Love and Pork Fat

The gift I brought back from Italy for my boyfriend was definitely not on the list of standard European knickknacks or souvenirs. While most people return from Italy with things like rosaries or these obnoxious aprons, I hauled 2 kilos of guanciale in my backpack. Yes, I carried around nearly 5 lbs of pork fat as a gift for my boyfriend. I wasn't sure it was the right choice until I gave it to him. He loved it. This is probably where I should mention, for those of you who don't know, that my beloved is a chef.

We are very happy together and our "rightness" for each other is proven over and over again in the most random ways. I don't recall if I mentioned this while I was blogging about the trip, but A & I got into the habit of taking "food porn" photos at nearly every meal. It was only once I downloaded my 600+ photos that I realized with faint embarrassment how many I had taken of food. When I showed my photos to my boyfriend, he not only was interested in my food pics, he berated me for not remembering some of the ingredients I had photographed! It was just one of those tiny things that make a relationship great. Who else would or could appreciate that my enduring memory of traveling Italy is the absolutely phenomenal food I ate daily?

Good Morning!

It isn't even 7am and I'm fully awake with most of a cup of coffee already in my system. Jetlag? Perhaps, but my alarm is set for 7:30am because (drumroll, please) I'm starting my new job today! I'm so excited and very slightly nervous. I really can't compare how I felt last night and this morning with anything other than the first day of school when I was a kid. I haven't had a job that required I even be awake before 10am in about 15 years. No clue what this means for my availability, I'll be hammering out a schedule later today. I'll never forget being about 20 with a lifestyle that meant I accepted phone calls through six am but woe to anyone calling me before noon. I had signing up as with a temp agency and a week or two later answered an early morning call with "Who the fuck is calling me at this godforsaken hour?" Needless to say, I didn't get offered that gig.


Driving all over

I'm sitting here listening to the sheep in the distance trying to figure out if I can do today justice with words. A and I have always loved to be in a car together. Our friendship is somehow ideally suited to long drives with random discussions on nearly any topic from deep examinations of self to questions like, "what's the origin of the term pothole?" Today we drove around and about Tuscany hitting several towns along the way. We began in Pienza, which though beautiful was really a tourist town, with a delicious lunch at Trattoria Osteria Sette Di Vino. MMMMMMMM...there is nothing quite like fresh cheese literally grilled with bacon. Later in the day we hit Montepulciano, which though it had the same charm of winding hilly cobbled streets, seemed to actually have a local population. We visited Il Casale, an agrotourism working organic farm and tasted some of the most amazing cheese I've ever had. When I inquired about buying some to take home, Massimo explained that it just wouldn't survive the journey. Beyond peeking at goats and sheep and playing with sheepdog puppies, the highlight was meeting Rinaldo. He used to work in automobiles in Germany. Once he lost his job, he went back to school to learn how to make cheese. After shedding our dusty sandals, we donned plastic clogs and he guided us through his cheese-making process. We both just fell in love with him. I will definitely post some pix of this and him. It was so amazing.

We went over to Bagno Vignoni to check out the hot springs and fancy spa, but tired of the experience before we really even had it. Dinner was in Montalcino and though the food was phenomenal, I was a bit preoccupied trying to get a perfect sunset photo. I'll let you be the judge of whether I got it or not.


Tuscany is literally breathtaking. We love the sheep.

So...neither of us really dug Florence. Therefore I haven't had much to say. But now we are in Tuscany. Staying at the magnificent La Bandita. It is so unbelievably stunningly beautiful here. This afternoon A & I were discussing how sensory our memories of this trip will be...the sound of running water & the cool damp air beneath San Clemente, the septic stink that tinged the air nearly everywhere we went in Florence, the scent of jasmine wafting through the windows of our rental car while lost in the Tuscan countryside this afternoon and shortly after we arrived at La Bandita, the tinkling of bells as the sheep grazed just down the hillside from us.

Life seems somehow simpler and purer here. The in house chef laughed as he carried a beer over to a farmer astride a tractor on the adjoining property. He explained that the beer he carried would translate to three lbs of fresh ricotta tomorrow morning.

We're completely off the map (my GPS indicated that we left known roads at least ten minutes before we actually arrived). The decor is minimalist and perfect to me. The house cat is friendly and the staff are just lovely people. I'm so incredibly lucky. I know that my life is amazing and I am so so grateful. Flipping through their (made on a mac) bound photobook of "the Making of La Bandita" I hope I'm glancing at my future.


A's Guest Blogger Entry

This morning we went to a new section of roma- in search of a foodie's adventure. We entered a neighborhood/market (Testaccio) that looks just like essex street market and were greeted by bargain shoppers buying shoes and cheap wares. In the overflowing stalls vendors sold gorgeous zucchini flowers, 30 varieties of tomatoes, countless cuts of meat and breads. We wandered around for a long time- one of my favorite moments was this guy shucking lima beans.

I really loved where we followed this awesome book's (Italy for the Gourmet Traveler) suggestion and went to Gastronomia E. Volpetti-- oh my god--foodie paradise. We were there for over an hour, met Claudio the proprietor and walked out with a perfect picnic lunch and presents for friends and ourselves.

We got back to our apartment ate our fabulous lunch including wild boar prosciutto, cheese, olives, artichoke an amazing bottle of red and a variety of fresh breads and a desert that taste similar to hamantashen. Afterward we quickly passed out- to snack on some leftovers post nap and walk the streets of rome again.


A magnificent day

Began the day with a trip to the post office so A could ship some gifts home. Even with the language barrier, we pronounced it a significantly more civilized experience than any NYC post 0ffice either of us had ever been in. We then followed my iphone's wifi finder app to a relatively nearby cafe. After a little skype action and breakfast we headed back to the apt where I made coffee.

Off to another trip on the double decker over to the Coliseum, again we chose not to go in but to walk around the area.

Or shall I say the gayborhood as we hunted for lesbian bars for A. Basilica San Clemente and the ruins below were today's amazing highlight. The ruins were such a tactile experience. As we descended, the air changed, became damper and colder but it was far from eerie, just literally awe-inspiring. Dipping my hand into the spring water that still runs through was somehow cleansing. I was so much more interested in the remnants of the architecture than the restored frescos. We left feeling somehow lighter and very happy. Lunch at a nearby cafe yielded the sweetest, most luscious cantaloupe draped with perfectly sliced prosciutto.

We made our way towards the Trevi Fountain and stopped at "THE" gelato shoppe recommended by a foodie from home & the NY Times. San Crispino (Via della Paneteria, 42). An entirely different texture from anything else we had tried. This gelato blew away all other competitors. A had a red wine flavor & the house specialty which is creme & honey. I had chocolate meringue & banana. so wonderful. Up the block we encountered a fruit stand. Everything was so vibrant and fresh looking I couldn't resist loading up with pears, plums, three varieties of citrus fruits & strawberries. Finally we arrived at the Trevi, and sat for awhile. We watched the vendors hard sell tourists one after another like machine gun fire. They offered nothing that interested us, but watched with amusement as an item initially offered for 12 euros was let go for just one.

I was wearing a pair of cut off jean shorts today. Right by the fountain (NOT at any religious monument) I was taken to task by a tiny old Italian grandmother who managed to accost & chastise me without a word of English for my shorts being too short, "Indecente!" she hissed at me. Rather than being offended, we both found it adorably endearing.

We closed out the day with dinner at Gusto restaurant, which reminded me in a variety of ways of an Italian Balthazzar. Took many serious food porn pix, octopus & potato salad, spaghetti & clams, divine house made meat & cheese plate.steak tartare,

Roma: the pretty & gritty city

We are really enjoying Rome. This morning we truly gathered our bearings in terms of where we are in relation to all else in the city. We've rented an apt on the Tiber between the Castel Sant Angelo & Vittorio Emanuele Bridges. Based on looking at maps I was concerned that getting from point A to B would be like getting from the lower east side to the bronx, but it is much more like soho to the east village. VERY managable. We began our day entirely by accident with the Pope's address to the piazza. We didn't plan it, we just happened to walk into it. We then spent some time in the surrounding shops which are essentially department stores of Catholicism. Very interesting and occasionally inappropriate (like when we browsed the shop where priests have custom robes made. We met up with a couple of friends who also just so happen to be in Rome as well and headed to the Jewish Ghetto. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when we stumbled upon the ruins of the Portico d'Ottavia. Enjoyed more fried zucchini flowers and the traditional artichokes alla giudea at Giggetto. A & I hit the Jewish Museum (Museo Ebraico Di Roma) & the Sinagoga Ashkenazita for a little heritage/culture. The exhibits were beautiful (elaborate torah cloths, etc.) but we quickly realized that the descriptive cards were written for people who know nothing about Judaism. We then decided to be silly tourists and bought open top double decker hop on/off bus tickets and circled the entire city. Popped off at Piazza Navona, wandered into the Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone. So very beautiful. Checked out the art and her skull on display, lit a candle and thought nice thoughts in the memory of my italian grandma stella and left feeling really good/zen.

Back on the bus to the Colesseo. Actually breathtaking, we'll probably go back to spend more time there as our visit was super brief in order not to be late for our 8:30 reservation at Checchino dal 1887. We got the traditional tasting menu, took food porn pics, made friends with the maitre'de. I'll write more about the meal some other time, but suffice to say the recco for this restaurant came via a famous chef in NY. It was divine.


Welcome to Rome

My flight touched down at 4pm on the dot, but it was an hour before I left the airport. It was not an immigration or customs issue as you might suspect. Just the amount of time it took to get off the plane, locate my bag & exchange some cash. Actually I never encountered immigration at all, which kinda concerns me. Beyond the fact that I like all the stamps in my passport, when I depart won't they be curious to know why there's no indication of my arrival or visa? I could stay here for the next decade or when I leave in ten days I could be accused of having overstayed my nonexistent visa.

I navigated public transit and utilized my iphone's gps walking directions. SO AWESOME. All on its own it figures out where the hell I am and how to get wherever I wanna be. Used it thrice today. We had dinner at Costanza and utterly randomly ran into a middle school friend of A's. Dinner was superb...the house antipasto consisted of some kind of hot chopped liver/pate, a super firm and rich greek yogurt, delicately fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese & anchovies. Bizzare combination but each dish was just amazing. A had some kind of crepe & I had gnocchi. Afterward we wandered around with her new/old friend and her husband. Through Campo dei Fiori, the Pantheon and tons of curvy cobbled streets in search of their favorite gelato joint.

Overall a perfect relaxed intro to Rome. The apt we rented is really lovely. The elevator is intricately wrought iron. Pix to follow.


Hooray for wifi in airports!

I'm sitting in JFK waiting for my flight to Paris which will lead to my flight to Rome. I'm not sure if I could imagine a better birthday than today. I woke up crazy early for a vanilla job interview and...I GOT THE GIG! It isn't exactly what I wanted but it is only a smidgen away and if you couldn't tell, I'm really excited about it! Ecstatic is really a more apt term. I think I will be really happy in my new position and even if somehow I'm not, it seems to have tremendous stepping stone potential. Life is really really good. I spent the afternoon and early evening with Rob. He brought me a bouquet of incredibly colored roses. Each one seems to have a really subtle gradation of color ranging from pale yellow at the petal's base through peach to end in a vibrant orange at the tip. They're stunning, However I doubt they'll still be alive by the time I return. It is of course the thought that counts. We've been together a year and this is the first time he's given me flowers. I hate that I'm not going to get to watch them fully open. Don't think I'm not grateful, because I really am, but I was surprised that he didn't know that I prefer exotics. I've always felt roses were a lazy choice, however this set were so beautiful, I may need to rethink that. We had dinner at Blue Ribbon a favorite for both of us that we've never enjoyed together. Oysters! Plump juicy exploding in my mouth west coast oysters followed by their always delectable bone marrow appetizer, pierogies (which I had never had. There, I mean. I love Odessa's pierogies, but Blue Ribbon's are on another plane altogether...most perfect dough encasing EVER!). I had the skate (one day I swear I'll order a different main course there). I'm so god damn happy. Headed off to Italy now.