April 2012


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What a day I have had.

I had my usual cornetto and caffè for breakfast. Walk walk walk. Then the most delicious lunch composed of my favorite pasta Romana: Cacio e Pepe (simply put: pasta with cheese and pepper — though believe me, there is nothing simple about this pasta) and then coniglio (rabbit) arrosto (roast), and cicoria. Incredibile! Il pranzo with my favorite priest. Of course with wine which, no excuses here, is much less alcoholic than ours in the U.S.

Walk walk walk.

I saw the Vatican. St. Peter’s. A charming little Via with antique store after antique store. The bridge of angels — Pont Sant’Angelo. Every bridge over the Tiber lined with African and Albanian immigrants who sell mini-tripods, sunglasses, costume jewelry, and these funny gel-filled soft rubbery like balls that the vendor slams into a board which makes the little squishy gel ball flatten like a puddle only to re-form as a little creature. Hard to describe. But, cool.

They are aggressive and persistent but, unlike the old toothless Roma (gypsy) ladies who don’t so much beg for money as whine, they will go away after a pitch. Or, two.

Now, though the picture doesn’t do it justice — for the price of a glass of wine, my apertivo of choice, I get a table, under an ivy-covered umbrella, as much time as I want (the Italians NEVER try to get you to leave. In fact, sometimes, you have to wave madly to get your bill, il conto, to get out of the restaurant or cafe). And all these snacks. Pretty much my dinner (leaving room, of course, for gelato). On this table I have a small cup of peanuts, another of potato chips, and a little plate with 2 tiny spinach pies, three little tomato tartlets, and 2 slices of crusty focaccia-like bread dripping with olive oil.

Oh. Oh! I just bit into what I thought was the spinach pie. Instead it is this flaky pastry triangle with anchovy paste inside.

Heaven. I’m in heaven!

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I am here to tell you: watch out when you’re hanging out with priests!

I had the unexpected pleasure to discover I was in Rome with one of my best friends in the world — who happens to be a priest. He was in town, staying at his Alma Mater in centro storico. We started our evening with gin and tonics on the rooftop, warm, inviting and surrounded by a stunning view of Roma. St. Peters was just behind me.

On the hour, the bells rang from every church in this city of a thousand churches. Beautiful sunset in Rome with fascinating people.

This night, we dined at a cool little ristorante near the Campo dei Fiori. I ordered pasta e patate — which is pasta with potatoes. It was tomatoey, which I did not expect. And soup-like. I wondered aloud whether it would be redundant to sop up the sauce with bread. I only asked, of course. I did it anyway. After dolce, one of our priestly party told me about a kind of “darker” grappa. The waiter, who was alternately in our face, and absent when we needed him, told us it was called, in Italiano: Grappa Scura. Less lighter fluid, more smooth brandy. Yum. Me.

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In all the years that I have been coming to Italy — even with living here, I simply haven’t been here in puntarelle season!

Puntarelle (they never seem to have a singular puntarella version though it is certainly a singular green) are strictly a spring vegetable. It is a succulent curlicue green, barely bitter, served with a simple garlicky, lemony, anchovy-laden dressing. I have had it before, maybe once, but not here. Not in Rome. Not like that. This trip, I experienced it at a little ristorante in the Campo dei Fiore. Just feet away from the older Roman women who populate the market, making sure that all the goods are table ready. The greens are usually displayed in water baths. Talk about farm to table.

I am a fan of greens, despite the fact I was one of those granddaughters of Italian immigrants who was embarrassed by the fact that granny was out in the yard plucking weeds from the lawn to cook for dinner. I have asked Italians before just what puntarelle is (are?). They say it’s like dandelion (not quite) or chicory, which I find almost inedibly bitter. When in Rome, I heard the people behind me wonder what is that? But they didn’t ask me. So I did not answer.

Did I already say how succulent that salad was? I have a feeling I better order it every chance I get — it probably has a life span of a minute thirty.

Oh – techno-victory. I transferred that image of the puntarelle from my iPhone to my iPad — with a gerry-rigged setup of connectors not exactly made for that function.

I think I’m beebling.

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Just arrived in La Bella Città — Heading out for my first Roman meal. Just sitting here in my room, I can smell crusty bread from the forno (bakery) below my window. Caffè from the bar across the way. Some kind of sauce bubbling on someone’s stove I this apartment building. When you fly overseas, they try to occupy you with food. I did have my dinner of some kind of chicken with rice. But, after my attempt at sleeping on the plane was only marginally successfully, I resisted that which they called a breakfast to save myself for the city itself. Fear not, I shall fill you in on everything as the days go by.

Having nothing to do with eating (unless a nursing baby fits into that category) — on the flight over here, I had a funny experience. When I got to my seat, there was this fretting Italian man who, as it turned out, was attached to wife, said nursing baby and another bambina about 5 years old. It seems the man was unable to secure the entire middle bank of seats for his family. So, he wanted me to give up my aisle seat to compensate. I did not want to do that. I did make it clear that I could speak Italian and, in fact, though I’m always anxious to start using the language as soon as I embark, I resisted. As a result, hubby and Frau did not know that I could understand most everything they said as they trashed me for not moving. Throughout the entire flight, the husband crawled over me to get out. And they kept handing the baby back and forth, back and forth over me.

The child was quite sweet and I thought a sport about it all. She watched me eat my apple (instead of the airline food) and kept whimpering. I am pretty sure she didn’t actually eat real food, except from Mom. But, hey, I wanted to whimper myself after 7 hours with her parents. And, no sleep on the flight over.

Now, off to the streets.

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When you visit another place, you always get the chance to experience so many wonderful things — food, of course, being one of those foreign delights.

Everyone pretty much agrees that so much of what passes as food here is junk. Overseas, it seems so much more pure. Let the culinary adventures begin.

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