Archive | September, 2010

Belated apology to my brother

28 Sep

Jake, I’m sorry for making your younger days harder than they had to be. It was selfish of me to snatch toys, to insist they all belong to me, even the non-toxic chew toys my 5-year-old mouth no longer needed. I’m sorry for jumping in front of cameras and requiring there be more photos of me than of you hanging around the house. I’m sorry I hid my resentment of you by “hugging” you when you were trying to crawl or walk; I knew walking was one of the few abilities that separated you as a baby from me as a “big kid.”

Also, belated apologies to Mom and Dad for my part in making the second try more difficult. I’m sure I had my unreasonable, uncompromising moments, and I know how unattractive that can be.

Finally, big-time apologies to any former babysitters who just got thrown into that situation.

Now, any advice on how to deal with that?

Italy is wonderfully obliging

26 Sep

Especially when it comes to living up to expectations. Most of those stereotypes that people hold in their head about Italy have turned out to be based on reality. For example, everyone actually eats gelato, from school kids to businessmen. That’s pretty much all they eat during the day, as the huge number of cigarettes they smoke dulls their appetites. They actually live a slower pace of life, closing for a three-hour siesta every day after lunch.

And they don’t mess around with dinner. Colin and I went with Jane, Lars, and Justin to the Osteria Broccaindossa on Friday night for a wonderful exercise in stuffing ourselves.

The waiters brought out at least eight different antipasti dishes, including deep-fried baguette with sautéed zucchini, mini eggplant parmigiana, bean salad, green salad, cheese with a little comfiture, beans and wienies, and a couple different quiches. Those were the appetizers.

Then they brought out meat-filled tortellini in broth, cheese-filled tortelloni in a butter-sage sauce, and tagliatelle with ragu. Since I couldn’t help with the meat pastas, they pushed almost all of the tortelloni my direction.

Stuffed though I was, there was no way I was passing on il dolce. Jane and I selected the crème caramel and the cream puffs with dark chocolate sauce, and the boys only just managed a few nibbles. Absolutely delicious.

I know there are dozens of restaurants in Bologna that we should try, but I’m already thinking of excuses to go back to Osteria Broccaindossa. Will someone come to visit already?

Foto Friday: Yearning

24 Sep

Normally in these situations, I would call Mom

23 Sep

Unfortunately that’s just not an option right now. During my sophomore year of college, the first time I was responsible for managing my own kitchen, phone calls to Mom leading right up to dinnertime were a frequent occurrence.

I really enjoy cooking, but it also stresses me out a little bit. I get sorta flustered. And I still rely pretty heavily on the experience of Mom and the Grandmas for the dishes I learned from them.

Italy doesn’t make the whole process easier. I admire the intimacy of small shops that specialize in fruit or cheese or bread or wine, but it makes it difficult when I’m searching for something a little different—like ground coriander, or elastics for my hair. Of course there are supermarkets, and they usually stock what you need or something close enough, but I struck out looking for the spices I need to make Mom’s refried beans yesterday.

Yup, that's a mortar. Somewhere nearby is a pestle.

"Hey Mom? Is it supposed to look like this?"

I also knew I wouldn’t find cheddar or jack cheese here (for less than €30/kg), so I found an Italian cheese listed as a substitute for jack cheese and went looking for that. No luck, but the cheese man suggested another kind—a substitution for my substitution. They turned out pretty good; no photos, as beans aren’t overly photogenic.

Usually I’m my own worst enemy in the kitchen. For example, today I made a spinach-ricotta pie to take to a potluck tonight, and I completely forgot to take the rolled dough out of the freezer until I was ready to pop everything in the oven. Two hours of thawing time? Merda.

Faster, faster!

Long-legged misery

22 Sep

As a budget traveler who needs at least 30 inches of inseam, this article makes me feel conflicted and, well, cramped. At a recent airplane tech show, some company unveiled a new “stand-up” seat with about two-thirds of the space of a regular coach seat. The writer described it not like “riding a horse,” as the manufacturer suggested, but like being wedged in a stand-up roller-coaster seat.

It’s one more incentive not to get on a damn airplane. No one has actually installed these yet, but the airline I’m likely to fly on when we do any traveling here, Ryan Air, is chomping at the bit to put these in.

Honestly, I’d be happy limiting the trips that require flights anyway. I wouldn’t have expected that three-month trip to have any lingering effects on my psyche, but I get almost anxious when we go away for the day. Luckily, Bologna’s in a pretty good location to explore a lot of Italy; I could even get to Rome in just over two hours on the train.

I do want to take advantage of being in Europe, of course. I’d like to go back up and explore the Baltic states, and Colin and I are talking about going to Croatia for his spring break. We discussed a trip to Germany in the winter, and apparently a group of students are planning a school-related weekend trip to Morocco. Colin will have three-day weekends every other week during the first semester, so we’ll have a few opportunities to go a little farther than Parma and Pisa.

Cheese, please!

21 Sep

It’s been too long since the last update, I know. You can blame my current read, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, borrowed from a guy in Colin’s program. It’s a really good read, compelling enough that I keep reading long after I should go to bed, rich enough that I want to stop and put it down for a few hours so I can digest. It’s an omniscient narrator, probably God, and Russell gives enough hints to make sure readers get it. Some readers might find that annoying—I have with other works—but she found a good balance for me.

Plot? The first mission to meet intelligent creatures living on another planet. The astronauts are missionaries sent by the Catholic Church, as well as a few (more) brains to ensure they survive the trip. The chapters alternate between the trip and the months after the return of only one survivor.

I’ve been busy with other stuff too. Our soccer match ended in a draw on Thursday night, ensuring peace in the house until the championship tournament comes around in a few weeks.

And a group of us went to Parma on Saturday to attend the Festival del Prosciutto. I abstained, opting for a pizza, some legit Parmigianino cheese, and a glass of sparkling red wine. In our group was a girl who’d grown up in Parma, and she made a wonderful guide.

The crazy sun dials that we couldn't even try to figure out--cloud cover.

The star of the show.

No room under the tent, so we lunched on the stairs of a nearby church.

Rachel and I did a balsamic vinegar tasting after lunch.

And then we found a renaissance fair!

The ren fair came with a marching band.

A link, some pizza, and a writing contest

16 Sep

I can’t promise that I won’t continue to link to articles I read in the New York Times. I’m trying to restrict myself, I am. Just ask Colin about my recent effect on his email inbox.

But I think this story is talking about a real step forward, in that it’s kind of a step backward. The FDA is maybe/hopefully/possibly going to ban the use of antibiotics in pork production. They’re only focusing on the antibiotics that farmers use to make the pigs grow faster, but there are plenty of people calling for an end to the use of the drugs for disease prevention.

In the mean time, you could always eliminate pork from your diet, skipping the pepperoni pizza in favor of the Arlecchino.

Tomato, mozzarella, spinach, and panna. Plenty for two meals, possibly three.

In other news, my friend and former Nexite Sabrina entered a writing contest and said she didn’t mind if I did the same. It’s fun to read the little blurbs, and you can vote for mine at this link, and hers at this one. It does ask would-be voters to create an account, and I totally will not be offended if anyone doesn’t want to do that.

Actually busy days in Bologna

14 Sep

My evenings this week suddenly filled up. Had a girls’ night at a favorite apertivo place tonight and then joined a new friend trying out a modern dance class. I’m already feeling it, and I know I’m going to be a bit slower watching the baby tomorrow. Luckily Matilda has a play date. Thursday is my soccer team’s first game of the season; we face off against Colin’s team in what will surely be an intense match. Friday I’m watching both girls, forcing me to miss out on the first meeting of the SAIS cooking club. And Saturday we’re hopefully taking off for the full day to go to Parma for the Prosciutto Festival. Don’t fret, Mom–I’ll be eating cheese.

Italy and immigrants

13 Sep

The number-one story on the New York Times web site this morning was an interesting feature discussing Chinese immigrants in Italy, and the tensions that are arising from the situation. The article focuses on the town of Prato, world-renowned for its high-quality textile industry. In the last twenty years, Chinese have been immigrating to Prato, legally and illegally, by the tens of thousands and setting up workshops of their own. The Prato chamber of commerce reports that Chinese-owned textile businesses now outnumber those owned by Italians.

The situation in Prato is breeding resentment on both sides. Prato’s first conservative mayor since WWII accused the Chinese of bringing “noise, bad habits, prostitution,” and won his seat partly by feeding fears about a “Chinese invasion.” The immigrants accuse the authorities of racism and unfairly cracking down on their businesses while turning a blind eye to the Italian-run businesses that are also not following the lax laws of the land. The Chinese defended their work, saying they had moved into a stagnant economy and created jobs by shaking things up in Prato with the innovation of pronto modo, fast fashion.

Growing up in a San Diego suburb, I’m not unfamiliar with the tensions that can arise from immigration issues.

Bologna isn’t really facing this problem: almost 90 percent of the residents of Bologna are Italian. The largest group of immigrants mostly comes from Eastern Europe; every day you can see Roma women with their babies asking for change on the streets radiating out from the central piazza.

People from Bangladesh make up less than 1.5 percent of Bologna’s population, but they have a corner on the kebab and alimentari markets. Their snack shops and tiny markets stay open all day, every day, so if you have the munchies on the way home from Piazza Verdi or need a can of tomatoes to make dinner on Sunday, they make it possible. Convenient for me, but I’ve heard the Italians find it rather annoying. And on the street of produce stands, the fruit at the Bangladeshi stalls is $0.50/kg cheaper than that at the Italian stalls; Colin says the Italian stands can afford to do that because there are enough people who are more racist than they are budget-conscious.

Colin wanted to do a research project on the watering-down of cultures as English moves into small communities and replaces the indigenous languages, and I think that same idea applies with this. The Italians (and the French and the Germans) are very opposed to the watering-down of their culture. It’s illegal in Italy to label cheese Parmigiano unless it was made in Parma. The founder of Florence allegedly ordered the murder of a man who had gotten a hold of some of the city’s silk-making secrets.

This fast fashion coming out of Prato is Chinese-made with Chinese materials, but still labeled “Made in Italy.” Knowing the level of quality of the clothes I bought in Taiwan, I don’t blame the Italians for being concerned with what this is doing to their brand.

But I think the burden falls on Italy to tighten up its laws if people want things to change. And apply those laws to everyone, not just the immigrant communities. The governments are meeting next month, and this issue will undoubtedly be on the agenda.

Another perspective

11 Sep

Loved my account of that three-month “vacation” so much you could hear the story again? Colin’s been scribbling like mad the past few days to catch up, and you can find his country-by-country perspective (still a work in progress) at Dis Aliter Visum.