Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Got Milk?

The day began far too early.  Our "morning lark" leaped out of bed and scampered to the living room to unzip Cate's bed, so that his best friend, who was peacefully sleeping, would wake up and come play with him.  Perhaps you've noticed that I'm not exactly a morning person.  Groaning, I rolled out of bed and reluctantly followed after them, knowing deep in my heart that as painful as getting up was, it was infinitely less painful than cleaning up the results of the inevitable mischief should I continue to slumber.  The kitchen was a mess from our raucous and late night Settlers of Catan party: mugs, cups, plates, bowls, pan, pot, and lots of silverware.  I love having guests and I love making food, but I hate, hate cleaning up.  And unfortunately, in a two-room apartment like ours, it's impossible to forget about it because the kitchen can't exactly be "out of sight, out of mind."

But I digress.  The real trouble with the morning was that we had no milk.  The night before I had made a 6-cup coffee for us all and some hot milk to make our customary cappuccini (plural of cappuccino), but somehow after I put the milk carton away in the fridge, it tipped over and more than half a liter of milk leaked all over the floor.  This meant that the next morning, a Sunday of all days, we were out of milk. (All the grocery stores except the one at the train station are closed on Sundays.)  Sigh.  No coffee to brighten my morning.  Nothing to quench Catie's appetite for milk.  Another big sigh. 

Dominic asks "What's that?"

I respond, "What?"

He then attempts in a hilariously dramatic way to recreate my big sigh: "UUHHhhhh...."

"Oh, I'm just sad we don't have any milk." 

"What don't we got any milk from?"


The day seemed very bleak in my haggard, caffeine-less state.  We don't got any milk from our tiny, fridge with the stupid door and these dumb Italian milk boxes.  We don't got any milk from grocery stores being closed on Sunday.  Quindi (thus), Mommy don't got any coffee. 

I thought the day was just too early and dreary.   Four hours later, however, when we scrounged up some milk from the neighbors under the guise of needing some for our daughter, I hardly had enough energy to even make the coffee.  Yet twenty minutes later, when I was enjoying the smell and taste of a fresh-brewed mokaccino (made a moka, more on how those work next time), I immediately felt like the world was right again.  I loved my life with our little family in Italy once again.

And that's when I began to worry a little.  See, I love coffee.  I love the smell.  I love the taste.  The catch is, I love the taste with milk.  It's just a little too acrid for me without it; in fact, it's very scientific, I think.  I recall once reading something about the fat in milk binding to the tannins and neutralizing the astringency...presumably this is a good thing?  Anyway, the truth is, I just like it better.  I like having coffee immensely, but I don't like having to have coffee, if you know what I mean.  Maybe I should have given it up for Lent...although by this point I'd probably be addicted to it again.  Perhaps I'll switch to making 1/2 caff. for a while. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Best Souvenir Ever

We have acquired the best souvenir possible.  But it's not what you might think.  By now I'm sure you've ruled out the obvious:  a wooden pinocchio, a Venetian glass dish, a miniature Colosseum, a painting of a gondola or St. Peter's, a colorful scarf, an old black and white photograph of St. Anthony's Basilica, a fancy cheese grater, an Italian moka (coffee maker), etc.  These are all--with the exception of the corny miniature Colosseums, which are horrendous--very nice things that have their place and do actually represent a true part of Italian culture.  Our souvenir, however, is much more unique.  We finally have, in hand, our permesso di soggiorno to take home with us!

These permits of stay are really shiny, official looking cards; even the kids have their own.  For those of you who have been following our Italian saga from the beginning, you probably recall well the horrendous and entirely un-exaggerated episodes I told of the Italian consulate, police station, and immigration offices where we would wait for hours and hours only to be told yet another tall tale about what new document or special seal or pricey tobacco stamp we needed now.   From October until now we have just been waiting (legally) with our receipts for these electronic permits of stay to come. We found out that they were finally ready, so I went in person, kids in tow, a few days ago to make the appointment (naturally you must go in person to make an appointment) to collect the permits.  And today we went, to at last pick up the results of our five hundred dollars and literally thirty hours of running mazes of red tape.   To me, getting our permessi di soggiorno is the best souvenir we could ever get: proof that we have joined the ranks of the elite few who have successfully made it through the ever-changing hoops of Italian bureaucracy. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Three-year-old Dominic

...has a lot to stay and plenty of opinions to voice.
  • I don't like it.  I want to throw up in my tummy.
  •  I can't (finish his food) because I eat too much and my feelings will get hurt. 

We were walking to the park, and I was pointing out all the new life growing around us.
-See those bushes. They're blooming! 
-Where? Where are they blue?

Here's a longer story, but still amusing. It begins at bedtime, I'm putting him to bed and he overhears Matt talking on Skype in the other room about Notre Dame.
-Is Daddy talking about Notre Dame?
-What's he saying?
-He's talking about how we're going to go to Notre Dame to stay with Uncle Stephen and Aunt Sarah and Michael.  Would you like that?
-Yeah.  I would. I love them.
-And we will see Uncle Eli, Aunt Kathryn, Stephen, Eliana, Abigail, and the new baby very often. 
-The new baby!  I love the new baby!  
-Do you love babies, Dominic?
 (Out of curiosity, I just couldn't resist; no, no #3 on the way), Dominic, do you want Mommy and Daddy to have a new baby?
-Yeah.  I do!  (actually he got kind of excited here)
-But isn't Cate still a baby?
-(thinks for a minute)  No.
                                          ...She's a kid.

Next story. Cate was wearing a green bow to match her cute green skirt.
-I don't want her to wear that bow. Take it off.
-Why Dominic?  It's really nice.
-No.  I want her to wear the PINK one!

Yet another story. It was dinner time.  We were having some sort of pasta with vegetables and no salad.
-Mommy.  Can I have some salad? (At my slight resistance, he looked so very pathetic...) Please?
Well...I hadn't been planning on making salad but who can resist a 3 year-old's pleas for salad?  Wouldn't that make me bad mother extraordinaire?!
-And can it have carrots? and tomatoes? (more pathetic-ness) Please?
As you can imagine, he got his salad.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

To Queue or Not to Queue

I just had some friends, Trevor and Anna, visit who are living in London and came to Italy to do some sightseeing.  They brought this cultural difference about "queuing" to my attention, and it rings wholly true with my experiences.

So, the question is: to queue or not to queue?  If we were in England, the States, or any northern European country like Denmark or Sweden, the answer would be terribly obvious. Queue. Duh. In fact, there would be no discussion about it. Just get in the single file line and wait your turn, like everybody else.  Oh and don't talk about it.  That's rude.  Just wait.

In Italy, the idea of "queue" does not really exist. The mob mentality is king. For example, when we were trying to get our Permits of Stay.  We had arrived early and were waiting outside the ominous metal gate of the Questura police station, poised at the front of the line...or so we thought. People kept coming and coming and coming, but they wouldn't line up behind us, snaking neatly to the end of the block. No. They lined up next to us, making an ever wider line, occasionally going back a row as the space didn't allow any more horizontal expanding.  They were pressing on the metal gate, rattling the bars to get in, and shouting, like raved lunatics at rock concerts.  And, to our utter dismay, as soon as the door was opened, people smashed their way through, jamming their papers at the attendant in no particular order and rushing for a seat inside the waiting room.  And the attendants allowed this! Since I had to maneuver the double stroller and, of course, any double stroller no matter how high end or awesome, simply cannot compete against the highly adaptable pedestrian, I fell behind in the line while Matt pressed forward, hunting for the family, scouring places to sit and getting our papers in the stack.  This, however, gave me the chance to observe what was really happening.  After the gatekeeper got all the papers, she shuffled them around, moving one after the other into some sort of actual order.  It appeared that they were actually going to honor the appointment times after all and call the names of the earliest appointments first!  The mob was just waiting to get inside and get seats!  But this is just one example of what happens everyday.  The bus "lines" are exactly the same way, except no one is there to arbitrate.  It's not "first come, first serve," but rather "first and fastest (or pushiest)." Cafes are the same, tobacco shops (we buy bus tickets there), stores, and most certainly, government agencies.

The only two exceptions are the post office, deli, and the grocery store checkout.  The post office and deli are each run by a number system that is very similar to the D.M.V. in the States.  You grab a number from the machine.  Then you wait until it flashes on the overhead sign.  Presto, your turn.  In the mean time, everyone loiters around looking very ill at ease.  But nothing can be worse than the annoyance and paranoia at the grocery store checkout line.   At the supermarket, Italians are forced to queue.  It is as if it sucks the life from them.  They wait impatiently, always looking irritatedly at the people in front of them and behind them.  They snatch the divider stick and emphatically place it between your stuff and theirs. I know I've written about that before, so I'll spare the details.  (If you missed that post it's here To market, to market.)

Maybe it simply boils down to a language difference.  In English we have a the letter "q".  But in Italian, they lack the letter "q".  It has become painfully apparent that they don't have a "q" about queuing.

Monday, April 5, 2010

After Three Months, the Guest Blog You’ve All Been Waiting For

Now everybody just calm down. Don’t panic. Amy WILL be back with her always witty, always hilarious stories of our favorite world travelers. I am just adding a little something extra-may I say, some flair. But I guess you all will be the judge of that. (And for those of you who are gasping that I, the queen of procrastinators, finally got down to writing this, I forgive you.)

It would be impossible to relate all of the wonderful things I saw, foods I ate, and sounds I heard while in Italy. Words would fail to describe even just the views I got to experience from the windows of the train. That is why I am going to tell you about one city that most have probably not heard of, and the day that our traveling troupe did not plan in the least. Upon waking up that fateful morning, Matt, Amy, the kids, and I planned to take an excursion to the House of Petrarch. We wished to see the place where the love poem might first have been developed and where the frescoed walls were illustrated with sonnets depicting Petrarch’s love for Laura (the woman of his unrequited love). We took the bus and then the train to where we thought we would catch another bus and see the place we so longed for. But instead of finding another bus, we found a tourist hub where the man behind the counter explained that it would be quite a challenge reaching the house without pockets lined with euros. Instead of returning to the apartment defeated travelers, we allowed the courageous Amy to lead us onto the train where we took a ten minute ride to the city of Monselice- our knowledge of this place only coming from a brochure Amy had snagged in the tourist hub. None of us knew what to expect. Would there be anything to see, do, or if all else fails, eat? Would our spontaneity really pay off? (I’m imagining you all already know the answer.)

It did! Monselice was a quiet fortified city, set up on the side of the Eugean Hills. We took the walk on the Via del Santurario which led us uphill on a winding, cobbled street. Besides the hassle of pushing the stroller up the road, it was a quaint and old-world kind of experience. On the walk we saw parts of a castle and a Romanesque church, but the most memorable part was what we called the “Path of Healing.” Near the top the trek was a metal gate that opened to a row of seven small temple looking churches on the left and a view of the town below on the right. (A little wikipedia research told me that in the 1600s, pilgrims were allowed to visit these seven churches in place of the seven main churches of Rome.) A larger church at the end of the path was connected to a villa which was in turn connected to a large set of stairs. The view of the town from the stairs was nice, but the excitement of happening upon such an interesting place was the real fun. After spending some time up at the top, relishing in our find, we took the train and bus home. In celebration of our successful spontaneity and to top off our amazing day, we had “Movie Night With Aunt Lana.” Toy Story 2, Pizza, and snacks. What more could you ask of a single day?

Is it really worth it?

Or, as they say in Italian, "Vale la pena?" Is it really worth it to go through all the trouble of using artichoke hearts? Right now artichokes are just coming into season, so we can find them very easily. They're still not super-cheap, but they're at least affordable and incredibly tasty. I decided to have a go at using fresh artichoke hearts, harvesting them myself from a whole artichoke. With them, I was going to make an artichoke parmesan quiche that looked pretty delicious. If that went well, I had plans to make artichoke au gratin potatoes for Easter.  Marcella Hazan, author of my new cookbook, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, just made my mouth water for artichokes going on about how tender, enjoyable, delectable, and glorious artichoke hearts are.  When she wrote "the only exacting part of this recipe is in fact the trimming away of all the tough, inedible parts that usually makes eating artichokes a chore," I think she made a profound understatement.  It probably took me half of an hour to prepare two artichokes.  First, wash them.  Then, snap back all the leaves from the outside inward.  Next, run a paring knife around the inside to scrape out all the prickles, taking care not to damage the most tender heart.  Finally, still using the paring knife, peel the stem and trim any tough leaves (most of the outside).  To be fair, the second one went a lot faster than the first.  The results are below. On the left is a fresh and untouched artichoke.  On the right is the pile of discarded and unusable leaves, stem, prickles, etc, from the first artichoke I did.  Then, the tiny pile on the bottom is the artichoke heart and stem that I harvested for my recipe.  Really?  Is it worth it?

This pictures below is the artichoke after I had stripped it of inedible leaves and prickles.  Not the prettiest job (I guess that comes with practice, assuming I ever do it again).

And this final pictures shows the two cut up artichokes being sauteed in butter.  I must say, they were mouth-wateringly good.  It was a shame to have them covered up in a quiche.  I would have preferred to enjoy their delectable qualities alone, unsullied by any other flavors.  Perhaps next time, that's what I'll do.  Then they will be worth the trouble to enjoy their glory in full.