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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Take That, Global Warming!


As some of you may know or not know, the Eastern coast of the United States is once again witnessing the beauty of winter. Many of the people here have complained about the snow we have been having, but to me, it’s great! It has only snowed three times so far this year. Each time has dumped over a foot of snow, but then within a few days, all the snow has melted. This is a picture taken in our backyard during the pause in between the snow showers. The sun slowly managed to peak out from behind the clouds, and has been brightly shining for the last hour. Some of the snow has already begun to melt, since it has reached 40 degrees Fehrenheit. However, we are due for even more snow for the remainder of the day and night into Saturday, Sunday, and perhaps even Monday. Snow showers are also expected on Wednesday. Take that, global warming!

And just so everyone knows, I am a bit peeved that Rutgers University has been closing due to the snow. When I studied there, they never closed, even when the river overflowed and flooded all the campuses. So not fair!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Italy v. America: The Myths About Italian Foods

Let’s get one thing straight. The food that you find in most restaurants here in the United States is not remotely close to what you find in Italy. Picture this, spaghetti swamped with a thick tomato sauce with big meatballs… Do you have the image in your mind? Good! Well, it does not exist all to your dismay as the author of At Home in Rome states. At least not together. Yes, there is spaghetti, and yes there are meatballs (they’re called polpette). But in the same dish? Unthinkable. The “authentic” dishes from Olive Garden and their statements of how chefs are trained in Italy? False! I mentioned this to a friend who had once worked there. First, they are not trained in Italy. Second, her reason for working there was not because of the food, but because she would not be tempted to eat it. The food is in fact frozen, everything is pre-made, and just thrown on the stove to be reheated. Hmmm… very Italian.

As one of the owners of Manganaro’s Grosseria Italiana in Hell’s Kitchen, New York on Anthony Bourdains show pointed out, the sauce, in Italy, is used as a garnish. This all changed when Italians came to America, and their recipes began to meet the wants and needs of Americans. And so the dousing began.

Real Italian food is about everything being fresh. To see how much processed food there is in America is truly sad, and well, unappetizing. There is no such thing as a TV dinner, and I hope for the sake of the Italians, there never is one. The only ready-made food I have ever come across in a store are frozen pizzas and seafood with sauce. Not even close to what you may find here. It is very traditional for the mamma to go about on her daily walk to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for the meals of the day. And vitamin supplements? I am sure they may have them in Italy… but not really used. From the amount of vegetables, fruits, herbs, fresh fish, et cetera used in their foods, everything is already jam packed with all your essential vitamins and minerals.

I think Michael Tucker, author of Living in a Foreign Language, best sums up my banter.

The whole food situation was puzzling. In the States, Jill can’t eat garlic or onions; bread and pastas are no-nos; and she tries to stay away from dairy products. She has a delicate digestion. In Italy she has no problem with any of those things. She eats it all, happily, and her digestion works just fine. So, what’s the difference? Attitude? Lifestyle? Certainly. But there’s also the thousand-year-old tradition of eating well in Italy; there’s terreno, the soil that things grow in; and there’s the crucial question of freshness.

In Mill Vally we shop – as do all the dutiful yuppies – at one of those health-oriented megastores with dazzling displays of produce, condiments and packaged goods that all proclaim themselves to be “organic”. Well, they may well be organic, and they may be “artisinally grown” – but they damn well aren’t fresh. The produce – which looks great – tastes like it’s been on a truck for two weeks. Its vitality is gone. It’s all show.

Nostrano” is a word that pops up on hand-written signs at local alimentari and roadside stands in Umbria. It comes from the word nostro, which means “ours”. If the ricotta they’re selling today is proclaimed nostrano, it was made in the neighborhood and it’s still warm. When the porcini start popping up from under the oak trees, they’re suddenly everywhere – fresh and bursting with flavor. All the restaurants are serving them – in pastas, blanketing roasted meats, grilled on their own like steaks, glistening with olive oil. And the fun is that this can only be happening now, on the day they pop up – and here, from under the trees you can see on the hillsides, just up the road from where you’re eating them.

Nostrano is also used when talking about meat. The pork we eat in Umbria is from pigs that have walked to the butcher shop where they’re sold. They’re neighborhood pigs. They know people you know. Same with the wine – they grow in vineyards that you can see out the window. They’re grown to be sipped with the food that grows near them. That’s why they go down so well. Nostrano.

The problem in the States is that the Caesar salad with grilled chicken in San Jose is the same one you get in Providence; the arugula salad with baked goat cheese is rubber-stamped and mass-produced until it appears on restaurant menus in all fifty states.

Are you getting the picture yet? How has the United States moved so far away from real food? How has processed food become the ideal for daily nutrition? What is your stance on all of this?


Friday, February 19, 2010

What's Cooking Wednesday: Veal and Veggie Stew





Recently, I have been experimenting with different recipes. One of my favorite magazines is La Cucina Italiana. It is a magazine published in English, and has been in circulation since 1929. It is a very interesting magazine which not only focuses on recipes, but also gives information on Italian food culture, including regional cooking; great places to visit within Italy; information on wines and other Italian beverages, such a grappa; and much more.

I ventured in trying their Veal and Vegetable Stew. During the process, I managed to remember to take pictures. You can find the recipe at La Cucina Italiana, as well as numerous other recipes, or read it down below. Just type in stew, and the link will pop up. Below are my pictures of the process.I have also added tips.


Buon appetito!



Uncooked Veal


Veal should be very tender when eaten. My suggestion is that when cooking the veal in the pan, do not cook it all the way through. Just brown the outside of the meat as per the directions, and keep the inside pink. Instead of using butter, I used olive oil through the entire cooking process. The veal came out very tender, and the vegetables came out very soft.


Still slightly pink
Still slightly pink
As you can see here, the meat is still pink.

Chopped squash and onion

Even without being cooked, these vegetables look delicious. I figured these tips would help anyone who is just learning to cook. Enjoy your experiment!


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds veal stew meat, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, preferably smoked
  • 2 1/2 cups store-bought vegetable broth plus 1 cup water, heated to a simmer, or 3 1/2 cups homemade vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour

Instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half of the veal and cook, turning, until browned all over, about 7 minutes. Transfer veal to a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and veal. Pour off the oil.


Melt 2 tablespoons butter in pot over medium heat; add potatoes, carrots, onion, zucchini, celery, 1 teaspoon rosemary, peppercorns and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Add veal and any accumulated juices back to pot. Add stock and water; bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and gently simmer until meat is tender, about 1 hour.


Using a slotted spoon, transfer veal and vegetables to a bowl. Pour cooking liquid into a second bowl, and return pot to stove. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in pot over medium-low heat, then stir in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Whisk in cooking liquid. Bring liquid to a low boil and cook, uncovered, whisking
occasionally, until reduced to about 2 cups, about 15 minutes.


Return vegetables and veal to pot; stir in remaining teaspoon rosemary. Heat to warm through.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Applying For Dual Citizenship in Italy

Filename: j0444594.jpgApplying for Dual Citizenship in Italy

If you have been reading my blog, you will know that I am in hot pursuit of American/Italian dual citizenship. With the month of May quickly approaching, it will soon be one year since having begun the search. Even if you may not be a candidate for dual citizenship, it is strongly believed that simply collecting the documents is a great learning experience. So much information has been learned about my family, much of which would have never been know if this endeavor had not been started. 

From browsing the Internet, I read a forum entry about applying within Italy. I knew that it could be done, but very few people had actually gone through with it. The entry had been submitted by a member on ExpatForum.com, and consists of information about the process. Each day, the candidate updated the forum on his experience, listing offices that one would need to visit and the documents required to apply, as well as the ever looming red tape. I’ve written down the key information based on his postings to apply in Italy.
First, I would highly recommend making an appointment with your nearest consulate to make sure you have all the necessary paperwork you will need. Additional information may be needed by them, so it is probably best to collect everything while you are still in the States. In order to begin your process in Italy, you MUST have your passport stamped with an Entry stamp upon your arrival. You will be entering first on a tourist visa. The tourist visa is simply the stamp received in Customs, and it lasts for three months. You must also fill out a kit which can be given to you at the post office.
Next, on the day you so choose, bring all your documents and a copy of the Circolare 32/2007 to the nearest anagrafe. (There may be a more updated version of the Circolare. From what I remember from the posting, more current papers of this document were provided to the applicant.) At the anagrafe you will be applying for residency status. State that you will be residing for the purpose of ‘recognition of Italian citizenship by decent. To continue the process, you will need a codice fiscale, which can be compared to the American equivalent of a Social Security number. In order to receive your codice fiscal, you must provide either your passport or PDSpermesso di soggiorno.
The third step is to bring these documents to the Ufficio delle Entrate. Once you have received your residency status, your documents are now ready to be submitted. Residency status will be acquired after the vigili have inspected your residence, and a letter from the comune has been received. The letter from the anagrafe should take two to three weeks. Submit your documents and wait for the sindaco to approve them.
Note: From my readings, many posters have mentioned that they at times had difficulties with those who worked in each office. This was because many of them do not seem to understand the entire process, and who does what in the different branches.

If you have applied in Italy, and have been successful, please share your experience with us! Simply post it in the blog’s comment section. You can also e-mail me your experience at PassagetoItaly@gmail.com!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Official Rutgers Urbino Study Abroad Program 2010

I would like to announce the addition of the Official Rutgers Urbino Study Abroad Program to the Facebook community. By simply becoming of fan on their page, you can receive the most up-to-date information. Featured on the page are also videos with interviews of students during their stay. The group will also be holding a Study Abroad Summer Fair on February 23 at 2:oopm at the Rutgers Student Center, MPR. The Student Center is located on College Ave. in New Brunswick, and the meeting will be held from 2:00-5:00pm.

But wait! You don’t have to necessarily be a student at Rutgers University. Countless amounts of students from many different universities across the country have also signed on for the summer abroad program, as per recommendations made by their university professors. High school students who will be entering college during the 2010-2011 year can also participate in the program.

How much Italian do you need to know to join? None. You can simply begin your beginner lessons in Urbino, or you could take more advanced classes. Art History lessons can also be selected, which are conducted in English.

What accomodations are provided, and what about meals? Your tuition for the program includes: cultural excursions arranged by the overseers of the program; three meals per day; class fees; and room and board. All over-night excursions that include staying in a hotel is also included in the price. All hotels are first-rate!

What cities will be visited during the excursions? Each year, the program can vary. The year I went, we visited the following cities:

Ravenna
Assisi
Verona
Padova
San Leo
Siena
Florence

Students have also been able to do their own excursions during the weekends when free from classes. During my stay I visited:

Capri
Perdifiumo
Pesaro
Rimini

Other students were able to visit: Cinque Terre, Venezia, and Rome – to name a few.

Please visit The Official Rutgers Urbino Study Abroad Program 2010 page for further details including pricing, transportation, and course information.

This program changed my life, and I’m sure it can change yours in ways you’ve never imagined!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sucker Punched


Sucker punched – I would say this is the best way to describe yesterday’s snowstorm. Since the pharmacy that I work in was not closed, I ventured into the bad weather to go to work. There were only 4 other employees that came in. Everyone else had called out. With each passing minute the weather was becoming worse, and the pharmacist was worried how she would make it through the remainder of the day until 10pm, when the store closed. Thankfully I was allowed to leave early, leaving at 5pm, and finally someone in the company called to say that the store could close at 6pm. The drive home was worse than it had been before, having to avoid downed powerlines, which other drivers just either drove over or drove under. I, however, would not do that.

Earlier in the day, a big branch of one of our trees in the front yard broke. When I finally arrived home after a 45 minute drive, which is usually 20 minutes long, half of the tree had fallen down. It nearly came down through our living room window. Power lines were dangling dangerously low in front of the house across the street. During the night, we constantly heard the eerie sound of branches snapping and falling. All night we were worried about losing power because a pine tree’s branches were laying on top of the power line to our house, and the lights continually flickered. Without touching the power line, we managed to shake some of the snow off of its branches, and tried to carefully move the hanging branches, but to no avail. Having removed the heavy snow would have to do.

As a result of the hail, sleet, rain, snow, and heavy winds, we have four trees which are falling down in our yard. The next time I make a wish, I’ll be careful what I’m wishing for. It seems I got more of a snowstorm than I bargained for.

Downed tree in front yard

If you look closely, you'll see the tree is pulling down our neighbor's power line

Another angle of the tree

House still intact

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gone for Too Long

I haven’t written in awhile because thinking about what has gone on in the past seven months (it has been two months since I’ve written) has been too painful. Hence my absence on this blog, and any reading of other blogs that I usually enjoy reading. Between breaking up with my fairytale boyfriend, my grandfather being diagnosed with inoperable cancer, my grandparents’ big move from the Poconos in Pennsylvania back into civilization, and my own diagnosis of Celiac Disease, has all been very overwhelming. I had to stop reading the blogs about Italy because they brought back too many memories of times when I was truly happy. My first summer there was the most amazing experience of my life. A moment in time when I did not have to really worry about anything – just being out in the world, having a good time.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’m back! Finally.. Another major reason was the my hard drive was so full, making my computer really slow, and it needed an overhaul desperately. So I’ve installed a big external hard drive to accommodate all of my pictures and such. I do have two recipes to share, as sadly, I have not had enough time to experiment. I will also be sharing the snow of ‘09 pictures that I have been wanting to put up. But again, nothing would fit on my hard drive.

The next thing I plan on doing is finally sending out the letter to my comune for my great great grandfather’s cittadinanza papers. Then I’ll be able to make an appointment eventually. Once I have a new job, I’ll be able to proceed with obtaining the rest of the documents.

Also I have so interesting news to share, but I will tell you all once the plans have been finalized. :)