Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

I went on my first major market excursion today.  There’s a huge, semi-permanent haphazardly roofed, open-air market in the neighborhood of Trastevere, which is down the hill and across the Tiber from where we live.  (I still can’t get over being able to utter that last phrase!) From the outside, the market looks a bit like a temporary shelter for disaster victims.  But inside, the place is swarming with exuberant life in all forms.  Along one side, all of the stalls sell meats of every kind and cut–from legs of lamb to the most unique salame.  While I stood in line at one of these, the white-haired man running the shop handed Jack a large slice of the mid-priced proscuitto.  Grazie!

I’ll put in a bunch of pictures of the highlights I was able to photograph.  This was a bit challenging, since I had Jack’s hand in one hand, the handle of my rolling cart in the other, my purse slipping off my shoulder, and an inept vocabulary in my head.

A slice of some kind of heirloom pumpkin, anyone?

lg squash

What’s this mystery veg? (I’ll have to ask Mona, the chef here at the Academy.)

mystery veg

Chanterelles and porcini, like I’ve never seen before.



I was so awestruck by the porcini, I couldn’t bring myself to buy any. This is hard to explain, I know, but my first visit to this market was pretty overwhelming.  I’ll work up to the awe-inspiring ingredients with some practice.  Anyway,  I asked for a handful of chanterelles, along with some marinating olives.

Another awe-inspiring sight was the tomato stall.  It’s run by a farmer who grows only tomatoes.  Thirty or so different varieties.  He led our little group on a culinary tour, pointing to the tomatoes that are best eaten raw, those that are best in tomato sauce, those that are best with fish.  The tomatoes ranged in size from perfect little 1-centimeter ovoids to fist-sized ruched, wrinkly balls, and ranged in color from a blackish red-green to summer sun orange.

Next, I bought bulk wine.  A huge jug was only 5 Euros!  Hopefully, it’s not unquaffable.

vino 1

All in all, here was today’s haul.


We’re having a couple of the other families over for a casual dinner tonight.  Looks like we’ll definitely start with prosciutto and melon.  And if the figs last until then, they may go with honey for dessert.  We’ll do some kind of pasta for dinner.


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Last night, the kitchen opened for dinner.  The kitchen at the American Academy is not just any kitchen, but is the heart of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, which was founded a few years ago with the help of Alice Waters, and is directed by the former Chez Panisse chef, Mona Talbott.

We dressed Jack in his nicest shirt, and walked over from our apartment building, where all the fellows with children live, to the courtyard, where a long table was set for dinner. (The picture is dark, but you get the idea.)


Before dinner, some of us congregated in the little bar to sip prosecco and meet and greet.  Most of our dinner companions had just arrived yesterday, after over-night flights, and were feeling pretty dazed.  But what a nice reception for them!  Here was the menu:

Spaghetti alla chitarra con pomodorini del orto
Pollo alla romana con  I peperoni
Crostata di susine

Spaghetti with roasted tomatoes from the garden and breadcrumbs—bread chunks, really, toasted up with olive oil; chicken legs braised with red peppers; plum galette.  Mmm… it was nice.  Jack is learning how to eat like an Italian:

J spaghetti

He just needs a little help with technique.

This morning, after dropping Jack off at school, I set out to do some shopping.  First, I had to buy one of the carts that Romans roll behind them when food shopping, because they do so much walking.  I didn’t know what they were called, but I saw one hanging outside a little hole-in-the-wall hardware store.  (Actually all of the shops are so-called holes-in-the-wall.)  They weren’t displayed in the store, so I looked up “wheel” in my phrasebook, and asked in Italian for a “bag with wheels,” while pantomiming the pulling motion.  The shopkeeper understood, and ducked into the back room to pull out a selection of colors.  I picked out a purple one, and pulled it behind me as I set off to find the 2-block-long open air market in the neighborhood.  First, I made a quick stop at the bread bakery I wrote about the other day.  The line was long, as usual, but moved quickly. They also do a big restaurant-delivery business:

bread deliv

bread shop

I bought something I haven’t learned the name of yet.  It was a flat roll the size of a large bagel, with green olives on top, surrounding a tomato slice.  I also bought another bagful of those yummy little biscotti.

At the market stalls, where one could buy everything from socks and bras to organic beef (“biologico”), I bought a potted basil plant for the basket hanging from our kitchen window grating.  I stopped at an “erboristoria” called “L’erba Gatta” (Catnip, I assume), where I found a nice selection of organic grains, sugar, and dried fruit, along with every variety of natural body product.


The place was pretty chi-chi, so I limited myself to raisins and red lentils.


On the way home, I saw a cute car for sale.

car for sale

No grand showrooms here, just narrow driveways and shop interiors, for displaying their small autos.  Coming from the American South, it’s hard to get over the smallness of the cars here.  Of course, they do just fine, and look fun to drive.  An SUV is a real anomaly here.  Americans should stop widening their streets, and start buying Smart cars.

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On Jack’s first day of school, I stayed there with him for a couple of hours, to ease him into the experience of a new school in a new language.  We left just before lunch, and took a looping, indirect way home, stopping at market stalls and shops along the way.  One of my destinations was a half-block of street closed to cars, where vendors were selling fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese, and household odds and ends.

mkt st

We bought bags of the pink-and-white-swirled fagioli borlotti, and of blackberries that taste as sweet and meaty as pears.  Not a trace of tartness, which is a surprising sensation!  To be honest, I only bought the pricey 3-Euro basket because Jack fondled them.  The unspoken rule of etiquette at the markets is: you touch it, you buy it.

veg mkt

Next time, I think I’ll get some of these elegant peppers:


The most delicious item we bought, though, was the melon.  Sweet as honey and juicy as, well, juice:


Next, we went to the bread shop, which is the most nondescript shop I think I’ve ever seen.  What you have to do is follow the scent of baking bread with your nose, and look for a bunch of people standing around chatting happily, and moving in a constant stream in and out of a narrow door.  That’s the line for bread.

bread store

Once inside, I was crammed shoulder to shoulder with people buying multiple bags of bread, biscotti, pizza, and cornetti (croissants).  Jack stood in a corner, with his backpack and sunglasses on, eating an apple.  He looked as nonchalent as a true Italian.  The only proper name of a bread I knew was pizza bianca (what we call focaccia), so I asked for that and used gestures and alternate “grazie”s and “per favore”s to indicate how much I wanted.  Then I asked for quattro biscotti, and pointed at these cute little lemony-almondy cookies:


Oh, boy, were they good.

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This is one of the aspects of living in Italy I’ve been looking forward to.  There is such an onslaught of brightly packaged processed food at kids-eye level, (ok, and grown-up eye level) in American supermarkets, that it’s difficult to avoid loading your cart with boxes of convenience food.  The array of breakfast cereal is astounding, and hard to resist.  Breakfast cereal, to follow this example, is also very expensive, considering the ingredients, and is loaded with sugar and sodium—even the “healthy” varieties.

I was thinking about these things as I walked through the aisles of the GS—the big supermarket near Jack’s school here in Rome.  There are a lot of crackers and bread products that are far from “fresh,” but in general, there is a dearth of processed foods in an Italian supermarket, compared to those in the U.S.  You certainly won’t find any large jars of pre-made tomato sauce (loaded with high fructose corn syrup and sodium).  And breakfast cereal?  Instead of a gazillion choices, there were just a few.  And if you want to spend 7 Euros, you can get a small bag of honey-coated puffed farro.  Farro!?  That would only go over in a natural food store of some sort, in the U.S.  Also, note the price (don’t forget the exchange rate).  My conclusion is that Romans don’t eat much cereal for breakfast.

I was also thinking about these observations when I read this article in today’s Times, about a new green checkmark label that is supposed to lead consumers to healthier food choices.  Froot Loops apparently received the checkmark.  The idea that consumers are so stupid as to need a green checkmark to tell the difference between a Froot Loop and an apple in the first place, and that they are too stupid to know that Froot Loops actually aren’t a healthy choice, is astonishing, and really depressing.

So, what did we have for breakfast here in Rome?  Whole-grain toast with honey (or, ok, I admit, a bit of Nutella), coffee, and milk.  Good food.


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Disclaimer: I didn’t sleep at all on the way over, and I walked about 7 miles today, so I don’t have much of a mind to write.  But there’s so much to be excited about.  And I did forget my camera in the supermarket, but that’s just as well, because I would have wanted to post about twenty pictures: of the twenty-two varieties of ham at the deli counter, of the low, low cheese prices, of the interesting juice selection (I bought a lemon-orange-carrot blend), and of the cute little carts that you tow behind you, rather than the “buggies” of the U.S. that, according to a John Cheever character, “unsex” you when you push one.

My new friend Antonia also took me to the market stalls this morning, where I practiced my Italian phrases associated with purchasing, etiquette, and numbers, and bought beautiful greens, figs (figi), eggplant, peppers, a microfiber sweeper, and a citronella fumigator.

I’ll bring my camera next time.

Later in the day, after a lunch of arugula, wheaty bread spread with tapenade, prosciutto, and fresh asiago (not hard due to age, and lighter and sweeter in flavor), we took the stairs down to the hipster neighborhood of Trastevere with our new friends.  I spotted the sticker of a like-minded person, on the window of a hand-crafted wooden instrument store (mandolins, tambourines):

omg sticker

We bought “pizza” for the kids along the way–and it isn’t quite what you think.  Some of it looked like its American progeny, but “pizza” also refers to thin bubbly bread sandwiching sliced cheese or prosciutto and mozzarella.  (Actually, Jack had this variety of pizza for breakfast, while Peter and I had nutella-spread cornetti (croissants) and cappuccino at “Cafe G.”)

We bought umbrellas for the boys, Nicholas and Jack, and they tried them out at a fountain, out of which flows rock-cold, clean, fresh water, with which we also filled our bottles:


We crossed the Tiber, and saw the remnants of an ancient Roman bridge:


We saw a fountain, with fish, turtles, and men involved in a choreographed effort of ease:

turtle fountain

And, finally, we came back to the apartment to cook dinner.  In the fridge was a two-liter plastic bottle filled with Sardinian wine.  Really.  Our new friend Cory gave it to us last night.  He’d bought it—and had the emptied water bottle filled—at a local wine store that offers two whites and two reds—out of casks with taps.  Can’t wait to find that place.

I made a bowl of pasta with all of the local veggies I’d picked up: round, bacci ball sized eggplant, fresh onions, zucchini, red pepper, Roma tomatoes.  Nothing unusual, really, but everything was fresh and local.

1st dinner

At the table, we added freshly grated parmigiana reggiano and anchovies, both of which were shockingly cheap at “the GS”!


I like it here.

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The morning started out cool and foggy.  I went for a run on the hilly dirt road here, and the air was so chilly and moist in the shade of the tree canopy, that my glasses fogged up.  Turnpike Road follows the course of the Blood Brook, which winds this way and that through culverts under the road (and is named for an old area family, not for early-American battles with Indians).  Normally, in the summer, the brook is just a trickle between dry stones, but lately, because of the uncharacteristically (well, insanely) wet summer, it’s been raging.  The rain has made it hard for all of the farmers around here.  Haying has to happen in the spots of sun between storms.  Vegetables are coming in later than usual.  Sweet corn only just arrived.

By the time we got to the Norwich Farmers’ Market, the fog had burned off, and the sun was getting hot.  We bought an array of goodies from the warm end of the spectrum, from dark new Peruvian Purple potatoes, to pork sausage and rainbow carrots, two kinds of beets, and pale yellow Fingerlings.


The potatoes all came from Hurricane Flats Farm, on the Connecticut River in South Royalton, Vermont, as did the beets.  I bought two bunches: the concentric-striped Chioggias and mango-colored Goldens.  I’m roasting them now, and will quarter them and toss them in some kind of salad later—probably with local goat cheese, again.

As we strolled from their stand, we stopped at Hogwash Farm’s to sample their beer bratwurst. (They raise beef cattle, pigs, and laying hens, and are located here in Norwich.)  It was so tasty, that Jack and his cousin continued to sample while I looked through the freezer and picked out grass fed ground beef and chorizo.  We decided to get a package of the bratwurst too, before the boys cleaned them out.

Hogwash T

From there, we made our way to Your Farm’s stand, and spotted the dazzling rainbow carrots!  We each tried a color.  I’m partial to the purple-skinned-orange-centered kind.

rainbow carrots

After the Farmers’ Market, we stopped at Norwich Square, where all the shops were having a little outdoor fair.    There were musicians, made-to-order crepes, book-signing, and Silkie chickens pecking the grass.


Jack went into one of his favorite places in Norwich: the little house.  Sometimes, while I drink a coffee and eat an almond croissant from Allechante, Jack brings his snack in there, sits in the rocker, munches, and hums a little hum to himself.

J in little house
I left the boys with my mom in the bookstore, and ducked into Zuzu, where I found the snazziest dress!  Here’s a shot of the fabric:


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Cucumbers are on that list: the dirty dozen.  These are the fruits and vegetables that, when grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, involve the heaviest use and retain the heaviest residues of these chemicals.  Many of these are the sweetest, most thin-skinned, or most water-dense of our favorite produce.  Remember my posts about peaches and grapes?  Cucumbers are just as bad.  Out of fifty pesticides typically used on cucumber plants, nineteen are PAN “Bad Actors,” which means that they are proven to be highly toxic.  These include several organophosphates, which can damage the functioning of nerves.  I gave a taste of William Cowper’s advice on how to grow an organic cucumber in my last post… which won’t really help you if you’re a novice gardener who’s also impatient with eighteenth-century poetry.  My advice about shopping for cucumbers is much less complex: always buy organic.

Cucumbers are such a versatile vegetable for the cook who likes to play with many different cuisines.  There are old-school British cucumber sandwiches, there’s cucumber dressed simply with sesame oil and sesame seeds, there’s raita (the cooling Indian yogurt sauce made with cucumbers, mint, cumin, and yogurt), there’s cold cucumber soup, there’s tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic), there’s so much more, all of which is good.  One of our friends served just a dish of thinly sliced salted cucumbers along with his stiff martinis.

Jack and Peggy spent some time weeding and harvesting in the kitchen garden this morning.  The yield was high!


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Dan and Whit’s is a real general store.  Their slogan—“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”—combines the ideal of American bounty with a New England puritan disapproval of things.  Shopping in the store is a desultory, serendipitous ramble.  Hardware can be found hard by the lotion.  Cheese isn’t far from ski gloves and board games.

J in D&W
Their hardwood floors are warped with age.  Their common sense slips into irony (there’s a hand-scrawled sign on the green door between the deli and the house-paint that says “this is the green door”).  Their pride is in being entirely unpretentious.  There was a collective huff when the store started carrying Carhartt work clothes last year.  (The brand was seen as too hoity toity.)  But they do succeed in maintaining their own brand of mish-mash pragmatic back-to-basics authenticity, even while carrying Champlain Chocolate (next to the Blow-Pops), top shelf wine, and retro wooden toys for the upscale toddler.
What was this gigantic dragonfly doing there?  It must have lost its way between Main Street and the Bloody Brook.

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Named for the wily, widespread species of bird, Killdeer Farmstand, on Route 5 in Norwich, is one of my favorite places.  The organic farm of the same name, just a few miles away on the Vermont bank of the Connecticut River, supplies the most dependable abundance of produce.  We stop there almost daily.  Yesterday, it was our first stop after arriving back in VT from Cape Cod.  The first raspberries were in, along with the first green garlic, and there were loads of new potatoes, zucchini, squash, peas, a vast variety of greens.  Scapes will be gone soon, but they still had a big basketful, so I bought a bunch and made more scape mashed potatoes.  Yum!  Sometimes we make an entirely Killdeer meal.  The farmstand also offers Misty Knoll organic chicken, lots of local cheeses and ice creams, some meat, King Arthur bread, and cookies.   Soon, they’ll have sweet corn.

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