Italian cuisine [in casa]

Allora, as I shared in my last post, I’m house-bound for a few days until I get well. But even within il casa, there is plenty of culture to talk about….like the differences between my cooking/eating habits here in Italy versus back at home in the US:

1. Oldschool coffee-making

This interesting little contraption brews a mighty strong coffee in a magical way. It’s a small, three-part metal device. Water is poured into the bottom, coffee is scooped into the filter that is placed on top of the water, and then the pitcher-like layer is screwed on top, empty. I turn on the gas valve and light up the stove (yes, that’s oldschool as well), and after several minutes of heat, coffee magically starts emerging in the top. I still haven’t mastered the proper quantities to make a perfect cup of coffee, but at least I learned how to actually make it!

2. Low-quantity/high-frequency grocery shopping

In the United States, I tend to grocery shop once per week or so, buying items in bulk and stocking up to last a whole week or more. Here, it’s totally different. My housemates and I find ourselves going grocery shopping about every other day. We have a small fridge that isn’t as cold as in the US, we usually are paying in cash, and there are so many grocery stores just a quick walking distance away. There is also a great selection of fresh food, which is best to use right away.

3. Fresh, flavorful ingredients & Less processed foods

We succeeded in making the perfect sick meal 🙂

I am thoroughly enjoying the quality of most ingredients here. My meals feel more nutritious and wholesome, revolving around fresh vegetables, olive oil, fresh herbs, and delicious cheeses. This is my preference at home too, but it’s too-often dominated by the readily-available quick-and-easy processed fixes.

This afternoon, some of my housemates and I made a delicious chicken noodle soup from scratch. While it wasn’t difficult at all, it’s something I’ve never done at college in New York because there is always a colossal collection of canned Progresso soup in the closet, which would only take a few minutes to make. I’m not only learning to cook more home-cooked meals, but learning to appreciate them more, too!

4. Fancy cooking fancy

...The first pasta dish I made here. May the last one be 10x more delizioso!

Taking the time and creativity to prepare a delicious dish has been an enjoyable requirement here. Maybe it’s the availability of great ingredients; maybe it’s the pleasure of having more free time in my day; maybe it’s the inspiration of the cultural love for food here. Whatever the reason may be, I find myself constantly attempting to level-up my cooking skills and invent interesting variations for meals.

6. Vino, vino e vino

There are bounteous places that sell cheap bottles of delicious wine. I’ve found some excellent red wines for only 2 to 5 Euro per bottle. My housemates and I are enjoying trying different Chiantis (a key wine of Florence) and various Tuscan region wines with our dinners. Sometimes I’ll even make a meal out of wine, cheese, antipasti and bread. Mi piace molto 🙂

Credit: Heather Ayvazian

Daily Failtales: Week 1

Every week is full of awesome little occurrences–seemingly insignificant instances that are nonetheless impacting for a foreigner striving to fit in with a culture. Sometimes these are positive experiences, leaving you feeling like you grew in some way; sometimes they’re full of fail, leaving you feel like a total noob.

The following fall into the latter of the two.

Why won’t it rip? (1/25)

There was about a 3-hour layover in the Munich Airport. When washing my hands in the bathroom, I was really having a tough time ripping off some paper towels from the dispenser. I tugged, and it pulled out a little, but not much. So I tugged harder, then studied the dispenser to see if I could notice any signs of doing this all wrong. I tugged to the left and to the right, forcefully and gently, outward and straight down…no luck. WHY IS THIS ROCKETSCIENCE? I thought, then pondered if it was just jammed. At one point I was using both my arms with all my might to tear the paper towels.

After several minutes of struggling, I finally realized that this was not a dispenser but a machine: you are not supposed to rip it off. It will loop back into itself. Good job, Germany. I like the eco-friendliness.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t go Hulk on items that seem to work wrong: it’s you doing it wrong

But I need a bag… (1/26)

On Thursday night we ventured across the river to go to the only large supermarket in Florence. The shopping itself was not too difficult, because I had already studied translations of food items that I knew I’d be regularly buying, and you can just look at the products anyway.

Checking out was the toughie. First, I freezed up–couldn’t even produce a greeting to the cashier. He seemed grumpy already, so I probably exhasperated his mood and our 5-minute customer-employee relationship by exchanging no words at all with him, except for the price and a “grazie.” After paying, I went to bag my groceries, but encountered un problema: no bags. I was clearly confused, standing by my food on the belt and looking around the area for any bags. That’s when I noticed that I probably had to ask for one (or just be offered one like apparently the rest of my friends were offered). So I said “Mi scusi” (“Excuse me”), hesitated, and then made bagging motions while saying “Per favore.” This is when I was still getting over the S.U.C.S., so I was especially frazzled and kind of wanted to cry when the very annoyed cashier gave me a nasty look and threw one plastic bag my way…which definitely did not suffice for holding my groceries, but I wouldn’t dare request anymore. Clearly American enough already.

The bag broke, and my groceries started oozing out. (Thankfully my friends pulled through to help me out with the walk home).

LESSON LEARNED: Bring a reusable bag, or ask for whatever amount you need before paying.

Wrong answer (1/29)

This guy was talking to me in Italian, but I couldn’t understand a thing. I froze up, not being able to produce any words. Eventually he asked, in English, “Do you speak English?” Finally a quick response came out: “No.”

Why did the word “No” come out? For one, I obviously do speak English. And secondly, it was probably obvious to him too since that’s the only sentence I responded to.

LESSON LEARNED: Think before you use an automated response

That time I caused a fiasco (1/31)

Yesterday I stopped by a caffè to grab a coffee. I finally did everything right!–Didn’t need to admit that no parlo Italiano (I don’t speak Italian), already knew the amount to pay, and just seemed to be accepted as a local rather than a foreigner, which is always a great vibe.

Between the good experience and jolt of espresso, I left with an extra kick in my step…literally. A man holding two cappuccinos needed assistance, which I didn’t realize until I already exited out the door to enter the sidewalk. So I akwardly went “Oooooh!” and twisted in a weird way to open the door behind me for him, as if I was stopping it from closing on a blind person about to be slammed by a closing door. Thankfully the man got through without a chaotic mess; I, however, did not.My boot kicked right into the large metal trash can on my left, which caused a very loud noise. You could hear it slam against the sidewalk as it bounced away from me with force, and broke into its three parts. “OOOOH!” “OOOOOOOH!” was all I could utter. Cigarettes and ash were all over, and the trash can was rolling down the sidewalk. “AAAAAAAH! MI DISPIACE!” (“I’m sorry” — Or, technical translation “I am displeased with myself,” which may be more appropriate for this situation) I yelled in a panic, as the guy with the cappuccinos behind me watched the chaos unfold. I quickly scrambled to pick up the trash can and its parts, and do my best to briefly make the mess less messy.

I did not walk home feeling like a champ.

LESSON LEARNED: Look before walking, and don’t get frazzled

Many more failtales to come.

Taking on Firenze un caffé at a time

(Written January 28th)

Today I ran out of my instant coffee packets, and haven’t purchased a coffee maker for my apartment yet. Anyone who knows me must know that cutting off my coffee is almost like cutting off my air supply. So today, around 16:30pm (trying to get used to a 24-hour clock), I took my first solo walk down to the corner café to buy my first Italian coffee. It took me a second to realize that I order it right at the bar, which was occupied by old Italian men drinking their afternoon whiskey and beer.

I pulled a noob move of accidentally greeting the barista with “Buon giorno” even though it was evening now, and she responded “Buona sera” (“Good evening”). Then I ordered, “Un caffé, por favore,” and she handed over a cute little espresso cup and asked me a question I didn’t understand. So I asked her, “Parla inglese?” (“Do you speak English?”), and she said no and laughed kindly—but I was glad that it wasn’t immediately apparent to her that I can’t speak Italian, even with my botched greeting. Then she pointed to the milk and asked me in Italian if I want milk, which I understood but replied no, because I wanted to have my first true Italian cup of espresso-style coffee.

It was about 2 oz of liquid, but man did it do the job! I stood at the bar and sipped down my mini-coffee like a pro, enjoying its strength and instant jolt. Then I asked “Quanto costa?” and paid my 1 Euro, then carried on with a lifted spirit. I’m ready to take on Firenze un caffé at a time…even with the Italianglish.