Kilograms, centigrade and convection, Oh My!

24 Nov

24 November 2016. We are celebrating this most-American of holidays in Seattle with pouring rain, but surrounded by family. I am the chief cook but thanks to two able sous chefs, Ric and my sis-in-law Deb, I am not spending the entire day in the kitchen. Our nephew is supplying excellent wine and Alexa, the digital assistant will play any music I desire on demand. She also sets timers. I have fallen in love with her and a few minutes ago ordered one for our house. 

We are grateful to be back in the U.S. for the first Thanksgiving here in 5 years, but cannot help taking a look back on a fun-filled feast we held in Italy in 2013, when Ric and I cooked for 11 Italians on Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy the look back and wish you all a very blessed holiday.

Thanksgiving 2013, A look back

I’ve prepared a lot of turkeys. A conservative estimate would be that I have prepared 40 over the course of about 36 years. My first was when I was in my mid-twenties and decided I had to be the hostess for Thanksgiving and my mom had to help. I was terrified of ruining the Butterball. The years we did not prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving at home I surely made one for Christmas or sometime during the autumn.  And I graduated over the years from frozen (Norbest with a built-in timer!) to all-natural farm-raised turkeys from an organic store. But the most satisfying turkey-venture was this year, in Rome.
Leonardo reads the menu - in English and Italian - as we start with the soup.

Leonardo reads the menu – in English and Italian – as we start with the soup.

Our friends, Alessandra and Francesco, invited us to prepare the feast in their beautiful apartment. They would provide the turkey and wine while Ric and I would prepare the contorni (side dishes). Knowing they had an Italian oven, which are smaller than most we have in the U.S., and since this type of meal is a bit unusual in Italy, we gathered over supper the Friday before Thanksgiving to plan our attack. I warned them that turkey takes time: I will be in your kitchen much of the day.  Since Thursday was a work-and-school day here for all but employees of the American Embassy, I worried it might be an imposition. But Ale and Francesco were undeterred and in fact invited a crowd to experience the American feast.  There would be 11 Italians at the table, plus Ric and I. We decided that if it would fit in their oven, a 7 kilogram  turkey would be a nice size, about 15 pounds U.S. Their friend Stefania would provide dessert.
Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Early Thursday we headed out to pick up artisan bread for the dressing and fresh green beans, managing to get in a 6 km walk in advance of the feast.  While we were inhaling the glorious smells at Roscioli, Francesco called and said “You need to talk to Ale. She has the turkey and it’s big.” Ale confirmed: her butcher has provided an 8 kg (17-pound) hen turkey and the butcher says it will take 5 hours to cook. Can we come earlier to start the cooking?
Ale's elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

Ale’s elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

We planned to serve the soup at 19:30 and the main course about 20:30, so we figured the bird needed to go in the oven about 16:30, if it weighed 7 kg. Now we had 8 kg to deal with, and (surprise!) a convection oven, which changes the cooking game considerably, plus the butcher’s recommendation to cook it in a low oven for 5 hours. Yikes!  Arriving about 14:45, Ric set to chopping herbs for my herb-butter turkey recipe. By 15:20, after calculating and re-calculating cooking time and centigrade-versus-Fahrenheit, we had herb-butter under the skin and put her in the oven trussed up as tightly as we could, just managing to squeeze her into the space available.  (Ric has a wonderful little app on the tablet that does all manner of conversions since our American-system brains have to constantly deal with length, volume, temperature and distance conversions.)  With any luck, she would be done by 20:00, giving 30 minutes for “rest” and to make the final prep.
Every good dinner starts with prosecco. Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Every good dinner starts with prosecco. From left, me (elbow), Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Whew! Deep breath, now all we have to do is monitor, baste, add broth, and prepare the contorni. Ric is a terrific sous chef and spent the next hour carving up butternut squash for soup, peeling potatoes, and various other tasks assigned, while the kids came and went. All-in-all Alessandra, Ric and I spent a compatible couple of hours doing prep, setting the table, chatting and enjoying the time immensely. At each check on the turkey, I worried it was getting too brown, but my research on roasting a turkey in a convection oven said do not cover with foil. By 17:30 I was nervous: it looked done. My brand new meat thermometer (Celsius, of course!) said it was done in most parts.  Can’t be! Two hours at 160C (325F) and it’s done!?!?!? The main event was still 3 hours off! We wanted the guests to see this magnificent beast, but how could we hold it safely not have it dried out like the scene from “Christmas Vacation?”
Ale said, “We must Google it!” We typed in “how to hold a turkey safely when it’s done early.” Amazing
Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco share the cranberries

Nello, Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco

number of hits! Who knew?  Survey says: aluminum foil, low low temp (about 200F), and moisture in the pan beneath the turkey.
Can I tell you this was the most beautiful turkey I’ve ever made? And the moistest? And the best-tasting? My updated recipe for perfection at Thanksgiving = The company of people you enjoy + Natural Italian turkey + Convection oven + Creativity and a little experience with turkeys.
Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

I think the only side dish quite familiar to the guests was mashed potatoes. Gravy is not normally made in Italy, nor dressing/stuffing as we do in the U.S. (mine is made with sausage, apples and raisins). We managed to acquire fresh whole cranberries (shipped in from Massachusetts)  and made sweet potatoes with gorgonzola.  Stefania’s tarte tartin and homemade whoopee pies made for a festive and tasty finish.  See the whole menu here. Multiple portions were consumed and even the kids were adventurous in trying foods they’d not seen before. No one seemed to miss pasta.
Everyone who has prepared a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic. Getting stuffing, Potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as he speeds to help!

Everyone who has prepared a  big turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic, getting stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as he speeds to help. Thanks to Ronnie, Ric was off clean-up duty for a change.

Dinner went off without a hitch. Except as usual, I forgot something, sending the sweet potatoes to the table sans the candied pecans on top, and I forgot the pepperoncini for the green beans. (I think I am the only one that noticed.)
Last year, our first Thanksgiving in Italy, we knew we would really miss the large crowd we tended to gather around our table in Portland, so we celebrated in a totally non-traditional manner. This year we had a memorable, wonderful day thanks to Alessandra, Francesco, their family and friends. We are very grateful to have been able to share the traditions and spend our holiday with them and to them for opening their home and kitchen to the American Invasion.
I am so getting a convection oven the next time we need to buy an appliance.
Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother's green bean casserole.

Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother’s green bean casserole.

I ragazzi doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giordano, Leonardo, Giuseppe and Sara, doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giuseppe and Giordano at table - even the kids liked the soup!

Giuseppe and Giordano at table – even the kids liked the soup!

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora., Francesco and me.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora, Francesco and me.

 

Left coast life

17 Nov
17 November 2016. It has been scarcely three weeks since we left Rome. In that time, we have been to the dentist and eye doctor, bought new glasses, established ourselves with a General Practitioner, figured out public transportation in Portland, learned to drive again, bought a car, and had an offer accepted on a house after a 3-night trip to the Oregon Coast to “start” house-hunting. Yes, we will truly be living on the left coast, at Lincoln City, Oregon. Here’s our house-to-be. It’s about a mile from the beach. house
Driving is a necessary annoyance. We have a lovely hybrid vehicle; However, we are still trying to use public transportation for trips to the city centre to avoid the hassle of parking and to keep ourselves walking and wandering and discovering. You cannot adequately explore a place by car as well as you can on two feet.
We have made progress in the ever-important search for good coffee. We have managed to find three places: Coffee Time  on Northwest 21st Avenue makes an excellent and small cappuccino, Grand Central Baking just a block from our son’s house makes a smooth and rich cappuccino, and Great Harvest Bread Company  on Southwest 2nd Avenue made an Americano I found pleasant: not burned, not bitter, and not too big if you ask them not to add too much water. We have found that a flat white at Starbucks is pretty good and at 8 ounces about the right size. At $3.40 it is hardly a value and they expect a tip!
Last time I shared some of our observations after only a few days back in the U.S. In the past 10 or 12 days we’ve noted many more. These are things we took for granted until we lived overseas for 4 1/2 years. Now, they are astounding.
  1. Elevators are huge! I had forgotten you can put 10 people in an elevator without having to become intimate.

    This is the elevator at our embassy apartment in Roma. You coudl get 3 not-too-big people in it. One might call it "intimate." Quaint.

    This is the elevator at our embassy apartment in Rome. You could get 3 not-too-big people in it. One might call it “intimate.” Or quaint.

  2. In the US, cars do not park on the sidewalks nor in the pedestrian crossings.

    No one parks like this in Portland, but this is a failry common approach in Rome: on the sidewalk and in the pedestrian zone.

    No one parks like this in Portland, but this is a fairly common approach in Rome: on the sidewalk and in the pedestrian zone.

  3. Maybe it’s just in Portland, but buses are terrific! The drivers welcome you on board and they arrive on time. Most remarkably, rather than flagging a bus down as one does in Rome (or they won’t stop), the other day while standing at a stop serving 2 different lines we had to wave off the bus we did not need. So polite! Of course, the cost is much higher. A single trip is $2.50 versus €1.50 in Rome. My Roman friends will gasp when I tell them an annual pass is $1100.00 versus the €250.00 we paid in Rome, but then the buses here run on time and show up.
  4. People do not talk while riding on public transportation. It’s almost like being in Paris. They also wait for you to get off before shoving their way on board, and people queue up. I’ve even been deferred to in boarding. In Rome, people would shoulder me out of the way in the scurry to claim a spot onboard.
  5. The mentally challenged engage you in conversation on public transportation. In Rome, we seldom saw challenged people of any sort out alone, if they were out in public at all. It is refreshing to see people of varying abilities making their way around the city, confident and free, accepted by their fellow travellers.
  6. Dogs pee on the grass. Sidewalk puddles are (usually) from rain. This may only have meaning if you have lived in a big city without grassy areas.
  7. I can wash and dry clothes at the same time while making espresso and ironing. This is huge. Thank you, USA, for plentiful and affordable electricity. And we could turn the heat on before November 15. 
  8. I no longer need to clean the calcium out of the cat’s water dish with vinegar.
  9. Tipping is the scourge of America. Prices are so much higher than Europe as a whole, yet we are expected to tip even if we serve ourselves at the counter. This is going to take some getting used to.
We are thankful for all of you who have followed our story since GoodDayRome debuted 4 1/2 years ago. I am not sure where to go with blogging. Obviously, for awhile I will have little to say about Rome. I will keep posting what’s going on in our lives as our transition continues, so I hope you will stay for the ride. When we travel back to Europe, I will probably blog about our travels.
I am writing a book about easy hiking in Italy’s Val Gardena. It is for people like Ric and me (yeah, old people), people with children, or anyone who does not fancy climbing mountains but enjoys a good stroll. If I can take a deep breath and work on it consistently for a few days, it should be published on Amazon by late January. I will let you know here when it launches. Maybe 5 or 6 people will actually buy it. 
For our American friends and readers, Happy Thanksgiving! It is exciting to be back in the USA for this most-American of holidays and I am looking forward to our family gathering and cooking up a storm.
kitchenSpeaking of cooking, I can hardly wait to start cooking in my kitchen-to-be.
 

 

Back to reality

4 Nov
3 November 2016. Returning to the U.S. has not been without surprises. It still amazes us to walk into a grocery store and see the embarrassment of riches available in the land of stuff. Sure, the shelf space devoted to pasta is minuscule compared to that in Italy, but my God we have everything in our markets! From French cheese to cosmetics and prepared foods, we can get it all in one stop. Italy has its many charms, but I can appreciate an efficient supermarket and access to food items other than Italian.
Here are some of our observations after a few days of wandering around Portland:
Yup, lots of olives here, but at double the price we paid in Roma!

Yup, lots of olives here, but at double the price we paid in Roma!

  1. The reason people order 400-calorie flavored lattes at Starbucks is to cover up the taste of the coffee.
  2. Mendicants will give you a sincere compliment when hitting you up for a donation. Apparently my color coordination was quite stunning, according to one panhandler. I did not donate to his cause.
  3. People park where they are supposed to.
  4. We had forgotten about samples in the grocery store. You can practically have lunch walking through an American market.

    We had forgotten about samples in the grocery store. You can practically have lunch walking through an American market.

    Boxed wine takes more shelf space at Fred Meyer than pasta does in our little market in Parioli.
  5. You cannot live without a car if you live more than a couple of miles from the city center. It took me 2 transfers and 75 minutes to go 9 miles in Portland on public transportation: Bus to MAX light rail to Portland Streetcar. Ridiculous. 
  6. Food is crazily expensive in the U.S. and the price of wine is criminal. 
So many people have asked what’s going on with our return, I thought I would add a quick rundown of the past week.
We happened upon a wedding at the city hall while wandering around Frankfurt.

We happened upon a wedding at the city hall while wandering around Frankfurt.

We flew out of Roma to Frankfurt on Thursday, October 27. We spent two nights there so Janie, our sweet 20-year-old cat, could recover from the shorter flight before the long one to the West Coast. Just going to Frankfurt, she had to be in her carrier for 6 hours what with the transfer from home to FCO, waiting time, flight time, and getting to the NH Hotel at FRA. Janie did well with the flight and hotel stay. She explored our room extensively then settled in to take a nap.
Janie relaxes with her mousie at the NH Hotel, Frankfurt,

Janie relaxes with her mousie at the NH Hotel, Frankfurt,

On the 29th we took the overwater 10+ hour flight to Seattle on Condor Airlines. You might ask why the routing FCO-FRA-SEA when we needed to go to Portland. There are precious few carriers that allow animals in the cabin on an over water flight: only KLM/Delta, Lufthansa, and Condor. KLM/Delta out of Amsterdam to Portland was crazily expensive and Condor offered some attractive pricing out of Frankfurt. Our seats cost less on Condor and they charged half as much for the cat under-the-seat, for example, as Delta did four years ago.
Waiting at FCO, Janie has a look around.

Waiting at FCO, Janie has a look around.

The 29th was a long, long day for all of us. We nabbed premium economy seats so with Janie under my feet we had a little extra legroom. I took her out four times in flight, scofflaw that I am, for cuddles and to check the cleanliness of her carrier. Fifteen hours from hotel to hotel is a long time without a litter box. I had lined her carrier with a sheepskin pad and taped an absorbent “wee-wee pad” around it, which worked well to keep her dry.
We traveled light: a rollaboard, which we checked, and a daypack each. About 1/3 of the capacity was stuff for Janie: collapsible/disposable litter boxes, litter, food, dishes. We each had a couple of changes of clothes and a laptop. Our needs are simple. Arriving at the hotel in Seattle Janie wasn’t sure if she wanted dinner or a litterbox first!
On our walk yesterday, a little waterfall. So very Oregon in the rainy season.

On our walk yesterday, a little waterfall. So very Oregon in the rainy season.

Sunday, we drove to Portland, which was fun after such a long absence. It was raining, so we felt appropriately welcomed to the Pacific Northwest.
Our son invited us to stay with him while we search for a house and get re-established, so we are doing just that: settling in, overcoming jetlag (coming west sucks), getting pre-approval on a mortgage, shopping for a vehicle, and today we start looking at real estate. We are unpacking some of the 10 boxes we shipped from Italy and starting to reconnect with friends (thank you Voyageurs Femmes for the grand welcoming last night!) and learn our way around on public transportation.
We have only been gone from Roma for a week and the 4 ½ years we spent there is already starting to feel like a dream. Did we really do that?

 

What I look forward to in the U.S.

26 Oct
26 October 2016. One day to go! We walk around Rome alternately maudlin and delighted. While we are ready to move on to the next adventure, we will miss many things about this magnificent city. Walking to dinner in any number of neighborhoods, enjoying the architecture, stopping in any little bar for a good coffee. Pizza. But the romance of Roma and thoughts of staying can be dashed in an instant by a tangle with bureaucracy, and as we try to depart there are daily tangles. Save me from service businesses that close for lunch just when I need to run an errand, like at 2:00PM two days before we move!
This is part four of my four-part series on what I will miss and not miss in Italy and the U.S. Here’s what I am looking forward to in the U.S.
My clothes dryer in summer. In the winter the "dryer" is in the second bedroom.

My clothes dryer in summer. In the winter the “dryer” is in the second bedroom.

  • Clothes dryers. Hanging clothes out to dry is not too bad in the summer. In the winter it can take 48 hours for jeans to dry and I have to set up a drying rack in the second bedroom. Doing sheets and towels without a dryer is a chore I would gladly skip. And without a dryer, one has to do a lot more ironing. Dryers also take the lint and cat hair off my black tee shirts.
  • Running multiple appliances at the same time. I cannot iron while I wash clothes. We cannot make coffee and toast at the same time unless we are really lucky. The washer and the electric tea kettle running simultaneously can also pop the circuit. The cure is a trip down four floors to the basement to reset the breaker. We are looking forward to electrical service that can handle multiple appliances at one time, as well as to less ironing.
  • Ethnic food. Mexican, Tex-Mex, Thai, Sushi, Vietnamese, Indian, and HALIBUT! Oh, I have missed halibut! We have great food in Italy. GREAT food. But I miss having some good alternatives.
  • Using my superb English skills. My Italian has gotten pretty good but I still do not understand much about the culture and how things work. Politics defies understanding unless you grew up here, I think. It is difficult for me to stand my ground, to argue when something isn’t going my way. It’s a national past-time here. I do that VERY well in English.
  • Netflix and Vudu got all cranky a few months ago and will no longer stream dependably through a VPN so we cannot get all the American content we want in Italy. Luckily Amazon Prime Video works most of the time.
  • Family and friends and easy visits with the people we love. We have had a wonderful time hosting people here, but it’s not as easy as having a monthly dinner date. I miss my girlfriend time (Voyageur Femmes, I am speaking of you!). Looking ahead to Thanksgiving in Seattle and Christmas in Durango!
  • The Portland Farmers’ Market. While it’s only held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and it’s only there for 9 months of the year, it’s a lot of fun. I am looking forward to finding more options to buy direct from the farmer and not only the produce but also meat and poultry. Santa Rosa-style burrito, anyone?
  • Talbots, Nordstrom, Zappos, and Amazon.com. I love online shopping. Period. Nothing more to say.
  • Pinot Noir from Oregon. There is wonderful wine in Italy, of course, and it is inexpensive, but Oregon Pinot Noir is something special. In the U.S., we can get wine from anywhere in the world. In Italy, you get wine from Italy. 
  • Going out to breakfast now-and-then. (Hashbrowns and bacon!) No one in Italy knows how to make a decent omelet. Frittata, yes, but not omelets. Hashbrowns do not exist outside of the commissary at the U.S. Embassy, and I don’t have access to that anymore. However, I don’t think Ric nor I can down the big breakfast these days. We’ll have to split a portion. 
  • Reading the Sunday paper. Such a nice thing to do on a Sunday morning. I might wait until after the election, though. Well after. 
We are packed. The last shipment through Mail Boxes Etc. was dropped off today. We have the travel certificate for Janie Gray. Now, what have I forgotten?

What I dread about returning to the U.S.

23 Oct
22 October 2016. I listed my beefs with Roma the other day. Turnabout is fair play, so here are the things I am not looking forward to in gli stati uniti.
  • Having to fly to go to Europe. How we have loved jumping on trains! 10 hours or more on a plane is not fun, even in Business Class. When we come back to visit, we will take long trips (we have time!) to make the flights worthwhile. In the meantime, I am overusing my United Mileage Plus Visa to accrue as many points as possible. I wonder if we can charge a house?
  • Incredible choice of squash, and the pumpkins--of various kinds--taste amazing, as does everything.

    Incredible choice of squash, and the pumpkins–of various kinds–taste amazing, as does everything.

    Food additives, wooden produce, and high prices. Food in Italy tastes like it should taste. Red peppers zing, potatoes require no butter for flavor, and the overall need for everything from basil to thyme is minimal because the produce is so darn flavorful. In the U.S. we wax our fruits and veggies to preserve them, and God-knows-what is done to cattle and chickens. I am hoping that between the Farmer’s Market and Nature’s Foods I can find good organic stuff. It will cost significantly more to feed us than it has in Italy. I shudder to think of what wine costs in the U.S! And good olive oil!
  • Car-orientation and having to drive again. Yes, the buses in Rome are problematic, but it is possible — even desirable — to live without a car. Unless we want to live in a 700 square foot condo in downtown Portland, we’re going to have to buy a car. It just is not feasible to depend on buses, light rail, and trains. Ric has not driven in 3 1/2 years, and I have not done so in 18 months. We may have to have our son take us to a big parking lot and give us driving lessons.
  • Few trains. Sniff.

    Now THAT's Italian...Pizzeria Al Forno della Soffita.

    Now THAT’s Italian…Pizzeria Al Forno della Soffita.

  • Pizza. Papa Murphy’s Take-and-Bake will no longer cut it. There is good pizza in Portland: Apizza Scholls and Ken’s Artisan Pizza are renowned, with wood-fired pizzas and high-quality ingredients, but you have to line up about 17:00 to get in. We can barely stand to eat before 20:00 anymore. Nostrana has great pizza, too, but costo molto!
  • Eating dinner at 18:00. In Portland, we used to go out on Saturday night and leave the house at 17:30 so we could get a table without a reservation. Now at 18:00 I can barely think about eating except on occasion a little aperitivo. We like to sit down at a restaurant between 20:00 and 21:00. Even eating at home we seldom tuck in before 20:00. By 20:00 in Portland, most restaurants are thinking about shutting down the kitchen. The afternoon just seems longer and more useful when you aren’t thinking about dinner at 17:00. 
  • Lack of social outdoor life. As much as the sidewalk traffic in Roma can make me crazy, I do love the passeggiata tradition in Italy. It is most fun in the smaller towns. Take a walk, have a coffee or an aperitivo, do some shopping or just lick the windows, as the French say. In Paris, there are the terraces and in London the pubs. In Roma, we have the tiny bars. It is an excellent pre-dinner habit to take a walk, sit with friends and visit. In the U.S., we all pull into our homes using an automatic garage door opener and settle in without chatting up the neighbors. 

    Giant cappuccino in the U.S. The Italian version costs us about €1.20, even sitting down at our neighborhood place. It is JUST RIGHT.

    Giant cappuccino in the U.S. The Italian version costs us about €1.20, even sitting down at our neighborhood place. It is JUST RIGHT.

  • Giant cappuccini. No, I did not mistype. cappuccini is the plural of cappuccino. I think I will have to order the child-size. No one needs 12 ounces of milk to one ounce of espresso. 
Maintaining our Italian lifestyle after our return is going to be about as difficult as playing darts with spaghetti. We shall persevere and let you know how it is going. Four days until we fly!!!
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