Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Charleston Cooks!...and now I can too!

Last week I took my first ever cooking class at Charleston Cooks! , a demo lesson:  "Taste of the Lowcountry" .  As I've learned, the "lowcountry" is the area of the USA coast between just south of Myrtle Beach all the way down to Savannah, Georgia.  It's about 4 hours long by car and is characterized by the melding of cultures (Indian, African, Spanish and French) and what was available locally--corn for grits, rice from the plantations and shrimp and other seafood found in the marshy waters between the mainland and the barrier beaches.  

The class I attended taught us how to make a chocolate version of the southern favorite, Chess Pie ( the name perhaps comes from a woman, responding to a compliment, saying, oh, this is "jus' pie" which in the local accent, sounds like Chess pie), a butternut squash pirlau (risotto dish with Carolina Gold rice), and "blackened" catfish fillets, which are really all in the somewhat spicy seasoning used to coat the fish before frying.  It was great fun!  The kitchen set up was great, with overhead cameras showing us what was happening on the stove and at the end, we each had a small plate of the food, a mini Chess Pie and a glass of wine.

It was interesting to get some general cooking tips  The first one was how to make piecrust (not necessary to cut-in all those pea-shaped pieces of butter until of equal, small size--it's actually betterr if they're not all tiny!) and how to ensure it's flaky, flaky, flaky (make a rectangle, cut it into thirds and stack them down into another rectangle and repeat several times until the butter gets too sticky to continue...this ensures lots of layers!).

Pumpkins and squashes have intimidated me in the kitchen, starting from how hard they are to peel.  Tip number two taught me to no longer be scared!  Quarter them, oil, and bake the pieces in the oven until soft.  Scoop the pulp out and pass it through a rice or food mill.  In the class we added it to the risotto right before it was finished and mixed it in.  Wow, was that good (I LOVE winter squash and all those A vitamins!).

The blackened catfish couldn't be easier...fry in a good quantity of canola oil (no, not just 1 Tablespoon!) after they have been thoroughly coated with the cajun spices.  Good and simple!

The $25 fee was fair as it included a small meal...but of course, I did spend a wee bit in the store afterwards, which is probably the hope of the teacher! I think I might go to another before I leave, it was that much fun...maybe a participation class next time and/or an author's class (Pam Anderson will be there in a couple of weeks).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Apple Store...we love you!

We joined up with a local home schoolers' group and one of the moms organized a class for our students at the downtown Charleston Apple Store (I think her husband is the manager).  Now the Apple Store is our most-frequented destination when we go into the city and improving his techie knowledge is one of my goals for our time in the USA, so he was immediately signed up.

They quickly taught the kids to use iMovie and each group of three (he was partnered up with 11-year-old boy-girl twins)  was to make a crazy commercial for a household item on the table.  They had a pair of wooden tongs which the boy twin quickly decided would make a great "puller of sister's hair".  They collaborated and made a cute commercial with lots of bells and whistle effects.  We hope to get a hard copy in the mail soon.

iMovie is really a great program...and now, of course, we all want an Apple iMac 21.5 inch desktop computer (it's so tower, wireless keyboard and mouse tablet, what graphics).! I was eyeballing it to see if the monitor could fit in our carry on....then we could just nonchalantly walk through customs in Rome...right?   Guess those free workshops are accomplishing what they set out to do...sell more Apples! And I bet they're soooo expensive in Italy!  No fair!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

We went yard-sale-ing!

One of the joys of Saturday mornings in America--if you're in the mood-- are the ubiquitous yard sales (where one man's junk is another man's treasure), and this weekend we decided to venture forth.  Of course, we can't really buy much with the strict weight restrictions on suitcases these days, but we thought perhaps there would be a few small things at prices to match.

The neighborhood where we are living had they bi-annual yard sale starting at 7 a.m and nearby Daniel Island had theirs on Saturday too.   Pio got a set of golf clubs for his golf buddy in Italy and two golf bags--one beautiful leather, and one hard for airline travel--for himself.  One of the clubs was identical to one he had bought for himself several years ago for $120...and he paid $20 for all.  Because golf clubs are very expensive in Italy, even with the shipping costs his friend will be way ahead.

 I got a nice light green leather 9West bag for myself ($1), a green bottle vase for a friend (25 cents) and an embroidered duvet cover for my king size bed that had just been dry cleaned (for more than the $5 I paid).  Dante was out looking for some video games or consoles, but only found a free Rubric's cube (to drive us all crazy) and some more shorts--it's been quite hot and I only brought two pair with us.

Yard sales, at least in my area of Italy, are unknown.  Maybe because:

A.  they are illegal (because sales taxes can't be collected),
B  .they are unpopular (because Italians don't like the idea of buying "used items" from strangers)...or
C.  Italians just do not have a lot of extra stuff laying around they need to get rid of.

 I suspect it's "all of the above"!  Though there are some markets where used things are sold, I've never seen things placed out in front of a person's home (well, maybe eggs or honey or a used car for sale, but that's different).

Anyway, this was the way we spent our recent Saturday morning, American-style.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Charleston, first impressions...

Well, less than a month ago we were eating bangers and mash--now it's grits (shown here with eggs and bacon for breakfast), washed down with sweet tea!

We've been in Charleston for about 10 days now, adjusting to life in the deep south and homeschooling.

So far we've seen dophins in the harbor, walked around downtown, ate some good meals (Jestine's Kitchen and Poe's Tavern are tied for first place in our book), spent a day at a plantation (where the guide-tour-in-training was a retired Bellport High School principal!) and briefly visited a few hot, but beautiful beaches.  Pio loves the golfing but has pulled a muscle so is out of commision for the time being.  Dante loves the Apple store, a generic version of which can be found is most cities (he dreams about owning an i-touch) and all the fried food.  As for me, I'm a sucker for the Spanish Moss which drapes from many of the trees and the different shore birds found here in the marshy low country we are surrounded by.

.Homeschooling is our other big adventure.  I think it's going well, but still it's hard not to have some self-doubts about the decision, especially if we are looking to re-enroll him in Italian schools in September 2011.  So far, I'm happy with our curriculum, and our supervising teacher (to whom we must send all work every two weeks for grading).  We'll get a report card and transcript as he's technically enrolled in long-distance learning program at a private school in Vermont.  Dante is cooperating nicely.

 It's just a little difficult  to find "ME" time as we do school most mornings and find the afternoons too hot to do anything outside.  The neighborhood kids Dante has befriended don't get home from school until 4 pm so there a boredom gap for Dante.  He's spending his time using Skype to contact his friends in Italy and find out what's new there.  He wishes he had his xbox 360 here to help fill some time in the afternoons.  He is enrolled in a Monday evening cartooning class and next week we meet other homeschooled kids at a roller skating party.

This coming week brings the  MOJA arts festival  and we've got tickets to two events that are billed as "fun for the entire family"   Tonight there's the kick-off Caribbean Street Parade and Reggae block party downtown, and we'll go for a while, then find a bite to eat.  Saturday there's a neighborhood yard sale (haven't been to one of them in a long while!), then the farmer's market in Charleston which I'd like to check out and maybe a wine tour/tasting in the afternoon (yes, Charleston has a winery).  Maybe Pio will feel a little less homesick?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Liverpool was Fab, Mates!

We're back from Liverpool and had a wonderful time.  Dante especially loved the bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) and peas, mushy or otherwise, were the only other vegetable, aside from potatoes, we found in the restaurants.  Pio loved the draft beer, which, when they added the malt at the end, left sudsy bubbles spilling over the rim of the glass.  The Scousers were more than friendly and, with eyes closed, every male sounded like you were talking to Paul, John, Ringo or George!

We originally chose Liverpool to visit Dante's homework tutor who is now aupair-ing there and had the week off to show us around (thanks F!)  The Bootleg Beatles and the Matthew Street Festival were a lot of fun and Wicked (which we saw on a day-trip by train to London) was outstanding.  Pio can't stop talking about the golf course he had the chance to play twice, thanks to a very nice neighbor. Our home-exchangers loved our dogs and took excellent care of them, which allowed us to really enjoy ourselves.  Oh, and we really couldn't get the hang of driving on the "wrong side" (and stick shift too!) so we went everywhere by train, bus or taxi and that was fine too.  Cheers Looove!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Liverpool--here we come!

Our home-exchangers from Liverpool arrived yesterday to settle into our house, meet the dogs and spend a little time with us over some good food and wine.  This morning they caught the 7:20 train to Naples and then will head onto one night in lovely, lemony Sorrento, with perhaps a few hours in Positano.  They'll return tomorrow night.  On Thursday morning...early!... we head to Ciampino, Rome's "low-cost airline" airport to fly to their home in Liverpool.

The weather in Liverpool appears to have been wet and cool lately, but we have our fingers crossed for some sunny days ahead.  On Saturday night we'll see the "Bootleg Beatles" in the Liverpool Philharmonic, and on Sunday/Monday there's the Mathew Street Festival.  On Wednesday September 1st we'll head to London (which is a 3hour trip each way) in order to see "Wicked" which everyone says is phenomenal.  In between, Pio hopes to at least see a few golf courses (Liverpool is on England's "Golf Coast") but he's afraid his game isn't good enough for the challenging courses he's seen on the internet.  It's been recommended we also see the Lakes District and perhaps even northern Wales which isn't that far away.  Of course, we first have to feel comfortable driving on the LEFT side of the road!!  Perhaps we'll stick to the trains?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Our upcoming Homeschool Adventure! Why...and How?

This September we'll start home schooling Dante (and home exchanging while we're at it--since we're both retired, why not?).   Despite the fact that I've got several teaching certifications from New York State and taught for years there, it's a somewhat scary leap into the unknown.

The decision to home school  took a while to evolve.  It wasn't a decision we took lightly.  There's little support out here in the Italian countryside where "scuola familiare" is almost unheard of (though legal--read for a British woman's experiences).  As we began to mention it here and there people shook their heads, didn't understand, encouraged us to look at other options--like other local  public and private schools.  To tell the truth, when we looked, they didn't look all that different from our village school, from which we desperately needed a change.

What I was looking for was something more creative, innovative, flexible--all things which don't come easily in public schools anywhere.  Also, five days a week (instead of the six we've been living with) and homework that makes sense and doesn't last all night would be nice.  Unfortunately, the most promising local school was no longer accepting Middle School students and the international schools in Rome cost a  fortune for tuition and on top of that we'd need a small apartment since Rome is just too far for a daily school run.

Slowly the idea of homeschooling came into focus.  It would be much cheaper than an international school, and as creative and flexible as designed.  So I started researching.

There is an overabundance of information and initially it was confusing.  The spectrum runs from unschooling to school-in-a-box, buy your own prepackaged materials or piece it together here and there,  spend a lot, buy on ebay, or join a charter school which will give you the online curriculum for free, but attach strings--like restricting traveling.

 There's  secular and Christian curricula--and even a site for pagan homeschooling families.   On Amazon you can find lots of homeschooling books and there are  State-wide association which offer support and field trips  for home schoolers (such as this support group in South Carolina  which we'll be using when we home-exchange there for three months this fall), blogs  and homeschool laws which differ from state to state (but what if you're not a resident of any state?).  For a while my head spun round and round!

After researching for several months, we decided to take the plunge and enroll in  Oak Meadow,  a long-distance private homeschool --with teacher support, grading and transcript (in case we decide to return to Italian public school next year ) and creative options when it comes to assignments.  By mixing 6th and 7th grade materials and adding in some library books, I can almost match what he would have been studying here in Italy. I'll supplement also with piano lessons, Spanish and keyboarding--and find a native Italian to tutor him once a week to keep him up with his Italian literature and grammar.   For socialization (the first thing that most people ask about) we've joined two homeschool groups near where we'll be exchanging and Dante has a wealth of options--to start he'll  be taking art and music classes with other kids.

If it works out I'd love to continue homeschooling at least through Middle School, mixing his education and family travel through home exchange....  OK, one step at a time!  Right now we're very excited and looking forward to beginning our grand adventure!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

You know you're an Italian woman from the countryside when you explain your less-than-spotless house and clothing by saying, "We did the tomatoes today!". And so that was yesterday's excuse for my home's "lived-in" look (breakfast dishes still around come lunchtime) and the very casual, red-splotched old shirt and shorts I was wearing.
We only did 27 jars (instead of our usual 100+) first, because we won't be here all of next year (they'll be another post on that), secondly because we used only our organic, home-grown tomatoes (usually we buy a couple of bushels--but the flavor and quality doesn't compare) and thirdly because doing 100+ jars all at once means it's A LOT of work for several people (washing, rewashing, cutting, putting some through the food mill, filling the jars, sealing them, boiling them--etc.). Every year we'd loose about 15% because they didn't seal properly. Probably because the huge container in which we boil them was overfull. 27 jars was almost ... easy! And a great excuse, even if it only explains one day's dust.
P.S. If you look very closely to the left of the tomato jars you can see a little "Buddha's hand" lemon tree. They are still green, but are the STRANGEST looking fruit I've ever seen! They look like five small, skinny lemons growing in a bunch, like bananas. Can't wait to see how they taste this winter!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Early June flower pictures...

I've seen some beautiful cactus blooms this spring, have a new geranium with burgundy/green leaves and tiny orange flowers (what was mother nature thinking?) and my favorite blue of all time--the morning glory --is beginning to circle the orto fence.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Been back a while...

We returned from our three-week New York holiday almost a month ago! My how time flies. I've been thinking lately about what it is exactly we miss about there when we are here. Aside from the obvious "family and friends" (which we'd really like to see more of!) I miss familiarity, a vague word that covers a lot but really does sum it up succintly! More specifically, I miss: big, free libraries with books, audiobooks, music CDs, computers, newspapers, magazines, a children's section, movies, etc. etc; flagels, especially those that have sesame or poppy seeds on BOTH sides of the flattened bagel; diners, which often have kitschy themes (try little octopus lamps hanging over the booths and electronicly projected fish tanks on the walls!); listening to NPR radio while I'm commuting to work; knitting classes, teachers and space with HELP! when I get stuck; anything and everything in English :); yoga class and gyms that open at 6 am; BIG cups of 7-11 tea (which I can brew as long as I like and add as much milk as I want); stores with reasonable return policies (here it's a rarity). OK, in Italy the weather, scenery and food is better than what I got in New York, so I guess that's why, for now, we're still here (oh, and yea, we've got a house, a dog, a cat, two turtles and two aquariums here-- and none back there!).