Friday, November 30, 2007

Finish Line

Although my blog posts don't quite qualify for the post a day challenge over at NaBloPoMo (I missed the first four days and didn't start blogging regularly until the 5th), I still feel like I've accomplished something pretty big for this little blog. Yay blog!

So today, being the 30th of November, is the final day of the month of daily blogging, and while I don't know how exciting it was to read all of these posts (did anyone actually DO that? :) ), I've had a great time writing them. Who knew I would learn so much over this period? Who knew that, by the end, I would believe so sincerely in the power of writing every day? Who knew that I'd actually have something to SAY so darn often? I sure didn't!

Anyway, I hope that next November brings another chance to participate, but until then, I'm going to make a serious effort to up my writing volume, quality AND quantity, in the future. I want to blog more often--even if it isn't a daily thing!

Besides, we've got that cheese of the week thing to do, don't we? :)

So--Yay for NaBloPoMo! What a good excerise in writing!


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Secret Family Recipes

December is nearing, and the seasons are changing, but it doesn't yet feel quite right to me. I always get the holidays in Italy mixed up because of the lack of Thanksgiving--seasons seem to change from Halloween candy and fall colors straight into Christmas ornaments around the beginning of November, and I'm still used to there being a holiday right in between those, perfectly placed to transition well from one festivity to the next. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, and now that it has passed, quicker than I expected, I'm still a bit nostalgic. How can I really consider Christmas shopping when, instead of feeling like I'm getting an early start on the holiday, it seems like Christmas has been lurking for ages, and I've been doing my best to ignore it with turkey and stuffing and persimmon pudding?

Thanksgiving and Christmas are always a little bit unusual for the expat in me, since, no matter how it works out, at least one of these typical family oriented holidays gets spent in unfamiliar territory, either among Italian friends and Antonello's relatives at our house, or at my brother-in-law's house, in front of a plate of cannelloni. This year, as you know, we had Thanksgiving here, and my Christmas holidays will be spent in the states. This situation is the harder of the two: I actually have learned to love Christmas in Italy, and many of the times that I've been here for Christmas, my parents have been here as well--we've celebrated together, in the Italian style: having a huge family dinner, playing a few games of tombola, and then going to midnight mass. While it isn't the same as my white Christmases back home, it is still magical here, and I love the streams of light that are hung above Italian roads, bringing the starlight closer to our feet. Markets line up around mid-December here, and every night is alive again, with stores open, the evening passeggiata mingling with the merchants, and laughter and talk like Christmas carols echoing through the streets.

But Thanksgiving isn't so easy. As much as I like sharing my heritage and holiday with Italians, the day has so much meaning to it when it is spent with family. Every Thanksgiving that I've spent alone here has been a good one, and I've been happy every time, but there's always that feeling like I should be at home, in America, talking in English and breaking a wishbone with my brother.

Since the start of my Thanksgivings in Italy, I've been asking my mother and brother to send me recipes, and every year it seems like I have a pile more to sort through, to pick out and decide from, to broaden my Thanksgiving possibilities. The first year I called my mom every minute while making my first persimmon pudding, saying, "Is it SUPPOSED to look like this?" And while my days in front of the stove have constantly meant calling family, asking this and that, making absolutely sure that the pie crust should be this flaky, or that the turkey can be served without being stuffed, each year I have fewer questions, and each year I find myself a bit more confident in my own skills as Thanksgiving day cook. I always have help too, which means a lot: I've always had friends close by to take a look at the pie or taste test the devilled eggs. Thanksgiving is by no means something you do alone.

This year I told my mom, "Thank you so much for your help with Thanksgiving!" And she said, "When was I there? What questions did I answer?" And I realized that, even without all of the typical phone calls this year, my family was close by just the same. All of those recipes that have been piling up, that I've been sorting through and picking from, in order to choose the day's menu--each and every one of them has some note, some way of being written, that brings out my mother's voice, right there in the kitchen, miles and miles away. I can hear her, or my brother, over my shoulder when I read what they wrote, and each thing is so uniquely their own--even recipes that they're passing on to me from books. There's always some comment, some mention, some addition that comes right from their lips, and it's enough to make me feel a bit closer to them. Paul's side note--you might want to add two eggs to the stuffing if you don't want it to be too dry; Mom's gentle reminder of how many cups are in a pint, and how many pints are in a quart. I know that without these little words, these little suggestions, I wouldn't be able to make my way through a Thanksgiving day menu, I wouldn't have the patience one needs to prepare. So I told my mom, "It wasn't just the phone calls--it was the way you wrote your recipes, the bits of advice that you wrote out for me." And it was. There was my family, giving me words of wisdom on scraps of paper that I had counted as recipes. They were in the room with me as I rolled out the pie dough (you need a thick crust so it doesn't soak through on the bottom) stirred the persimmon pudding (the stirring part is important. I'm sure you'll figure it out when it's cooking), and served the quiche (You can serve this at any temperature you want. I prefer it warm, half an hour out of the oven).

And after the dishes were prepared, it was no longer just the words on the recipes that brought me home. It was the smell and taste of Thanksgiving like my mother and brother made, it was gathering around the table and passing around the plates, it was watching my husband carve the turkey, like my father would do. And here I was, in the middle of Italy, among Italian friends, sharing something so intimate, so American, with them.

What a blessing it is to find a place where family and friendship come together in unexpected ways. Sharing those memories, and creating new ones, is something to sincerely be thankful for.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cheese of the Week: Going Tuscan

Remember two weeks ago when I promised that my next submission for cheese of the week would be a good one? Well, after a week of tasty cheese adventures (which even included some honest-to-goodness green English cheese...that one's got a good story to it), I discovered not only one cheese of the week candidate that fit the "good cheese" category, but many! So it looks like we've got some delightful upcoming cheeses in store. I can't wait!

Scoparolo, a delicious little Tuscan cheese

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. This week's cheese was chosen by my cheeseshop: the guy working there explained to me that Scoparolo was a Tuscan cheese and, more importantly, was quite delicious. I usually can't say no to that kind of recommendation, and I particularly trusted this guy since he had worked there for years, so I added the cheese onto my list of groceries for that day (I had simply gone to the shop to buy some Gruyere for a Thanksgiving day quiche, but in the end, I found myself picking up many more cheeses!). In fact, the cheese looked so tasty that I broke down half way home and broke off a little piece to try. I discovered immediately that my cheese wishes were coming true: third time's a charm.

Scoparolo is a rather simple cheese in the end--not nearly as complex as the Castelmagno, but I'd argue that it's just as memorable. It's a salty aged pecorino, and the flavor is a bit nutty and a bit dry. This is a great cheese to eat by itself, and we devoured the portion I got so fast that I had to buy another just to take its portrait (ooh, poor me :)!). This is the cheese to eat with a hunk of bread and a glass of wine as dinner: it doesn't need anything to accompany it, and if you're not careful, you'll eat the whole hunk of cheese in one sitting! The flavour is so good--not too strong (it didn't make me sneeze!), but not mild at all either. Perfect. How else can I describe it?

Mmm. In fact, I think I'm going to go have another piece now.

So there's a good cheese to go after (I couldn't find any articles on it at all, but I think it's somewhat popular. Antonello was saying he had tried it before)! And there will be more too...I'm having a lot of fun writing about one of my favorite foods!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christmas In America (I think)

I have been battling all week with buying a ticket for the states for Christmas, and finally, after adjusting my dates a bit, trying to purchase various tickets and getting in response (after having completed ALL of the info and even chosen my flight seats!) a simple "Sorry! That flight has been sold out!" I, on a whim, typed in the 30th of December as my return date (I had originally planned on the 28th), and, surprise! it said: "Congrats! Your Flight has been Booked!"

So , now I think I've actually found a ticket! I say THINK, because I'm still not sure that I've actually purchased it over at Travelocity since, after waiting for my confirmation email for over an hour, it never arrived! Finally, I got an email telling me to call them (there was apparently a problem), and I did call...the problem was that the ticket I reserved was not an e-ticket, like it had said, but instead a paper ticket. So, after spelling out in what seemed like eight different languages the correct way to spell my street address ("no, not Via Lia! just Via! It means ROAD!"), I finally resorted to the Italian language alphabet code ("V as in Venice. I as in Imola...") and it seems we worked it out. An hour and an English lesson later, I got ANOTHER call from another Travelocity agent who pretty much repeated the same thing as the first guy, and explained to me that if, at any time, I had any problems, they are always available to help me! Anything at all! Just call, just let us know! The guy was seriously polite, but I was a bit late for another English lesson, so I hurried off the phone and out the door. In the end, though, I FINALLY got my most recent confirmation email, saying that--yes! They have sent the paper ticket!

To make the longest story ever a bit shorter: I'll be on my way to Indianapolis on the 18th of December, giving me plenty of time to do some shopping in America before Christmas, and plenty of time to spend with family after, as I get back to bell' Italia on New Year's Eve.

Jingle Bells, here I come!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Macerata Monday: Take A Look Around

Well, it's Monday again. And that means a lot of things: back to work, back to the routine, the first day of the week. But it also means Macerata Monday! Yay! Today, on my way to work, I decided to take a few photos of the landscape around Macerata, looking north toward Ancona. The church that you can see in the middle of the shot, lit by the sunlight, was where I used to take my daily morning walk when I first moved back to Macerata to marry Antonello, and many moments of thoughtful analysis took place walking to that church. It's been so long since I've walked out there, and so often when I see it, I think I need to add to that to my schedule again.

Anyway, this view to the north is one of the best the city has to offer, since it is relatively construction free, and the beauty of the land that makes Le Marche unique really shines here: the patches of earth being cultivated, the hills that roll their way to the coast, the churches and old farm houses that sometimes stud the turf. It's beautiful, and it stops you in your tracks; even when you're in a hurry, you can't help but glance over and admire the view. There are always a few people stopped in front of this panorama, taking it in, perhaps surprised again to find that this little corner of the world is really as beautiful as it is.


Just a reminder! Remember to vote over at Easycar for my two photos if you haven't already: This one is of Brescia, and this one is of Macerata's main square. Thanks so much!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Day After

The feast is over, all fourteen guests have gone home, including our friends Cyndi and Danilo, who stayed an extra day to spend a little more time in Macerata with us (and help out with clean up! Thank you guys!). Even with all sixteen of us, there was too much food, and what we had worried was a small turkey (12 pounds) was way more than plenty--all of the leftovers stuffed in our fridge are proof of this. While our Italian guests seemed to enjoy the meal quite a bit, and were especially thrilled by the idea of eating cranberry sauce with turkey (who knew it was so exciting?), they still only took small bits of everything, probably not exactly sure where to start. And, since we almost forgot about both the quiche and the green bean casserole, they were surprised to find suddenly more food on the table, after they had assumed the meal was almost over. Still, all in all, it was a good Thanksgiving, and after I explained some of the history and Antonello carved the turkey, everyone was happy to partake in what was for many, their first Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanks to all of our guests for coming, and thank you again to Cyndi and Danilo for all of your help! Paul and Mom back in the states--thank you for your answers to last minute crazy calls from me ("what exactly IS basting?") and for your endless patience. This Thanksgiving was truly something to be thankful for!

We've still got plenty of dishes to do, and Antonello and I are drawing straws to see who has to start first. So, as I'm most likely to draw the short straw, I thought I'd leave you some photos from our dinner:

Prep work for the apple pie

Samuele and Fabrizio

Cyndi and Danilo

More pie...this time sweet potato