Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Book Club: The Lost Continent. Travels in Small Town America, Bill Bryson

You'll be glad to know that this post will take on less of a Book Report vibe and more of a Brief Summary of My Totally Random Opinions vibe since I can't quote from the book directly (gave my copy to Shelley while I was in Italy) and the idea of a book report is a little too homework-ish and that's boring.

When I read the title (obviously skimmed right over the sub-title), I didn't think this was going to be a book about Bill's travels around central and eastern US. To me, the US is about as un-lost a place as I could imagine. Mostly because I live in it, and am therefore able to put my finger right on it and say, "See! Here it is. The US is here. Not lost at all." But, as usually rings true, there's more to a book than it's title, cover, etc. And if you happen to read the subtitle you can bypass a lot of confusion altogether, I suppose. And then, too, it's about other things America has lost; like fit adults, safe streets for walking, taste for food that is not fast, culture in general, etc.

The "lost"-ness of the continent was about the little cities that get lost between his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa and 38 other east-ish of Iowa locales. Don't hold me to the exact states, because as I said before, my copy of this book now lives in Rome with it's adopted Italian family, eating better than all of us and learning to swear with its hands, so I'm unable to do my anal-retentive fact checking so you don't make fun of me and leave mean comments. So please, be gentle.

If you've read any of Bill's other books (Do you like how I call him Bill? Like he's my next door neighbor or something) you know the gist - he hops in the car (or on a train, bus, etc) and roams from town to town. When in town, he seeks accommodations and then goes about the town on foot to find their local pub, restaurant and tacky shopping establishment. During these standard activities he finds one million heart-stopping hilarities to comment on, while also giving himself a good rib and concluding with a summary on the town that may or may not deduce that the best thing to do in the town is to fall asleep in a hotel room while watching reruns and eating peanut butter cups.

I'll go right on and admit that this particular volume of Bill's travel stories wasn't my fave. But that's because I appear to have started with his newer stuff and worked backward. Which is kind of disappointing in the same way that turning on the WB to watch Simpsons reruns is when you realize they've caught up to the newest syndicated episode and now are starting over from #1 where Homer's voice is weird and Bart's face is all long.

But I did love Bill's description of his portly hometown women, the deadpan reviews of his father's thrifty family vacation tactics and the way he could always find something to remark upon about a town, even if it was just the wideness of their Wal-Mart aisles. I didn't find "Lost Continent" as enthralling to read as, say, "In a Sunburned Country", but that's probably because he was writing about Australia instead of Kentucky, and let's face it, I'd rather be down under than down south. Plus, everything is scarier, and therefore funnier, in Australia, and I felt a little more inclined to honk with laughter after I realized Bill's life might have been in certain danger during the writing of that book. Basically, I still found lots of funny nuggets to get me cackling in Lost Continent, but his voice was weird and I could tell his face was all long.

As a gesture of confidence in my theory I have already ordered his latest book which I anticipate to be at least as as funny as the other later works I've extra loved. And as a gesture of my proven laziness, I will note for you Bill's event calendar, and then tell you that as I'm writing this on 10/23 (pre-emptively reviewing since I finished the book about five minutes after I started book club) I'm not going to attend his 10/24 visit to SF because the mere thought of driving into the city after work makes me despondent and vaguely nauseous. And, really, I doubt he'd sign my boobs anyway.

What I will do is declare the next book in the club as his latest book (yes, the one I just ordered), The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, since it's on it's way and I know I'll throw down my current read of his that is suffering from Old Simpsons Syndrome as soon as it arrives.

And if you're bored of Bill already and want diversity in your reading, I will say that our *next* book will not be a Bryson, and might be fiction. So, if you want to hang out with me and read along through one more Bryson, YAY! And if not, well, you can do a lot of things that I won't spell out for you, but one of them has a bad word it in and rhymes with bite me.

Now, for the club-ish part of this - you guys fill up the comments section with your own summaries/comments/tales of public embarrasment so that we can all regale in the joy that is a shared read. Also, vote on the book (on the right ----->) and tell us what you really think.

AND in 6 weeks time, on 12/15, let us gather again to share our comments on the newest episode of Bill's, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

Oh, and Happy Dress Up Like a Freak Day.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Unexplained bacon

I worked from home on Friday. A nice little perk I like to take advantage of when I:

1.) Have a lot of work to get done and need to be in the chaos-free realm of my house in order to finish it all


2.) Have a lot of laundry to do

Friday qualified on both counts, so there I was clacking away on the laptop when Bubba pinged me to tell me that the aforementioned "Surprise wonderful thing" he'd aluded to at dinner the other night had arrived.


At my office.


And he was going to be in a meeting until wayyyyyyyyyy late and couldn't go by and get it.


And if it was left to sit over the weekend it would not be so wonderful on Monday when I returned to the office.


So, after exhausting all possible options that would both transport the Wonderful Surprise to my house AND keep me from having to put on regular clothes, it came down to me settling for flip flops with my ratty jeans and hoping to hell nobody I knew was in the lobby when I dashed in for the Wonderful Surprise that was now waiting with our receptionist.

Of course, if I were a less obsessive person or someone who wouldn't, say, trade democracy for a Wonderful Surprise, I might have let the thing sit over the weekend and then deal with whatever Wonderfulness may or may not still exist after three days sitting with our receptionist . But, we know I'm not like that and was obviously going to get my unexplained bacon one way or another.

*Sidenote: For those of you who are not avid Simpsons watchers (or Futurama, ATHF, Harvey Birdman, Drawn Together, Family Guy, Venture Bros, etc) , you may need to watch more animated TV shows in order to fully appreciate my posts. Plus it will enrich your life with immature laughter. Just a suggestion.

To sum up, no one saw me in my rattiness except the receptionist and the delivery person who was excited to see that the Wonderful Surprise they'd brought to my empty desk was being retrieved. And in case you haven't put 2 and 2 together yet, the Wonderful Surprise was the irises in the photo above.

Let me just say that getting flowers for no reason is as Wonderful as I've been led to believe. Also, I wish the hag from dinner the other night were here to see me now - boy, would she choke on that Cabernet.

The End.

OH! Don't forget - Our First Blogging Book Club is tomorrow and I expect you all to chime in with your comments/summaries/favorite moments/internal injuries that resulted from the book.

ALSO - I will let you know what the new book is. Good lord the suspense is too much, I know.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fall, food and evil bitches trying to ruin my good time

Everyday I leave work and see this in the parking lot. It's nice. After about a week of seeing this everyday it occurred to me to take a picture of it, since it'll just be a bunch of sticks soon and I'll be wishing I had not been so lazy to take the camera out of my purse on the way to the car.

Here's another shot for good measure.

You know what this kind of scene makes me want to do? Drink. But in a nice way. Like a take the hubby out for cocktails and a multi-course Greek meal way. And since I'm not in the business of denying my own whims, we went to dinner.

Oh and if it wasn't just exactly what I had in mind.

(Forgive the darkness, they turned the lights down for dinner...)
Some feta and olives...

Some nice zucchini fritters with a fancy Greek name I don't remember...

An excellent lamb shank with orzo...

A skewer-free Souvlaki (beneath Hubby's hungry face)...

And don't worry, there were drinks. And then some crunchy Greek-style coffee that confirmed for me why Italians are the better known coffee folks. And then a waddling/shuffling movement as we detached ourselves from the table. And then some evil stares from the hag sitting next to us who was clearly not having as much fun as we were. And then some inappropriate groping on the sidewalk after hubby walked me to my car (we met at the restaurant after work).

You know, now that I think about it, it is possible that we looked like two adulterers having a lewd dinner out unbeknownst to our spouses. Perhaps that is why Hagitha was giving us the not so nice looks throughout our dinner. We just could not have looked like a married couple out for dinner. No, no. We were enjoying ourselves a bit too much for that.

This seems to be an annoying recurring theme lately. That "people who think that as soon as you get married the fun is over" theme. It was certainly the theme at Hagitha's table. I overheard her husbeast ranting about some ridiculous business principle for the majority of their meal while she sat quietly and pickled herself with the house Cabernet. While at our table we were pickling ourselves with gin and whiskey and discussing, at length, where ever should we take our bodies skiing this winter.

Whoever instated that No Fun is to be Had After Marriage is retarded. Granted, we've only been hitched for two years, but if I'm drinking house Cabernet at the age of 50 and giving dirty looks to the drunk ski-lusting couple at the opposite table, feel free to cart me off to the far pasture and put me down.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Don't tell, but I'm knitting without a pattern [Now with fruit-flavored photos]

So we're going to see our super extra fab and cool friends in Arkansas over New Year's this year (their coolness is obvious since we're willing to travel to AR to see them) and I've been asked ever so nicely to replace a hat and pair of gloves that I crafted years ago. Seems the originals were left in a bakery freezer somewhere along the line and are (squeeeeeeeeal!) thoroughly missed.

Well, shucks. 'Spose I'll have to get out the needles and questionably huge basket of yarn and get to work on their replacements. The only part of that idea I didn't like was having to track down a pattern for an earflap hat and pair of fingerless man gloves that worked with any yarn in the growing heap. I'm kinda at the point where I don't want to be running out to get any more proprietary yarn. Actually, I'm at the point where I need to sit in my room, with the yarn heap, and think about what I did. I don't even think I can call it a stash anymore, since it is getting too big to be stashed anywhere.

Which is why I'm now knitting without a pattern. Because it came down to

A.) Find a pattern and buy the yarn


B.) Choose some semi-suitable yarn and make up a pattern

And guess which one I could do without leaving my couch? Yeah-huh. You got it. I'm lazy AND gluttonous with yarn. Aren't I the sexy one.

So after rescuing a couple hanks of grey wool tweed from the vast never-never of the stash, I sat down with the circulars and got to work on the hat, expecting all the while that I'd end up with a tweed pile of doody. And, for a while, it did look that way. I couldn't get my M1s to come out without leaving a gigantor hole. Eventually I turned to my so genius friend Caro for some M1 advice and came away happy. And the hat looks kick ass! I was so pleased with the un-doody like appearance of the final product that I crocheted coordinating edging which makes it all the fancier. I'll put up a picture and you can see what I mean. It got to the point where I was like, "This hat is, like, way better than the first stupid one I made anyway. I hope they can't even remember the old one cuz this one makes it look like crap."

*Update: Here's the picture I promised. See the fanc-Y edging? It'll be better once I block it, but for now - not bad.

Then in a moment of triumph I started the fingerless man gloves. Again - without a pattern. Risky business, I know. I had Bubba model for me, with his big man hands, and I now have one fully functioning fingerless man glove to inspire the remainder of my unguided crafting. Don't I lead the craziest life? I have high hopes for the final product.

*Update: Ok, so it's looking a little Flinstones-esque, but I think I'll like it more once it's been blocked and then worn by someone with less discriminating tastes. Hello, Arkansas.

And in case you're an extra suspicious and attentive reader, they used to run a bakery. Which is where the hat eating bakery freezer came from. It's not just taking up their entire Arkansas kitchen or something. Although, I do hear that shit is weird there.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Falls goods

Me: Bubba, isn't it so fall-ish out here?

Bubba: Yep.

Me: I just love that it's just so, you know, fall-ish. Crunchy under my feet. Leaves all different colors. You know?

Bubba: Yep, fall-ish.

Me: Right. You know.

I never said we were philosophers. But I do like fall, and it was looking rather fall-ish out this weekend. So, we walked in the crunchy leaves, I made random brainless comments and then I baked fall-ish things. And I blatantly ignored the unfall-ish temperatures outside because I knew it was retarded to be baking in 80 degree weather.

It is unfortunate that my desire to do/bake fall-ish things never coincides with actual fall-ish weather. I'm always early and I always end up doing this type of baking in a tank top and flip-flops.

But since I've already brought in the final harvest from the veg. garden and it's already week 7 in the NFL, the thermometer can fricken blow me, because I'm ready to bake.

I also got my delivery (via dump truck) of November magazines this week, and there were a billion recipes I wanted to try. This was from Sunset (yes, I'm a granny that subscribes to Sunset) and the recipe had me at "Polenta". Apparently my enthusiasm is somewhat naive because my mom-in-law reminded us, at hubby's rejoicing in the forthcoming meal, that "hey, you know that's just grits." Oh well, I still love it and the fact that it comes pre-made in a tube just sweetens the deal.

Let me be 100% honest here, it was real good. Like "gimme summore" good. And when you open the windows and trade jeans for capris, it helps with the sweating.

*Per Kelli's request, here's the recipe for this fab dish. Why I didn't link to the recipe in the first place is a mystery. BTW: I swapped the Bulk Italian Sausage with the Italian Chicken Sausage from Trader Joe's because real sausage skeeves me out. Also, don't forget to peel the gnarly casing off. Oh, ew. I'm actually gagging a little bit typing that. Ew.*

For dessert I made Martha's Pear-Sour Cherry Flat Pie.

It was fine.

I'd had high hopes, since hubby was so excited to have a cherry pie of any variety in our house (cherry pie is so nasty), and because I had brought a new, fun food into our house that hubby was thrilled to eat (puff pastry). But, in the end, hubby didn't throw his eyeballs back with ecstasy with the first bite or give me the finger when I tried to engage him in conversation while he was eating (signs of good baking). Although he did finish his first piece and then get another when he saw me dozing on the couch, so he might not have been lying when he told me really liked it.

Personally, I found it a little spicy, which is a weird characteristic for a fruit pie. This is because of the Chinese Five Spice in it, which I was suspicious of when I added it to the mix in the first place. Should have left that out. And, plus, you use dried cherries instead of fresh fruit which I find a little grody.

At the end of the day we both decided that it'd be good for breakfast with a strong cup of coffee. Or as a dessert as long as it was buried underneath the dessert band-aid, a heap of vanilla ice cream. I prolly won't make it again. I might try the pie version, but only because there's no Five Spice in it and I need to put all these leftover dried tart cherries into something. After that, no more cherry pie. EW.

What I will be using more of is puff pastry. I got an extra enthusiastic thumbs up from Bubba at any/all of the puff pastry recipes I presented, so I'll add that to the list. I kinda see this as an extension of the All Pie All the Time mantra in our house. So, during my carboholic weekends when I release the floodgates of my naughty eating behavior, I'll try to put something good into puff pastry so I can get that drooling look of food bliss from Bubba that I so strive to achieve.

Monday, October 16, 2006

On assignment in Rome

Of course I'm not lucky enough to have official business in Rome (although my tactics become even more covert and strategic the more I visit), but during this trip I was gifted a unique and blissful project that I could not resist.

Imagine it as though you are Finny...

You are in one of the world's great cities, wandering the terrace of your friend's apartment, scanning the rooftops of scenic Trastevere. Perhaps you are drinking wine. Certainly you are taking photos. There is the promise of an obscenely delicious Roman meal only hours in your future. You are mildly drunk. Your friend saunters out onto the patio, toting her own glass of chilled white wine. You engage in the kind of joyous banter that builds between two close friends who don't get to gossip nearly enough. Her sweet kitties weave between your feet and mew softly, exposing their (big) bellies for scratching. The sun is beginning to set behind a bell tower only visible to those lucky enough to be five floors above street level, basking in the glow of an October afternoon. You feel utterly content and your cheeks are beginning to ache from nonstop laughter. But something is missing.

What could possibly be wrong?

There is no scent of lavender on the breeze. You are not within arm's reach of a trowel. You see a rogue weed sprouting up from the lemon tree pot. You see a hydrangea in dire need of shade. You see a bougainvillea that needs ruthless pruning. There are hanging pots without cascading flowers. You are just a few tiny steps from earthbound perfection with no way to achieve it!

Until your wise and generous friend takes one look at your psychotic gaze and suggests cheerfully (mercifully), "Hey, would you want to help me set up a garden up here?"

You realize you have the most intuitive and generous friends on the planet. Barely able to maintain your grasp on the wineglass, you smother a squeal of excitement and embrace your friend while mumbling promises of greenery and flora she has never imagined.

To make a long and dramatic story short, Shelley asked me if I would want to help her garden. On her rooftop terrace. In Rome. With only my own vision to guide me.

Um, yes please.


And thus began my newly discovered dream of combining so many things I love; food, wine, gardening, friends, Rome, fall - into one big slaphappy event.

Now, of course, I couldn't wait to get started. I believe I immediately began rearranging furniture without finishing my wine, or even putting my glass down for that matter . So, you know I didn't get good "Before" shots with which to perform an impressive HGTV-ish comparison. I know, I know, I'll never make it on Curb Appeal with behavior like this. Perhaps you'll forgive me if I just show you lots and lots of "After" shots.

We started at Eurogarden,a multiacre gardening establishment the gargantuan-ness of which I am still having a hard time comprehending. It was simply huge. And situated cross traffic from ancient ruins and an historical rose garden dating back to the middle ages. Well, shucks.

Obviously I ran from the still-moving car toward the garden wagons. This was no time to worry ourselves with parking the car properly. Almost breaking out into a frenzied sweat I wandered the open-air aisles of the herb and flowering shrub area with forgiving Shelley in tow. It took us all of ten minutes to load down the wagons with enough lavender, mint, thyme, sage, lantana and succulents to outfit a terrace twice the size. We had no restraint. We piled on bulbs, sprinkler fittings and seeds (for the ever necessary plot of cat grass) waist high before we hauled our extra-full wagons to the conveyor belt (why haven't we begun employing this method of plant checkout in the States, yet?) for checkout. I was nearly effervescent with excitement. I'm sure the clerk thought me mildly insane.

Moments later we were hauling boxes to the car and then searching frantically for parking in Trastevere so that we could bring all the plants upstairs and ready them in their new, freshly sprinkled, homes. Of course, this business of hauling and parking and hauling some more was a project in itself (see Miracle in Rome at the end of this post), but I'll save the commentary by saying only that there was a lot of sweating, four flights of extremely steep and tiresome stairs, some swearing (mostly by me) and no plants were harmed in the process. Although the Cinquecento may never be the same. Full to capacity as it was.

And, after a few hours of planting, hauling some more (all the soil didn't make it up in the first trip), reorganizing of sprinklers, aggressively pruning, weeding, fertilizing, sweeping, arranging and repeating - the terrace was done. Planted. Arranged to allow for parties and merriment. Available for reading, relaxing and contemplating the beauty of Rome. And now, existing thousands of miles from me and my US-based coffee cup. Boo hoo, I know.

In the midst of all of this intercontinental gardening a small miracle was witnessed by the two souls. The miracle of finding parking in Trastevere in under five minutes. Don't believe me (and who could blame you?):

Clearly, our mission was blessed and the garden was meant to be. Let us not speak of the hike that followed the miraculous parking job, as it wasn't pretty and I said a lot of bad words.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mountains, sea

It's not unusual for my trips to Rome to include side trips to other cities. Mostly because my fabulous friends are also adventurous travelers in addition to being incredible hosts. It is also not unusual for these trips to be motivated by food.

Last time I was in Rome we went on side trips to Tuscany (amazing steak and gnocchetti with truffle sauce), Montalcino (wine) and Montevarchi (Prada - ok, so sometimes these trips are motivated by shopping). This time we side-tripped to Arcinazzo (bistec alla brace and a taverna serving incredible lamb) and Ischia (Naples style pizza). Somehow Ale has come to know the location of the best restaurant in each Italian town/city/sweeping countryside and he appears to take great pride in sharing this knowledge with me when I come to town.

Well, darn.

Arcinazzo is one of those towns, perched on a picturesque mountaintop that could only exist in Italy, that makes you question it's authenticity just for the unrelenting beauty of it all. This is where I started my "I can't believe this is real" mantra. Because, still, I can't believe it is real.

Take for instance the view from the terrace:

That can't be real, can it? It seems possible that I've been ruined by one too many Disney crafted attractions in my day to look at something like this and be able to accept it at face value. But there it is, incredible as all get out, just sitting right outside the shutters of Ale's family's mountain home. And, apparently, it's looked just like that for, oh, a thousand years or so. Another concept I have a hard time wrapping my American brain around when in Italy. You know, since everything there is incredibly old, historically significant and utterly gorgeous. You just don't see places like this in the US that aren't crafted by some salivating, hand-wringing evil corporation trying to capture the bank accounts of luxuriant billionaires.

And if all that weren't enough, we wandered down to Subiaco during the day to look around the Benedictine monasteries. These are from, oh you know, the middle ages. They are wildly beautiful with intact ancient frescoes, gardens originally planted by Benedict himself and seated atop a lush mountainside that had me gaping with bug-eyed wonder. It's no wonder Benedict holed himself up here for three years. I had a mind not to leave myself.

Once all my shameless gawking was satisfied, we went on to have lunch. Now, I don't know about you, but rustic Italian fare in an old mountaintop taverna sounds just about my style. And when they keep bringing more local wine in hand-sealed bottles, well that is just an invitation to kick back, relax and indulge until teetering drunk and grotesquely full. Bless our waitress who was also tending to a busload of awnry Italian tourists who chose to indulge a little too heartily in the local vino and were thus making enormous asses of themselves. She was close enough to sainthood to have moved across the valley to the monastery herself.

Once finished with our extravagant lunch (or made to throw our hands in the air in surrender) we headed back to Arcinazzo to find dinner and partake in the lovely fall ritual of roasting chestnuts by the fire. Dinner we found, in the form of two enormous steaks reminiscent of those enjoyed by the Flintstones family, but the chestnuts were a whole other story.

As it turns out there is a local phenomenon known as Giovedi (Thursday) which means that you can not and will not be able to find any particular type of produce on this day of the week due to delivery schedules and the like. So, we drove through numerous mountain towns, in ignorant disbelief that an entire region would adopt such an inconvenient routine, until we'd visited every produce market within a 25 mile radius and received only one response to our chestnut inquiry: Hands folded across ones chest and a knowing nod followed by, "Bah! Giovedi."

So much for our foray into the timeless tradition of roasted chestnuts. Good thing we still had the steaks to capture our curiosity. Just try to tell me that the sight of these doesn't make you want to saw a giant hole in your cars' firewall and go running out for a brontosaurus burger.

Ischia was a new one on me, since it involved sea travel, something we hadn't included in any of our previous out-of-Rome jaunts. Before we could get to our presumably sea-worthy vessel, however, we had to pass through the towns of Pompei and Naples, which appeared to be some sort of pennance. Pompei is inaucuous, as far as towns known historically for being buried beneath lava flow can be, but Naples was another story altogether.

As we drove, or more accurately, flew low, on our way to Naples, Ale regaled me with horror stories of Naples and it's citizens. Many stories that had the underlying theme of anarchy, lawlessness and, well, horror. At this point in my Italian travels, I was not ready to accept that in a country that had such beauty as seen in Tuscany, Rome, Arcinazzo, Montalcino, etc that there also existed a town buried in garbage, half on fire and willing to block entire thoroughfares for the sake of a soccer game that didn't provide adequate parking.

Oh, for my innocence.

I won't go into extravagant detail, and I won't even include photos (in case you're trying to eat lunch right now or something) but Naples is something of a dump. Specifically, it's people treat it like one. At one point, mercifully toward the end of our trek through town on our way to the pier, we paused briefly before making a left turn and I watched Ale wrinkle his nose and roll up his window. Why? Oh because we had pulled up alongside a hillside of garbage that was approximately 10 car-lengths long, shoulder height and ON FIRE. Oh, and there was a burnt toilet seat topping off the whole mess.

And were people screaming, bosoming their children or calling the attention of the authorities? No, they were going about their daily business, not even pausing to gag softly at the buzzing mound of nasty stewing plague on their city street.

So we got on the ferry and went to Ischia, where I can assure you that there were no roadside garbage heaps, despite the city's allegiance to the Naples region.

Ischia is an island draped with winding narrow roads that make Lombard street look tame. Oh, and these streets are also steep, parked up with tiny cars on either side and driven by madpeople on scooters who are traveling the earth with absolutely no fear of being crushed by a cement truck. Thankfully Ale was behind the wheel to expertly navigate the dicey streets so that I could close my eyes and pretend we were actually alone on a six-lane freeway with wide open pasture land on either side.

Of course we made it to our first nights accommodations without incident, stealthily avoiding schoolchildren, oncoming cars unaware of the two-lane status of the streets and one hundred poorly manned scooters. While the views and surroundings were stunning and beautiful, our accommodations turned out to be a bit less than what we'd imagined. For a full recount of this one night adventure into Residence vacationing, please pop over to Shelley's blog for a top ten retelling of it's more repellent attributes. She outlines ten things that you never want to find when happening upon your vacation rental.

What I will say, since Shelley has left it to me to explain, is that in addition to the laundry list of laugh-so-you-don't-cry disappointments we encountered, my patio indeed had "dog issues". I coined this term when I wasn't sure if Shelley was going to laugh or cry under the circumstances. What I really wanted to say was that my "patio", while having a scenic view of a rickety tool shed, overgrown palm and a dozen other "patios", was also a dog donut factory and that I would require the most industrial sized pooper scooper if I had a mind to go outside again. But I didn't want her to cry, so I simply said that my patio had "dog issues", so if we wanted to hang out that evening, we should perhaps do so on their patio, or anywhere else on the island. Alessandro thought this was amusing and said, "Well, as long as they're not human issues!" and we went on our way.

Needless to say, we made it through or first day/night on the island in a drunken haze, stopping briefly to enjoy some natural thermal baths at the base of the "convenient" 200 step staircase. After booking our following night's lodging at "the most scrumptionest" hotel we could find, we wandered off for apperitivos and dinner in the charming harbor town of Forio.

For comparison's sake, here's a look from our balcony in Forio, notice the lack of dog issues.

As for the rest of our time in Ischia, it was blissfully spent alternating between luxuriating poolside and eating the most incredible Neapolitan-style pizza a girl could hope for. A little poofier and chewier than Roman pizza, it's pretty awesome with the best ever mozzarella melting on top. To harken back to my previous post where I gushed over the Mozzarella di Bufala (see, I am really making good on my promise to loop back) the cheese they have in Naples is really a superior product. As Ale put it, so perfectly as always, "this is not Old Grandma Cheese, it's the good stuff."

In addition to not-grandma mozzarella, tasty pizza, tubs of Nutella, plenty of shopping and fancy-pants accommodations, we also fully enjoyed my favorite custom, apperitivos. I know we have Happy Hour here in the States, but I don't feel it accurately compares to an Italian apperitivo. At least not the way we were rolling in Ischia. Our apperitivos were generally observed ocean side, with multiple interesting snacks and a menu that went on and on. Moving from cocktails to dinner was my favorite time of day, enhanced by my rising blood alcohol level and the promise of another good meal. This is also when my Italian was at it's best, mostly because I was too drunk to care if I was using the wrong tense/verbs/language.

I have a billion more pictures I could share, but this post is now the longest in Finny history and I've managed to bypass the short bit of jet lag from 5:30 this morning. So, I'm going back to bed, but will be back to go on about more food, the scariest possible situation for a non-native speaker, a small miracle in the town of Trastevere and my best gardening assignment ever.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Don your helmets and feedbags

Because I have no shame and because I took 300+ photos on my trip that I feel compelled to share, I will be rehashing with mind-numbing detail as much of my time in Italy as possible during the next few posts. Also because I got drunk and just plumb abandoned the blog and now feel the need to make up for lost time.

To get us rolling on What Finny Loves about Italy, I thought I'd start with the obvious - food.

I've already banged on about the glory that is Nutella, so I'll leave that alone for now (although, please note the stacked jugs of Nutella that Shelley pointed out during our travels. Oh, for a spoon and five minutes alone with just one of those tubs.)

For everything else, there is only one word, *Drool*.

Mozzarella di Bufala. Good god, folks. I could (and believe did) eat this at every meal. (Save for breakfast, which is Nutella-time. ) In fact, this should be a part of every meal. After two weeks of this, I may break up with run of the mill cheese altogether. I've already given my dairy drawer the finger. Cheddar cheese? GAH! And it calls itself cheese. Big faker. Apparently the best version of this blissful creation is made in Naples, and I was not at all subdued in my surprise at this fact. I will get into my impression of Naples in a later post. *Little hint: Ew.*

Pizza. The real stuff that doesn't come with a stuffed crust or any other gnarly American interpretation. We had Roman-style (super thin, crunchy crust) and Napoleon-style (softer, poofier but still thin crust). Both utterly yum. As soon as we were loose on the city and hungry (two situations that always coexist for me) I very humbly suggested that we go to the scissor pizza place for a quick snack. That is to say that I did not drag poor Shelley by her hair directly to the pizzeria. In this pizzeria they have a unique method for dispatching their creation - they bring it out in long sheets, cut it with scissors into good size squares and put it in a basket with any number of appetizers (For me, a suppli.) I ate this no less than three times when I visited last and was eager to get back to it.

I should also mention that there was a 4 funghi pizza that made an appearance during a dinner out that is not pictured in the above collage for the simple fact that my hands could not take a picture and shove the pizza into my mouth at the same time - and frankly, it was so good I wasn't going to compromise.

Gnocchi. When done right, this dish can make me swoon. Or, in the case of this photo, beg. Apparently our primi piatti was supposed to be penne, but when Ale saw the tears welling up in my eyes, he dragged the waitress back to ask if we could substitute for gnocchi. I think she entertained the thought of murder at the idea of substitution, but in the end, would have had quite a mess on her hands since I quickly scooped all but two portions worth (for my dear hosts, I'm not an animal!) into my stomach. It was at this moment that I wished our table came equipped with a conveyor belt. For the love of gnocchi.

Wine. There is a small miracle that happens in Italy that brings me joy at each visit - white wine, and even champagne, does NOT give me a headache. Here in the States, I can barely run my nose past an open bottle without a searing shot of white hot pain piercing my skull. However, in Italy, the sulphates subside and the grapes remain unmixed, which means I can drink it to my hearts content. And I do. Of course, I have to sample the local and regional reds at the same time. Which also does not suck. It is possible that I'm still a little drunk. An extra special bonus to any wine drinking experience is the chance to wander the cellar below the restaurant. A cellar which just happens to be at the city's original street-level. I won't stray into the exact year of this cellar, but the floors of which are the very same that the Romans crossed in ancient times. It's about 40 feet blow current street level. Neato.

Olive oil. I have a lot of this at home, but when in Italy, my intake increases dramatically for the simple fact that it is just really good there. I mean, they know what they're doing. This is no mamby-pampy, barely green, can't really tell if it's made from olives or soybeans kind of oil. No. It's bright green, eye-rollingly fragrant and just short of orgasmic. Imagine it served by a young wavy-haired waiter with a local accent and crooked smile and you'll be there. I bought a bunch to bring home and I'll be spending the next few weeks trying to talk hubby into doing his Italian impression for me while pouring it on my bread. Meeeeeooowww

Gelato. Do not call this ice cream because it is so not the same. Specifically, there are no chunks, as Ale was so savvy as to point out. Apparently when he's in the states he seeks out B&J ice cream with the maximum amount of chunkiness. In Rome, I seek out the gelato with the maximum amount of frequency. It's a complimentary activity. When it comes speared with a cookie and served at an outdoor cafe, all the better. Did I mention it comes in a flavor called Baci (kisses) which is basically the gelato version of Nutella. Wow. Have they got my number. Let's hope I'm never in possesion of national secrets. I daresay it might only take one Baci scoop to get me talking.

Artichokes. What? You didn't expect to find artichokes listed amongst all the other famous Italian stuff. I get it. Me neither. Which is one of the reasons why it's making my short list. And why, when I go back, I'll ask them nicely if we can go back to Enzo's for some more. Again, not dragging Shelley by her hair. Called carciofi alla romana, it's basically fresh artichokes fried (but not battered) and served as an appetizer. Tender, sweet, swoon-worthy. I had a few and experienced a slight bought of depression at the empty plate. Beats boiled artichokes any day. But then, most fried things do.

I just realized that this post is getting self-indulgent and rather long, but before I shut the F up, I can also assure you that the coffee, pastries, prosciutto, bread and tartufo are all they're cracked up to be. I should know, I ate them all. And thanks to four blindingly steep floors of marble stairs plus one more for fun leading up to the terrace after miles of cobbled street walking, I may not have gained the predicted one hundred pounds during this trip.

So, I'm home now. And if you can't tell, I enjoyed my two weeks in Italy somewhat. I may have shed a tear at the airport that had nothing to do with the ridiculous line for US-based airlines. I may already miss Rome. I certainly already miss my friends. And I don't know about y'all, but I'm hungry.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Buona sera

Ok, so I thought I'd post more than I have, since I was off to such a promising start, but it appears that Rome has been too hard to tear myself away from for time on the computer. Big shocker.

However, I will be home (too) soon and promise to post on the laundry list of topics piling up in my head; anarchy in Naples, dog issues, the King of Random, rooftop gardening (oh yes, dont think I put my gardening gloves down just because Im out of the country), island living, a truckload of Nutella, testing the limits of my stomach capacity, the miracle of Italian white wine and a hodgepod of other things that come up when living life blind from caffeine. Oh, and there's a video of a real life miracle to behold.

For now, I'm off to spend my last evening with an apperitivo (my favorite new pastime) at a lovely post and dinner at Ristorane Spirito DiVino down the street.

I'll check back with you when I get back to the US, so full of prosciutto that I will probably get stopped at customs.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Blogger beta

Excuse any weirdness around the blog, I'm moving over to the new Blogger beta in an effort to be something of an early adopter...

Technorati Profile

Friday, October 06, 2006

Nutella - making peanut butter look dumb

Three things I've learned so far:

1. I will never again fly through Heathrow. Just no. Gah! and ew.

I'll spare you the rant I crafted while running to and from Departure screens at Heathrow searching desparately for my gate 20 minutes prior to my flight. Mostly it was just me asking no one in particular how it was possible that my flight hadn't been assigned a gate yet when I was supposed to have boarded the plane minutes earlier. Of course, once we finally were assigned a gate I had to queue with 900 other crazed Rome travelers in a dark narrow hallway and fight for position in front of three Italian men having an animated conversation about a "dirty girl" who they had met while in London. I'll spare you the details, but the conversation involved all the bad words I learned during my last visit.

2. Roman drivers are exactly as terrifying as I remember. And, yet still, I have all my limbs.

I first must say that I can't be more grateful for the fact that I have extremely generous and hospitable hosts that are always waving and cheering at the uschita when I come out of the baggage claim. It is a warm and exciting reception and something I look forward to for all twelve hours of my flight. However, the exit from the airport onto the highways of Rome never fails to get my blood pumping. You can imagine my enhanced excitement when I saw that Ale, my friends fiance and one of my world class hosts had just purchased a new car. Basically a cruise missile mascarading as an Alpha Romeo. Granted, the shock of haphazard Roman driving wears off after the first hour or so in the car during my trips, but at first, its a jolt to the apparently calm and rational American driver in me. You know the one who expects to see lane lines painted on the freeway and such. I remember this in quiet horror as we exit the airport parking lot as if shot from a cannon. Why no lane lines? Why so much swerving? How is everyone still walking the city with all their limbs? I guess one can not question the existence of miracles.

3. Nutella makes peanut butter look like a chump.

Putting Nutella on a freshly baked pastry and serving it with cappuccino is nothing short of genius. Why anyone would eat peanut butter when Nutella is readily available is beyond me. Peanut butter is obviously the red-headed stepchild to Nutella and the US is wildly misguided in its allegience to the stuff. Who needs jelly when you can just put Nutella on bread and call it a day. Shelley has informed me that during Christmas they sell the stuff by the gallon in a container with a handle. I'm so sad that it is only October and that they didn't mention this phenomenon last time I was here. Which, coincidentally was during Christmas. Damn shame.

So, clearly, I'm here. And everything is as it should be. I've already said, "I can't believe this is real" approximately five hundred times while looking out over Arcinazzo from their mountainside home, staring up at the ceilings of a monastary from the middle ages and when staring at the brontosauras steaks Ale cooked alla brace last night.

And for those keeping score, I've spoken approximately five words of Italian since my arrival because I'm a wimpy coward. I vow to right my ways. Starting now.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006


See, I knew a miracle would happen and I'd be able to close the suitcase.

Miracle = Rocket woke up from her nap IN the suitcase long enough to stand ON TOP of the suitcase so I could zip it shut. Ah, will wonders never cease.

So, with the suitcase closed, I can divert my attention to other preparation activities. Namely, properly stuffing my travel bag with enough in-flight activities to keep me from assaulting my neighbor or running amok in the airport.

I thought I'd taken care of this by stocking up on books, TV shows and podcasts on the iPod, and Ambien (oh no, I am not above dosing myself on long flights) - but then I realized NO PROJECTS.

Crazy me, in my haste to pack all my shoes, I somehow forgot that I'd have 12+ hours of potential productivity ahead of me. And a Christmas list that I hadn't even cracked. See, you can practically feel the cold sweats of my anxiety, too.

Well, not to worry, Knitty saved the day and I'm now going to head out on my FINAL shopping trip to get some yarn. I solemnly swear not to buy any shoes while I'm out. Just yarn. And maybe some needles. BUT NO SHOES.

And then I will sit happily in the airport, knitting at least 1/4 of my ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY project, listening to 1/2 of my ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY episodes of Drawn Together and will then board the plane, take my Ambien with a gin and tonic and rack out until my plane lands in London. Essentially negating my need for all of my ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY activities.

At least, that's what I have in mind. Let's hope there isn't a screaming child or stinky armpit that has other plans.

I hope to blog at least once during my trip, so perhaps I'll share the most ridiculous story from my flight. I'm sure it will take me at least a week to choose one.

A presto!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Packed-ish & Pie

Pie first -

While procrastinating before a big trip, there are lots of crazy-person things I like to do while avoiding my suitcase; clean the house, watch a full day's worth of television, landscape the yard, visit with the neighbors for no particularly good reason other than they happen to be within yelling distance of the fence, etc.

For this special trip, however, I decided to bake. Bake under the guise of providing food for hubby who, despite bringing himself successfully through life for 30-something years without my constant supervision, obviously can't be left to his own devices for sustenance for two whole weeks.

I stopped just short of freezing two weeks worth of dinners in color-coded Tupperware, because that would be crazy. Instead I made pie. Because what does a home alone husband need more than pie and the occasional cup of coffee? Precious little, I'd guess.

I ripped the filling from Farmgirl's revised Blueberry Breakfast Bar recipe which calls for peaches to be added to the filling with the blueberries. And since we just had a whole pan of these fab bars, I put the filling in my favorite pie crust and called it good. And since a friend of ours suggested this unexpected meeting of berry and stonefruit during a past dinner outing, I made one for him, too.

My procrastination has reached new heights.

In exchange for the pie, our friends dropped off a tomato the size of a truck tire and five containers of fresh pesto crafted from their own plot of basil.

This may seem random, but it is some of the best pesto I've ever tasted and went merrily with the gnocchi I was making for dinner. You know, as I was preparing my stomach for the delicious onslaught of expertly crafted Italian carbs I plan to take in. During the trip I'd yet to pack for.

Until today!

I believe I've exploited every millimeter of space in my suitcase. There are alarm clocks crammed into shoes, tank tops rolled up and snaked around books, brownie mixes lodged between the rolly-bar handle compartment and wheel-well. It's going swimmingly.

Except for the fact that I have to still pack my toiletries.

You think to yourself, toiletries - what's the biggie? Well, as I often forget until I'm standing in front of my nearly full suitcase with a handled toiletry bag, blow dryer, freezer-size Ziploc bag full of hair products and a half dozen brushes - my toiletries often take up more space in the suitcase than my clothes or even shoes.

Right now, I'm not prepared to do the math that it will require to get everything in there. However, I feel like tomorrow I will be, so I will wait and see if the contents settle or some other mystical process takes place wherein the laws of physics bend just enough to accomodate an overstuffed toiletry bag into my already plump suitcase.

Before you think me too overindulgent, high-maintenance, batshit or a combination of the three, let me tell you that this is a 22" suitcase we're talking about here. Not one of those rolling closets with the floral fabric you see stacked onto a SmarteCarte with 18 other pieces of matching luggage.

As it stands, I appear to be packing light, while the smallish suitcase I'm towing actually weighs a metric ton. I appear as a savvy traveler, while actually I'm busy being a paranoid American unable to separate herself from her shoe collection.

It all works out so nice.