Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cheese of the Week: Raschera

I had never heard of the Piedmonte DOP cheese Raschera before this week, and it made me realize that I really don't know which DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) cheeses are out there, so I decided to take a look. I found this list. It's good to see some cheeses that I'm familiar with (and like), as well as to find the Marche represented with the Caciotta d'Urbino cheese (hmmm...future "cheese of the week" idea? perhaps!). The title of DOP is important for cheeses as it protects their regional origins and their reputation. The DOP listing should also make it harder to confuse Parmigiano-Reggiano with a green cylindrical box.

I don't normally pick cheeses like Raschera from the dozens of Italian cheeses that await me in cheese stores here. Raschera has a Taleggio or Brie kind of consistency, but not quite as dense, not quite as creamy, and quite a bit milder. It's a cheese that I like, in general, but if I have to choose between Raschera and a nice aged Pecorino, I'll go for the Pecorino.

That being said, Raschera is a reasonably good cheese. Like I mentioned, it's mild, semi-soft, and rather light. It's got a creamy consistency--it's not spreadable at all, but there's definitely a smoothness to this cheese--and based on what I've read, the flavor of the cheese changes based on the season. Winter cheeses are stronger and more flavorful, while summer and spring cheeses tend to be sweeter.

Anyway, I liked the consistency and softness of Raschera, even if I wish that I had tried a version whose flavor was a bit stronger. If you're wondering how else Raschera can be used, this Raschera site suggests adding it to risotto and salad. Hopefully at some point they'll update their recipes page, though.

Enjoy Raschera, however you decide to eat it! It's a decent cheese, and it definitely strays from my Pecorino posts as of late--plus, it gets me excited about trying more DOP cheese from the above list.

Oh, while I'm still talking about cheese--I found this blog while searching for some info on Raschera. Neat blog, even if it calls Raschera a "boring" cheese!

Have a good weekend!


Friday, February 22, 2008


I have just gotten home from work, put something on for dinner, and I'm exhausted. Antonello's not even home yet--that is how busy he has been lately--working really late hours and getting little sleep. I've had things much easier. In fact, this is actually my down time, in between intensive English courses, when all I've got are private lessons and some work at one of the middle schools in town. But next week all of that changes--another intensive English course, another couple of super-busy weeks that I happen to be quite excited about, even if I didn't get much sleep last night thinking about how things would be organized.

This course is a little different--the teachers are changing around a bit, and my friend Claudia, who normally splits the 800 hours in half with me, has other work that she's committed to, so she can only do a few of the hours. Things seem to be working out fine though, but my lessons will be different since 1) I'll be teaching more grammar (I'm normally the "conversation teacher") and 2) this is an Intermediate course, with lots of return students from last February. I'm excited about the last part especially, since this past course was particularly good, and the students were a lot of fun.

I love doing this job--the idea behind it is really good. Students coming together for free lessons, but having to bring with them quite a bit of motivation, since these lessons are 8 full hours a day, ten weekdays in a row. But with my leaving for America in just a few weeks, it's going to be quite a lot of working. This, in part, explains my difficulty sleeping last night.

Anyway, Monday is the day it all begins. Wish me luck! And if you think I'm not going to be blogging, well--you're wrong! It's still Lent, isn't it? Hopefully the blog quality won't be too compromised, but I'll do my best. :)

Have a great weekend! More tomorrow...


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Running to Stand Still

I keep mentioning how beautiful the days have been here, and it makes it awfully hard for me to put off running. It's too easy to go outside and run when the weather like this. Even though there are definitely days when I want to stay in bed and not go running (Monday was a prime example), I still want to try and get in my miles.

It's been a couple of years now that I have been running, but my distance has always been rather short, and I have never put a lot into it before. It's just been something that I need to get done--excercise, I guess. It got to the point where I started to ask myself--why do I run? Do I really like running? What am I doing this for?

Well, over the past few months, I got some answers to the above questions. I was blessed with: 1) a family of runners (one of whom is my brother Paul, who completed his first marathon this past fall) and 2) an English student of mine who just happened to be a marathon runner and who convinced me that I needed a goal if I wanted to really be a runner: and a good goal might just be a mini. Somehow I bought into this, and the goal was created.

So I've upped my miles quite a bit lately, and I've added "running in a half-marathon" onto my list of new year's resolutions. When I was home in the states for Christmas, my brother, my dad, and I all ran together in a race in Indy, and that gave me a little boost. Now, this past month has been a great opportunity to get in miles, and last week and this week, I made the most of my free day--Wednesday--to get in a couple of good, long runs.

Although I do have a friend that I run with on the weekends, I normally run on my own. Sometimes that means going to the city park's track to get in a run, or running around the neighborhood near my house: it just depends on my mood. But last week I decided for the first time to head to the nearby abbey of San Claudio, close to where my husband works, to check it out and see if it was a good place to run. The Abbey itself doesn't have a large territory of land, but it has country roads all around it, and it also has one 1 km stretch of cyprus-lined driveway that makes a great, shady running spot. After happily completing a long run their last week, I decided to head back this week, to get in another run.

There are all sorts of country roads to choose from, and the area is in a flat sort-of valley, where hilltowns dot the landscape for miles around. In short, it's just beautiful. Yesterday I found myself jogging down a dirt road, turning onto a side street, and heading into what seemed like the middle of nothing--quiet spaces, no cars, the beauty of the sunlit landscape, and the distant landmark of the church of San Claudio the only things to disrupt the flat expanse before me. My ipod started playing one of my favourite songs, and for a moment, I forgot about the running. I just felt happy. Exercise-induced glee. I know it's weird, but it was just a great feeling, to be there with all of this around me, jogging my little feet off, listening to music. It felt good to be alone with my thoughts, my music, and my Italian countryside.

I don't have a lot of moments of pure running-glee. Sure, it can be enjoyable, but I'm not an obsessed crazy runner, and I'm not necessarily even that good at it. And so sometimes when I should just put on my sneakers and get moving, it's hard to get started. So I've gotta remind myself that I like this. I like running--and there are moments when I really like it. I've gotta come back here, read the above paragraph, and get motivated. Because there are still quite a few miles to go.


PS I'd like to take some pictures of San Claudio at some point, but for now, check out some shots that I didn't take, but instead I found on flickr: here and here. It really is a beautiful abbey.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Into the Mountains

Here are some pictures from Sunday's excursion in the mountains. It was not much of a mountain trip at all--just a morning of hiking near the town of Amandola with Antonello's cousin Daniele, his girlfriend Virginia, and a friend of theirs. Driving up the mountain in another day of beautiful weather, we got to a certain point where, underneath the car, the crunch of fallen snow, and the slippery-slidy feeling took over, and the further we went up, the more snow there was. Even if I have been loving these sunfilled, warm, early-spring-like days, it's still winter: and snow still makes me a bit giddy.

It was a good hike, and these shots show some of the views of the region. When we reached a certain point, we could look out and see Le Marche spread before us, and Daniele said that on very clear days, you could see across the Adriatic to Croatia. We stood there, surveying the land, and Daniele said how he thought it must've been amazing, those first people to find this land, when they looked out from the mountains and saw nothing but forest. It was so long ago really, it's not even something you can imagine anymore, what the landscape looked like, how the towns were missing, and how those early people were like pioneers, taking it all in, wondering what would become of the sight before them. Just another difference between our land in America and the land here in Italy: all of those years of occupation, that no one could ever really feel alone, that shiver of excitement, of starting in a new place, in a new time. Are there anymore real pioneers? And so Daniele and Antonello stood there, two people brought up and belonging to this land: counting the towns and naming them, as if the land belonged to them as well.

Walking up the mountain in the snow was fun, and it amazed me that, after just being on dry ground, here we were in the middle of a snowy field with ice crunching beneath our boots. I tried to make a snow-angel, but the snow was too slippery and hard, and instead I risked sliding down the mountain (don't worry, it was pretty unlikely that I would actually slide down the whole thing). After lunch together at the restaurant where Antonello and I had our wedding dinner a couple of years back, we decided to stop at a castle that we had spotted on the drive up, something that Daniele said he had never seen before, in all of his years exploring these mountains. All that was left of the castle were ruins, but we decided to take a look anyway, to see what was left. These are some of the things I like best about Italy still--finding pieces of history in the middle of the mountains, where it's hard to imagine people lived, much less built castles. Italian territory is so condensed, so tightly packed, that people built fortresses and towns in the most unlikely places to protect the little patches of land that were theirs.

Even though there was a gate around the castle, Antonello, Daniele and I jumped the fence and explored around inside (which was outside too--there was no more roof). It was hard to picture what the place must've looked like, but you could make out traces of architectural forms--the columns on the outside walls, the remains of a well, the door down to a cistern. Who knew the history, but isn't it beautiful living in a country like this, where the ruins of castles and medieval towns are your neighbors, and you can explore them in any way you want?

So it was a good Sunday. I'd like more Sundays like that, please.

Thank you.

- Jackie

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Last Minute Blogger

It's almost midnight, and I just got home from a two-hour English course...I'm exhausted and need to eat dinner. Sorry for this last minute blog: I've been racking my brain all day for what to write about, and there just isn't much. I need to post my pictures from the weekend's trip the mountains, and I hope to do that tomorrow. The weather has been breathtaking this past week--it's amazing how warm and sunny it has been. Today I got a run in, and tomorrow I hope to do a longer run. We'll see. My legs are still in pain from walking on the snow in the mountains on Sunday!

One really good thing that has happened over this past week: I got my airplane tickets! I'm going back to Indy for Corrie's wedding in mid-March and staying until Easter. It's just going to be a short trip home, but I am really looking forward to seeing family and friends again. Just a few more weeks before I go!

Have a good rest of YOUR Tuesday, and I will do a better job blogging tomorrow!


Monday, February 18, 2008

Macerata Monday: Santa Croce

I hope you are all having a nice Monday--Mondays here have really become my least favourite day of the week, because I have long afternoon lessons that require more preparation than maybe I'd like, but now, as the day is coming to a close, I can sit back a bit and relax.

Here's a shot of the church of Santa Croce (Holy Cross), one of the oldest churches found outside of Macerata's city walls. Santa Croce's facade is unique here in Macerata, and the way to really see the church is by walking or driving up the long avenue that leads to it, lined with trees and some of the city's most beautiful villas. While the church was under construction for a long period of time due to damage caused by the earthquake in the late 1990s, finally some of the scaffolding is coming down. It's definitely a church worth seeing, and the neighborhood it's in, even if it isn't in one of the older neighborhoods of Macerata, has become a beautiful place to spend some time.

I don't normally take shots from this far away from the walls (this is a good 30 minute walk from the centre of town) just because it isn't an area I pass by regularly, but yesterday I happened to be in the neighborhood. On Sundays, when we get set for excursions out to mountains or caves, we meet up with our fellow adventurers at a bar near this church for breakfast. Yesterday was that kind of a day--we met Antonello's cousin Daniele, his girlfriend Virginia, and a friend of theirs for a trip to the mountains. It was a great, sunlit day (I'll post pictures from the mountains in another post), and when we got back to the church (where we had parked our car), the golden light before sunset seemed to perfectly play off the church's pink brick facade.