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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.

 
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Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015!

6 Jan
The last two weeks have been busy what with four – count ’em – four holidays in Italy! December 25 and 26 (Santo Stefano) we spent in Ortisei (see prior posts), then returning from vacation we had two more holidays to enjoy: New Year’s Day and Epifania.  Life is good!
New Year’s Eve we traveled to our favorite trattoria in Roma, Antica Taverna. The owner Paolo and our favorite waiter, Giovanni, took good care of us and we enjoyed a protracted dinner with too many dishes to name them all and a steady supply of good red wine. The dessert was the only item I managed to photograph, a delightful tortino al cioccolato.  It tasted 10 times better then it looks. It was THAT GOOD.  We slipped out before 23:00 in hopes of finding a cab before the whole city descended into chaos. The buses stop running at 21:00 on NYE because they can’t make it through the streets effectively. Can you imagine? Shutting down the buses because there are too many people in the streets? The Metro runs but unfortunately nowhere near our home. We can walk from Antica Taverna to home in 75-90 minutes, but it was really cold (for Roma) and walking did not seem like much fun. What luck! We found a cab at an obscure cabstand near the restaurant! Got home in time to endure 45 minutes of neighborhood revelry.  Some year we need to be brave and go down to the party in via Fori Imperiali and see the fireworks over the Colosseo. Some year.
This weekend was the start of the winter saldi (sales). We had a couple of purchases in mind and headed out into a bright if chilly Sunday along with THOUSANDS of people making their way to our destination, a major shopping street near the Vatican. We made our way by bus to transfer to the Metro at Termini. The Metro was packed like the Japanese subway on a business day. I wanted to take a picture of how crowded it was, but I couldn’t maneuver to do so packed in as I was with my arms pinned! We wondered at so many people heading out to shop! We might have bailed in the Metro station but by that time we were like cows going through chutes and there was no turning back. Moo. When we got to our stop, the hoards headed down the street toward the Vatican. It was then that we realized they were headed to Piazza San Pietro for the Pope’s angelis. Shopping was busy too, but not quite the cattle drive.
Today is Epifania, the official end to the Christmas season, also called Befana, when the witch La Befana visits the children leaving candy for the good ones and coal for the not-so-good children. Having no young children around and having spent Christmas out of Roma, we decided to have a small group of friends for a decidedly non-traditional lunch. Is Italian-Swedish a fusion cuisine? Our new friends and soon-to-be-landlords had voiced an interest in Swedish meatballs, and she wanted to make a special Neopolitan pastiera for dessert. Combined with a purè di patate casserole, Swedish pickled herring, Swedish cheese, a beet salad, and Italian salumi, it was cross-cultural event. Unfortunately as we got into entertaining we forgot to take more pictures!
So now we have to go a week-and-a-half until the next holiday, Martin Luther King’s birthday. Hope I can make it!

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!

Kilograms, centigrade and convection, Oh My!

30 Nov

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 peperoncini 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.

\

Things are different here

30 Mar

Banking, shopping, mammograms: there are many differences here in bella Italia.

Banking was invented in Italy. In fact, the oldest bank in the world is Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which is in deep doo doo over some questionable transactions…but I digress.  We needed to open an Italian bank account so we could pay some local doctors’ bills. The process of opening the account was akin to closing on a house, only more difficult. It took several days and 3 visits to the bank, but no money was deposited until the account was open and we had a fistful of documents in hand to prove it. Only then were we allowed to deposit money.

And about depositing money: We get reimbursement checks from various sources that we deposit here rather than send back to the U.S. for deposit. One day I popped into the bank with four checks, totaling about $150. No deposit slip is necessary; you just tell the teller your account number. For a deposit of four checks, 10 pieces of A4 paper are generated. Each check requires two (one for me, one for the bank), and the deposit itself requires two (same drill). I signed five times to deposit four checks. They are very nice people, very accommodating, and the experience is very personal, as opposed to the no-human-touch-required ATM deposit.  As long as our balance is correct…but many trees sacrificed their lives.

On the other hand, no trees are harmed in creation of bank statements: everything is electronic and self-service. When we opened our account, we received a random-code-generator token for secure access. It’s quite efficient and more advanced than the 3 online banking systems we access in the U.S.

Paying bills is a matter of making a wire transfer. If you want to pay a doctor’s bill, unless you are paying in cash which is quite common, you need the doctor’s International Banking Number as well as bank name. Simple and not too costly. I marched into the bank armed with this information only to be asked by the teller “what is this payment for?”  Hmmm, seems a bit intrusive and personal to ask what I am paying a doctor for. How detailed to get? I mean what if you had something rather, um, sensitive and personal done? Do you blurt out “pap smear” or “wart removal?” (Neither of which were involved I might add.)  I opted for a rather vanilla “medical consultation,” then hours later realized that without an invoice number, perhaps the recipient of the payment might find information beyond the patient name useful in matching payment to service.  Still, a potentially awkward moment; No HIPAA rules here. I’m sticking with “medical consultation.”

Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori market. Let the vendor select your produce or risk a scolding.

Shopping has oh-so-many differences from the U.S.  First, it can be rather disjointed. Megastores are few, and out in the suburbs. One may need to go to many stores to accomplish what a stop at Target would do. I like small businesses and wandering around Rome, so it’s an opportunity to poke my head into various establishments. But sometimes it is hard to know where to go to get what. Light bulbs, for example, are most likely in an electrical shop, although there are some in the larger grocery stores. Need a curling iron? Don’t try a beauty supply store; go to an appliance and electronics shop.  Cosmetics? A profumeria of course.  If all else fails, try a ferramenta, which is a household goods store with everything from toilet paper to wine glasses, but in the tiniest stores!

Store hours also need to be considered. The larger grocery stores are usually open continually, but a ferramenta or an electrical shop might close from 13:30-16:00. A large wine shop near us does this, even on a busy Saturday, as does Ric’s favorite men’s clothier. They re-open from 16:00-20:00. Since one does not eat before 21:00, these are prime shopping hours.  Even the electronics giant Euronics takes la pausa on Saturday and they close on Sunday, limiting recreational shopping. Quality of life versus consumerism: interesting concept.

At the outdoor markets, like Campo dei Fiori (think large Farmers’ Market in the U.S.) one never touches the produce. Let the nice vendor help you. Be prepared for questions like “What are you going to use them for” when you ask for tomatoes: “For sauce or to eat?” You’ll get different tomatoes based on the answer.  Or the fish monger might ask “How many people is this for,” then argue with you about whether you are buying enough. (He’ll also want to know your method of preparation.)

Rabbit babyfood

Pat the Bunny? No eat the bunny, Babyfood in flavors attuned to Italian tastes. I have not seen equine….

In the grocery store produce department, one dons a plastic glove, then bags, weighs, and prices one’s own produce. You won’t forget to do that more than once,because if in a moment of American-ness you get distracted and head for the checkout, the cassa will send you trotting back through the store to price the goods, holding up the entire line while you do so. Che imbarazzante! (I’ve only done it once.)

Milk is sold in shelf-stable cartons that do not have to be refrigerated until after opening, and eggs are always on the shelf at room temp.  There is a staggering variety of pasta of course, and the best tuna ever, packed in olive oil. Who needs mayonnaise? Ethnic foods (Mexican, Thai, Chinese) are impossible to find in a regular store. There are specialty shops, but I have not sought them out yet. However, if your infant likes parmesan cheese, salmon, or rabbit, there’s a baby food for that. 

mammografiaThis picture says almost all you need to know about getting a mammogram here: there is no virtually useless “gown.” Just strip to the waist and belly up to the bar. I was warned by the Embassy Health Unit what to expect, and provided a paper gown to take along, but geez, really, did I want to be la Americana there with the Italian women, the only one shielding her girls with a flimsy gown that was mostly coming off anyway?  So I went along with local custom.  But there’s one more surprise for those of us from a sheltered, HIPAA-indoctrinated, North American, law-suit inspired environment: many of the mammographers are men. 

As I entered the office of the senologist (breasts are their only business), I saw a man in scrubs with long gray hair, a little wild, who resembled an aging 60s rock musician. “Please God, don’t let that be my mammographer,” I pleaded silently.  I waited with the other women and was relieved to be summoned to an exam room by a lovely young woman; Take off everything from the waist up and so we begin. But could this be a straightforward get-it-done process? Of course not! She’d get me arranged in the machine then open the door to the adjoining suite and ask a question. She set me up again, and with my breast pressed inextricably between two plates of glass, open the door to the reception area and talk to another person. At one point she left me hanging (literally and figuratively) for about 2 minutes while she went through yet a third door and talked to someone else! At the end of the session she motioned to the chair where I had left my clothes and said I should make myself comfortable (Si accomodi usually means make yourself comfortable, have a seat;  but I now know it can also be used as for “lay back and relax”) and wait for the doctor. To me comfortable  (and relaxed!) is fully dressed, so I began to suit up. I had just put my bra on and had my arms in the sleeves of my blouse when a man in a white coat opened Door Number 3 and my tech beamed with a cheery Ciao bello! Buongiorno! As they consulted over some technical issue (I don’t know if he was a doctor or a computer technician), I buttoned my blouse and donned my sweater. Standing there awkwardly I asked if I should wait. “Sì” and another wave to the chair.

About 40 seconds later in sweeps another young woman who escorts me into the room where I thought the aging rocker was. Yup; He’s the doctor. I figured he was going to give me the “all clear” and I’d be on my way.  Huge office with a desk on one side, mammograms up on the large computer screens, which the doctor is studying. On the other side of the office is an exam table, which the nurse escorts me to and tells me to undress. I ask: “What are we doing?” “An exam” she says, perplexed. I had heard they do ultrasounds on most everyone…. So I strip to the waist again and lay down (Si accomodi!), only to be left there, half-naked and certainly not comfortable, while the doctor makes a phone call and the nurse comes-and-goes a couple of times. They ask me for my last films (not handy – they are in Oregon), and finally the doctor does the ultrasound.  I give great credit for thoroughness.  My favorite part (tongue firmly in cheek) was when he motioned bare-breasted me 20 feet across the huge office to see my mammogram close up, and then back again to the complete the exam.  My only question is why they even allowed me to dress between the two exams. I suspect an Italian woman would not do so, would know she was moving on through Door Number 1 for the sonogram.

In our own environment we know pretty-much what to expect, and I think in North America medical personnel tend to explain — maybe even over-explain — what you are to do, what is going to happen, what to expect. Here there seems to be a great assumption that one already knows what to expect. And of course in North America we have huge body-consciousness/privacy issues. Not worth having here….

I can hardly wait for a trip to the gynecologist.

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