Rome


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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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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.

So, before heading to Oregon — and just a few days after my return from Italy, I was sitting in my NYC apartment – okay still sulking a little bit about American versus Italian food.  A sulk I should reconsider.  First, I’m in the States, so get over it, dammit!  But also – I realize, no have to admit – I also ate what I damn well pleased while there.  Giving lie to my statements that

I never gain weight when I go to Italy!

Except, when I got on the scale upon my return and found out that a week of Janet Eats – Italian style – netted an extra five pounds in avoirdupois.  Oh boy.  Not bummed, mind you.  It is temporary.  And, oh so fun.

I found a quick option to my quest to eat like a Roman – but also keep fit, like most Italians.  I have always said – and this truism is, well, true.

You will not gain weight in Italy, if you eat their food in the WAY they eat their food.  You don’t, for the most part, see them walking around eating food, eating lots of desserts, eating in between meals.  Their fornos are a selected treat.  Not, as I did when I lived there for three months, a place to visit every day.  I have been happy to be vacationing a lot lately.  But, it does make it more challenging to eat healthfully.

  1. Challenge:  Away from home.
  2. Challenge: The food that is available is different, sometimes COMPLETELY different from your everyday choices.  And
  3. Challenge: Who WANTS to eat with limits and care.  It’s vacation!

So, now I face the wonderful opportunity to renew my commitment to healthful eating.  Good choices.  Veggies when I want them.  Steamed with a little olive oil.  Not at all something you even want to eat while on vacation.

You know, you gotta live.  In a way that allows for some indulgences.  If you are challenged, as I am, to eat healthfully on a regular basis (and, even at that, my friends tell me I’m pretty damn good at that) – you need to not judge yourself.  Pick on yourself.  Feel badly about yourself.  Enjoy the food that you eat when you eat it.  If that means a temporary weight gain, then just “man up” and eat the way you know is both best – AND enjoyable – for you.

And, I think I’ll try that recipe I read about from another Word Press Blogger, Iowa Girl Eats:

Baked Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

This morning before leaving, I spent some time speaking with the young banker who rents me a room in Rome with un bagno privato. We don’t always converse that much. She speaks virtually no English. I do all right speaking Italian with her.

Really, think about how few words we use in a conversation with someone we barely know: weather (il tempo), food (il cibo), politics (Obama. Hahaha – these conversazioni can get a little more compicato. People I know in Rome really wanted to talk about Obama and, interestingly, the Nobel Prize! which they, like most of us, did not understand. “Couldn’t he just say no to it?”)

After we completed our short chat and I packed, I proclaimed I was going to walk for awhile, then get my ultimo caffé and cornetto. Ha! My ultimo cornetto! Of course, I have the photographic evidence of my cappucino — with a heart, as in I left my heart in San Pietro — and oh that ultimo cornetto. Nothing tastes quite as sweet as that first and last taste on a foreign shore.

It was both restful and invigorating: this Roman Holiday. I am fortunata to have friends in la cittá who know all those little osteria & trattoria that cook simple Italian cuisine. I had meals in at least three restaurants — without menus. Just more places to put on that list of consiglio – advice – I insist anyone going to Roma consult!

Allora! As the receipts say: ARRIVEDERCI E GRAZIE. Goodbye and thank you.

Parco Oppio

I sit at a small cafe in the middle of a park — in the Colle Oppio.  We are just steps away from the Domus Aurea and a short walk above the Coliseum.  That means this was once part of Nero’s gargantuan Villa. An estate that in its time was even too much for the indulgent ancient Romans (my knowledge of the history of this area is superficial at best).

In this century, I am drinking una limonata, which the Italians also call – oddly enough – Lemon Soda. Not that it sounds anything like lemmin sew-duh, mind you.  It is a Roman indulgence of mine.  I don’t usually drink full-sugar (or “light” for that matter) sodas.  But, this is so good.

What I love about this park:  it is all Romans, just a few turisti like myself.  Otherwise, it’s grandmas with the little ones.  Or, old folks out for a stroll and a sit on the bench.  And, oh my goodness, the children yelling “Fabio” “Giovanni”,  kicking balls,  terrorizing the pigeons, and chattering in their perfect high-pitched “va bene”s.

Having said that,  it is very peaceful, a universal oasis in the midst of honking horns, purring scooters and German tourists screeching for attention.

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