Saturday, February 16, 2008

Say Cheese! : The Good Shepherd

To start off with: cheese of the week has been not very "weekly" lately, so I wanted to apologize for that. Hopefully, now that one of my lenten promises (the other was to give up soda) is to blog six days a week, these cheese posts will show up more regularly. Really, it isn't hard to blog about cheeses here in Italy: first off, I am a cheese-loving person, and secondly, cheese is everywhere here! It's huge! There aren't enough weeks in a year to cover even local cheeses! So I guess what that means is I really have no excuse, huh?

Now, back to the regularly scheduled cheese post...

Last Sunday evening, Antonello and I barely made it to the mercatino that happens here in Macerata only the second Sunday of the month. I love the mercatino. Yes, they sell a lot of weird stuff, it's true, and they sell a lot of antiques that are nice to browse through, but I've never actually bought any of them. What I like to look through the most is the arts and crafts part of the market. I really like crafts in Italy--I like the fact that there is history and tradition behind hand-made things here. So when we can, we hit the mercatino to look through the ceramics and the hand-made purses and the jewelry. And at times we buy things too.

Another nice thing about the market is the food stalls. There are not always food stalls, but sometimes, if there's nice weather or something, the food stalls open, often selling olives and hot peppers and onions from Puglia, sometimes selling Sicilian cookies and sweets. There are also cheese markets, and I tend to be drawn to these especially (well, these and the olives), where they sell all sorts of pecorino cheeses all on display, men offering samples, practically making it impossible not to buy a good hunk of cheese to take home. So that's where I got this week's cheese: a half a pound of a pecorino from Arezzo called "Il Buon Pastore."

Il Buon Pastore is a pretty tasty pecorino. It's really a simple cheese, and it doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. For an aged pecorino, it's actually quite mild. While it doesn't really stack up to the other Tuscan cheese I now am addicted to, Scoparolo, it seems to be a pretty reliable pecorino to try, and it's something you can eat very well all by itself, with a bit of fruit, or a nice little glass of red wine.

A lot of it we did eat in the above-mentioned ways--cutting off chunks of it and snacking, which I think is one of the best ways to enjoy cheese, but I also decided to add this pecorino to our little Valentine's Day lunch of sausage (for Antonello), sauerkraut, and Frico, a potato and cheese dish from the northern region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. I've made Frico ever since we returned from a wonderful holiday up north, sampling this delicious, simple dish in the historic town of Cividale del Friuli. Frico is really just a mix of cheese and potato, where the caciotta cheese on the outside fries up to a golden brown. It's quite simple to make, although it's taken me a while to get it just right (and actually I'm still working on that!). We loved the food in Friuli though--it is an underrated food region, in my opinion, and it offers and excellent mix of Austrian-influenced-Italian, from big cities like Trieste to the smaller towns like Cividale. Friuli is unique--from its delicious food to its beautiful cities and towns. And Frico is something you'd have a hard time finding outside of this region.

Anyway, Frico calls for slices of caciotta cheese and grated pecorino, so I decided to grate up some Buon Pastore. Why not? It turned out fine, a very tasty addition to a nice, Friulian Valentine's Day meal, and Antonello gave the Buon-Pastore-style Frico two thumbs up. In this dish, and on its own, Il Buon Pastore was a good, versatile cheese, not too sharp, not too mild. Just right.

Despite my love for pecorino, next week I'll try to do something a bit different. Have a great weekend!


Friday, February 15, 2008

Old Kentucky Home

There are a lot of movies I have wanted to see lately. Antonello and I haven't been renting as many films as we normally do (we're not big into going to the theatre). So while we were there at the video rental last night, there were all sorts of films I would have liked to pick up and see, but it was Valentine's Day. We had to get something a little bit romantic.

So the one romantic film that's been on my list for a while now is Elizabethtown. It's a Cameron Crowe film--and I love his stuff, and his soundtracks especially (think Almost Famous), and it stars Orlando Bloom (as a Kentucky native? His English accent is hard to hide) and Kirsten Dunst. Anyway, in reality I didn't even know what the film was about. I knew it was a romantic film. I knew it starred Orlando Bloom. We rented it.

I don't really do film reviews here, so I don't know what to say. I liked the movie--it was a bit slow at times, but the story in general was a good, sweet story. What I liked most about this film, though, was what it made me remember. The movie starts out on the west coast, but suddenly takes a turn back to the Midwest--specifically Louisville, Kentucky. More specifically, a midwest/southern feel in the city of Elizabethtown.

I've been to Kentucky quite a bit, and Antonello and I shared our first American road trip driving down to Mammoth Cave, wheeling through the countryside around Lexington, taking the long way. It's a gorgeous state--the landscape, the towns, the history, the culture. And the people--as Crowe shows in this film--really make Kentucky the warm and familiar place that it is.

It doesn't stop there though: accompanied by another brilliant Crowe soundtrack, Orlando Bloom's character takes a detailed map and a bunch of mix tapes on a road trip back to the West, and it's incredible. Stops along the way--through Kansas, Oklahoma, Memphis, South Dakota--are steeped in the history, culture, and sheer beauty of this part of America. It's not Hollywood-like at all. It feels more like home, these places that are truly bits and pieces of the America that I've always loved.

Anyway, it was a good film to see, and I'd reccommend it simply to hear Bloom's version of an American accent, listen to the music of America's heartland, get a sense of what "southern hospitality" means, and watch the states pass by on Bloom's way back home.

Have a great weekend everyone! Any future movie suggestions?


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love is All You Need

Valentine's Day flowers from Antonello

This week, which has gone from dismal and gray to gloriously colorful over here in Italy, has been reminding me gently why it is exactly I chose to make this move to Italy--this crazy decision that I never would have thought I'd make. And there are still moments when I forget what it is I am doing here, why exactly I chose to come to this country. It's not always easy, in fact--sometimes it's downright hard. But it's worth it...I always realize that it's worth it. Yesterday and today have reminded me again of that--a long run through the countryside, good talks with family, spending time with Antonello, gifts from friends. And flowers today, on Valentine's Day. Flowers and a really good lunch.

Thanks for the reminder. Sometimes I need it.

I love you, Antonello. Thank you for being the best part of my crazy Italian life.

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone! Lots of love to all of you!

Mom and Dad, I miss you and love you and can't wait to see you soon!


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Message in a Bottle

Every year a group of some of my closest friends and I remember a special day in Florence, that happened years back when we were students. Who knows why we're so serious about the celebrating, and remembering, of that day--all in all, it was really just a little moment in what has since become a long lasting friendship, but as it turns out, that little moment meant a lot.

We call it "Bottle Day." It was nine years ago, on the 6th of February, and the four of us were studying abroad in Italy. We were new friends, we had all just met about a month earlier, and we had that kind of close friendship that seems to happen to people when they are put in close study-abroad situations: really close friends, really really fast. Normally those kind of friendships last about the duration of the time abroad--but in this case, we've all been very close friends ever since. We're lucky. Maybe it's because of Bottle Day? Well--maybe in part.

This is what happened, in a nutshell (you can read more about that day here and here): the four of us, during a class field trip to Florence, decided that it would be something special if we wrote letters to our loved ones back home, put all of the letters in one bottle, and threw the bottle into the Arno River, to watch it sail away and maybe one day reach those people we loved. I always say this: I don't remember exactly what I even wrote that night. I just remember that four of us friends were together, sharing a moment that we will remember forever. It's the moment that I remember, not the message.

So we celebrate this day every year, and finally last year, while Corrie was studying here in Italy, we decided to meet up, the two of us--two of the four--and remember together: follow our footsteps to the restaurant where we ate, where we emptied a wine bottle with dinner, where we wrote those letters, and then go back to the bridge where we threw the bottle into the river.

It was a nice weekend, although as you can guess, memories tend to take the place of reality: making it more beautiful. Our own dinner at the restaurant wasn't as tasty as we had remembered. It was a pizzeria, right off the river, and we had eaten there the night of the bottle. I always had remembered it as being the best little pizzeria, and here we were, with soggy undercooked crust. Also, we were trying to put together packages for Cassie and Erin, and we couldn't find anything, as hard as we tried, in the middle of all of the shops in Florence. Everything seemed to work out just as we were leaving though: we happily stumbled upon this tiny stationery shop that we had remembered from years past, and we also found the perfect little Florentine pins to go with the rest of the things in the package. We even were given free drinking glasses by the waiters at the pizzeria--little red glasses with Florence fleur-de-lis on them. When it was time for Corrie to head back to Parma, and me to head back to Macerata, we decided that these two days in Florence were just right after all--our memories might have left out some of the details, but all in all, eight years before had been the start of a friendship. And it was clear that that friendship was still strong.

This year, girls, I hope that you had a wonderful bottle day--I miss all of you, and I can't wait to see you again. Next year is the ten year anniversary of this celebration of ours: can we all meet in Florence, and celebrate it together? What do you think? I'll be there if you are.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Grey Tuesday

Not much to say here--it's been kind of a grey, lonely day. This week seems to be turning into a grey week actually, but hopefully it won't be so gloomy. I don't know why, I've just been in a bit of a funk lately. Even though I have a little bit more time on my hands since I'm in between intensive English courses, I can't seem to get anything done, and there is a lot to get done! I hope to make more progress. I need to make some lists, and get myself disciplined.

Speaking of lists, this list caught my eye, over at Bleeding Espresso. 40 things to do before she turns 40. It's a good list, and one worth checking out, and it makes me start to wonder about my current New Year's Resolutions, which I have written down and pasted on my closet door. I'd better go take a look at those again... Anyway, I'm a list-maker myself, it's just a question of whether or not I can actually follow my lists!

Not much else to tell. Over the weekend, we did a little bit of market shopping at the mercatino in town (2nd Sunday of the month), and I picked up some new cheese, so those cheese of the week posts should be back soon. Tomorrow, we had planned another get together for my last group of English students from the intensive course, but it got cancelled due to busy schedules. So instead, tomorrow--which is my new day off--maybe I can actually get some of these things done, on my little list? And perhaps, if you're lucky, you'll actually get a more interesting blog post from me?

Let's hope so.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Macerata Monday: Details of the Walls

I hope that everyone has had a good Monday. Today hasn't really been the best day to start the week on, but it's okay. It's kind of a gloomy day outside, and I skipped my morning run as a result. Anyway, it's Monday. Monday is always Monday--that kind of day that you look forward to getting by.

Here's a picture for Macerata Monday (yes, Macerata Monday is finally back!) that shows detail of one section of the city's medieval walls. Macerata's city walls are pretty amazing, and parts of them are surprisingly intact. Even though at one point in history, the houses along this side of the wall were the least expensive to buy (because they were the most vulnerable to attack), nowadays, this is the fancy part of town, and people would pay a bundle for one of these houses, with its view of the mountains and its location within the historic centre. Anyway, I hope to have more views of this part of the walls in the future--but here's just a glimpse for now.

Have a nice evening.