This is Us!

We are here to bring you our life through food. Especially Italian food. You can learn more about us here.


Zaza's First Book Signing

I, Elana, recently traveled to three Southern Season locations in Charleston, SC, Chapel Hill, NC, and Richmond VA. There, at one of the most impressive gourmet food stores I have visited to date (and I've been to a few, I have a wee bit of a problem with frequenting them), I taught pizza cooking classes for Colavita and signed the book that I wrote for them, Top Your Pizza.

Now. Before...

Before you say all the things like, "That's amazing!!" and "You're famous!" and "Can I get your autograph?" Let me assure you that, in order:

It is amazing and underwhelming at the same time; I'm only famous in my own mind; and yes, am I signing a check for you?

Let's be clear: I this was a fantastic opportunity. I love teaching cooking classes and my hosts at Southern were so gracious - the whole experience was a treat.

But I want to instill some reality into the experience, for those who have been watching Facebook and think it's all autographs and pizza dough.

As an author, no one knows who I am. Which is fine! A lot of authors fly under the radar. But especially me. So, when you're sitting in the middle of the cookbook aisle, surrounded by volumes by The Barefoot Contessa and Mario Batali with a stock of TOP YOUR PIZZA books and a pen, don't expect the crowds to come flocking.

In Chapel Hill, I managed to sign a total of two books for a very nice lady who had a wood-fired oven in her backyard. As I was smiling up at her, grateful for her request, she said to me with an understanding look in her eye, "I've done book signings with my author friend. I get it."

In Richmond, I signed one for a lady who really wanted to know how to make biscuits, not pizza. I'm still wondering why she bought my book.

One very old and tiny man approached me an commented on how nice my "seated posture" was.

One lady asked me if the wines go on sale every first Monday of the month.

Someone else asked me where the bathroom was.

When I had food in front of me, I received more visitors, some coming back for seconds. Not of me, of the pizza samples.

I did, however, get a really cool sign:

And I read a bunch of other people's cookbooks. Like this one, all about toast:

And this one that had me asking the question, "Do people really look like that, live in a French farmhouse and have disturbingly beautiful children while they pass the hours writing epic cookbooks and twirling their skirts in fields of lavender? Where IS that bathroom anyway? I have to go drown my head in the toilet..."

There was this one about my second love, after pizza:

And then my hour was up and I got to teach. This is the fantastic part. The classes are always so much fun for me, and the reason I'm launching Zaza and the Perfect Pie. I love interacting with people and showing them how to make pizza.

I made three pizzas for them (you can find them all on the Colavita website with links below):

A Spring Pea Pesto and Ricotta Pizza

A Marinated Strawberry, Spinach and Ricotta with Pancetta Pizza

A Three Cheese and Zucchini Pizza.

And they loved them. Each location had a different favorite with Charleston favoriting the Pea Pesto, Chapel Hill preferring the Strawberry and Richmond zany for the Zucchini.

We paired it all with a Marinated Strawberry and Watermelon Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios. And wine! 

I told them stories...most of them were pizza related, they asked questions. I demonstrated home made dough, talked about ingredient pairings, seasonal produce and how small my apartment know, the important stuff. I taught them how to say my last name. We even shot a small cooking video. And they are interested in my returning with the Zaza truck!

A good time was had by all. My hosts at Southern Season could not have been more accomodating. And I'm very grateful to Colavita for letting me run around the country in their name telling people I know how to make a good pie.

Pizza pie, that is. And I do.

And when I got home, I received this text from my mom. She's keeping it real.



Fearful Pizza, Midnight Snacks and Emotional Indigestion

That's quite a title, isn't it? With an intro like that, you can't afford NOT to read this post. Am I right?

Well, that seems to be the problem, doesn't it?

A lot of things have been happening in Elana-land. A lot of change. And with change comes uncertainty, midnight snacking and emotional indigestion. Usually EI is brought on by three factors: anxiety, stress and FEAR.

On one such anxious, stressful and fearful day not so long ago, I just couldn't eat. Because of that, I woke up in the middle of the night starving. So I snuck downstairs (I was at my parents' house) and made myself some peanut butter and jam sandwiches, as shown in the above and below illustrations.

But it's fear that I'd like to focus on for this post. Lately, I feel like I'm riddled with it. Like it's an infection or a disease.

In my mind, much of this fear is rooted in the perfectionism that that I am trying very hard to beat out of my system. I'm sure many of you can relate. This problem is not very original, but our experience of it is.

For me, this means doing things right. What's the best way to do it? Get people's approval. Don't rock the boat. Do what everybody else does, and make them happy. That will lead to your happiness. Right?
I've tried this route many different times in any number of ways. I always end up depressed.
As a career, I'm choosing something...different. Sometimes I have a hard time explaining it to other people. My parents have a hard time explaining it to their friends. This can be stressful.
Essentially, though, I am an artist. 
Deep breath. It's taken me a long to to accept that and also to say it.
Specifically, I harness that creativity and apply it to many things. Some people write. Some people paint. Some dance.
I like to combine art and food.
I am passionate about creativity, health and cooking. And I feel like my purpose is to teach people to bring art into their cooking using pizza as a canvas. To help me do this, I am building a mobile, artisanal pizza cooking school.
In a truck. Which I will drive from place to place (I hope across the country) teaching and cooking, cooking and teaching. And making art along the way. It's called:
This scares the ever-loving olive oil out of me.
I have constant fear that I'm doing it WRONG. What am I doing wrong? All of it. I'm making the wrong choices, going about those choices in the wrong way, and generally walking backwards on my hands without getting my shots beforehand. Sometimes it even seems that other people think these things about me, too. I can see it in their eyes. They fear FOR me. It's not encouraging.
I'm also fearful that the truck will fail because I will fail the truck. Meaning I won't do enough for it, can't do enough (I'm only one person), or even worse, it's a terrible idea.
To be honest, I know it's a fantastic idea. That does not mean the world will like it and that it will make money. And that's ok (really). If it can't float in this world as an idea because people don't appreciate it, that is very, very sad, but I can live with it. I will be plunged into a depression related to the undesirable state of humanity and question my position as a member of the human race, but I can live with that.
What I CAN'T live with is having the concept fail because I can't pull it off. I don't want it to be because of something I did. Whether it's that I didn't work hard enough, didn't put my energy toward the right things, or whatever.
I'm also having fear related to the overwhelm of getting something I want. I read a quote somewhere that says something like, "It's much easier to be almost something, than to actually be it." I am actually it right now. This thing is happening. There are dollars being exchanged and I am proposing the idea to companies, getting help from individuals, and attempting to make a plan for a cross country tour. And all the while I am trying to convince these same companies and individuals that I am a perfectly sane and capable person who just happens to be building a mobile pizza school.
Because that happens.
I have not seen it happen. And this is what faith is built on, correct? The idea that even though you have not seen, you believe. You believe because all the evidence to the contrary (people saying you can't do it, it doesn't exist, you are bananas... and you can't put bananas on a pizza), is not entirely convincing (I have appropriated that last line from Agent Mulder of the X-Files when he talks about why he believes in aliens).
Faith also assumes that there is something bigger than yourself out there.  I'm creating this school as an expression of myself, yes. It's personal. But it's also to reach out to others. To build a community and help, teach and learn from and for that community. To do that, you need believers. I need people to believe in me. People I know, and even people I don't know. I need them to jump on board.
And I have fear that they won't. This might be the scariest thing of all. I'm not sure if I know how to be a leader. Or if people will follow. I've been working as a solitary artist for the last few years so this outreach feels like going out into the very cold weather without a coat. I'm exposed and uncomfortable. I have to ask a LOT of people for help. I have to introduce myself to strangers, put my idea on the table and ask, "do you like this?" And hey, "How about helping me with it?"
And to be completely practical, I have to drive a giant van around the country that has a 3,000lb oven in it and teach people, hoping none of us will catch on fire.
I guess it boils down to, "Am I good enough?" And if I can get comfortable with the answer being yes (because I know that to be true) and also with the idea that many might disagree, then I should be ok.
Because you can't make all the people happy all of the time. Even after making my pear & gorgonzola pizza, there will always be those that prefer the caramelized onion & gruyere option.
I also have a completely separate but related fear and that is: the truck will take me away from my other art. The painting, the photographing, the creating. As I write that, I see how this isn't true. I see that the truck is an opportunity to inform my art and to have it grow because it provides a way to get direct feedback from people. I plan to use my painting and photographing as teaching tools, and also as ways to create other art pieces like cookbooks.
Finally, I have a fear of focusing. I've been doing about 100,000 different things for a long time, juggling them all in the air like some kind of professional clown. I've even figured out how to bill hours for said juggling. But now I'm saying, "This is it." This is the THING that I want to do. It's kind of like getting married—you're picking, with finality in your intention (even if not as an ultimate result) one person over the others.
I have been the bachelorette of jobs. The one-woman band who can play the harmonica, spoons and cymbals all at once. Now, I'm saying, "Pizza truck, will you marry me?" And instead of a ring, I bought an oven from Italy that burns things to seal the deal.
This kind of decision brings on a lot of anxiety, often referred to in the pre-wedding days as "cold feet." But I have already started my walk down the aisle, and even though I am occasionally casting glances back at the door behind me, I keep marching on.
I have faith in my choices. I have faith that this will work. And if it doesn't, I will have faith in the belief that I will have done everything I could, everything I possibly could. 
Now, who wants pizza?




Eat Like a Iaciofano — Toby

Toby was my first pet, if you don't count the occasional goldfish. I found him on from this photo:

I could talk about the kind of dog Toby was, but as this is a food blog I feel that it's most appropriate to do this by telling you what he liked to eat.

It might be easier to numerate the things he didn't find appetizing. Toby was a stray, so he always behaved like each meal was unexpected - scarfing down his dog food in big gulps, barely breathing or chewing.

Just like a Iaciofano.

When I walked Toby, I would have to scan the streets for anything remotely edible, lest he injest something really unsavory. Sometimes I want to follow The Box around in this manner, shaking a finger and exclaiming, "Ah-ah!" just as some questionable morsel is about to cross his lips.


In spite of Toby's penchant for "street food", he was a dog of some refined tastes. His favorite by far were French fries. He once turned up his nose at a batch of imposter toaster fries. He wanted the real thing.

Perhaps because of this food preference, I started referring to Toby as, "M. Pamplemousse," and speaking for him in an atrocious French accent. "M. Pamplemousse" means "Mr. Grapefruit." It's the only French word I know. Interestingly, I never investigated as to whether or not Toby actually liked grapefruits.

Another favorite were apples. He especially enjoyed these in his later days, taking slices gingerly from my hand and trotting off to eat them in a private corner of the Iaciofano TV room.

Blueberries were another fruity preference. A week before he died, I baked him a special batch of tiny blueberry muffins which he very much enjoyed (recipe at the end of this post).

He liked to lick an empty ice cream bowl (who doesn't?), always received his own small portion of Iaciofano family holiday dinners,

developed a taste for Italian cured sausage and provolone cheese (thanks to The Box), and once tried to launch himself on a candy-apple Thanksgiving turkey that I made for Thanksgiving.

Toby and I were together for 14 of his 16 years. Even though he was 16 and his kidneys were declining, I never expected him to leave me. To say that I miss him very much is an understatement. I miss not only the actual dog that Toby was — his energy, quirky personality, piercing PTSD-inducing bark — but also what he represented: a companion that embodied a childlike playfulness and enthusiasm for the world.

I've taken this last piece of Toby and translated it into a character. His name is:

Pecorino is the ultimate trusty sidekick for my own character:

Zaza is a ten year old version of myself. Together, Pecorino and Zaza travel the world, searching for the Perfect Pie. 

Pizza, that is.

I'm hoping the two of them will have many adventures together, small dog and little girl, ever curious and looking to paint a little magic into their lives with pizza.

I'm also hoping you'll be able to follow their adventures very soon.

Rest in peace, Toby. 

Recipe for Mini Blueberry Muffins, Suitable for Small Dogs and All-Sized People


1-1/2 cups almond meal

½ cup coconut flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt

3/4 cups turbinado sugar

1 pint blueberries

3 eggs

½ cup almond milk (you may need more)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Colavita)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Heat your oven to 350°F.

Place the blueberries in a blender with the almond milk and puree until very smooth - so smooth you could drink it. I reserved a few blueberries to press into the tops of the muffins, but this is optional.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and turbinado sugar. Mix all dry ingredients together.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, olive oil and vanilla extract.

Add the puréed blueberries to the egg mixture and mix to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl with all of the dry ingredients and stir until combined. If the mixture seems dry, add some more almond milk. Coconut flour tends to absorb a lot of liquid, so adding more milk is totally fine.

Prepare a cupcake tin by lining with cupcake paper or greasing with non-stick baking spray.

Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake tins and press any remaining blueberries into the tops of the muffins.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean. If you are using mini muffin tins, you only need to bake them for about 12-15 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to cool.

Share them with a small dog near you.


Elana's UnFood Journal

This isn't food related. Or is it?

This is a phases of the moon chart. It's made from a music book salvaged from the trash (yes, I occasionally dumpster-dive for art), water color, parchment paper, and ink.

I don't really know why I wanted to paint the phases of the moon. Perhaps it's because in NYC, I feel slightly divorced from nature. Perhaps I just liked the colors. Perhaps I was sick of painting food.

Either way, perhaps we can just take it as what it is.

Sweet dreams.


Elana's Food Journal - Week 2

As part of a 40 day yoga challenge I'm undertaking (at Lyon's Den in TriBeca), I must maintain a food journal. 

This should be easy for me, yes? Hmmm.... 

Writing down what I eat is easy for me. But I felt as though there was an opportunity in this project to challenge myself.

Challenge is the very reason I signed up for this challenge. You following me? Thought not. 

Lately I've been feeling that I am relying on old tricks. For recipes, for social interactions, for career moves. FOR LIFE.

Like if I could just sous vide instead of sauté, I might have a break through. Or what if cardamom is the difference? I've often felt it is, but when I try to sprinkle it on myself instead of in my almond milk chai, nothing happens. Cardamom is not fairy dust, people. Mental note.

Anyway. With this food journal, I wanted to challenge myself to be creative every day. To paint my food. Or think about it visually in a different way than just photographing it. This is the result. 

It's not fabulous. It's not meant to be a masterpiece, but a place where I can play, not be too serious and see what works.

Just like my kitchen!