Food! Mangi! Solamente Verdure!

May 9, 2009 at 09:15 | Posted in Italian Cooking, Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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Only greens!

Only greens!

 One of the things we hear constantly over and over is “Mangi! È solamente verdure!!” It’s only greens! Yeah! Let me assure you that this is the understatement of the ages! There is not, never has been, and I guarantee never will be anything approximating only greens never ever in Italy!!!! Now I am perfectly willing to admit I have several pounds to lose. And I know in my head that vegetables are good for you. A nice healthy dish not top heavy in calories, bad carbs, or fat content. I can even accept that Italians tend not to over-salt or drown in heavy creamed or buttery sauces laden with grease. But nothing that tastes as wonderful as their fresh picked salads and vegetables will convince me that is impossible not to overeat myself to 500 lbs.

    We foolish Americans look at huge artichokes in the supermarket and willingly pay $2.99 each to take them home and peel apart and discard half before we find the edible parts. Then we stuff the remainder full of breadcrumbs, butter, salt, spices, and even meats. And then we proceed to drown it in some form of greasy gravy or hollandaise sauce. But Italians will tell you that is the worst possible artichoke – one that they would toss as garbage and use to feed the animals! How can one be sure it is an artichoke anyway?  

Tender Artichokes

Tender Artichokes

Artichokes in Italy cost somewhere in the vicinity of $3.00 for eight to ten small to medium sized artichokes. I will grant the size is smaller but that is because they were picked sooner before they spread out empty and dried out. Instead one eats almost all of the smaller tender artichoke. No heavy sauces or greasy goo for these artichokes! They are stewed lightly on top of the stove or baked in the oven with a small amount of olive oil and an easy hand on any of the seasonings. Occasionally they are dipped in light flour and fried in a skillet. That means one appreciates the wondrous flavor of the artichoke itself. Yes. An artichoke actually has a flavor all its own!!!  

Fresh Fava Beans

Fresh Fava Beans

  And so it is with most greens in Italy. Great care is taken to allow the diner to taste whatever it is they are eating – not the sauces or gravies or seasonings but the main food item itself. Even the wine is chosen to complement, not over power the food. Even in the poorest homes, dishes are changed between courses so that one flavor does not remain in a dish to over-power the next course. “Mangi! È solamente Verdure!”

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

     

Olives!Olives!Olives!

Olives!Olives!Olives!

Then and Now

May 8, 2009 at 18:19 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | 1 Comment
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View Then

View Then

Two views taken about 31 years apart yet both so similar in their difference. The first is old and faded – barely saved snapshot thanks to photo editing of that misty day in 1977. The newer taken just a year ago of Gaeta from almost the same spot. Now there are lovely old street lamps and beautiful walkways to encourage the strollers along the shoreline. The boats still line the shoreline after a long morning of fishing. And the church still sits proudly on that hill at the center of town beckoning one to its silent beauty. But it is the harbor itself that calls one to the edge: the same water gently lapping the shoreline. How many fishermen set sail each day in the wee hours to find a catch to feed their families or sell to those who came down to meet the boats.  

Walkway

Walkway

 I have a brother-in-law who would go each morning to buy fresh fish – but if the fish was still not moving, it was not fresh enough to please him. How many of those men would sit each day seeming to while away the hours but in reality were sitting repairing nets making ready for the next day’s excursion? What conversations did they have – where were the fish, what was the weather to be tomorrow, who did not come home from the sea? Were the younger ones too foolish to listen and learn or did they know their lives depended on the wisdom of the older ones? Has life changed that much in thirty years or is that still the lesson we are trying to learn?

Gaeta Boats

Gaeta Boats

La Valle del Re

May 4, 2009 at 10:07 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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La Valle del Re II

La Valle del Re II

 

The Valley of the King – forgive me but this is a shameless plug for one of the most special places in Itri to visit … a restaurant opened by a good friend of ours, Mario Petrillo.

Gioielleria Petrillo

Gioielleria Petrillo

Already a well-respected business owner and talented jeweler, Mario has added the title of restaurateur to his list of accomplishments. Located on Via C. Farnese between the route to the Sanctuario and Itri proper, this is classic dining in the true elegant Italian style. It includes views of the beautiful Italian countryside making the atmosphere complete. We Americans so foolishly believe Italian food means pizza or just canned tomato sauce on pasta without ever knowing the many varied and tasteful delights of Italian cuisine. Mario proves it is much more than just this while offering you an Italian dining experience in gorgeous surroundings. It will be well worth the short drive … and tell Mario that Valentinoswife sent you!…”

La Valle del Re

La Valle del Re

 “On the 10th of February 1849, the august Monarch Fernando II with his Royal family and the Highest Pious Pontiff IX, after the ardent supplication of the mayor of Itri, they went to the Sanctuario to revere the Virgin Saint of the Civita. The hearts of the canters were filled with joy and the merry trip changed faces in devoted pilgrimage, when it had reached the strata of the mountain. This valley that from the first echo of hurrah, resounds again of then those sacred hymns…”

Anticipation

April 6, 2009 at 09:38 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, Fun Reminders of Italy, Itri, Italy | Leave a comment
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We are suddenly and joyfully planning a trip to Itri. There have been many excited phone calls back and forth across the ocean making plans with family. This trip will not be as long as one as we have made in the past due to my work schedule here but what wonderful days we are planning on. It is the first trip back home in four years and that was much too long for us! Unlike previous trips we will not be doing touristy things this time. This trip is strictly to be with family and to recharge ourselves physically and emotionally at a place we consider home. We want to concentrate on family both present and past. We have lost loved ones since our last trip and we will be missing them as well as concentration on those left here to mourn. And then we will be working on the family of our past.

Valentino will take me on a “tour” once more of Itri – the Itri of his childhood. My goal in all of this is to photograph him along with others at all his old haunts. I want to gift our sons with a slideshow of their dad at all his favorite places (and maybe some not so favorite ones, too). Although the sons have all visited Itri, I wanted to put this together as something of a keepsake to accompany the family history work.

One of our other hoped for excursions will be to city hall to beg for some assistance. We need to find a record of at least one person on the maternal line so we can finally get some research done. So far that brick wall has not lost even a hint of the mortar holding it together! Needless to say I have double checked as many sources and citations as possible so I do not chase someone else’s family instead of our own! I do not want to waste any of our time as it will be a precious commodity this trip!

 

Packed and Ready….

The suitcases have been pulled out of their closet and dusted off. Two hard suitcases and two duffle bags are ready to make this trip. Clothes are washed, dried, folded (no ironing, thank you very much!) and ready to go. All the convertor plugs and transformers are packed. The Euro-plug blow dryer and curling iron are also packed. Those will remain in Itri so that our friends can also make use of them on their trip. Two cameras are packed along with the laptop accessories such as blank CD’s and of course extra family group sheets. Maps of the autostrade are packed just in case. Little granddaughters wanted to help me pack – and then were not so happy with the packing. It looked as if we planned to be away too long to satisfy them. “But grandma – if you don’t cook pasta zouli I will get hungry!” A few extra hugs were reassurance enough that grandma and grandpa would be home again soon enough.

I will be updating and posting as time allows – and as long as internet connections are available! Ciao!

We leave in less than 54 hours now! Not that I am counting – but I am! Ha!

Imprinted on DNA?

April 4, 2009 at 00:53 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, family history | Leave a comment
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Growing up there were always shelves and shelves of books in our home. They would be almost bursting with the books! I cannot remember a time as a small child when my mother did not read to me… mostly there were children’s bible stories at bedtime but always there was time for the classics too at some point during the day. My mother also wrote her own poetry. Some were humourous and some serious. But she had a small brown notebook where she  would add poem upon poem whenever she was inspired. Each special occassion in our lives would have another of her poems just for us.

My father invested in books, wonderful leather bound volumes trimmed in gold leaf on the edges. All of the classics. Later there would be year upon year of Readers Digest Hard Cover Condensed Books™. I still have a huge box with several of my favorite ones. This box has travelled with me, moved from house to house, state to state with me for well over thirty years. Then followed several years’ worth of subscriptions to National Geographic Magazines™. They joined us on all of our moves too. It felt irreverent to destroy any of them. When a small flood or a hurricane destroyed a book, it was like losing an old friend. For my father even the reading of a newspaper was not undertaken lightly. He taught me to read every section, every article no matter how uninteresting they seemed at the time. The point was to read it, to learn from it, to file it away mentally against the time it might have more meaning or be useful. If nothing else, it taught one how to learn, how to think, how to become more informed so that one could form an intelligent decision later because you were informed enough of the facts as well as the emotions of a topic. When it came to writing reports, he taught me to properly cite sources. He taught me how to find those sources and he taught me to write those reports in a detailed concise logical manner using the information he had already taught me to read and remember. He always emphasized to not be stuck in a habit of reading only one genre of literature but to read all types to gain a full appreciation of everything written.

I never kept a diary. Oh, I owned diaries, a cute pink vinyl Miss Ponytail series, or later more “adult” type ones with cute little gold keys to hide somewhere private. But I never filled those diaries beyond the “If found, please return to…..” line or the “This diary is the private diary of ….” line. I was not willing to write out my private thoughts for someone else to read. The very thought of someone finding the book and reading my thoughts terrified me. What would they think of me? Would they think me crazy? Or would they think me conceited that I could possibly think anyone would be interested in me? My cheeks would burn in shame at such thoughts – and yet I enjoyed writing assignments in school. Just not my own personal diary type thoughts written in neat little books.

Every holiday since I was a newborn my grandmother would send me a card, an Easter or Christmas, or even a Halloween card. Later they would become a wedding card, congratulations on the new baby card, baptism cards. Then soon each baby would begin to receive their own special cards from her. Now they are neatly tucked away in scrapbooks to be read again and again. Through all of my college years, every week the mailbox would hold a beautiful envelope addressed to me in her neat handwriting. I would love those missives from home. There would often be a cartoon or little newspaper clipping tucked inside. I would answer her back writing letters on lined notebook paper.

When my dad passed away I realized he was truly gone when there were no more bags of books being dropped off along with the admonition to not let little hands tear or scribble pages. How I missed those books! No more talks about which story was the most interesting or about some new unusual find detailed in the pages of the magazine. Soon after my grandmother also passed away. Suddenly my mailbox was also empty of the cards I so loved. No more beautiful scented stationary or pastel envelopes with pretty flower decals on the back sealing the flap or with neat address labels pasted in the upper left corners.

I began to find myself drawn to boxes of all occasion cards. Two for one sales at Hallmark Cards enticed me more than other sales. Flea market books stalls lure me with their rows and stacks of old books, drawing me to browse for hours feeling their old jackets and reveling in the smells of old books. A trip to Barnes and Noble is a favorite way to while away a day. It is the wonderful collections of journals that now tempt me. Not the cutesy diaries of my youth, but the luscious leather embossed journals filled with lined pages begging me to write in them. They call to me to pour out all of my thoughts, my personal dreams and fears and aspirations and ramblings. Delicate rice paper books and elegant linen stationary beg me to take them home. Who will I write such important letters to? Who will read these letters and journals? Maybe no one will want to read them. Maybe they will simply be tucked away hidden from everyone only to be burned someday instead of read. I only know that for now I must write, I must fill them. It is something burning inside of me that cannot be ignored, cannot be denied. Is this then some act of DNA, something passed from mother to son to me? I do not know if my grandmother wrote to me because she wanted to stay in touch with her granddaughter or if it was something more for her. I know she loved me unconditionally and shared that love in every letter and card, not ashamed for anyone else to read her private emotions so beautifully written out. Was she also driven by some force of DNA to write instead of calling on the phone? She never said. I do know this legacy of the love of the written word and the power it holds is one she passed to her son who then passed it on to me. It came also from my mother who could not deny the call to write. Was she also passed a speck of DNA that compelled her? Is this love of the written word imprinted deeply, so deeply in our family DNA? I only know as I hold those poems, those books, those magazines, those cards and letters, I sense again their love and know that this is the legacy I hope to pass to my sons and their children.

Master of Lists…or ?

March 26, 2009 at 16:49 | Posted in Bits and Pieces | Leave a comment
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I am the original authoress of lists – seriously – I must have invented the concept – or at least I perfected it (?) – I certainly have managed to take it to a new art form. I will grab a scrap of paper and write a list anytime anywhere. Speaking of scraps of paper, I never met one I did not like so I am also very good at saving scraps of paper – old envelope backs are wonderful, cut bottoms off partially used papers, turn over misprint pages, etc. Anyway, once more in my life I digress. I love to write lists.

I find myself rewriting these lists to consolidate and re-date them. There is comfort in seeing all my bills listed in neat (or not so neat) rows, tallied at the bottom. To the side paychecks are listed and subtracted. Sort of like a budget maybe? (he he) Or how about long lists of tasks to be done, things to not forget to do. It seems at time my time is so over-scheduled, it is easy to forget to do something. Did I remember to write down sleep on any of this week’s lists? An agenda list is nice to have. Then there are those long time lists, the goals, the things I would like to accomplish in my life. And places to visit. My favorites places folder on my PC is FULL of those lists. Everything neatly categorized – until I try to find something I know I read somewhere once before – sigh.

But these lists are not an obsession. I can survive for days without thinking about one and I certainly do not obsess when I lose one or do not have paper at hand to write one down. There is no stress in not making or reading lists. It is just a de-stresser for me when I do have a list to cross off as I go along. A safety valve of sorts to be sure I have not forgotten something when I am so busy all of the time to take enough time to not forget something. Phew. Anyway no stress about it as I go along crossing off my lists if something is undone — well, let me qualify that. There is some stress on the bill thingy part – unpaid bills are stressful, especially if not paid because I forgot them or forgot to cross them off the list (we are NOT going to talk unpaid because I ran out of money first – THAT is beyond stressful and worthy of its own blog). Usually within a few days all items are crossed off of one list and it is crumbled and tossed or shredded. Soon another list is started on another scrap of paper. Sometimes months later I will find an old list in a book or in an unused purse. It is fun then to see what was finished, what was accomplished, what is still undone (that bedroom floor comes to mind here).

I often wonder now if blogging isn’t just another form of lists? An extension of writing lists as we try to make sense of life around us or a hobby, a passion? A list like a blog is a tool to organize our thoughts.  Pleasure and relaxation can become objects of guilt if we are neglecting those other pesky necessary details of life. If we cross off enough of those, do we earn free time, me time? Or is it the me time that gives me the impetus to cross off more of the obligations times?

So it is the same with blogging for me. It allows me to sort and list, to organize, to cut through all the little details, to find the nugget at the center. And it becomes the ultimate list of myself – here and now – and the travel back to family long ago as I do research. It is a comparison list of now against then as I use it to guide me forward and backward towards family and myself.

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