Saturday, November 18, 2006

Figlio d'Italia

More posts from the past, but I'm getting closer to today, promise!

31 October 2006
Just dropped Eric off at the train station in Milano. It's been two weeks since we arrived in the very same spot, but in some ways it feels like yesterday. How is that possible? Time, like just about everything else in Italia, is a bit of a mystery.

For example, how is it that we could eat great Sicilian dishes in Umbria? Why can't even native Italians explain their common phrase, "Insomma?" Why are orange pants so popular in Italia?

While Eric was here visiting the homeland of his forefathers, we did our best to uncover these mysteries, but that pursuit, delightfully, only led to more questions, more mysterious experiences, more good stories. To name just a few...

In Domodossola, we ate roasted chestnuts straight from the oven. We missed the famous aquarium in Genova (Sori, Eric!) but did manage to walk along the second longest wall in the world (Sori, China!). We visited Sori, Italia, a small town close to Portofino (Sori you missed it!). Somehow Jackie was soaked in Camogli even before the rain started. Eric spent thirty times as much time in Firenze on this, his second trip. A bat with broken radar hit me in the face in a cave on Monte Conero, and we all learned a new song...well, Jackie had some trouble, but keep practicing, Bella. And remember, it's "La la la la la la la Laaaaaa!"

Through all these mysterious adventures, though, one of the best parts of the trip was seeing Eric's Italian bonds strengthen. he took us on a whirlwind tour of Lucca, guiding us like it was his hometown. Earlier acquaintances became his good friends, and he got to watch a soccer game with the boys. He even ate gelato each time that Jackie and I did.

So while his trip went quickly, it's thanks to our wonderful hosts (Jackie and Antonello - tante grazie!), our many generous friends (grazie a tutti!), and the mysterious Italia that the ties here get stronger and sweeter with every visit.

A presto, Ericco!

On Eric's last night in Macerata, Jackie and Antonello hosted a Halloween Party for family and friends. The festa was complete with spooky treats for the guests and a jack-o-lantern, which went over almost as famously as Eric's spinach dip. We had fun laughing over memories, eating great food, and sharing American holiday traditions.

Around the Marche, locals have their own Halloween, or rather, All Saints' Day tradition. This is the time for fave, almond flavored cookies that come in two varieties: soft and crispy.

I haven't had a chance to bake my own fave yet, but I've tried two delicious varieties in Maceratese bakeries. Since it seems fave vary from one kitchen to the next, here are a couple different recipes (one in Italian, another in English) that might be worth trying as you celebrate Halloween and All Saints' Day.

Enjoy! and Boo!

Fave dei morti
1 etto e mezzo di mandorle macinate
2 etti di zucchero
2 etti di farina
mezzo etto di zucchero
un cucchiaino di cannella
due uova
la buccia grattugiata di un limone

Impastare tutti gli ingredienti in un amalgama piuttosto morbido e confezionare dei rotoloni allungati, tipo grissino; questi verranno, poi, tagliati in piccoli pezzi da 3-4 cm. e poi schiacciati in dischetti. Spolverare di farina il fondo imburrato di una larga teglietta che sarà posta nel forno a 160° per 25 minuti.

Begin with a 1/4 pound of shelled almonds and a 1/2 cup sugar. Grind some of the almonds, with their skins, and some of the sugar together. Once you've ground the mixture, put it through a fine strainer, and return any unground almond bits to the mortar or food processor. Add some fresh almonds, a little more sugar, and repeat the process until all the sugar and almonds are used; be careful not to use too much sugar in the beginning.

Add to the almond flour two large, heaping tablespoons of flour (about 2/3 cup), 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, a walnut-sized chunk of unsalted butter, a whole egg, and the grated zest of a half a lemon.

Flour your hands and roll the dough into a long, narrow "snake," about a half inch in diameter. Cut half inch pieces from the "snake" and use your hands to flatten and shape each piece into an oval that roughly resembles a large fava bean. Arrange the cookies on a greased and floured cookie sheet, leaving a little space for them to expand. Bake the fave in a moderate oven (360 F) for about 20 minutes until golden brown. For softer fave, bake a little less, and for crispier fave, bake a little longer.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Still packing, but almost ready

I can't believe it's almost tomorrow. We have had the busiest, fullest, most wonderful couple of months in recent memory here, and tomorrow is even a bigger jump, as we are headed back to the states for Thanksgiving, to meet baby Miriam, and to be with family and friends and remember the taste of apple cider, pumpkin pie, and persimmon pudding. Thanksgiving in America has been absent from my life for the past 3 years, and going back to be a part of that again, with the newest family member and Thanksgiving-celebrater, is a perfect conclusion to these past two months. What a lot to be thankful for.

I don't really know how to sum up these past two months, but happily they have involved friends, new and old, travel to familiar places around Italy, and plenty (I do mean plenty) of laughter. I can't believe a month has almost passed since Eric and Corrie first arrived here, and that week and a half or so that followed included some of the last month's true highlights. We went right away to Genova that weekend, based on a promise by a friend held true for a year now, and we spent a half a day roaming through Genova's tiny streets and eating well (we followed the advice of a fruit-vendor and found the tiniest, tastiest little place with plenty of truly Genovese style dishes to delight in). From there, it was like a list of places to go: Camogli (where I got drenched playing on the life-sized rocks), Portofino (where we took the long road to the light house to get views of the coast from afar), Lucca (of course), and finally Florence, somehow still humoring us with good weather and a beautiful sunset from our fifth floor hotel room. How much more whirlwind can it be?

above: Corrie plays pirate with clueless shipmates below: Jackie and Corrie in Orvieto / the boys at the winery

And still, the days didn't slow down. Next there was a day trip to Orvieto, a hike in the mountains and an excursion in a Roman cave and acquaduct, a trip to a winery, and a night with the guys watching Eric's favorite team win the soccer match. And to close it all off, we spent Sunday night throwing a Halloween party, pulling as many of our friends together as we could, and, in reality, saying goodbye to this wonderful week in October.

From whirlwind trips and fast paced days came daily life again. Just a few moments of it though, and Eric's departure meant me diving back into that same trip, working on cds and processing pictures, the sort of things that make the memories of what seemed like just moments become bigger and bolder. A few days getting back to normal, though, were gladly interrupted by a weekend away at the spelunking convention in Emilia-Romagna (more laughter), and, upon arriving back in Macerata, the arrival again of Corrie, but this time with someone else--her boyfriend Bowden. November had started, and Corrie and Bowden came back to Macerata to share it with us.

Just three days though--not so packed this time, but just as full, with dinners at our favorite restaurants and Corrie's chances to see Macerata through Bowden's eyes: new again, with that beauty that blankets the city in evening lights and the bluest sky. Bowden was great, and we were so glad to get to know him, to meet him in Italy, and to see how happy Corrie was whenever he was around. He's a very lucky guy.

Now Corrie's back in Macerata getting ready for her big move to Parma, and Antonello and I are packing bags for the trip back to the states. This week has been busy with last minute things, and Monday we even squeezed in a visit up north to Ancona to meet up with Cyndi for the day, basking in the last days of Indian summer. There's so much I left out, and oh so much more to tell, obviously--the details seem to slip right off the pages. Who can really forget them though--all those reasons for laughter and friendship are found among the little things.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sugo delle Zie

I'm still playing catch-up with blog posts, typing onto the screen the posts I've been scribbling into a little, well-traveled notebook. Thanks for your patience as I make progress toward real time again! :-)

19 October 2006
My Aunt Gigi and Aunt Betty had a great idea when we talked over the phone last week. "You could post a recipe of the week!" they said. Perfect! A little culinary hug from me and the boot to family and friends near and far.

So, in honor of my two aunts in Penfield, New York, and an "adopted" Zia Rosa in Domodossola, Italia, this first recipe is for Sugo delle Zie, Sauce of the Aunts.

Sugo delle Zie
Sauté a roughly chopped onion in olive oil until it's soft. Add ground pork and a little ground beef and cook the meat slowly. Add tomato pulp. (You might try pureeing and then reducing a can of stewed tomatoes to get the thick, rich, pulpy version sold in bottles in Italia.) Then add a sage leaf, pepper, and a little salt at a time while the whole mixture cooks slowly.

Cook your favorite pasta to al dente and drain well. (Zia Rosa uses smooth (not ribbed) penne.) Just before serving, mount (or finish) the sugo with butter: plop the pat into the sugo and mix it in while the sugo is still in the pot. Immediately toss the hot pasta with the sugo and serve sprinkled with grated parmigiano reggiano.

This is the sauce Zia Rosa served at dinner when my friend Eric and I spent the night with her yesterday in Domodossala. She shared the recipe with us as we were eating a dessert of freshly roasted chestnuts, still warm in their shells.

Rosa is the sister of Antoinetta who owns Napoli Villa, the Beach Grove, Indiana, restaurant where Eric works. He smiled later that evening when he told me how similar are Rosa and Antoinetta. Their mannerisms and sense of warm hospitality - so much the same even though they've been separated by an ocean for more than 30 years.

Here's to the Zie Betty, Gigi, and Rosa - may our sugo always be rich despite any distance or time!

- Corrie

Sunday, November 12, 2006

News! News! News!

Several bits of exciting news to pass along...

1. I am alive. I could start yet ANOTHER blog entry with the standard apology for not having written in so long, but you all know the drill by now: best of intentions and yet not a single post in weeks and weeks. I have to send the most apologies to Jackie who generously puts up with a blogging partner who doesn't blog. Mi dispiace, Bella!

1. I discovered my new favorite way of making lists...all number ones!

1. Jackie is now Zia Jackie to an adorable little gal. Many congratulations to Paul and Carolyn at the birth of Miriam! She's adorable (we've all been drooling over photos here on this side of the Atlantic), and Jackie and Antonello can hardly wait to meet her in person soon.

1. My Aunts Betty and Gigi gave me the greatest idea for blog entries. "You could post a recipe of the week!" they said when I talked with them before leaving the States almost a month ago. Perfect -- food and blog posts, the best of both worlds. So look for recipes to begin coming soon. (I've already been hard at work taste testing. I love this research!)

1. I really have been making some blog posts recently, just in a notebook instead of on the computer. So I'll begin with the earliest one here and play a little catch up until my posts are in real time again.

18 October 2006
For the first time in a long time, I'm writing from bell'Italia. (Is that any excuse for the long break between posts? Maybe if I had taken the slow boat, mateys. Rrrrrrrrrr....rr.)

So the blog has come full circle. Jackie and I started posting when we both lived in Italia that hot, tv-flying, handkerchief-game-playing summer three years ago. Now, after Jackie's married her Italian sweetheart (three times) and set up a home in Macerata, I'm back in the bell paese for at least a year. Grad school classes at Slow Food U begin on Nov. 22, and I'll be among the students. A dream come true!

Before the first class begins, my friend Eric and I will be lucky enough to be guests of Jackie and Antonello, make a trip to Genova (finally!), and probably make a pilgrimage to the second most beautiful city in Italia (Lucca). Firenze is also on the list along with potential stops in Montepulciano, Loreto, Urbino, wherever the wind (and Trenitalia) takes us.

Eric has to return to the States at the end of the month, but then I'll have another guest in Italia. We've been friends for a long time, and life has been quite sweet as we've fallen in love. I'm so excited to be with my boyfriend Bowden for his first trip in Italia, his first cone of native gelato, his first steps in Macerata.

There's so much to look forward to over the next month, and at the same time, the last month has had it's highlights, too. For better or worse, I quite all my jobs about a month ago and set up high expectations for what I'd accomplish with all the free time. Of course, regular blog posts were at the top of the list. A quick look at the archives will show how successful I was, and that's a pretty good indication of the fulfillment I made of other goals: numerous books, frequent Italian lessons, a hearty exercise regimen... Well, I suppose I did make some unconscious progress on those goals. I finished Heat (thanks for this terrific book, Joan!), taught Bowden a couple essential Italian phrases, and moved out of my apartment (with no elevator that's a pretty hearty regimen).

One list, though, was quite successfully accomplished. One by one, Bowden and I checked off restaurants, the Lotus International Music Fest, visits to State Parks, and adventures in cooking. It was a page full of things unique to Indiana, activities to accomplish before getting settled in my new home far away from the Hoosier land.

Even my folks and I had an adventure before I left. Portland Arch is in a federally protected nature preserve west of Lafayette. To give them a perfectly characteristic episode by which to remember me, I slipped on some stones and fell in the creek. Maybe just a little ground water baptism from Indiana to send me on my way?