DO try to find Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese - and NOT processed "parmesan". Even try Pecorino Romano, whatever, but don't skimp on these fresh ingredients; it makes a difference, even the fresh ground black pepper. 
If you do it right (and you can't mess this up), this dish will warm your belly in the coldest winter nights. Enjoy and Buon Appetito!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Making My Way to The Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower, New York City
Freedom Tower, Copyright © Jack Aiello 2013
I haven't visited the World Trade Center in what seems like ages. Having lived through September 11, I mourned and paid my respects privately with no true desire to visit the physical site. During a recent period of accelerated construction of the area, I still felt no need to go down there. Moreover, I couldn't bear those "TV Specials" that would supposedly honor the 9/11 anniversary by rebroadcasting the disturbing and graphic sequence of events from that day. As such, I never felt ready to be even within that vicinity.

About two months ago, I was commissioned to photograph the Freedom Tower, and so off I went for the first time in almost 13 years. For the most part, things are looking back to normal. People are going about their day and tourists are snapping photos. Though you can visit the Memorial site, it's still blocked off from view and there's still major construction at every turn of the corner. But once I followed the maze to the Memorial and saw the North and South pools where the Twin Towers once stood, I felt a drop in my gut. The optimism was definitely tempered with a sense of transformation, a look to the new but always with an eye toward a remembrance of what happened at this very site.

No matter how revitalized the area might appear to be, those two empty cascading pools -- at once beautiful and haunting -- remind the visitor that something sorrowful and tragic happened here. The new Freedom Tower in its final phase of construction, while not as imposing as its predecessors, is still a lovely, and very photogenic piece of architecture.

The new World Trade Center offers a balanced sense of optimism with the new construction of the Freedom Tower and the Oculus. Tourists will always pose and smile alongside the usual landmarks, a testament to the triumph of American resiliency and pragmatism. But the stone gray pools whose dimensions carve an area below street level will inform you differently. There's something sad, yet meditative in the way water plummets into that small square positioned concentrically into the larger square footprint that make up the North and South towers. It suggests both an infinity and finality of things. The names etched in bold around the perimeter, not to mention the no-holds barred Museum opening later next year, will always serve as reminders that New York and America were forever changed.

Freedom Tower New York City
Freedom Tower, Copyright © Jack Aiello 2013

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