“Home Sweet Home”

Home is where the heart is–but, is it?

Working out of town is never easy. In the past twelve months, I have been out of town—literally out of the state of Alabama—for eight of those twelve. Colorado, New York, Minnesota, and currently, South Carolina have all been “home” to me since last October.

Home has been on my mind a lot this past week. Our house in Alabama is soon to be published in a national magazine and that has had me on the phone for hours at a time discussing the house with the article’s writer.

“What do you like most about your house?” “What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?” “Describe your style.” “What inspires you?”

Some questions were easy to answer, while others involved considerable thought.

“What makes a home?” For some of us, it is the physical space—the sofa, the wide-screen TV, the seat in the bay window, or a comfy bed. Others would say it was the shared experiences of life under the same roof—for better, for worse—that define home. It could be the hometown or state that makes the idea of home special—Sweet Home Alabama might ring true here, even though I am a Yankee at heart.

Viterbo, Italy was my home for the month of August in 2005. And in two weeks I will be there again visiting the family that I lived with, ate with, learned, laughed, and cried with. That house has become my Italian home and I am honored to have had the chance to experience “a casa” in a completely different context—a foreign land in a foreign tongue with foreigners. In a very personal way, it has become my land, my native tongue (even if I only speak as a 2-year-old), and they are no longer foreigners, but my family.

Yes, this week has been and is a flood of emotions for me.

The photo above is of Blera, Italy, which is Lillo’s hometown. (http://www.latuscia.com/en_comune_blera.php ) Lillo is Alessandra’s husband—Nonna’s son-in-law. Lillo and I struck up a rather quick friendship while I was there. He is the only man in that Italian household: Lillo and Alessandra have two daughters, and including Nonna, he has to contend with four women. Usually, the foreign students they have are women—mostly middle-aged ladies taking a cooking vacation. (http://www.dantealighieri.com/italian_language_school_viterbo.html ) I was one of the few men to have ever taken the full-immersion course, and Lillo appreciated having another guy in the house.

Lillo is very proud of Blera, his boyhood-home. It is roughly 20 kilometers from Viterbo, so it a place he still goes through on his way from Viterbo out to the family’s small farm just beyond his hometown. I took the photo from a bridge, looking back toward Blera, late one afternoon when we went out to see the farm. It is a sweet little town and, as with any small town, everyone knows everybody—and everybody’s business. He still stops at his favorite bakery to buy pane di Blera—bread particular to Blera. It has no leavening agents in it and uses durum wheat flour (semolina), which results in a very dense loaf of bread. For Lillo, there is nothing better than the bread of Blera—the wine, the cheese, the roasted pork (porchetta), the list goes on and on.

We are all probably like Lillo. We cherish the things that connect us to and identify us with our childhood—or any happy time of life. Maybe that is why I am thinking so much about home in Alabama, home in Italy, home in northern Illinois where I was raised—and the home about to be published in a magazine.

Ciao e a presto,

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.