Monthly Archives: December 2008

Winter afternoon

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Getting philosophical

To celebrate Ryan’s birthday, a small group of us went to dinner at a nice restaurant in a neighborhood called Testaccio, just over the bridge from our place. Built on top of ancient ruins, the restaurant’s floor was partially made of thick glass offering a surreal view of tunnels and other structures under your feet. Further inside, the main dining room has a more formal look but there’s something dated about it. I kept thinking of a fancy dining car on a first class train from the forties, back when train travel was much more glamorous. But above all, the place was packed with people-watching opportunities: A group of what could have only been politicos wearing suits and slicked back hair. An older couple; she wore fur, he doted on her. And of course the requisite May-December romance. But my favorite moment came when the tuxedo-clad waiter came to explain the specials. I asked him if he could tell me more about a particular dish the menu. His response: “It is enough for you to know that it exists.” Neat.

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Things I wish I could buy in Rome

Before I begin, I have to disclose something. It’s entirely possible that one or more of the following are actually available in Rome and I simply haven’t been able to find them. Probable, actually. But in the meantime, it would be nice to find:

  • Brown sugar
  • Scented candles
  • White long-sleeved t-shirts from Old Navy
  • David Sedaris’s new book
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Almonds
  • Trader Joe’s pre-natal vitamins (don’t worry, I have others but I do enjoy TJ’s)
  • Muffin tins
  • Organic cotton onesies
  • Furniture from a store other than Ikea

To balance it out, there are many things available here that one could not find–not with ease–in the US. These include Nutella, Smart cars, fresh (often home-grown and hand-pressed) olive oil,  postcards of your incredibly ancient surroundings…

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Scenic

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Top Pop Songs

If you come to Italy any time soon, you like me, will have the pleasure of hearing this song many, many, many times. Paul and I call it “The Wheat Song”  and once you see the clip, you’ll understand our clever naming convention. For the record, it’s actually titled Il Mio Pensiero (“My Thought”) and the singer is Ligabue, aka The Italian Bruce Springstein.

Also popular with the Romans: Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy (most played grocery store song, ever) and of course Viva la Vida. This is Europe after all, so Coldplay needs to be on the air all the time. (And just when you thought you couldn’t hear any more CP, a new single has come out. Yay, twice the fun.)

For more Roman rock news, check out Italian MTV’s top 20 countdown. No. 1 is called Alla Mia Eta, which means “At My Age”. Sadly, I don’t understand any of the other lyrics.

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Bruschetta

Pronounced “broo-ske-ta”. (Dear Webster, don’t worry.) It’s a simple dish, think garlic bread, usually a snack or starter before dinner. Recipes vary but you can never go wrong with a fresh tomato and herb version that Paul and I learned a couple of years ago during a cooking class in Tuscany. My interpretation of the recipe follows. *Note: whether you weirdly pose simultaneously as Ryan and I have is up to you. Either way, enjoy!

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Ingredients:

  • 4-6 ripe cherry tomatoes or 2-3 plum tomatoes finely diced (big tomatoes would work — they just need to be sweet and ready)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic diced
  • 4-5 fresh basil leaves torn or cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 nice loaf of bread (baguette, ciabatta, etc.), sliced and toasted in the oven with a little olive oil on both sides
  • Pineapple platter belonging to Italian bachelor landlord, optional

The ingredients above will make about 8 toasts, which is good for 3 people. The exact amount of each is up to you, but the ratio should follow the order above. Mostly tomatoes, then olive oil… Once everything is cut up into fine pieces, combine all ingredients in a bowl and let sit for about 20 minutes (or longer) so flavors can marry and integrate. Now this is important: the secret of the toast is rubbing it with a clove of raw garlic just after it’s out of the oven, before you add the tomato combo. After you do, heap on the tomotoes, as much as you can fit on each one. There will surely be juice leftover in the bottom of the bowl; don’t discard. Either drizzle over the toasts or put in a small bowl for dipping. You’ll be happy.

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“Prego” the all-purpose word…

Due to a nasty little cold, things are phlegmy here and I haven’t been out much. So, I’ll share a great lesson from Frommer’s Irreverent Guide to Rome :

You don’t actually need to know Italian to get by in Rome but the language is fun, and the locals, unlike the French, are charmed by even your most pathetic stabs at basic phrases like “thank you” (grazie–pronounced graht-see-eh, not “grodzy” or “gracias” as most Americans believe), “good morning or good day ” (buon giorno; before 2pm) and “good evening” (buona sera; after 2pm). Mammi mia can be used all the time to express frustration, incredulity, shock, relief, even glee. Prego (literally, “I pray”) is perhaps the most useful word of all: It can mean “You’re welcome,” “Please go ahead of me,” “May I take your order?” or in some cases, “I didn’t understand what the hell you just said in your garbled American accent; please repeat.”

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