Thursday, January 30, 2014

What We Miss

While living in Italy for seven months out of the year, it's inevitable that we're going to miss a few things from our home home. Usually these cravings kick in after the holidays as the month of January drags on and on. We're in the final stretch of our stay here - yes, it's a long way until April, but it's also a long way from September when we first arrived. Aside from our family and friends (of course), what we miss the most is not magazines or movie theaters but rather the variety of different types of food that we have back home.

Obviously we love Italian food. And we are now experts on the specialties of Northern Italy. The food is delicious here, of course - carbonara, canederli, casunziei, pizzas with bresaola and granna, little sandwiches with speck and pickles, cervo - what's not to love? But sometimes you just want something a little different, you know? When those cravings kick in we make our own Mexican food using spices brought from home. We venture to the next town over to visit their "Chinese food" restaurant. We occasionally eat sushi if we're in a city where there's a Japanese restaurant (although the closest one to us is over an hour away).

These days, I'm trying to think of things I can make at home using the ingredients we have in our little valley....then it occurred to me that I could make hummus! Hummus is one of those things that we eat all the time at home, in salads, on crackers, dripping off carrot sticks, but you can't buy it in the grocery store here. And so, as a last-few-days-of-January treat, I made homemade roasted garlic hummus (from this recipe).

And just for fun, a few of the things that we would never find in Cortina:
  • Baking supplies like brown sugar, chocolate chips, liquid vanilla extract and condensed milk
  • Canned pumpkin for making pumpkin pies and pumpkin breads in the fall
  • Cumin, chili powder and any other spice that isn't basil, oregano, tarragon, rosemary or thyme
  • Sesame oil for making noodle dishes with - and scallions and Sriracha for that matter, so that's really out
  •  Anything that comes in a packet that you "just add water" to in order to make it, such as gravy - ha! Never.
  • Peanut butter
...and on the flip side - the one thing that I can't find at Safeway back home and that we CRAVE when we're not in Italy is a big hunk of fresh Parmesan cheese. Italy has ruined us forever in the Parmesan cheese department and we've become huge Parmesan snobs. Oh well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Adventures in Italian Cooking

For my birthday a few weeks ago our neighbor gave me a real live Italian cookbook - like, IN Italian. I'd been staring at it for a while and trying to guess at some words that I don't know and on Friday night I finally decided to jump right in and make a whole dinner from it (with the help of Google Translate).

Since in Italy, we eat in courses, I made an appetizer before the main course. For this, I decided on Insalata con Pancetta Affumicata because "pancetta affumicata" is Ryan's favorite Italian word. It means bacon. So maybe it's his favorite English word too, come to think of it.

For the main course I made Pacchettini di Pollo e Mozzarella. What I didn't realize was that there was a red sauce that goes under the "pacchettini" that you also have to make - it doesn't come out of a can. And I really didn't want to cut corners, because this was my project. So I chopped the tomatoes one by one and I roasted the red pepper myself instead of buying a jar of pre-roasted ones, although I did skip the part of the recipe that said to take the broiling hot pepper out of the oven and cool it in a plastic bag....what?!

I made educated guesses and Google-translated my way through the recipes, learning a few new words in the process, and everything turned out deliciously (4 hours later).

My favorite part of the night was when I went to translate a sentence that I didn't understand and somehow the word for salt (sale) in it's singular form which is never used except for in this recipe (sala) turned up on the translator as "Union Hall." Hmmm....

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This is Italy

Living in Italy is a wonderfully fun adventure that definitely has its quirks. We say the phrase "this is Italy" a lot in my family (even before Ryan and I moved here), which stems from the time my parents were on their honeymoon in Lake Como and their luggage was lost. My mother went down to the front desk to ask if they knew when the airline might possibly deliver the luggage, and the man stared at her, shrugged, and said "this is Italy."

After living and traveling in Italy on and off for three years now, we certainly have our own set of "this is Italy" moments that we've collected.

There was my own luggage story: without fail, every year that we've arrived in Venice, one of our bags has not arrived with us. We shuffle over to the Lost Baggage window to report it, and they ask us for our address in Cortina where they can deliver the bag "should it turn up." But we never know our address until we get up here, as year to year we aren't sure where we'll be living until we show up on the door step. Last year, it was my LL Bean duffel that was lost in the travel, and we listed the address of friends in Cortina that I had learned by heart before we left, just in case. The woman in the Lost Baggage window wrote down the information, nodded, and sent us on our way and we came up to Cortina without the bag. Three days later, there was still no sign of my bag. Calling the airlines to ask literally makes it worse, so I waited and waited. "At least you aren't on vacation!" said Ryan, "At least you still have two of your bags!" Yes, but of course not the one with my sneakers and face lotion. On the fifth day, I arrived back at our apartment after a trip to the grocery store and my bag was sitting alone in our hallway, having been delivered by the airline (not to the address I gave them, but to the right address, nevertheless). As I went to unzip it to free my sneakers and go for a walk, I noticed tags plastered all over the bag that indicated that after being lost in Frankfurt (where our layover was), the bag had traveled to the Middle East before making its way to Venice. I still can NOT figure out how that happened.

There was the time we moved to our new apartment this year and didn't get hooked up to the internet for four weeks. For ONE MONTH. In week one, Ryan had discussions with the team management on what type of internet would be best to get. In week two, the management forgot about us. In week three, Ryan asked an Italian friend for help in getting the internet. In week four, the internet company showed up every other day drilling holes in the wall, shooting cables through the door and testing which way the wind was blowing, until they were finally able to connect us. A month later.

Then there was the time this winter, when we discovered a patch of mold in the corner of our living room. We called the team manager, and asked what we should do, he called the team president to ask what we should do, and HE called the owners of our apartment to ask what we should one giant game of telephone, but with a moldy wall in the middle of it. We got the mold taken care of with a spray that cleans it off (and probably will kill us too), but in the midst of all this, the owners told Alberto that we had our heat on too much which was the reason we had mold. This outraged me because I grew up in a house where my mother constantly told the babysitters "Sorry, we keep our house cold, if you need a jacket, there are some in the closet." I keep the heat at 18 degrees Celsius which is only SIXTY FOUR DEGREES FAHRENHEIT! That's what my own non-heat-turning-on mother turns the heat down to at night and this is what I have it on during the day! I took this very personally. Instead of leaving our heat at 18 all the time, they suggested, why didn't we keep it off and wait until we were completely freezing and then turn it up to 25 or THIRTY for a bit until we warmed up. Just so you know, 30 Celsius is 86 degrees.

Of course there was the time when we didn't know how to recycle.

And then there was the time that I was having a conversation with an Italian friend of mine. We were driving, and discussing what happens when you hit a deer (we were on a stretch of road that is infamous for having rogue deer that dart out at any point in time). She asked me what happened at home if you hit a deer and I told her nothing, except that it's sad and sometimes your car is ruined. She then explained to me that the rules on hitting deer in Italy differ by province. Your car insurance never covers the damage unless you pay for a separate "deer hitting package" which is very expensive, so you have to pay for everything yourself. "But," she told me, concluding the conversation, "after you hit the deer, you get to keep it."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January Risotto

This month it's snowed a LOT which is good for two things: skiing and piping hot meals. For January's risotto, I flipped through my cookbook and picked the the one that looked the warmest and coziest: chicken and mushroom risotto.

As I've cooked more and more risottos, I've started to deviate away from the original recipes a bit, substituting a few ingredients for ones that I can find more easily in our region, cutting down on the butter (!!), and changing up portion sizes - but two things always stay the same: the onion and the celery! Here's what I did:

Simmer 4 cups of chicken broth on the stove while you chop up one onion, one rib of celery, a few mushrooms (the original recipe called for portobello which would be delicious but we don't have those right now, so I used what I had, which was white button mushrooms), and two or so cloves of garlic.

Melt 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat and add the onion, garlic and celery, and cook a while until soft - about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile in a smaller pan, cook the chopped mushrooms for a few minutes in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. I like my mushrooms to be a bit firmer and not soggy, so I only cook them for 3 or so minutes. Once they're cooked how you like them, remove them from the pan and set aside. Add 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts to the same pan and cook through. When the chicken is done cooking, remove it from the heat and let it cool. Once it's cooled, shred it.

Back to your vegetable mixture - add the Arborio rice once the celery and onions are soft. These days I'm doing 3/4 of a cup for two people, for two main course servings. Stir the rice around so it gets coated in the butter and add 1 cup of white wine. Once the wine is absorbed, you can start adding the broth, one ladle at a time, and stirring in between each addition.

When the rice has taken all the broth that it wants, add in the shredded chicken, mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, a bit of tarragon, and about 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.

 Serve immediately and warm up from the inside out!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Best Week

We've been SO busy this past week with lots of fun things: a birthday dinner on Friday night at my favorite restaurant in Cortina, a big win for the team on Saturday night (they beat Brunico 4-0), a hike on Sunday that led to lunch up at the top of a mountain,  homemade pasta making (more on that soon), skiing, and then a trip to Fassa for the night on Tuesday.

Here's a few pictures, if you'd like to see:

Last Sunday was a beautiful, warm day so we decided to hike up the hill behind our house to see what was on the other side. We came across a ski and sledding area with a chair lift, which Ryan remembered went up to a rifugio that he had been to last year. So we hopped on and rode it up to have lunch at the rifugio and watch the skiers.

On Monday I did some skiing myself while the weather was so lovely. Isn't the sun incredible in this picture?! Finally the crazy Christmas-fur-people have departed so I had the slopes to myself which was fantastic.

On Tuesday we drove to Fassa which is a valley made up of several towns an hour and a half away. Our friends had invited us to dinner that night at this incredible restaurant where we ate things like soft boiled eggs with shaved truffles, thin slices of local trout, and pieces of red deer. The plates were amazing and the presentation was so artistic.


Have a good weekend and see you next week!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

5 Italian Habits We've Adopted

In our third year in Italy, it's only natural that a few aspects of Italian culture would sneak into our daily lives. Here's five habits we can't kick, even when we're back in Colorado:

1. Nap time. My dad will say that this isn't Italian! Everyone takes an afternoon nap and I learned this from him! But no....every day, from 12:30 to 3:30 all the stores close, we go home, eat lunch and rest. It's called riposo and it's a genius idea, and so Italian. At 3:30 everything starts up again, fresh and ready to go.When we're back in Colorado I get really tired after lunch, but unfortunately at home, unless you're a small child, it's not exactly socially acceptable to take a nap at 1 pm.

2. Going to the store every day. This habit started when we arrived way back in 2011. Our new refrigerator was what, at home, we call a "drink fridge" for storing beers in the garage. Literally only one days worth of food fit in it, plus necessities like wine, mayonnaise and half-empty jars of pesto. When we moved to a bigger apartment this year, we got upgraded to a larger refrigerator - still what you would think was tiny at home but quite large to us - plus, we lived farther away from the grocery store, so I was thinking that we could go every other day. Wrong. Going every day is a habit I can't kick and neither can anyone else here. I see the same people at the grocery store every day at 10 am, doing exactly what I'm doing, and shopping for the day. It's a little tiring in Colorado to go to King Sooper's every single day but I seriously can't help it.

3. Having a glass of prosecco at any time of the day. There are two rules in Italy: no cappuccinos after noon and no red wine before noon. But! You can drink prosecco whenever you feel like it! Sometimes - after my daily grocery store run - I go to my favorite cafe for a cappuccino (because it's around 10 am and therefore acceptable) and there will be the old men of Cortina reading the paper and drinking prosecco. At first I thought it was odd and now I don't even look twice. Sometimes I even join them.

4. Eating pasta for lunch. I may have fought this one for a while, but I just had to give up and give in. First of all, we're in pasta-land over here. Second of all, Ryan eats pasta for lunch on game days and when he's cooking up fresh broccoli from the farmers market and sausage laced with spicy bits of red pepper and throwing it all on top of orecchiette drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese that's only made two hours away....yeah, I'm going to be eating that.

5. Eating dinner at 9 pm. You know why Italians eat dinner so late? So they can finish everything they didn't do while they were napping from 12:30 to 3:30. Personally, we eat dinner late because Ryan often has practice in the evening and because we get made fun of if we say we're eating at 7. In Italy, aperitivo starts around 6 or 7 and goes until 8 or 9, when people go off to dinner. If you go to aperitivo in town, they'll give you slices of fennel bread with mortadella or speck, potato chips and peanuts, green olives and sometimes little sandwiches with tomato and mozzarella or mini pizzas, even. You eat this with a few glasses of wine, and of course you aren't hungry until 9! One time in Colorado last summer, I was getting hungry so I told Ryan I was going to start cooking dinner and he looked at me and said, "No. It's 6 pm. We can't eat at 6:30. It's time for aperitivo."

And 3 American Things We Just Can't Let Go Of:

1. Making a to-do list. When we first came to Italy, someone told us: "only expect to do one thing per day." This was sound advice, but come on. One thing?! Most days I try to do at least three.

2. Being on time. When there is a team gathering and we're supposed to meet somewhere at 7 pm (for aperitivo, of course), Ryan and I are consistently the first people there....and the ONLY people there for the first hour, usually.

3. Driving carefully. One of my favorite Italian stories is the time when Ryan asked our friend Giorgio what the road signs mean that have the number 70 with a slash between the 7 and the 0. "Oh," said Giorgio, "that's the suggested speed limit....but you don't have to obey it." Oh. Okay.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hello, 2014

Happy 2014! This is a bit late, I guess, but we're on Italian time after all! We are slowly but surely recovering from the daze of the holidays and getting back to normal, but we're so excited for this new year.

Ryan rocked his first bow tie to ring in 2014 in style
We have big plans! Making homemade pasta with our new pasta maker for one - that's coming up soon. Also homemade gnocchi and trying out lots of  recipes from our new Christmas cookbooks. Plus, soon I want to share a recipe that RYAN invented....we basically lived on this during our dark days, and it's so warming and cozy. I'm planning on lots of skiing this winter - I rented skis for the season and it snowed here all.weekend.long. Ryan has tons of games right now - remember you can follow the team here and here. We can't wait to watch the Olympics and take another trip in February. We're excited to learn some new things: how to make canederli, a few more Italian verbs, and what the best Italian cheese is.

It's going to be a great year, and it all starts now!