Tag Archives: Villa Taverna

Weekend Miscellany

18 May
Friday night we undertook to make dinner for some Italian friends. I am still a bit nervous about making Italian food for Italians, so we built a “Mediterranean Menu,” incorporating preparations from Sicily and the Middle East, with a left turn to France for dessert. It turned into THE GREAT GARLIC DINNER: with the exception of dessert, there was garlic in every course. I had not planned the menu to be so. Only in the implementation did I realize how much the little wonders were incorporated. Luckily each person was a garlic fiend.
Gigi, Eleonora, me and Emanuela. Why do I always forget to take pictures of the food?

Gigi, Eleonora, me and Emanuela. Why do I always forget to take pictures of the food?

We started with pancetta-wrapped garlic, which must be tried to be believed. Our guests had never seen garlic nor pancetta treated this way. Even our vegetarian guest downed several of the savory cloves. Of course olives were present, also in a garlicky/spicy treatment. Antipasti included balsamic-roasted red-peppers, hummus, and Ric’s very wonderful Sicilian caponata, also with an adequate amount of the pungent bulbs. Served with hot, crispy-crusted-tender-inside focaccia we probably could have quit eating at this point. Ma è non finisce qui! (But wait, there’s more!) The garlic-fest continued with garlic-crusted rombo and rosemary potatoes with olives and –  you guessed it – garlic!
Rombo

Rombo

The rombo is a type of flat-fish, a member of the turbot family. I used to make this recipe with halibut in Portland. In fact it is a recipe our son taught me. Although Italian has a word for halibut, ippoglosso, you cannot get the fish fresh. So I asked at the pescheria what type of fish might work as a substitute and the rombo was the considered decision.  I was quite flattered at the fish shop to be asked how I would prepare scallops. There was another customer there contemplating scallops as they were on special and according to the fishmonger Italians only have one way of making them: baked with breadcrumbs, a sort of Coquilles St. Jacques. He knew an American (between my accent and my marginal Italian it’s easy to tell that I am) would have other preparations so we had quite a 3-way conversation about pan-frying, in cream-sauce with mushrooms, stir-fried in an Asian style, etc. This is constant conversation in Italy wherever food is sold: How are you going to prepare that? Everyone has an idea and the exchange is quite interesting and informative. I am glad my Italian is now at a level where I can participate. But I digress…. The fish is spread with roasted garlic, then sprinkled with herb-seasoned panko, and broiled for a very few minutes. Yum!
The potato recipe came from my friend Heather’s aunt, and is a real winner, perfect with this fish. New potatoes, two kinds of chopped olives, roasted garlic, herbs and olive oil = fantastic! No ketchup required.
We finished the evening with a very French pots di crème served with fresh whipped cream,the intense chocolate being a fine counter-point to the savory dinner.
At the very elegant Villa Taverna gardens. I was so wrapped up in the auction, wine and food, I forgot to take pictures. This was the cake-topper.

At the very elegant Villa Taverna gardens. I was so wrapped up in the auction, wine and food that I forgot to take pictures. This was the cake-topper.

Of course that was only Friday. The gastro-fest continued at the annual embassy auction at the ambassador’s residence, Villa Taverna.  Because U.S. government procurement law does not allow taxpayer money to be spent on employee functions, each year the Community Liaison Office holds an auction to raise funds to allow a couple of parties for staff, morale-boosting efforts for the Marine Security Guard, such as visits by their parents, and so on. The auction is a big deal, with great food and an opportunity to spend money. So of course we did. It looks like we have a couple of weekend trips ahead, including 3 nights at an agriturismo in the Brunello di Montalcino region.
Ric and me in our little risciò, perfect for touring the park. V.B. is the largest public park in Rome.

Ric and me in our little risciò, perfect for touring the park. V.B. is the largest public park in Rome.

Sunday we decided it was finally time to rent a risciò in Villa Borghese. A risciò is a pedal-cart for two-to-four adults and two little ones. It is power-assisted so you don’t kill yourself pedaling, but it does take some thigh power to get around. We have a mind to take our young great-nephew and great-niece for an outing when they are here in August, so we thought a trial run would be a good idea. What a fun way to see the park! We walk through V.B. almost daily, but there are parts of the park we never get to see. So Susan and John, when you two are off seeing the Vatican Museums, we may be cycling your kids through the park.
Anyone who knows Ric knows that pizza is a weekly menu item, usually on Friday night. Since we had company Friday and the auction Saturday, we had to push pizza to Sunday night, so very shortly we’ll be off our local pizzeria to feed the need. Great way to wrap up the weekend!
The lake in Villa Borghese. Very small, but quite sweet.

The lake in Villa Borghese. Very small, but quite sweet.

Hope you all had fun this weekend too!

“Obama Day” in Rome

27 Mar
One of the local news channels — at least the one we monitor in the office — declared today
President Barack Obama addresses U.S. Embassy employees at Villa Taverna, March 27, 2014.

President Barack Obama addresses U.S. Embassy employees at Villa Taverna, March 27, 2014.

“Obama Day.” Much like a weather disaster in the U.S., like “Snowmageddon” or “Arctic Blast,” Sky24 TV covered the President’s visit to Rome all day, step by step, motorcade by motorcade, meeting by meeting. Traffic was so bad there might as well have been a winter storm. Going on foot, as we do, was certainly easier. 
It’s hard to imagine this type of coverage in the U.S. A visit by the Queen of England would be a big deal, but it would never get full play-by-play coverage. In the U.S., we reserve that for national disasters. Here, POTUS is a big deal and his entire agenda was seen as newsworthy.
The crowd awaits entrance to Villa Taverna. Grazie a Dio there was no rain!

The crowd awaits entrance to Villa Taverna. Grazie a Dio there was no rain!

The police presence was impressive. Beginning Wednesday, in preparation for an evening arrival, every Italian law enforcement group was mobilized, surrounding the Embassy as well as the Ambassador’s residence where POTUS would stay. Adding complexity, Secretary of State Kerry also came to town. The Carabinieri, Polizia di Stato, Guardia di Finanza, and the Roma Polizia Municipale were all on duty.  There were probably others that went unseen.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama, like any visiting dignitary, was running
About 200 people gathered in the garden of VT and patiently awaited the guests of honor.

About 200 people gathered in the garden of VT and patiently awaited the guests of honor.

late by the end of his first appointment, which was with Papa Francesco. It struck me as I watched the extensive Italian coverage of the meeting, that arguably the two most influential men in the world were in that Vatican room together today.  Each very popular in the other’s country, by the way. The American approval rating of Papa Francesco is 3-out-of-4, and Italians overall like President Obama very much.  
The day progressed with Mr. Obama meeting with President Napolitano, Prime Minister Renzi, and finally a private tour of the Colosseum. 
These kids are a little young to be so entranced by a mere president. The object of their attention: a movie on aniPad.

These kids are a little young to be so entranced by a mere president. The object of their attention: a movie on an iPad.

Tonight we were invited to the Ambassador’s residence, Villa Taverna, for a “meet and greet” with the President and “S” as Kerry is called.  Security was beyond tight, and we were instructed to arrive by 16:30 for an 18:30 arrival of POTUS. Luckily the rain that threatened and spat throughout the day ceased about 16:00 as the event was outdoors. We were joined by a couple hundred embassy employees and family members, and after enduring a good-natured wait in line to be frisked screened,  we mingled in the fabulous garden of VT to await our Commander-in-Chief.  Surprisingly he was only about 15-20 minutes late!
Secretary was the opening act for POTUS. He has been in Rome a lot  since becoming "S."

Secretary was the opening act for POTUS. He has been in Rome a lot since becoming “S.”

This was the first time Ric and I had the pleasure of being in the same “room” as a president. It was pretty darned exciting. He, Secretary Kerry, and Ambassador Phillips are all pretty good friends. I imagine they retreated to an amicable evening inside Villa Taverna as we headed home and a light mist began to fall. 

Dear Family & Friends,

26 Dec

On Monday I was a little surprised to find it was Christmas week already. We had the usual advance warning of the Thanksgiving celebration, but

The Galleria on Via del Corso.

The Galleria on Via del Corso.

that was a false start: the “season” doesn’t kick off in Italy until L’immacolata, December 8, the celebration of the Immaculate Conception. The season does not end at midnight on December 31. Rather, the holiday season lasts until Epiphany, January 6.

In the U.S. we are bombarded with Christmas music beginning at Halloween. Here, the evidence of the coming holiday is a little more subtle. Decorations start going up in early

3 years ago, the lights on Via del Corso celebrated Italy's 150th year with red, white & green lights. This year, a rainbow.

3 years ago, the lights on Via del Corso celebrated Italy’s 150th year with red, white & green lights. This year, a rainbow.

December, but the majority are not illuminated until the 8th.  One barely hears a Christmas Carol outside of a concert or church venue until this very week of Christmas. The music continues to be part of the background until Epiphany. The lack of Christmas music early in the month is almost profound. In fact, less than two weeks ago I was having my nails done and listening to old Beach Boys and other seasonally non-specific American music (very popular here at all times of the year). While shopping at a major department store on the 14th we saw lots of decorations and holiday merchandise, but no seasonal soundtrack. Odd but appealing, this absence of public holiday music made it more fun to listen to our collection of 752 holiday songs on iTunes.

This priceless statue by Giambologna is in the U.S. Embassy. Here she stands amidst a display of poinsettias that only serve to make her more beautiful.

This priceless statue, Venus After the Bath,  by Giambologna is in the U.S. Embassy. Here she stands amidst a display of poinsettias that only serve to make her more beautiful.

So what did Ric and Laurel do? In the week following L’Immacolata, the Ambassador held a reception for all Embassy employees at his beautiful residence, Villa Taverna, my boss held a party at his apartment, and we went to an Advent concert at La Chiesa dei Portoghesi. This church has a fabulous organ on which an amazingly talented organist played an improvisational concert. We’ve never heard anything like it: non-traditional, more akin to a jazz session.

Seat of the Portuguese Catholic Church in Rome with an exceptional organ and organist.

Seat of the Portuguese Catholic Church in Rome with an exceptional organ and organist.

We were delighted to be invited to the Boncompangi Ludovisi home at Villa Aurora for a party on December 21, where the Prince and Princess (see Evening with an American Princess) entertained the residents of an orphanage they support.  Tucked into the evenings here-and-there, we wandered the city viewing the lights, baked Swedish Kringlor (pastries) as gifts for several people, and decorated Casa di Barton.

The magificent Villa Aurora, on a hill just a few steps off Via V. Veneto.

The magificent Villa Aurora, on a hill just a few steps off Via V. Veneto.

The Aurora Room, with it's famous fresco, and a gigantic tree.

The Aurora Room, with it’s famous fresco, and a gigantic tree.

Leo, Francesco, me and Alessandra enjoy one of the elegant salons at Villa Aurora.

Leo (back to camera), Francesco, and Alessandra – with me in the middle – enjoy one of the elegant salons at Villa Aurora.

A lot is crammed into two-and-a-half weeks from l’Immacolata to Christmas, versus the four-or-so weeks we have in the U.S. from Thanksgiving. Last-minute shopping is also a tradition of the season here as in North America. Every day beginning the 18th, the traffic became more and more intense, the horns sounding more frequently and with greater than usual annoyance. But after the usual pre-Christmas recitals, concerts, parties and receptions, almost two weeks of the holiday season remain and we take 4 holidays: Christmas, Santo Stefano (26th), New Year’s Day, and Epiphany (January 6).  Gotta love a schedule like that. Clearly there is no separation of Church and State, although Ric says that since the Carabinieri put their nativity scene outside of the station at headquarters in Parioli, that’s sufficient separation.

The tree in Palazzo Margherita, the U.S. Embassy, sparkles in red, white and blue.

The tree in Palazzo Margherita, the U.S. Embassy, sparkles in red, white and blue.

On Christmas Eve we attended an early (19:00) Mass at Santa Susanna, the seat of the American Catholic Church in Rome. Apparently Papa

This is outdoor space in 3 season, but for winter, encased in a transparent plastic "tent" heated by flaming torches.

This is outdoor space in 3 season, but for winter, encased in a transparent plastic “tent” heated by flaming torches.

Francesco’s policy of inclusion is working because lightening did not strike our Lutheran selves.  At the fashionable hour of 21:00, we took ourselves to our favorite trattoria where we have dined the last three Christmas Eves. They serve an all fish dinner, including mussels sautéed in wine (this is the restaurant where I learned to love cozze), shrimp pate, smoked salmon, marinated anchovies (yum!) and insalata al mare. That was just the antipasto course! Seafood risotto and paccheri with shellfish comprised the primi, and our entrée (secondi) was a whole steamed seabass (spigola) served with puntarelle bathed in an anchovy sauce. Two-and-a-half hours later we headed for home. Yes, we have become quite Roman in our dining hours and duration. We also ate all’aperto in that most restaurants have their outdoor tables encased in a plastic tent with heaters making it warm enough to remove your coat and be comfortable unless a high wind is blowing.

Christmas Eve by the light of the flaming heaters. The waiter took our picture.... I'd had an 18 hour day by this point. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Christmas Eve by the light of the flaming heaters. The waiter took our picture…. I’d had an 18 hour day by this point. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

The eating must continue, of course, but we chose to forego the family tradition of Swedish plättar (pancakes) and save ourselves for Christmas Lunch, a two-hour affair at a quaint restaurant in the ghetto of Rome. All restaurants and shops are open in this quartiere on Christmas (unless it is Shabbat), making it a convivial destination with some fine options. Many Italians dine out on Christmas Day, we have found, so reservations are essential. There were quite a few people waiting hopefully for a table outside the restaurants lining Via Portico d’Ottavia. We waltzed right in at 14:00 to a fine table in the back by the garden.

We caught up with the Bartons of Omaha Christmas night, and look forward to their invasion visit in August. We also peeked in on Derek via Skype. With a few more Skype sessions planned, by the end of the season we will have seen many friends and family from afar. We will wrap up the season with a day of repose today, Santo Stefano. A wind-and-rain storm last night makes staying inside seem like the best idea. The weekend will have us wandering the streets again (have to work on Friday), but January 1 we’ll take off for Switzerland, a mutual gift to each other: Winter Hiking in the Berner Oberland. I’ll be sure to post news of our trip.

Many thanks for cards, e-cards and various greetings sent our way. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you the very best! Buon Natale, Felice 2014, e tanti tanti auguri!

In a piazza, a forest of Christmas trees surrounds a little cabin where Babbo Natale hears the wishes of the bambini.

In a piazza, a forest of Christmas trees surrounds a little cabin where Babbo Natale hears the wishes of the bambini.

One of Princess Rita's bichon frises dresses for the occasion.

One of Princess Rita’s bichon frises dresses for the occasion.

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