On Porchetta and Aging

It was 78°F (25°C) today.It made me realize how much I have missed the sun.

Until I stepped outside, I couldn’t really remember what it felt like to be warm.  Winter is strange that way– that way it makes us forget.

I suppose that is a round about way of trying to say: I am floating a bit right now.

The sensation surely has something to do with the upcoming calendar milestone dangling on the horizon. (There is nothing quite like a birthday to make you take stock).

And when you are floating, there’s nothing quite like crispy, fatty, herby porchetta to bring you back down to reality.

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The first time I ever ate porchetta, I was a wee child of 25.  It was my first week in Italy, and my professor had suggested the class take a break from economics to drink wine.

We acquiesced, naturally.

We imbibed. Oh, how we imbibed.

We drank from a literal fountain of wine. Wine flowed, we staggered, and eventually I found myself sitting on a step shoveling porchetta and pizza bianca into my face.

In that moment, I thought: THIS is Italy. Italy is wine, and porchetta, and sometimes maybe, rarely, other commitments.  

But mainly wine and porchetta.

I was young(er) and naive… and not entirely wrong.

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Sometimes you just need to add in an XL supplì or two.

Actually, not two- just one. One carbonara supplì.

Egg and bacon and cheese. Heavy enough to stand up against the porchetta.

Weighty enough to dampen your self-pity at the thought of getting older.

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Older but wiser– which is why tomorrow I am smart enough to be off to Spain for a week of cava and celebration.

You can catch all that on instagram.

But for the porchetta, head here:

I Porchettoni (San Lorenzo)
Via dei Marrucini, 18
06 87860066

 


March is Crazy

March was a bit hectic.

At one point, towards the end of the month, I found myself on three continents in 24 hours. This was thanks to a rather out-of-the-way (and painful) 10 hour overnight layover in Dubai.

But I did it. I overcommitted myself, per usual. But I did it.

As they say around here: marzo è pazzo.  March is crazy.

I’ll use is to justify my wanderings, but what it means is: marzo pazzarello guarda il sole e prendi l’ombrello. March is crazy- watch the sun and take an umbrella.

I’m happy that on the first day of April, the temperature is noticeably warmer.  In March, the weather couldn’t make up its mind.

March is a beautiful time to be in Rome- the air has a hint of spring, but most nights still make you shiver.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset(It rained 15 minutes later. I wish I was kidding).

Even if the skies are blue and the thermometer edging up, it will rain. The sun will disappear and you will be caught unaware. It. Will. Rain.

Hot and sunny one minute. Chilly and pouring the next.

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Perfect weather for an affogato.

An affogato is hot and cold. Bitter and sweet. Gelato “drowned” in espresso,  managing to find a balance.

meta affogato

That’s what we did. We found a balance: strolling and shopping in the sun; and hunkering down for some serious comfort food during the showers.

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When you need a pick-me-up and don’t feel like waiting at Sant’Eustachio, head around to the other side of the Pantheon to Fiocco di Neve (“snowflake”) for an affogato allo zabaione.

Fioccodineve

Gelateria Fiocco di Neve
Via del Pantheon 51
00186 Roma
06 6786025


International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day!

A day celebrating the ladies, that is not widely practiced in the United States, but which wikipedia describes as a “mix of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.”

In Italy, you’ll see men selling mimosa sprigs on nearly every corner. The affordable yellow bloom is often given on this day, with daffodils gaining in popularity.

Even though mimosa cuttings are omnipresent on March 8th, I have to admit that it still felt like a blast from them past when this lady rolled out of nowhere with her handmade basket piled high.

Women's day mimosa seller

Hawking her festive flowers for a euro a branch, just around the corner from the Pantheon.


Le Mani in Pasta

The thrill and the tragedy of expat life are one in the same: you are not from here.

The irresistible draw of “not-from-here” is what drives many to travel or settle abroad.

When you are an expat, you can take pride in your not-from-here-ness. You wear it like a badge of honor. You revel in it. You embrace the new experiences and drink up the anomalies of your adopted land.  You are not from here, but you choose to be here, and that is fabulous.

The tragedy of expat life is that you are not from here.

In being here, you are (by definition) far away from the friends and family who are there.  They are just a phone call away- but that phone call might need to traverse 6,000 miles and 9 different time zones.

So, while you try to grasp at the undercurrent of cultural references, not wanting to admit you are barely bobbing along on the surface, you find other people who are in the same boat. You rely upon them for moral support because they understand what it’s like to not be from here.

This leads me to the simple truth that I have been trying to deny: when you’re not-from-here, sometimes you don’t stay here.

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And so, on the occasion of an impending move, we gathered at Le Mani in Pasta to toast a dear friend on the eve of her new adventure.

We opted for family style: two primi (pasta, naturally) for four people.

The gnocchi alla radicchio had a smooth start with radicchio’s signature bitter bite.

Gnocchi Radicchio

The vermicelli con moscardini e carciofi cried out intriguingly from the chalkboard of daily specials.  In reality, the interesting combination of octopus  and artichoke fell a bit flat.

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But the beauty of goodbyes is that they offer an excuse for indulgences, which is how we found ourselves faced with the grilled shellfish platter.

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Scampi. Langostino. Lobster. Delicious.

Grilled simply. Sprinkled with bread crumbs. Served with lemon.

The secondo made up for any missteps with the primi. In all honestly, any disappointment in the pasta was probably the result of us being swayed by specials rather than sticking to classic dishes. Besides, good customer service goes a long way in a town like Rome, and the service at Le Mani in Pasta was excellent.

I’ll be going back.

I’ll go back to try more pasta. To order more fish. To toast the good times. And to drown any sorrows in plates filled with carbs.

Le Mani in Pasta
Via dei Genovesi, 37,
Rome (Trastevere)
+39 06 581 6017

 


Gnocchi in Rome: L’Arcangelo (finally)

Deep in the Trader Joe’s freezer section, between the vegetarian gyoza and marinated Mahi, you will find gnocchi alla sorrentina.

When I was 22, the ink still drying on my bachelors degree, I moved to a new city and into a one bedroom apartment. All by myself, for the first time ever.

Frozen gnocchi alla sorrentina became my comfort and my crutch.

I think I gained 20 lbs in the first 5 months.

So, I obviously had a taste for rubbery reheated gnocchi when I moved to Rome, and rubbery reheated gnocchi is exactly what I found.

gnocchi

I looked forward to Thursdays – Gnocchi Giovedi. And the gnocchi I found on Thursdays, advertised on blackboards around the city, was fine. Fine, not great. (Except for the gnocchi at Baffetto Due. That was inedible).

With my gnocchi radar engaged, when I came across L’Arcangelo on Parla Food in 2010, it instantly went on the To Eat list.

An opportunity finally presented itself when planning where to get a low key anniversary dinner. I opened Katie’s app.

“Oops!” I cried, tapping the phone number. “It’s ringing!” 2 people. 8:30. Thursday. Natalina.

L'arcangelo

Jimmy (the Irishman has given me permission to use his real name) humors me.  He humors me when I “accidentally” make reservations and he humors me when I suggest we walk from Testaccio to Prati.

Finally settled into our seats, celebratory prosecco popped, we passed on the 13 euro (!) supplì and enjoyed the complementary cacio e pepe polenta instead.

Polenta cacio e pepe

Gnocchi di patate all’amatriciana me. Rigatoni all’amatriciana for him.

Poor Jimmy’s dish was a bit dry, but my gnoccho was perfect. The guanciale crisped, the pecorino liberally dusted, the gnocchi both fluffy and toothsome. I inhaled it and then lingered over bollecine and reminisces.

gnocchi

Some day, if I live in the US again, I will probably buy Trader Joe’s frozen gnocchi alla sorrentina once more. I will be harried and harassed and short on time. And even though it’s not very good, I will enjoy it because it will remind me of being 22 and thinking I knew everything.

But for now, in Rome, I will take advantage of L’Arcangelo.

L’Arcangelo
Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, 59,
00193 Roma
+39 06 321 0992

 

 

 


Climbing the Vittoriano

Three years ago, it was sunny. I remember. It was sunny but it was also colder than it is now.

Three years ago, it was a Sunday. I remember.

I remember because he suggested that we climb the Vittoriano and take a look at Rome.

The monument goes by many names: Vittoriano, Vittorio Emmanuele II, Alatare della Patria, the Wedding Cake, the Typewriter.

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We paid the 7 euro and took an elevator to the very top. We stood below winged victory.

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He pointed out the sites with passion. Convincing me I should care about the Roman Forum. A pile of columns was once much more than ruins.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI had lived in Rome for 5 months. I wasn’t planning to stay. But that day he showed me a new side to the city.

And when we finished arguing about the location of our favorite spots, he suggested dinner and drinks.

Looking down del corsoWhat I mean to say by all of this, is: happy anniversary to a very special Irishman.

Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument
Summer: 09:30 – 19.30 (Fri & Sat until 23.30)
Winter: 09:30 – 18.30 (Fri, Sat & Sun 19.30)
Free Entry, but 7 Euro for Quadrigas Terrace for Panoramic views of the city

 

 

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Learn about Italian Wine: Vino Roma

Vino! Litro – 2 Euro!

Finding a local vino sfuso shop was an epiphany. I was living in San Lorenzo, Rome’s concentrated student quarter, so such shops were not difficult to come by. You could bring your own bottle, or opt for a plastic container on site and then select your desired vintage from a number of stainless steel vats.

How charming! I thought.
How authentic!
I assumed.
How quintessentially Italian!
I concluded.

Being new to wine and new to Rome, a 2 euro plastic bottle of wine sold on tap, out of a vat, is exactly what I opted to bring to a dinner party.

The look on my host’s face immediately indicated faux pas. I’m not sure what they ever did with the 1.5 liters of 2 euro Nero D’avola, but they certainly did not serve it that evening.

As it turns out, just showing up in Italy does not mean you will instantly imbibe deep-seated viticulturist’s knowledge of all things wine. So, with the vino sfuso experience (thankfully) behind me, I decided it was finally time to learn something about wine.

I met up with a few ladies in Monti, and we made our way to Vino Roma to sit down with Hande and talk about Italian wine.

We talked about flavors and regions and techniques.

We sampled three whites, and three reds, and tasted the difference.

We discussed what we liked and what we didn’t. There were no wrong answers, but we were guided.

And we took notes. Lots of notes. We learned something.

I for example learned that I like Verdicchio. I like Verdicchio very much, in fact.

So much that once we finished the tasting, I was able to convince half the group to traverse half the city for another glass of wine.

You can find more information on Vino Roma here.  We took the My Italians class.


Eating in Barcelona

Breakfast

 

Eggs Benedict at Le Coq & Le Burg

 

Cute interior serving, as the name suggests, eggs and hamburgers.

Lunch

The best meal of the trip was at  Café de l’Academia. For 10 euro you can sidle up to the bar for a salad, the plate of the day and dessert.  If you choose a table over the bar, the menú del día will still only ring in at 14 euro.

Located in a tiny courtyard, set back from the busy streets of the Barri Gòtic, Café de l’Academia is a casual affair. Market fresh veggies and catalan sausages were on my  menú del día, which I ate in absolute engrossed silence. I refused to share.

Perhaps then it was bad karma that got me in the end. We discovered this restaurant on Friday, and since it’s closed on weekends, that meant I could only eat there once.

Afternoon snack

Jamon. Jamon everywhere you look.

And what goes better with jamon than cheese?

Conveniently located a few steps from Café de l’Academia is Formatgeria La Seu.  Owned by the lovely Katherine, a Scottish woman who chastised me for leaving my iPhone sitting on the counter after taking some shots of her cheese shop.

She was right. There is something about being a tourist that makes the sensible part of your brain turn off. I would never put my phone down in Rome and turn my back, but I was so caught up in the Spanish farm cheese that I couldn’t think straight.

Three cheese and a glass of wine for 3 euro. No wonder I wasn’t paying attention to my things… it was the best snack of the trip.

Tapas

Barcelona is not known for tapas, but the popularity of Tapas 24 shows just how in demand the dishes can be. Started by Carles Abellan, previously of elBulli, the place is essentially standing room only.  I managed to snag a spot at the bar without a wait: the beauty of dining alone.

To start, pa amb tomàquet – Catalonian bread with tomatoes. Being the self-proclaimed bruschetta connoisseur that I am, I wasn’t expecting much, but one should never underestimate the power of tomato, garlic, salt, new olive oil and fresh bread. Delicious.

Next up, la bomba de la Barceloneta. The ultimate comfort food.  Potatoes, meat and romanesco in a perfect little pouf.

I ate many bombas. I ate many patatas bravas. This was the best of the bunch. I wanted 2. 3. 4! But I made the mistake of ordering a croquette to switch things up. I won’t bother with the croquettes in the future.

Finally, calamari with Romanesco.

Cava

In between, during and after all this eating was cava. So much cava.

For a quick drink after browsing the market, try  Mam I Teca.

To visit any/all of the above:

Le Coq & The Burg
Avinguda Gaudí, 8
080025 Barcelona
Neighborhood: Sagrada Familia
0034 934 330 908
Tue – Sun: 9:30am – 6pm

Café de l’Academia
Calle Lledo, 1,
08002 Barcelona
Neighborhood: Barri Gòtic
0034 933 19 82 53
Mon – Fri: 1:30pm – 4pm & 8:45 pm-11:30 pm
Closed the month of August

Fromatgeria Le Seu
Carrer de la Dagueria, 16
08002 Barcelona
Neighborhood: Barri Gòtic
0034 934 12 65 48
Tues-Thurs: 10:00 – 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Fri- Sat: 10:00 am – 3:30 pm & 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Closed the month of August

Tapas 24
Carrer de la Diputació, 269
08007 Barcelona
Neighborhood: L’Eixample
0034 934 88 09 77
Mon: 8:30 pm – 11 pm
Tues – Friday: 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm & 8:30 pm – 11 pm.
Sat: 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

Mam I Teca
Carrer de la Lluna, 4
08001 Barcelona
Neighborhood: El Raval
0034 934 41 33 35
Weds – Fri: 1 pm – 4 pm & 8 pm – Midnight

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Four Days in Barcelona

 

I can’t wait to go back.

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Escape to a Tuscan Villa

The house is in shambles. I ping pong from one project to the next, dropping whatever I am doing as soon as I notice a potentially more pressing task sitting across the room. Nothing is done. Everything is everywhere.

We are moving. Again.

It’s a happy move. It’s an impulsive move.

A move undertaken due to good luck rather than bad. We will finally have two bedrooms to welcome our friends and family from around the globe into our corner of Rome.

The boxes and suitcases, and mishmash of nicknacks, was another trigger for my reminiscent trip to Pietrasanta. The temporary chaos in the apartment makes me want to escape to a more tranquil setting.

For me, that means a Tuscan villa.

The villa I’m picturing is located a few minutes drive or bike ride away from both Pietrasanta and the beaches of Versilia.

Full of light, the villa sits in the tiny village of Valdicastello.

Close to the chic action of Pietrasanta, the house itself is on a quiet street with the view of the mountains.

My favorite thing about the house was to be the Secret Garden-style backyard.

With a pool, naturally. This villa doesn’t mess around.

To rent or for more information on the villa (called Sahira), you can contact the owners.

I’d trade just about anything to leave behind this half-packed house right about now and trade places for Tuscany.

 

 

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