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Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

It takes a long time, because day-to-day life doesn’t stop and wait for you to finish.  Gradually, though, we’re making this place comfy inside and out.  While Peter’s been off winning prizes and giving readings these past two weekends, Jack and I have been giving our yard some love.  We’ve raked pine needles into big heaps that his dump truck then unloads under bushes and trees.  We’ve bought pumpkins and goofy gourds and mums for the front stoop. We’ve swept the deck and hung up a hummingbird feeder. And we planted a little garden.  It looks like dirt surrounded by stones, but if you look very, very closely, you’ll see a hint of green: lettuce, cilantro, and thyme seedlings along with some still-young basil and rosemary.

The streak of 90-degree days and 70-degree nights finally broke, and I actually had to break out the down comforter.  I love fall.  Suddenly, some activities I enjoy are now tolerable again: baking, puttering around outside, riding my bike to campus, sipping a glass of wine on the deck before dinner.

I think I’ll make calzones.  It’s nice to have a moment in the middle of the day to sink my hands into a tub of flour and for a few minutes just stare, and knead.

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This distinction, between red and white, is an important and ubiquitous one in Roman society.  Well, at least when it comes to snacks and drinks and—if you’re talking to children—dinner.  There’s, of course, red or white wine.  (But these are just the most basic distinctions.  In addition to the great array of differences based on geography and terroir, there’s also the difference of fizz. But fizz, we’ve found, covers the spectra of bianco through rosato to rosso, and of seca to dolce.  In other words, it’s possible, and a pleasure, to find a dry fizzy pink wine and a sweet fizzy red wine.)

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I thought moving to Italy would expand my son’s diet into the far reaches of foreign flavors and textures.  He already liked olives and peppers.  We seemed to be on the right track.  But for some reason, living in Rome has contracted his taste.  His favorite choice, when it comes to dinner, is pasta bianca or pasta rossa.  And usually, he’ll choose the bianca: pasta with olive oil and grated parmesan.  He seems to have given up green things, which drives me nuts, because there are so many more wonderful green things here than there have been anywhere else he’s lived—except Berkeley, where he lived when he was just cutting teeth.  Green leaves with cheese, green leaves with nuts, green leaves with sweet onions, green leaves with grains, gazillions of great greens!  He won’t have any of it.

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The third important category of the rossa/bianca divide is pizza.

Pizza rossa is a thin, tasty crust spread with savory tomato sauce; each good forno will have its own sauce, some more salty or herbaceous than others.  Pizza bianca is a bubbly pizza crust topped simply with olive oil and salt.  Again, each forno’s dough has its own taste and consistency, and is topped with more or less salt.  You can also order pizza bianca morbida (soft) or dura (hard-crunchy). My favorite place to buy both is Panificio Beti, in our neighborhood.  The lines are always long, and the family behind the counter always bustling and full of banter.

These Roman basics serve as snacks or sides at any time of the day.  Italian life is riddled with rules, but, as far as I can tell, pizza rossa and bianca exist in a looser realm.  As a rule, Italians don’t eat on the run the way Americans do.  Even to-go coffee is a very rare sight.  But pizza rossa can be eaten with dignity while one is walking along the sidewalk.  The pizzeria guy will cut a piece in half, slap the parts together sauce-side-in, and wrap the bottom half in a piece of paper—a process that takes about a second and a half—so the snack is ready to eat as soon as it passes from his hand to yours.  I’ve seen people eat it for breakfast, for elevenses with beer,  for a late afternoon snack, and for dinner.

Last night, still satiated from the big Saturday Academy lunch, we had salad, pizza rossa, and vino rosso, for dinner.  Jack had the white ribs of the lettuce, pizza bianca, and milk.  I wish he’d broaden his taste at least to complete the color combo of the Italian flag.

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Another winding walk today—this time down the stairs rather than up to the park.  I had a few various goals: to see the turtle fountain Jim Ackerman told us about the other night; to buy some whole-grain flour and some nuts at Canestro; to see some new narrow streets; and, if possible, to find chocolate chips for cookies.

When I stepped out onto Via Angelo Masina, our street, I saw a bunch of men way up high in the trees.  It was a tree-trimming class!  (Later, all fifteen or so of them were packed into the little Academy bar smelling of beer and sweat and sap—quite a different crowd from the usual.)

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I walked the now-familiar route down the two sets of steps to Trastevere, and then across Ponte Garibaldi and off to the right, into the Ghetto.  I found the turtle fountain—a beautiful, delicate image of humans helping animals—or doing something balletic with them, anyway.

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Here was a little, covered-over door.  Why was it made so small?

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There are mysteries here in this city.  Often, there are explanations, but often, those explanations present more mysteries, or at least curiosities.

I never found any chocolate chips—after looking and asking in four stores!

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This was one of our most fun Halloweens, because of the bustling community of kids who live here in 5B, the family ghetto, the building adjacent to the main American Academy building, (where the best unkept secret is that we have the best apartments).  Halloween really started on Friday, before dinner.  The kitchen staff had prepared trays of bat- and ghost-shaped sugar cookies, icing, chocolate cupcakes, and frosting for a big decorating party.  (Knowing the kitchen-witches here, the ingredients were as local as could be.)

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The cupcakes were so crumbly that they required adult hands, so the Roving Locavore got to work:

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Cheers, Aurelia & Lisa!

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Mid-day on Saturday, Halloween proper, Jack and Lulu got to work on the papier-mache components of their costumes.  Lulu’s parrot head paint was drying, so she helped Jack paint his fireman’s helmet:

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After we returned from Halloween party #1, at Nico’s house at 4:00 (boy, was it a heavy candy-eating day!), the Academy kids paraded and trick-or-treated around the apartments and studios of the Academy building, where the fellows were dressed as witches, death in various forms, Bacchus, a princess, John the Baptist, devil & angel, and a fortune teller.

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the tube is for the milk-bottle O2 tank on Jack's back

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who knew that Dante had hooked up with a gondoliera?

Later, when the kids were spinning and running and staggering from their sugar overdoses, we had a potluck dinner.  Everyone loved the meatballs, sangria, and the zucca lasagna.  I made a pear-apple-almond crumble with mostly local or at least organic ingredients.

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Going to Venice for a long weekend is like being transported to a different realm.  In this immersed city, we immersed ourselves in grand-scale Renaissance art, long winding walks, gelato, spritz (Amaro—a bittersweet red liqueur—and prosecco), and seafood.  What everyone says about the acoustics stands out as a strong sense memory: without the sound of cars, the ear hears the click of heels on stone, voices talking, murmuring, laughing, and the soft splash of water against stone and brick.  True, there are motor boats, but their rumble is nothing after the roar of Roman traffic.

We ate well.  Oh, yes we did.

On the first night, we turned the corner from the little alley where we were renting an apartment (with 5 others from the American Academy), and happened upon Paradiso Perdito, a wonderfully unlost paradise of seafood, pasta, off-beat music, and attractive diners and servers both young and old.  Here’s a sampling of that meal.

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antipasti

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vino di casa pump

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frito misto

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amazingly flavorful garlicky pasta with a never seen before crustacean

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squid ink pasta

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Jack fell asleep on my lap.

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see the rosemary sprig?

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nicely boned

Other highlights: The dolci, which we all agreed were better than any in Rome.

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how many pistachios are in this torta?

This place especially, which Lisa discovered at 7:30 one morning, by following the aroma of buttery baking, had the most amazing almond croissants we’ve ever had.  They weren’t overly sweet and flabby like so many, but were improbably both dense and flaky, and were almost savory in their delicate sweetness.

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bread turtle?

I didn’t actually take any photos of anyone eating gelato, because I always had a drippy cone of my own to control, usually with some combination of fruity and nutty.  My favorite duo: cherry and hazelnut.  Jack’s favorite: strawberry and cherry.  But this is the place to get it:

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We happened upon this graffito, which to me says, “Is this a gelato I see before me?”

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We also saw lots and lots of art.  Jack was inspired to do some painting, and then ran off to chase pigeons.

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We took one gondola ride, but it only went across the Grand Canal, took two minutes, and cost 50 cents.  Still, it seemed to make everyone happy.

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Susanna & Stephen

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Peter

Our last meal was at the Anice Stellato—the Star Anise—and it was a meal to remember.  I wasn’t so good at photographing every plate, but my favorite dish was a lamb tenderloin rolled in crushed pistachios.  Oh, my….  The wine, a local carmenere blend, and an antipasto plate called sarde in saor, with sardines, polenta, and pickled onions, also stood out.

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Jack enjoyed hanging with the grown-ups.  And I think they liked his company too.

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Aurelia, Jack, Richard, me

(For more photos, check out my Flickr page.)

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Fall fell in a swirl of branches, leaves, and whole trees.  Yesterday afternoon, we watched the pines and bamboo swaying in circles as the wind picked up.  Rain fell hard, and stopped quickly.  And then, the most magnificent double rainbow I’ve ever seen arched across the Rome skyline, and the mountains, free from the haze after a long hot summer, seemed etched into the sky.  This morning, the air was crisp, about 15 degrees cooler than yesterday’s, and smoke from burning piles of brush signaled the arrival of autumn.  We rode the bus to our usual stop, just past Piazza Ottavilla, where we saw a huge pile of downed trees and branches.  Later, I ran through the park at Villa Pamphili, and saw huge old pines and palms lying broken on the grass.

I had spent the morning on a long market circuit in Trastevere, stopping at my favorite shops: Antica Caciari for fresh ricotta, Canestro for organic cereals, grains, lentils, and peanut butter, and Antico Forno Roscioli for delicious bread and un cornetto integrale–a whole wheat croissant with bitter honey inside.  I knew I’d found an amazing baker when I saw the impossible combination of whole wheat flecks and buttery thin flaky pastry.  How do they do it?

I love walking around Trastevere because of its spider web of narrow off-angle streets that open onto beautiful architectural surprises.

Trast. arch

Rena sent me on a hunt for this place, which carries organic milk in a little fridge near the door.

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nut tart

Wow!  It looks pretty, but what would it be like actually to eat this nutty tart?

The Fontana d’Acqua Paolo, seen from the pedestrian bridge, Ponte Sisto, jutting up at the top of the hill, marked the line I’d need to walk to find the steep set of stairs that would lead me up the hill back home.

Ponte sisto

And now, the pictures we’ve all been waiting for…

Il Arcobaleno!

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arc 2

I’d been cooking dinner, when Jack, sitting at the high counter in the kitchen, said, “there’s a huge rainbow in the sky.” Uh huh.  I was busy.  But then, I decided to look, and couldn’t believe it.  We ran down the stairs, but not before Jack resourcefully thought to pull on his puddle boots.  We buzzed Lulu and Jesse’s apartment, and ran outside with them to stand in the street.  The rainbow made a full half-circle.  And then we realized it was doubled by a fainter, inverted rainbow above:

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Peter called down from the terrace, where everyone else was watching it.

Peter on terrace

The view from up there was even more amazing.

arc from terrace

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Jack

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I love the way, in Italian, the word for “bakery” also means “oven.”   It’s a word- and food-lover’s favorite instance of synecdoche.  Jeannie introduced me to the family-run Antico Forno Marco Roscioli a few weeks ago, during our little culinary tour of Trastevere.  When I went back this week, it was because I had two cravings for the two things I bought there last time: fig bread, and the treat Jack and I like to call “secret cookies.”  Next time, I’ll get some of their pizza bianca and one of their famous apple torts.

The fig bread is made with farina integrale—whole wheat flour, which comes from local growers and millers.  Roasted walnuts and dried figs are rolled into the dough as it’s shaped for its last rise, and the interior comes out looking like this:

fig bread

Need I even say that it’s delicious in the morning, toasted and spread with butter or honey, served with a caffé con latte?

These other treats go well with a post-pranza (that’s lunch) espresso:

almond cookies

Made of the most delicate blend of flour and marzipan (I think), they are topped with sliced almonds and dusted with powdered sugar.  The first time I ate one, I was savoring the sweet, tender crumb when—oh my!—I came upon the concealed sugar-soaked sour cherry.  What a delight!  Jack is crazy for these cookies, and loves boastfully to tell his friends he knows their secret.  They are so rich, though, that these will be special treats.

For more on Forno Roscioli, and for some entertaining translations—such as “biological jam” for confettura biologica, by which they mean “organic jam”—check out their website here.

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