Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When it rains, it pours.

Last week I had a less than enjoyable experience on a rainy Wednesday here in Rome.

Before the day was even halfway over I had found myself hitting the low point in my semester.

To start, let me explain.

I woke up last Wednesday very cold. Our apartment only gets heat from 4pm to 9pm at night. When it began to rain the night before the temperature dropped a significant bit from what it had been in the previous two weeks (a delightful 60 degrees and sunny, typically). That morning, with the pouring rain and the drop in temperature, our apartment was very, very cold. And lucky for me, I got to wake up before the sun because I had an on-site morning class to get to by 9AM, and since the busses aren't always reliable, and the traffic is bad even without rain, I decided to get an early start so I wouldn't be late.

I found out later that staying in bed would have been the logical, although irresponsible, choice.

After meeting a friend at the tram stop and standing in the rain for a few minutes before the tram arrived, we exchanged a few words that consisted mostly of, "Well, this sucks. At least the Colosseum won't be crowded..." The tram arrived and was packed more than usual, because instead of walking most people were taking the public transportation. We stood for the tram ride down to is Capolinea (the end of its route) and then got off to catch a bus over to the Colosseum.

Once at the Colosseum, we waited for our professor and the rest of our class in the Metro stop in order to stay as dry as possible. While there, we were constantly surrounded by men trying to pawn umbrellas by holding them out to passers-by and nodding their heads up-and-down calling out, "Bella, bello, ombrella!" It was tempting to purchase one, but I had my rain coat and assumed I'd be fine.

That was bad choice number two. Number one being getting out of bed.

Once our professor and class arrived, we headed over to the Colosseum to stand in the rain and talk about gladiators and rulers for two hours before our professor realized he was getting nowhere and led us to a cafe so that we could all warm up and get some cappuccino. We were grateful, although soaked and cold. Half an hour later, class was over and I headed back to school.

Once at school, I grabbed a piece of pizza from Di Simone's (my favorite pizza in the city so far) and then headed over to get m Permit to Stay (part of my Visa process to legally allow me to live in the country for 4 months). I had been in such a rush earlier that morning that I had forgotten my passport, but I had my copies and my driver's license, which one of the men running the Permit to Stay session said would be fine. I waited in line for an hour, handed my copies to the man, only to find I was missing copies of pages 1, 2, and 28 of my passport. They denied me my Permit. And I had class in ten minutes. And they were leaving at 5pm when I had class until 6:40. Needless to say... I was upset.

Bad choice number three: forgetting my passport.
Bad choice number four: letting someone from AUR make my passport copies.
Bad choice number five: yelling in English at a guy who barely under it and talked back in Italian.

So I went to the Student Affairs office, cried to the study abroad intern, and then upon her recommendation, took a bus back to my apartment to get my passport and missed class. She told me the Permit to Stay sessions counted as excused absences. So after going home, getting my passport and returning, I proceeded to copy the 3 pages I was missing, get back in line, and wait for another hour. I missed my second class.

Once I got up to the front again, the same guy looked at my confused and asked why I had writing on my envelope. I responded, with my arms crossed, "Because you just saw me and denied me two hours ago."

Bad choice number six: allowing my bad mood to get the best of me.

After finally getting approved, I headed off to my final class of the day (Italian), was exhausted and could barely focus, and then got home and collapsed into bed for the rest of the night.

When it rains, it pours... both literally and figuratively.
That doesn't mean we should let the bad things and choices get the best of us, as I had.
Thankfully, the next day was better, and I was able to recuperate. The lesson learned, though, is that even while on vacation, study abroad, or whatever it is you're doing--there are bad days. The best thing we can do is to get through them and try to have a good attitude, because that will help make it not so bad (instead of acting as I had, like an overgrown child).

Have you ever had days like this? Where nothing seems to go right and everything is wrong? What about during a vacation? Was there that one day where everything you had planned just tanked and you got upset and didn't appreciate the things that you got to do otherwise?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Corsi di cucina

Hello all. It's a beautiful Monday morning here in Roma, and I am looking forward to another exciting week in this wonderful city full of surprises.

Last week, something that I did not mention, was that I took a cooking class on Tuesday night. It was a lot of fun and I learned how to make some delicious food. We made homemade gnocchi in a slow-cooked beef and pork ragu sauce, Saltimbocca all Romana, and Torta della Nonna (Grandma's Custard Pie... yum!). Needless to say, cooking was difficult without nibbling and tasting, and I had a great time learning and tasting all the different food with the 5 other girls at the class.

I got to mix the dough for the pie crust, help with the cutting the vegetables for the ragu sauce, roll gnocchi, and mix the custard. It was all very fun. You can see me (hand) mixing the dough for the pie crust in the picture here.

I was lucky enough to bring home some leftovers and have ragu sauce on paste for two nights after the class, quite a treat as I haven't been eating much meat in my time here. It was absolutely delicious, and I plan on making all of these things again during my time here in Rome (and even back home, as well!)

Anyway, I've decided to include the recipes in case anyone would like to try to make these things at home. It's a fun way to try some new food, and a great way to have fun with friends or family!


1. First Course: Homemade Gnocchi splashed into slowly cooked ragù sauce

Ingredients for the dough (serving 4 people):
- 1/2 lb Potatoes (the one that fits this recipe are called Idaho or Russet potatoes back in the States, or for the other countries just get old potatoes and not fresh and watery ones......remember that the more water is contained in the potatoes, the more flour you need to add and the heavier the potato dumplings will be!)
- 2,5 cups all purpose flour
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt

Ingredients for the sauce (serving 4 people):
- 1 lb of grounded mixed meat (70% beef and 30% pork)
- 5 tablespoons of E.V. olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- one carrot, one stalk of celery, one yellow onion
- 1 cup of dry white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon are preferred)
- 1 lb of whole peeled tomatoes (like San Marzano quality)
- fresh herbs like rosemary, bay leaves, and sage

To make the gnocchi you have to cook potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender, for about 20-25 minutes. Drain and slip off the skin, then mash until smooth. Gradually stir in the egg yolks, salt, and enough of the flour (I usually use ¼ of the quantity of potatoes) to obtain a smooth dough that is just a little sticky. Now you can take a piece of dough and roll it on a lightly floured work surface into a rope about 1/2 inch (2.5 cm) long. Repeat with all the dough and you can give the gnocchi the shape you prefer. Usually to give them the gnocchi their special grooves, twist around the tines of a fork.
In the meantime, in a large frying pan over low heat, stir in the "soffritto" made from carrots, celery and onion with E.V. olive oil and cook until it starts to brown. Then you can add minced beef mixing with minced pork and let it cook for about 10 minutes. When it’s browned, turn on the heat over medium-high and stir in some dry white wine and cook it until it'll evaporate (please never use any sweet wine, it's disgusting!). Now you can add your chopped tomatoes and cook it for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, up to 2 hours (depending on how much sauce you're cooking).
To cook the gnocchi, put a large pot of boiling water over high heat. When the water is boiling, toss in few tablespoons of salt with the gnocchi. Stir to keep the gnocchi from sticking, and when they'll rise to the surface scoop them out with a slotted spoon.
Saute your gnocchi with the ragù sauce, and drizzle with Parmesan cheese to coat your dish. Serve hot. It's gonna be delicious!!!

2. Second course:  Saltimbocca alla Romana (Saltimbocca roman style)
Note: Saltimbocca, the word translates as “jump in the mouth”

Ingredients for 4 servings:
- 1 lb / 500gr thinly sliced beef cutlets (scallopini or tenderloin)
- 10 slices thinly sliced prosciutto
- 10 slices thinly sliced edamer cheese (american cheese, swiss cheese or sliced mozzarella cheese is fine as well.....remember it has to be soft and mild cheese)
- 20 fresh sage leaves, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Put the beef cutlets side by side on chopping board. Lay a piece of prosciutto on top of each piece of beef and cut it into small squares. Gently flatten the cutlets with a rolling pin or meat mallet, until the pieces are about 1/3 inch thick (about 0,5cm thick) and the prosciutto has adhered to the beef. Then lay the cheese and a couple of sage leaves in the center of each cutlet square.
Weave a toothpick in and out of the beef to secure the prosciutto, cheese and sage.
Heat the oil and in a large skillet over medium flame. Put the beef in the pan, prosciutto-side down first. Cook for 3 minutes or until crisp it up and then flip the cutlets over and saute the other side for 2 minutes, until golden. Transfer the saltimbocca to a serving platter, remove the toothpicks, and keep warm. Don't season with salt or pepper since prosciutto is salty and you don't need to add more seasoning to your plate.
Pour the sauce over the saltimbocca, garnish with sage leaves and serve immediately.
3. Dessert: Torta della nonna (Custard Pie or Grandma's Cake)
Custard filling Ingredients & Instructions:
- 7 egg yolks
- 1 litre of milk
- 140gr / 1 1/3 cup of sugar
- 140gr / 1 ¾  cup all purpose flour

To make the custard all you have to do is mixing egg yolks and sugar in a bowl whisking until smooth and soft. After add the flour and in the meantime over medium heat bring the milk to a boil. Add the milk to the flour mixture as soon as it will start boiling and put back over the flame stirring for a few minutes, until thick and creamy. Remove from the heat and let sit until cool.

To make the dough you have to mix 5 cups all purpose flour (if you get an american brand, then you have to sift it as it has a different density than the one we use in Italy), 2 sticks of butter, 2 cups of sugar and 2 eggs, a pinch of salt. Mix everything powerfully on a slightly floured marble surface, and leave in the fridge for 10 minutes to let your butter get less soft and the dough more suitable to stretch and easy to handle. Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Roll dough on the bottom of a spring pan, place a border around the edges with foil around it and place in over for about 10-15 minutes. Take out, let it cool for a few minutes and then place the custard filling and pine nuts in the pie. Put it back in the over for another 15 minutes until the custard becomes firm without the foil so the edges become more golden brown. Take it out and place powdered sugar on time. Serve warm or cold!
I really hope you all enjoyed the lesson and I wish you all fun and a great dinner!!! Hope to see you soon at my family's restaurant for the 10 euro student's menu, it was a great pleasure to get to know you all!!!

Ciao e buon appetito! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

È delizioso!

The food here just tastes better.

Well, that's what I say about every country I go to. It seems that every time I travel, the food is better than what I eat at home.

Part of this is because much of the food we eat in the U.S. has either been processed until it can't possibly be processed any further or it has been shipping hundreds or thousands of miles before hitting the shelves of your local grocery store.

However, when I travel, I've found that what I consume is a lot more limited, but a heck of a lot more tasty. I may not get Oreos and Doritos (unless I'm lucky enough to have my mom ship them to me!) but I do get a lot of really savory, flavorsome, delectable and yummy foods fresh from markets (and even the occasional larger grocery store). 

Here in Italy, I've found that the Blood Oranges are by far the most delicious oranges I've ever had in my life, even beating out the oranges I had in Tanzania. I literally could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.... and even dessert. And the fun thing about each orange is that it's a surprise! Some of them are a deep, dark red through and through, while others have starbursts of red close to the rind. Still others have streaks of red on every other slice and some have a little sun of red around their centers. Not only are the beautiful, but they are the best damn oranges I've ever eaten. People grow them in trees in their backyards all throughout the city, and we even have a tree in our courtyard at school.

Another food I've come to love is the home made pasta. There is nothing like it. Going to the open air markets and buying little packets of home made pasta has really been a treat. Thankfully, to offset my sudden onset of carboholism, I get to walk everywhere in this city (refer to my earlier post!) But the pasta really has been a delicious surprise, especially after eating boxed pasta all the time back home.

Speaking of carbolism--I certainly eat a lot of carbs here. Pasta, rosemary and olive oil crackers, bruschetta, shortbread biscuits, potatoes, gnocchi and pizza are all staples in the Italian diet. And yet, rarely will I see an overweight person. It's an interesting contradiction, but a pleasant one, because it gives me hope that I will be able to keep off the pounds by walking just like the resident Romans.

The food had been amazing here, so far, and I look forward to several months more of it before heading back to the states. 

Have you ever found a food that you simply can't get enough of while traveling? What was it and why was it better than the food you eat at home? 

Friday, February 11, 2011

These Spiral Staircases Just Never End!

The Romans seem to love their spiral staircases....

It's no wonder that no one here is obese like many people are in the United States. Rarely do you even see a person who is overweight here. After my first three days in this city, I found out why.

People walk. They walk, and they walk, and then they walk some more.
Do you need groceries? Well, you walk to the "Frutta e Verdura" to get your fruits and vegetables. Then you walk to the macelliao (the butcher) to get some bistecca e prosciutto (steak and ham). Don't have a washer or dryer to do your laundry? Then you walk to the lavenderia to get your laundry. Live on the other side of the city from where you go to school? Then you walk to scuola. Is school far from work? Then you walk to lavoro (work). What if you decide to take public transportation? Then you walk to il tram o fermata dell'autobus (the tram or the bus stop). You might take the bus or the tram for a couple stops, but then you walk to your casa (house), which, chances are, is still a quarter mile from the bus stop. What if you want to go out to dinner and get a gelato afterwards? You walk to il ristaurante e la gelateria.

You walk... and that's the secret.

Back in the U.S. we have become so suburbanized and dependent on the car that we have stopped walking. Here, despite the starchy diets full of pasta and pizza and potatos and pastries, you are constantly walking and don't have to be so worried about what you eat. Not to mention that dinner is (for a typical Italian) the smallest meal of the day. Breakfast is important, and lunch is the largest meal for most people--giving everyone time to digest their food before sleeping at night. Additionally, everything here is fresh: homemade pasta and gnocchi, home grown fruits and vegetables, fresh milk and aged cheese, recently culled meats. You can be assured that the food you're purchasing at the open air market is the freshest of the fresh ingredients you could buy.

Oh, and did I mention? You have to walk to the open air market. Surprise!

At first, it took a lot of getting used to--walking everywhere and depending on public transportation in order to get places further than a half hour's walking distance. However, I've really grown to enjoy it. It makes me physically tired (but fulfilled) by the end of the day, and I've slept really well despite my (less than) comfortable bed. It has also helped me to see more of the city than I would have otherwise... not only because I've been taking the time to walk everywhere, but also because I've gotten lost more than I have ever gotten lost in my life, which has, surprisingly, been a blessing in disguise. In getting lost and walking around trying to find my way, I've found things I would have never found if I had been using a car and GPS.

Do you ever find that you've learned to appreciate the simpler things in life while traveling? Things like walking and getting lost? Do you ever feel constrained by your car or suburban home if either are part of your life?  Would you like having a life without those things, where you had to walk or take public transportation?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quando a Roma...

I have been in Rome for two weeks as of tomorrow morning.

So, it's about time that I start blogging on a more consistent basis. I hope to update every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. So check back on those days (and possibly more often if I have the time!) for new posts!

My time here has been quite an adventure so far. I've learned a lot, I've struggled with Italian, I've been lost more than I've been found and I've begun to fall in love with one of the most ancient cities in the world.

Something I have come to appreciate while being here is communication. Not until we are somewhere where we cannot communicate do we truly realize how essential it is to everything we do. To order food, ask what time it is, get directions, or even find a bathroom you have to communicate--and when you can't speak the language, you are suddenly severely disabled.

So in order to avoid being disabled through communication I took Italian last semester and I am currently taking Italian while I'm here, as well. However, I wanted to put what I am learning into practice and so I have gotten involved in a program called Extreme Language Exchange at the Mate Bar in Trastevere, a small district in Roma with lots of trendy boutiques, bars, cafes, and gelaterias. It's a trendy and hip place, but the program is what drew me to the area to begin with. After finishing my second session tonight, I know that it is something I am going to continue to attend throughout my semester so that I can practice speaking and listening to Italian instead of just reading and writing it in class.

The moment I knew that working on my Italian was paying off occurred today while waiting for a bus. As a quick side story, since I've been here I have yet to be mistaken for an American as long as I am by myself and I keep my mouth shut. Whenever I've been waiting for a bus, or standing in line at the local pizzeria or pasteccheria people immediately use Italian when speaking to me--which is a good feeling because it makes me feel like I am doing a good job of blending in instead of sticking out--but it's frustrating when I have to respond with, "Mi dispiace, non capisco. Non parlo italiano. Parlo inglese." ("I'm sorry, I don't understand. I don't speak Italian. I speak English.") It's at that point that the person who just moments before mistook me for an Italian, rolls his or her eyes and wanders off to speak to another person nearby. However, today was a breakthrough, for as I was standing at my bus stop to get to school, I had a man come up to me and ask, "Questo autobus va a Via Carini?" to which I momentarily paused, about to respond with my usual "Mi dispiace," only to realize... I understood him! He asked if this bus was going to the Via Carini stop... and I knew the answer! "Si, signore!" I hastily replied while he stood there looking slightly puzzled at my enthusiasm. I just smiled, walked over to a seat, sat down, and silently praised myself. Not only had I actually LISTENED to what this man had asked me, but I had been able to understand it, and respond! It was quite rewarding... even if slightly anti-climactic in terms of my response... a simple: "Yes, sir!"

However, being in a country where the primary language is not English has taught me a lot. It has made me work harder at listening to people when they speak on top of asking them, "Puoi parlare lentamente, per favore?" ("Can you speak slowly, please?") Slowly but surely I am learning, and I know that if I continue to place myself in situations where I need to speak in Italian or listen to people speak to me in Italian, that I will improve my ability and grow more confident in my speech.

Whenever you find yourself in an unfamiliar and foreign place, do you feel intimidated by language barriers or cultural differences? How do you handle yourself in these situations? What do you do in order to "blend in" or feel comfortable?  Have you made an effort to learn the basics of the languages of the places you've traveled?

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