Thursday, November 25, 2010

Euro Thanksgiving 2.0

Zucca (pumpkin) pizza

It was tough for Trofie Wife to spend yet another Thanksgiving away from home. Apart from special birthdays falling on years ending in 0, 5, 3, or 8, this is the only time of the year when all of her siblings are together. It was at least some comfort that Zurich Sister wouldn’t be making it to the feast in 2009 either, pending her permanent return home two months later. A trip back East (er, I guess it’s west of here) would have also allowed her to attend her 10th high school reunion, but thanks to the wonders of social networking, there was a lot less unsated curiosity.

At least this second Thanksgiving in Italy we’d have guests and proper food, as opposed to the prior year’s debacle of Martello working late and our fish ravoli disintegrating in the pot. Thanksgiving 2009 featured guests from five countries (plus token Americans)—South Africa, Costa Rica, Norway, France, and Italy—and we think we did a fair enough job explaining its significance to them all.

We featured American favorites as well as those with an Italian twist— Gorgonzola on sweet crackers topped with candied raspberries (a recipe I picked up from Housing Works’ catering company and have shared at past family Thanksgivings), pizza with pumpkin, brined turkey breasts (no way a whole turkey was making it into that oven!), Brussels sprouts with craisins (procured thanks to the American bazaar; they were so good that Martello, the avowed Brussels sprouts foe, not only tasted but actually enjoyed them), chestnut stuffing, and of course some cupcakes—peanut butter chocolate chip.
Pette della tacchino

Martello-approved Brussels sprouts
Euro Thanksgiving 3.0 is just around the corner…hope to report back on it before Turkey Day 2011!

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Via della Sfiga!

Trofie Wife saw Avenue Q back when it first arrived on Broadway and her post-college life had close parallels with those depicted onstage (she may have gotten a little weepy when she first heard “I Wish I Could Go Back to College…”). Martello never saw it onstage, but his laptop somehow acquired the soundtrack, and he was familiar enough with the story and music so that when we saw large posters around town featuring mischievous-looking puppets, we agreed that we should give the Italian version playing at the Politeama Genovese theatre --Via della Sfiga-- a shot.

It was fascinating to see how they translated the book, which is tuned to American pop culture and political references. Thanks to our cultural exports, nearly everyone knew (as evidenced by laughter) who Arnold from TV’s Diff'rent Strokes was. During “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” some of the text interludes included jokes that played on Italian regional stereotypes. We kinda missed the one about the Genovese, but the crowd was in stitches, and in the ensuing months as we gained more knowledge of our surroundings, we became fairly certain that the line had something to do with their supposed “cheapness” thrift. During intermission we were intrigued by the ads projected onto a pulled down screen, a la movie theatre previews (American theatre professionals reading this take note!).

Martello and I were surprised that Rod’s imaginary girlfriend still lived in Canada. We were expecting something a little bit more local (there are plenty of corners of Italy that are difficult to travel to and/or European countries composed of three syllables--Rom-an-ia, anyone?). Of course Trofie Wife was anxiously awaiting how the “George Bush is only for now” line would be transposed. They opted to go with Bossi, the head of the anti-immigrant Lega Nord party. Also, finding “my purpose” became finding “my dream” (sogno). It struck me as an especially noteworthy change since American culture is so focused on work and work having meaning (or "purpose") whereas those feelings are a little bit less prominent around here. Finding one’s dream isn’t too shabby a send-off message.

Trofie Wife happily left with a T-shirt commemorating the experience, although Martello wisely advised that she send it back to the States for future wearing, as “sfiga” isn’t quite the nicest word to be displaying when walking down the street (and most elderly Arenzanese residents probably aren’t familiar with the show and won’t get the joke).

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cinofilo in Centro

Despite subscribing to several “Events in Genova” e-bulletins, we find out about a lot of events here the old fashioned way—billboards and signs. So Trofie Wife was more than a little bit excited when Martello came home one night after having run an errand in Genova and mentioned that a) he saw a little something about a “dog show” at the convention center (Fiera di Genova) and b) he was willing to devote a portion of a Saturday to said event.

Now, Trofie Wife prefers dogs in their natural habitat (on the couch with me getting their bellies rubbed while I simultaneously read a book and they nuzzle me back), so I’m not totally keen on the whole dog show set up—while some of them seem to really enjoy the attention and preening, others seem miserable, bordering on depressed/abused. I witnessed one bearded collie in particular who was whining—she really had absolutely no interest in getting brushed and then prancing in a circle.
One unhappy puppy... I really wanted to help her try and escape...

Despite being morally opposed to the whole dog prancing thing, I have stepped foot inside these shows (and watch them on TV) because it’s a great way for me, a deprived non-dog-owner, to see a whole bunch of them at once and learn about the breeds, knowledge that will hopefully be applied in my real life sooner rather than later. It's a bonus that in Italy instead of denoting itself as a "kennel club," the organizers use “gruppo cinofilo”— at least they demonstrate in their title their clear love of these animals.

Below, you'll find a few more examples of some the adorable and not-so-adorable pups we saw.

This poodle eventually had glitter on its ass...It was horrifying. 
My first puli! (They're the rasta dogs.)

Dream dog: Marrone spinone!

Look at those eyes! If only I knew how to jimmy open a lock…

Baci e gelato e latrati (barks),
Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, November 5, 2010

(Surprisingly) In Praise of American Cookery

These past few posts Trofie Wife has boasted of the wonders of Italian seasonal cuisine. But I need to take a moment to actually scold the Italian kitchen for what it did to me when I was trying to make myself a nice birthday treat last year (surprised that I prefer to dwell on last year's birthday??).

I really, really wanted some cupcakes. I had, of course, made them here several times before, but they just didn’t have the right oomph. Probably because some key ingredients—baking powder and baking soda—were missing from my arsenal. So, I finally decided, upon embarking on vanilla bean cupcakes with salted caramel frosting(!!) that I should buy some proper leavening tools.

Baking soda and baking powder were nowhere to be found. I tried both grocery stores in Arenzano, as well as the one in Voltri, which usually has more “exotic” ingredients. Finally, I settled on some “ammonium bicarbonate.” Yes, as one would surmise, this is a product that by no means sounds appetizing and is not the sort of thing that anyone wants anywhere near her birthday cupcakes (apparently nowadays in the United States it's usually procured at the pharmacy). Instead of having a yummy cupcake smell, my oven spewed forth a plume of aroma that seemed like a mix of clean hospital floors and a stinkbomb. My cupcakes were fluffy, but I had to both air out my kitchen as well as my cupcakes! When they did finally air out, they tasted just fine…[However, Martello was certain to lay on the guilt concerning my carbon footprint, souring the taste a wee bit...]

Thankfully, I was finally able to pick up American baking powder at the annual American bazaar in Genova later that November.  Life has been much better tasting (not to mention smelling), ever since!

Trofie Wife contemplating olives (shocker).
I spent the rest of that birthday weekend on a mini sweater shopping spree (thank you i genitori!) and then exploring Imperia, another one of Liguria’s regional capitals, this one west of us, in the direction of France. Imperia is a major center of the olive oil industry, and boy does it show in the food and available products. We enjoyed a lovely lunch by the water, and although it was no longer beach season, the water was blue and the weather pretty pleasant.

Old passageways leading to the sea.
We ventured to the old centro and walked around the ruins, stopping to scoop up as many bottles of local oil and wine as we could carry. All in all, a nice celebration.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Pay Dirt in Alba

Trofie Wife suspects that when most of you hear the word “truffle,” you think of delectable chocolates filled with yummy ganache. While I’m a fan of those too, when fall comes around in Italy, a different kind of tartufo is on everyone’s mind. Those would be the little, oddly shaped (and to some, oddly smelling) mushrooms uncovered by enterprising dog snouts in Italy and discerning pig snouts in France (either country, Trofie Wife’s in animal heaven!), which are fiercely guarded by the humans who get paid for the animals’ work.  These fungi don’t come cheap, with restaurants all over the world paying huge sums for seemingly small portions. We got to see the lumps on display at Alba’s famed market, behind glass as if they were jewels. We exercised frugality, however, and thankfully managed to spend less than 20 euros on one white truffle (Alba’s famous for these) and a handful of small black ones. 

Martello and I had actually selected to go that first weekend of November (the fair’s about a month long), because it was dedicated to the truffle-sniffing dogs and their owners (it might have been the other way around, but the dogs should always get top billing in my opinion). However, hard as we looked, said dogs didn’t seem to be on display anywhere. Yet fate shined down upon me anyway, and I met these guys in the piazza

Sadly, they did not follow me home...maybe I should consider dousing myself in truffle oil in the future...
We had a delicious truffle-infused lunch (the local pasta is a thin egg variety called tajarin) and brought back a number of delicacies—the above-mentioned truffles, truffle oil, truffle butter, pasta, cheese, wine, and even some chocolate truffles (why not?). Truffles keep best hidden in rice, so we slipped the white and black ones in there for safe keeping. Later that week we made a risotto with the white and then just barely had enough time for another round of tajarin with the black truffles before they turned. 

Martello still thinks truffles smell a bit like stinky feet. But having soaked in enough Italian foodiness these past two years, he now appreciates them (but still thinks they’re ridiculously overpriced). 

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blender Blunders

After gazing at many a tempting soup recipe that required fine pureeing and reaching acceptance that she would be nowhere near her lovely array of kitcheny wedding gifts for some time, Trofie Wife finally succumbed to her desires and purchased a miniature Moulinex blender that would get the job done, albeit in many small batches. Hilarity (and horror) ensued.

When I first plugged in said blender directly to the wall and put it immediately on top of what I was hoping would become a lovely dinner soup (sans water guard) it nearly caught on fire (there were sparks), and the house went dark. (Sorry, we have no pictures.) Trofie Wife was not looking forward to having to a) explain this to and b) fix this matter via Mrs. Furley. Thankfully, I located the fuse boxes both inside the apartment and in the basement and got the electricity going again (at the time I had no idea whether or not I had blown the entire building's supply).

When he arrived home, Martello managed to get most of the water out of the mechanism and strongly suggested that I not use said appliance unless he was monitoring me. Freaked out by the prospect of actually having to use our remains repatriation insurance, I for once agreed.

A year later, we are now on our second Moulinex (same size). The mechanism never quite got over its initial baptism, and after about seven or so months of faithful service, it finally gave out (after shooting off a parting round of sparks). Trofie Wife quickly got over her fear of the machine, coming up with a multi-part method for using it: 1) Switch off surge protector, 2) Unplug toaster and tea kettle, 3) Plug in blender, 4) Switch on surge protector, 5) Let blender get used to being plugged in, 6) Put mechanism on top of bowl, usually forgetting water guard, 7) Curse at self for forgetting water guard, 8) Put on water guard and blend, 9) Reverse steps 1-4 when finished. [Note: Martello would like to remind Trofie Wife that he invented Steps 1-5, though she's on her own when she gets to 6.]

So we’ve made progress…And continue to enjoy soup and other chopped/mushed things made in teeny, tiny batches. And thankfully our wedding appliances (and their instruction manuals, which will definitely be read!) remain unharmed, secreted in North American closets for eventual use.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Feste di Maronne e Zucca

People who know Trofie Wife well know that fall is my favorite season. Leaves aflame in reds and orange, slight wind chills that call for boldly colored corduroys, apples and their byproducts, lots of birthday cakes. Well, that’s my riff on an East Coast autumn. Fall in northern Italy is a New York autumn bubbling over like Prosecco, on account of all the sagre e feste celebrating the bounty of this gorgeous land (not to mention the bounty of new fall fashions (secondo me, the only season worthy of slightly fiscally irresponsible splurges) in all the store windows). Autumn in northern Italy above all means tartufo (truffles; more on that in a few more posts), marrone (chestnuts), and zucca (pumpkin).

Martello and I spent last October chasing down sagre. First we headed to Cuneo, which borders France and is close to another of our beloved cities, Torino. In both on a clear day, you can stare at the Alps while standing in the town’s main piazza. Men whose families had probably served in such capacity for generations could be found roasting chestnuts in huge pots.
Chestnuts come in many varieties
Wizened chestnut roasters
We were overwhelmed by the selection of chestnut and general produce offerings (we bought and lugged home 3 kilos of carrots and purple potatoes; we couldn’t quite bring the 3-foot stalks of leeks on the train, nor would we have known what to do with them in the kitchen!). And with so many sweets on display, we finally settled on a single dessert at a famous and elegant cafĂ©: chestnut gelato injected with chestnut cream and enrobed in dark chocolate.

Cavallino! A tiny horse (not sure why it was there...)
The next day we turned our attention to pumpkins, visiting the small village of Rocchetta di Cengio, where we rode the zucca bus (unfortunately not pumpkin-shaped) up the hill to view the pumpkins in gara (competition for largest and loveliest), buy pumpkiny treats, and dine on zucca frittelle e vellutata di zucca (fried and soupy pumpkin, respectively), all the while listening to mountainy folk music.
Pumpkin My Ride
We didn't make it back to either of these festivals this year, but we're still enjoying marrone e zucca, albeit bought at the mercato!

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife