Sunday, May 9, 2010

Party! Pizza Party!

  I felt compelled to write about pizza since I live in the land of pizza.  Many people ask me, "How can you be vegan when you live in the land of pizza?"  I tell them, "It is easy."  A lot of my friends back in the States think I must have the hardest time in Italy as a vegan.  I guess this goes back to their own traveling experiences here and maybe it was difficult for them because they did not know how to order in Italian.  I know my own transition to veganism in Italy has been relatively seamless.  Sure, I get the odd, "You don't eat Mozzarella?" But, I don't mind.  I know my pizza options and they are not that limited, in fact, they are vast.  
Since we do not have a real kitchen currently, more like something that resembles camping equipment, we have been eating our fair share of pizza since we moved.  And I have been having a string of bad pizza luck, culminating in the worst place I have ever eaten at in Rome, a place called San Marco on Via Sardegna, near Via Veneto.  I guess it is hip because they have DJs, but their pizza was more or less cardboard and the vegetables on mine tasted like rubber.  I felt bad because we were there for a work party, which I am sure was chosen by one of my colleagues.  Such a shame, too, since the guest of honor isn't in Italy all the time and was likely excited to eat good food.    I personally thought I could trust his taste, because he is attending wine school, but let me just say, wine school does not equal good taste.  Some people just do things because of the money involved.  And I should have known better when he  said, "Hey, what do you think about ordering the house wine? It is just like Brunello."  "Um, ok,"  I say to myself,  "I guess that sounds, good, you've been here, and you must know about food and wine since you are taking an 18 month wine course."  Wrong!  Ladies, never let some boasty guy who talks endlessly about how cool he is because he DJs and does wine tours tell you how to order wine when you instincts tell you to listen to yourself!  I don't know why I lack confidence when it comes to food and wine.  Ettore thinks I feel guilty about it.  I do know I learned a lesson.  I order the wine and food and I chose the places.  Whenever someone says, "Si Magna Bene,"   or, One eats well here in Roman dialect, I should always know I am in for a tasteless evening.  
  It turns out what they mean with that phrase is that one eats a lot for less.  So it is a phrase of quantity, not quality.  Ettore and I have started calling it the Si Magna Bene culture.  It is a good label for people in their late 20s and 30s who frequent hipster places where they eat a ton of food that doesn't cost a lot of money and yet has absolutely no quality, so then macho guys pretend to be throwing around cash, like in a rap video.  Sure, you can have a 4 course meal with wine and water for €10 a person, but, you'll regret it for days afterward.  Well, at least I do. Make makes this whole situation worse is the fact that this guy is from California!  I should have clued in when he ordered the most expensive dish on the menu.  He was making a show for us the entire evening.  He wanted us to know he was a regular there, he knew the wine list, he knew the most expensive things, etc.  MACHISMO at its absolute worst.  
  Which brings me back to pizza.    I wished that the party could have been in Genzano.  Our favorite place to get pizza is amazing, and also quite inexpensive.  We also don't have to be victim to bad DJs and their horrible techno music.  We go to the very old Genzanese RISTORANTE TIGELLINO where I always order a focaccia ortolana or a white pizza with vegetables.  See, here in Italy, it is not unusual to order a pizza without cheese.  Many pizzas automatically do not have cheese,  and some do not even have red sauce.  At Tigellino they are very generous with the vegetables, which are all sourced locally.  Each vegetable is cooked perfectly, with great texture and incredibly rich flavors.   Usually there are grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, chicory or spinach, rocket, cherry tomatoes, roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary, all topped with amazing olive oil.  The crust is also out of this world.  The crust is perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside, but just tender enough to be scrumptious and to hold in flavor.  The crust has a lovely texture because they have a long levitation, which makes the pizza dough easier to digest.  So...yummy, crispy, and with the perfect amount of salt.  
  I think we'll get pizza tonight! 
19, VIA SARAGAT G. 00045
Tel. 069396741


Monday, May 3, 2010

Being Neighborly

    I have not been able to post much in recent weeks because of a big change in my life.  I moved to a new house!  With all the packing, organizing, unpacking, painting, lack of kitchen, and new additions to the family, I haven't had much time to breathe, let alone blog about food or wine.  We moved from town to the countryside and it is like night and day in terms of the new lifestyle.  What I lack in convenience (shops, gas station, or a bar), I get so much more from my everyday life than I ever thought possible.
    Instead of the buzzing incessant sound of traffic, ambulances and garbage pick up I have birds.  In fact my next door neighbors have chickens, geese and ducks that are all very busy living out the dramas of their lives.  Instead an alarm clock, I have roosters.  During my afternoon naps I don't wake from the annoying sound of sirens, I wake up to the startling sound of new life.  A mamma bird has nested in the rafters of the roofs right above our bedrooms.  I am thoroughly enjoying the squeaks and peeps of the little ones.  She seems to be very attentive.   My cats are very confused about the situation.  They can hear the birds but they can't see them, so they have spent many wasted hours attacking the walls.  Bless their silly hearts!
     We also have the fortune of amazing neighbors.  The next door neighbors are very friendly with us.  They are restoring their house alone, so it is a long term work in progress.  In just a week we have learned about all the edible plants that are growing wild in our land.  Greens like Chicory, Borage, and Radishes.  We also discovered that this area is overrunning with wild asparagus.  One of the first meals I made was from the bounty of the "hunt."  We spent about an hour gathering edibles around the house and I cooked them up.  I made an amazing penne with wild asparagus, I sauteed it with olive oil, garlic, Celtic salt and some lemon juice.  It was superb. 
     The day after we officially moved in, our neighbors presented us with a welcome-to-the-neighborhood basket.  It contained the harvest of their land and included things like jams, olive oil, and wild asparagus.  One of the jams was cherry which I happened to eat in about a day it was so delicious.  What made it delicious is that it was not overly sweet.  It tasted like cherries not like cherry candy.They have a delightful family.  We noticed that when the kids come home from school in the afternoon they don't just go inside and turn their TV on or play with video games.  They are outside with the parents or hanging out with the geese and chickens.  They are very polite as well...unlike our neighbors before.  We lived in a building of eight apartments.  The neighbors upstairs were constantly fighting and yelling at their kids.  They were also teaching them at a young age to be the next generation of animal abusers.  Every time we would meet in the building they had to make some lame comment about my dogs being disgusting and dirty.  My dogs are far from being dirty.  They smell like fresh rain because they don't eat nasty dog food.  The neighbors below never cracked a smile or said hello.  The man was OCD and had to bleach the elevator anytime we had used it.  So besides being a jerk he wants to cause everyone's cancer from the fumes of chemicals.  But I digress...I no longer have to live in that Eco-monster HURRAY!!  In stead of having 6 animals in a cramped apartment my furry friends run around all day among olive trees, fruit trees and lots of overgrown grass.
    The other great neighbors we have are two houses down from us.   The woman is an American woman from Boston who is a vegetarian and a hippie.  They have over an acre of property.  She lives with her boyfriend who is a gardener.  His gardening philosophy is called Synergistic gardening which is based on the idea that there are no straight lines in nature and therefore there should not be in gardens.  The gardens are typically horseshoe shaped or round and raised above ground.  They are organic as well, and use veganic compost.  They have already invited us to dinner, which is very kind of them.  As soon as I have a kitchen I will return the favor and cook them an amazing vegan meal.  I think I will try to get into their hearts and minds through food.
    I can't emphasize how lovely it is to have neighbors that say hello, that I have something in common with, that don't have televisions, that care about animals and the earth, and that thrive off of producing their own food. 
    When we started this house hunting journey two years ago, I knew that when the right house came to us we would "know."  We must have looked at 15 different different houses all of which had characteristics we liked but most had characteristics that would would not want to deal with down the road.  Kitchens that were the size of an ant hill, a house that was beautiful but next door to an egg factory farm.  I was afraid of cancer from the pollution or becoming a hoarder of liberated hens.Now, two years later, we are in the "right" house and I think we are in a very blissful state.
     When we first started house hunting our main interest was in finding a garden large enough for our puppies and cats.  I promised myself and the powers that be that when we found this house I would go straight to a kennel and adopt an old dog that has been in the shelter for at least 10 years.  I found her!  Her name is Bumba and she is a survivor of hell and for me, she is a living miracle.  She was thrown away in the Canile of Rieti which was formally a Canile Lager, which I have written about in a former post here:
                                             Thousands Linger in Hell

Bumba was thrown in the canile in 1998 and was never taken out again, not even for a walk, until we picked her up on Saturday.  She lived 12 years in a concrete cell day in day out with no break.  She lived in her own waste and survived the period of time when the canile was really nothing more than a death camp for dogs.  She is my living miracle and teacher.  Who else but a dog can live like that and enter into the world without a stain on her personality?  She is so sweet and kind.  She is also very happy and affectionate despite never being socialized.  She plays with her new brothers and is curious about the cats.  The first night she was here she didn't stop walking around the land for about 12 hours.  I think she was overwhelmed.  Today I took her to the vet for a check up, but he couldn't analyze her blood because her ears are severely infected and full of pus.  Who knows how long she has lived like this.
   Our family is complete with her in it.  My new life begins now, a life of sustainable food, gardening, and being neighborly.  I also want to share the bounty of the land come harvest time. I am so grateful to the universe for allowing me the life that suits my family and I.