Words and photos by Laura Jean (Roam + Go Lightly)
As an avid traveler, Covid-19 and the aftermath of the pandemic have completely changed my worldview. It’s been challenging to stay inspired and wondrous in spite of travel restrictions and lockdowns. In the isolated climate we are currently in, I have very little hope that my feet will touch down on foreign soil in 2021. And, although I know this is the right and safest choice… it certainly breaks my adventure-seeking heart (as I’m sure it does for many of you, too). We’ve had to become a bit more creative to keep that explorative spark alive.
By Laura Jean (Roam + Go Lightly)
Perhaps it was the busy-body in me, or maybe it was the dooming, dark winter nights ahead that made me feel desperate for an outlet… but in late December of 2020, I sat down to my journal – typically filled with bucket list destinations and itinerary ideas. Those blank pages looked bleak. And so did the prospect of booking a flight. But I knew, deep down, that adventure is a perspective. Perhaps I would not collect a passport stamp in my little blue book this year, but I would find adventure some way, somehow.
So… in lieu of closed borders, I’ve decided to take 2021 to cook my way through Italy. My goal is to cook at least one recipe from each region of the country, as well as learn as much as I can about culture and history along the way. My kitchen has become my new playground for exploration in a way I would have never imagined. I’m a novice cook, to say the least, so although the idea of “cooking through” something isn’t new (hello Julie and Julia) … it’s been an educational and wild ride thus far!
I’m an Italophile, an Italian-American, and a frequent visitor to the country. I’ve eaten Rome’s best cacio e pepe, sought out the authentic flavors of Bologna, tasted far too many aperitivo in Venice, and cried over the deliciousness of homemade ravioli in the highest peaks of the Dolomites.
These experiences speak to Italy’s delicious food culture, but they’ve been my guiding light as I take on a project that celebrates these recipes and the history behind them.
In reflecting on the last few months of this endeavor, I’m proud of the cooking skills I’ve learned… but I’m prouder of the deep connection I personally have built towards bella Italia. This project has become a mindful practice of learning, reading, watching, connecting. Each recipe I complete, I savor, knowing that one day, when it’s safe… I will have a deeper, more resonant appreciation for Italy’s food, culture, and history.
Studies have shown that taste and smell are the closest to memory. When I warm minced garlic over olive oil, or when I take that first bite of homemade bruschetta, I feel that immediate connection to my previous experiences. It transports me to languid, golden hours in Italy. It’s made me appreciate those memories tenfold, and it’s made me more anxious for future experiences in Italy to come.
When I take notice of the cultural nuances of regional recipes, when I savour the experience of making and tasting each dish, when I read about an ingredient’s history and legacy… I am preparing my future travels to Italy to be more meaningful, more appreciated, and more connected.
As I roam my way through Italy through the recipes I create, I know I am taking part in a generational legacy of each dish. I know that I am deepening my appreciation for a country I love dearly. And I know that this grand experiment for an otherwise mundane year is filling my life with an education I otherwise would not have the opportunity to take part in.
2021 may not be a year of collecting another passport stamp to Italy, but it has empowered me to find the beauty and joy in learning another culture right from home.
BIO : Laura Jean (Roam + Go Lightly) Laura is a travel and food writer who is blogging her journey of cooking through each region of Italy in 2021 for her Roaming Italy Project. She is a slow traveler who believes in the power of self-education before explorations, connecting with locals and entering each adventure with curiosity and an open heart. As a foodie, world traveler and serial wanderluster, she is passionate about culture, history and writing the world a love letter. You can find her writing, musings and adventures on her creative travel blog and Instagram.