Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner catastrophe (almost)!

All I wanted was a small fresh turkey, to be picked up on Friday so I could brine it overnight, then cook it on Saturday for our belated Thanksgiving celebration. Not too much to ask...right?

Well, on Friday the butcher said the turkey would arrive Saturday at 10 a.m. OK, forget the brining. Then the truck that was bringing my butcher his meat delivery was stopped by the police at a random truck inspection, failed and was impounded. "Not a problem," said the butcher, who drove off to meet it about 30 minutes away. "No way!" said the police who wouldn't let said butcher remove anything from the truck. "OK, get a large chicken" I told my husband on his cellphone at the butcher shop. "What about a couple of turkey drumsticks and half a turkey breast?" my husband relayed from the butcher. OK, we'll make it work (goodbye to stuffing cooked inside the bird).

So, my husband gets home with two 5 lb drumsticks (10 pounds of dark meat from two turkey legs!) and a 3 lb. half-breast. OK, not bad. I brined it for a few hours, then threw it in the oven.

I sweated making a piecrust earlier in the morning for my pumpkin cheese pie (recipe thanks to Betty Crocker, 1968 cookbook) but it was a piece of cake (figuratively speaking). The gravy was another story.

OK, so I hate to make gravy. My mother and grandmother could take a couple of tablespoons of turkey drippings and make a gallon of gravy. And so they always made the gravy. And I've always had a mental block. nephew brought me too envelopes of cheat-gravy, you know, just add water. So I dutifully followed the directions and it wasn't half bad (stirred it and all and cooked it for three minutes!). Then I decided to flavor it up with the turkey drippings...then I decided to thicken it up (now that I had watered it down) and added some "cornstarch" in a bit of cold water. INSTANT VOLCANO! What!?!? Didn't expect that reaction. I took at better look at the "cornstarch" container and saw that it was BAKING SODA! Oh no. Ruined, way too salty tasting gravy. Well, that's the best part of the meal for me so I was majorly disappointed.

OK, I decided how hard could making gravy be? I got out my "Gravy 1,2,3" recipe and thought I'd give it a try. I didn't let the fear of lumps cause too much anxiety (I have a strainer after all and that's what they're for, right?) and collected the rest of the pan drippings. OK, Nanny always started with some onions. I sautéed onions in the drippings. Added some chicken fat I had in the refrigerator. Added a tablespoon of flour, stirred, added water, more flour, more water, etc. Strained it was GREAT! OK, gravy isn't really that hard, it just is last minute.

OK, so the mashed potatoes were a great hit with the Italian guests, as was the gravy and the pumpkin pie. The turkey and dressing too. The only thing that didn't get rave reviews was the apple crumble desert, which was way too sweet for them (well, that crumble topping was made out of mostly sugar ...and if they knew how much butter they would have fainted!). All in all, a nice evening. Today we eat leftovers (hurray!!).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Funghi Fantasy...

I came home from work today to find this mound of mushrooms sitting on a large platter on the kitchen counter. Obviously someone...a neighbor perhaps....was out picking early this morning. The porcini mushrooms ended a few weeks ago (still have about a kilo frozen however) but now other mushrooms (these have very long stems) have come into season. Surprised to see them as it hasn't rained in weeks, but perhaps it has rained recently up the mountains where most people go mushrooming. You need a license to pick mushrooms (and to have passed a test regarding poisononous and non) so I'm quite certain these beauties are safe. YUM!

OOPS! I stand corrected by hubby. You only need a license to pick porcini mushrooms. In any case, we fried up a pan full of these last night and ate them...and I'm still here to write about it in the morning. They were delicious!!
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Yes, that's Tuscan Kale...

surrounded by some pansies. Usually I enjoy Tuscan Kale on my dinner plate and pansies in the spring, but I was inspired by two, yes TWO different gardening magazine articles I saw this month where Tuscan Kale was featured as an ornamental. OK, I wasn't about to dig out a 4' x 6' bed (especially after being sick all week with the flu!), so I settled for this. I dug the kale out of the garden (hope it takes!) and bought about six white pansies (small flower type) to plant around the edge. I like it. It was nice to finally get out into some of this sunny, 70F weather we've been having.

I've got to start thinking about Turkey Day. We'll celebrate it with some neighbors and relatives coming over a couple of days later (no one could make it Thursday, including me, as I have to work). Still need to order the turkey (and NO, I don't want a 40 pounder like last time!!!) and see if I can find sweet potatoes without going into Rome...but I've got the apple and pumpkin pie recipes dusted off and ready to go this time next week. We'll probably have some Tuscan Kale too, mashed potatoes, corn...umm, I'm getting hungry!

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ischia, sweet Ischia!

Do warm baths relax you? Could you stay in one all day, especially if it never cooled off? You'd love Ischia!

Ischia is an island off the coast of Naples, not that far from Capri in nautical miles, but much less known, and therefore, in my book, much better.

Back in late August my friend Janice from California visited me for a few days. She wanted to see where I lived, and then go someplace nice for a couple of nights. She left it totally up to me.

Well, I wanted to find a place we could get to by public transportation. Someplace where she could get seafood and someplace that wouldn't be crawling with tourists the 21st and 22nd of August--still part of the famous ferragosta vacation period when nearly all Italians head to the coast or the mountains.

I also wanted to go someplace that I hadn't been before but that wasn't more than a few hours away.

The only place that seemed to fit the bill was Ischia. I reserved us a room at a quiet hotel with water view near Panza We took the train from Frosinone to Naples (2 hours), negotiated with a cab driver to take us from the train station to the ferry terminal (15 Euros) and took the ferry over to the island (about 1 hour). From the ferry terminal we took the local bus around the island until we got to Panza, then called the hotel and they came to pick us up.

We were exhausted when we first arrived, so we ate a lunch at the hotel, looking out at the sea, then went down to enjoy the pool. Later we napped, then walked down the road to visit the "Baia di Sorget0", a natural hot springs beach. There are wide stairs winding down to this little cove and a snack bar which was just closing up when we arrived. I've read that it's possible to actually cook food by burying it in the sand in aluminum foil, but when the snack bar is open it's prohibited to bring in your own food.

The water is literally boiling as you step off the sand (well, ok, 194 degrees F). You need to use these little bridges which take you out a bit further where the cooler sea water mixes with the hot springs to varying degrees of tolerable and heavenly. Wow! We only stuck our feet in as we weren't wearing our suits, but it was nice and a place I'd love to return to.

The next day we headed out early for Negombo, one of two big hot spring parks on the island (there are numerous other, smaller parks, and hotels with pools too). We spent all day there, enjoying the sun, dipping in and out of every pool there, most more than once, eating a tasty lunch and we both had a fantastic reflexology session at the health center. It was highly relaxing.

When we left we walked toward Lacco Ameno, a pretty town, full of little shops (I got a great light blue linen sun dress for only 15 Euros) a large flower-filled piazza, fancy and picturesque hotels and restaurants. We tried to get a good pizza (Janice was dying for a Neopolitan pizza ever since reading that book about a woman's search for self in Italy, Bali and India...what was it called?). I say we tried to get a good pizza because we kept asking for them with Bufala mozzarella and I think it was just too wet to give us a crispy crust. But in any case, Janice had two that at a restaurant right near the beach in Lacco Ameno, then one later at a pizzeria our hotel recommended to us (ultimately, she liked best the ones she had right across the street from our house in Giglio). After eating, we wanted to take a taxi back to our hotel, but they wanted 30 Euros. Way overpriced! We took the bus for 1 Euro each and then called the hotel from Panza once again (after we had gotten that pizza that is).

On our last morning on Ischia we headed out with our suitcases (again on the bus) to Giardini La Mortella. Janice isn't that much into gardens anymore, but nevertheless she liked it well enough and I kept wishing I had a way to visit the garden store next to it and bring home some stuff for my empty garden beds... They were kind enough to hold our suitcases at the entrance for us and we spent all morning walking around and sipping exotic teas in the pergola-covered snack bar. Very nice despite the high humidity.

Finally, we splurged on a taxi to take us and our suitcases back to the ferry terminal and the start of our trip back home.

I'm already thinking about when I can get back there! Though next time I'd probably stay longer, visit more of the island (we only saw about half of it), and stay at a more central hotel since the buses are crowded and the taxis expensive.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Back from Sorrento and a quick drive on the Amalfi coast

We spent a quick two nights in Sorrento with Pio's son, daughter-in-law and grandson. They went to Pompeii one day, we mostly hung out by the pool (which at the Hilton Sorrento Palace was easy to do, with six of them, connected by small waterfalls!) We always ate well, but our last evening was memorable.

Pio saw a little tin sign on a stone wall near our hotel. He decided then and there that we weren't going to eat at a "recommended restaurant" again as we had our first evening, (I check Slowtalk, of course!) but instead at this little "hole-in-the-wall" place that was near our hotel.

Well, we followed a very narrow road up and up, turning here, then there, always following the signs. We envisioned a cheap, home-cooked authentic meal awaited us around every bend. Then we thought maybe the lady closed up shop, went out of business. Where was this restaurant? We continued on after a local lady assured us it was up ahead and the food was good.

Finally--we arrived, only to find that DONNA SOFIA's wasn't a cheap, home-cooking place, but rather a rather well-known place with high prices, fancy dishes and tiny portions. We persevered. The food was quite good. The prices too high (8 Euros for a tiny, tiny plate of penne with tomato sauce for fact, he easily ate two of them for 16Euros. )
If you're a foodie and have a special ocassion to celebrate while in Sorrento (or money is no object) than the restaurant, dedicated to Sofia Loren, is worth it. The owner will also pick you up and/or drop you off back at your hotel for free, because in the dark it would be hard to find your way.

The next morning we decided to take the long way home, driving along the Amalfi coast. The road was crowded with cars and buses, but I noticed they now have people with 2-way radios communicating ahead if a bus is coming--cars are stopped so that buses can negotiate the hairpin curves with a little more ease. That was a definite improvement! I'd love to stay in Positano or one of the other small towns clinging to the cliffs, but I'm not sure how relaxing it would be with all that traffic! Would I ever leave the hotel? How would I get there and leave?

In fact, the 2-way radio system isn't perfect and we had to stop on one downhill, hairpin curve so that a bus could negotiate it from the opposite direction (I won't mention all the cars that were parked on both sides, willy nilly). Suddenly a man on a racing bike slammed into the back of our car! OK, maybe slammed is too stong a word, but he hit us. We, of course, were concerned about how he was, but he picked himself up and said he was fine. Luckily his friends were ahead, just around the bend, already putting their bikes on the car to head home and were heading back to help him. No doubt he had some aches, pains and bruises that night.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ice Tea came to visit

No, not the rapper Ice-T, but my cyper-friend and blogging buddy from Arizona! She's been on an exciting European vacation, including time in Italy, time in France, and a cruise from Basel to Amsterdam (Linda, correct me on the details!). All of this with her parents. Then, her parents continued on to Norway to visit as-yet-unmet relatives and she came back to Italy for another six days. We picked her up at FCO and she squeezed in a side trip to my little out-of-the-way home in Veroli for one night. Then she was off to Sorrento for a few days and eventually a flight to Venice and home. Whew!

It was nice meeting her in person and we found a lot to talk about. She was so kind as to bring me a little bottle of original cologne from Cologne, a bar of artisanal chocolate (yum yum) and .... a box of THIN MINT Girl Scout cookies! How did she know? Now they are a special treat for us all. Thank you, again, Linda and hope you are enjoying your last few days in Europe!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Of Cactus and London and this 'n that...

Haven't written here in ages, but people are still visiting (and even linking to me--thanks!) so I guess I'd better start writing again!

With the spring life has gotten very busy. We've been having work done to finish up the outside...brick and stone work on the front of the house, a cement driveway (and it's a long one), finishing up/off the upstairs... and because we use people who have other jobs, that work gets done almost exclusively on Saturdays it's been a long drawn out process and is still not finished.

Gardening fever has also struck and I've got supina (hanging) petunias in my long front flower box (aout ten plants) and tons of perenial daisies along the wall of our upper driveway (OK, 30 plants total!) and we planted 44, yes 44 cyprus trees! They're babies, only about 18 inches tall, but one day, watch out Tuscany! We have two vegetable gardings going too, full of lettuce, eggplants, tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes and herbs. I want to put in some brussel sprouts and black-leaf dinosaur kale too, but I think we'll wait until July so they can grow in the cooler fall months. Oh, and my cactus had three blooms at the same time! It's only about a foot tall, but it sits above a retaining wall that I have at the upper entrance to my driveway. Another cactus nearby promises to be a blooming spectacle soon (note all the buds!).

I'm still working three full days a week, and my students are busy preparing for a Cambridge Business English exam in early June. It's not easy and they are working hard (though many of them would prefer to forget the exam and just have conversation!). I'm working hard to keep all the photocopies organized, practice tests scored and remembering which class is which!

The menagerie here slowly grows, with our platy tank having two new members (2 sunset plattys) which brings the number in that tank to 10 fish, which includes two babies who have survived. We have another pregnant female (a mickey mouse platty) and hope at least one of her babies will survive too (they seem to be irrisistible snacks when tiny, even to their mom!).

At Easter we went to London and had a grand ole' time. Absolutely loved it. Dante was a little low-energy for the first couple of days as he initially didn't sleep well in the hotel, but once he got into the swing of things, he loved it too. My favorite thing (aside from finally meeting Big Ben in person) was Lion King in the theatre ("on Broadway" I would say if this were in NY, so what do I say when I see a show in London?). The theatre was beautiful, we laughed, ate ice cream in our seats during intermission, went to the martini bar across the street afterwards (and had typical roast beef with yorkshire pudding next door beforehand) and shopped in Coventry Gardens both before and after. Reminded me of the States in some ways, only waaaaaay closer. Yea! (See pictures on facebook.)

Got to run. I'm in an organizing, cleaning, moving furniture around mood (yes, Pio, things have changed a little in the week you've been in NY). I want to accomplish a lot today as tomorrow it will be back to working on the gardens, then Tuesday back to work. Whew! Have a good one, and thanks for reading, Diane

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Italian-language blog discovered

One of my favorite things, when I have the time, is getting lost on the internet...clicking on one link, then another, just to see where I wind up. Well, this morning, through one click then another, I discovered a blog by Dianne Hales called Becoming Italian Word by Word. For anyone learning Italian it's great fun...and even if you're not, it's interesting. Words are taught by association. One post has lots of expressions based on "padre" (father) for example, another with expressions around the word "pane" (bread). Dianne Hales is an author and journalist with a long list of credits. She has a book coming out in the May called La Bella Lingua and I have a feeling I'll be adding it to my collection.

Friday, March 6, 2009

In the early morning of Saturday, February 21, my father-in-law passed away. The Sunday before he had eaten lunch with us, as usual, but not his usual quantity, complaining of a full feeling in his stomach. On Tuesday he went into a semi-comatose state with two doctors disagreeing as to the cause. On Thursday we still had hope he would come out of it, but on Friday the doctor said to call his children in America. In the end, in his coma, he appeared to have difficulty breathing and swallowing. Was he suffering? We don't know. At 6 a.m. on Saturday morning he passed away, at home, a few hours before his daughter and son who still live in New York arrived. Perhaps it was better that way. May we all remember him as he appears in this photo from a wedding a few years ago, full of fun and life. Rest in Peace Umberto.Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mid-Winter Harvest

The sun was shining (finally), so I went out into the garden to see what I could find. Aside from the usual lettuce, I picked a large handful of chicory (which was quite bitter but good boiled, then sauted with garlic and olive oil), a bunch of radicchio (made into a radicchio lasagna), some herbs (which I'm drying) and some cabbage roses (for a winter boquet). Not bad for a mid-winter harvest.
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New Year's Resolutions--finally!

I don't officially make Resolutions as I know I'll never keep them up, which is not exactly the attitude that guarantees success. But, in a way, I do have some general ideas for 2009 which I thought I'd share, before we get to February. These are modest, I know, that's why I like them:

I think it's a great idea to visit at least one new place every year. 2007 it was Munich during Christmas season. 2008 it was Naples--three times. I count it even though it is only two hours away, previously my husband wouldn't even consider it! In 2009 I hope to visit Paris, London and/or Budapest. After all, we are in Europe and these places don't cost THAT much to get to. I'd be happy for just one of them. Going to New York to visit the relatives, while wonderful, doesn't count! (It must be a NEW place to properly stimulate the senses.)

Walk vigourously for 30 minutes at least five times a week. This is do-able most days, despite my working (Thursdays will be hard, so I've given myself a little wiggle room).

Keep knitting. I'm into socks at the moment, so that's fun for me and there's always something different to try (toe-up, cables, designs, even different knit and purl combinations). Something to do when I watch Oprah on the sling box DVR most mornings.

Aim for 7 to 8 hours (or more!) sleep every night. I will no longer allow myself to get up at 4 am as my internal alarm clock shifts and then I start doing that every morning. Six hours of sleep is not an option for my brain's proper functioning.

Post to my blog on a regular basis!

See, I said they were modest goals, and do-able too I think. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Climbin' back on the wagon...

Well, I guess when I go "on vacation" I really GO ON VACATION!

I was supposed to have only two weeks vacation around Christmas/New Years, but because of a funding snafu, it extended to a full six weeks! I've been in heaven.

Before vacation I had some health issues which I thought were related to the fact that I had trouble sleeping more than six hours a night. And not walking anymore. At least I've had the chance to get into a longer sleep rhythm (between 7 and 8 hours, sometimes more!) and I've recently (now that the near constant rainfall is giving us a respite) gotten back into walking. And taking vitamins again. And I DO feel better. But I haven't been blogging. SORRY!!

What have I been up to? Well, for someone who's lived here for three years and never been to Naples (only two hours away) we went three times in December! I love it. There's something about it that reminds me of New York City I think. Has anyone else ever felt this? Oh, and the pizza and pastries are to die for. And the San Gregorio area is one of those special places in the world in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

I've also wizzed through making my third pair of socks (about two weeks, which is wizzing when you consider the last pair took me a year!). I'm proudly modelling them in the photo above. If they look a little big, it's because they're for my father. I have been doing socks on two circular needles, but was getting stuck at the point where you need to pick up stitches and turn the heel in another direction (from the tube part that goes on the ankle and is normally vertical to the sole/instep part which goes horizontal). I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to do it with two needles (actually I wanted to do two socks at a time on the two needles...but it was WAY too confusing for me without a teacher rescuing me every once in a while!). So, I had the brilliant idea to switch back at the critical moment to using four double pointeds (the way people have been making socks from caveman days) and VOILA! it got me around the bend. Then I switched back to my circulars. Ahhh....So, Dad, your socks are done! (except for a few final toe-rows I'll do today). Next will be a blue pair FOR ME! (Does anyone know how to get the picture I've posted down here instead of up there? I suspect I must edit the html...but I have no idea how!)

What else...I've also gone into Rome for a couple of work-related meetings, gone into my worksite this past week to work with a few individual students and do some testing (groups start next week) and have continued with my private English students here at the house--I'm up to 8 hours a week now if everyone shows. Great pocket money.

Which I need more of as I've gotten more fashion conscious. I guess living in Italy is affecting me. I got new eyeglasses that make much more of a statement than the rimless ones I got several years ago in New York and bought a new winter "swing coat" at the January SALDI (sales) at Luisa Spagnola. I'm even eyeing items in the Max Mara window, but I haven't actually gone in the store yet!

Part of the reason I'm now scared to spend extra money is that the money is ending before the month does because of all the work we're having done around here. The brickwork at the front of the house is almost finished and today workers are starting up on our second floor. First they are putting up a few walls (to close off storage areas and cover up the side brick walls) and then we'll have the same heating/cooling system put in the flooring that we have downstairs. Except upstairs we may make it a wooden floor. I will have a classroom up there and a guestroom. We're leaving room for a bathroom and kitchen, in case someday we need a little apartment up there, either for us or Dante. This is typically Italian!
Well, that's it for now. I have a list of things to do...and I find that if I make a list, it gets done! So, I'm off to look at my list.
I hereby promise to write much more often (if anyone is still reading). Again, I'm back on the blog wagon, so please leave a comment, even just to say HI, to let me know you're still there! Some of you have emailed me privately, just to check I was OK. Thanks! (blush blush)