Friday, March 28, 2008

The Big Question Mark

I saw the link to this questionaire over at Suitcase Contents. Beatriz was a comma, which, according to my answers means that we would get along well. I am a Question Mark. Yep, that is me, though I'm not sure my friends would agree that I am especially "interesting". Thought provoking...maybe. How about you? What punctuation mark are you?

You Are a Question Mark

You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.

And while you know a lot, you don't act like a know it all. You're open to learning you're wrong.
You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.

You're naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.

Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.

(But they're not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)

You excel in: Higher education

You get along best with: The Comma

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter!

Buona Pasqua a tutti! I can't believe tomorrow is's so early this year, it feels a little weird. We'll be rising bright and early - not for a sunrise service, but to drive to Rome to celebrate the holiday with friends, Giorgio and Francesca. Chef Gio has been planning menus and cooking all week and we can't wait to see the results. My parents arrived back in town l'altro ieri (day before yesterday) and have finally been able to see some of Ascoli Piceno without rain hampering their view. Naturally, the weather cleared up and was glorious during their week-long absence, then turned chilly and drizzly on the day of their return. Yesterday was lovely, though, so we took advantage of it by walking all over the centro storico, showing them architectural beauties, cute alleyways, pretty houses, mountain vistas, and our favorite caffes. They are now converts to the spectacular beauty of Le Marche.

Last year I told you about the Easter eggs, the enormous and fanciful chocolate confections that are the traditional gift here. We purchased a pretty, unusual creation to take to Francesca. We'll also be toting some olive all'ascolana, big green olives that have been pitted, stuffed with a meat mixture, breaded and fried in oil. Sounds weird, but these buggers are addictive. We happened upon our landlady last year as she was preparing hers for the holiday dinner...she had just finished pitting three hundred olives. By hand. The Ascolani will gnerally not accept olives that have been pre-pitted, preferring instead to to it by hand with a knife a spirale, in a spiral around the pit to that instead of a mere hole in an olive, they "rebuild" the olive around the meat mixture. Dorina said that getting them pitted meant the hard part was behind her. She had only to grind the three types of meat, cook the mixture, roll it into three hundred little balls, stuff the balls into the olives, and then flour them, dip them in egg, then breadcrumbs, and then fry them all. By hand. Three hundred of them. Which is why I go to the neighborhood pasta all'uova to buy them ready for frying.

There are other traditional Easter foods, too. The Colomba cake, which is a reincarnation of the panettone but instead of being formed into a high dome is dove-shaped. Pass. Then there's the cheese bread...I can't remember the name but I'm told it's particular to this area. I wouldn't be surprised to find it in other regions, because often when I'm told something is very particular to one small zone, it's actually rather widespread. Boh. But this bread is golden and high, not unlike a panettone shape, but is made with pecorino cheese. It's especially good warm, but the traditional way to eat it is to lop off a thick slice and top it with salami or prosciutto. Which is very tasty.

I don't know what our menu will include at Giorgio's but know the party will be a good one. What about you? What are your Easter traditions? However you spend the day, I hope it will be lovely, chocolate-filled and peaceful.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sempre in giro

"Siete sempre in giro," a friend recently told me, and he's probably right. We've been spending a lot of time running around. My parents have been visiting and as it is their first trip to the Ascoli Piceno area, we've been touring around for them to have a glimpse of the flavors and sights that make this place so wonderful for us. Unfortunately, their initial introduction was less than cordial; it rained nonstop for two days solid and they didn't let us hear the end of it. When it started snowing in northern Ohio and didn't let up until about 23 inches of snow had accumulated though, they finally relented. About the time they stopped whining the skies cleared and the air warmed. We even had a picnic lunch in Offida while gazing upon the gorgeous church, Santa Maria della Rocca, perched on a precarious rock.

The boys were left to fend for themselves when Mama Jo and I whooped it up for the Festa della Donna, having been invited by a friend of a friend to participate in her celebration at a local restaurant. We took along a couple of friends, too, and had a great time eating, drinking, and celebrating woman-hood while trying to convince the other ladies present that Americans are largely unfamiliar with this holiday. It was a little disappointing that here in Ascoli very few restaurants organized the usual grand women-only dinners that we'd seen advertised last year. The reason? It was Saturday night and, as several restauranteurs told me, "we're always busy on Saturday anyway, so we don't need to organize a special event for clients." Apparently even here it's becoming a less-important day; or at least it sounded like women would be celebrated only when it could affect their receipts. Hmph.

We then truly went in giro when we made the five-hour drive to Basilicata, the Motherland, so my mom could comune with la famiglia and see the dramatic landscapes laggiu` (down there). They were impressed by the marked contrast of the rugged, harsh mountains to the warmth and kindness of the people we know there. When my stepdad followed a wood-laden donkey and his owner along an insanely-steep and narrow street to take a photo, the lady who received the door-side delivery of firewood was so amused that she gave him some of her hand-made, home-cured sausages. How thrilled was he? He came back holding them up in the air, beaming.

They sampled the delicious home-made coffee liqueuer from a restaurant we like, where they make absolutely everything in-house. The locally-held recipe for this digestivo was purchased by Amaro Lucano, and is now commercially produced but not widely distributed (we can't find it here, and no one north of Basilicata seems to know it exists). They also saw what all the fuss about regarding the peperoni cruschi, about which we have raved and to which they have become addicted, too.

The town priest opened up the churches for us to see the antique artifacts and well-preserved frescoes. My parents may have also arranged a marriage for my sister, so all in all it was a rather productive trip to my ancestral village. (We'll wait to hear if my sister thinks so.)

Then it was off to Matera, a city that completely fascinates me and captivated them, as well. The sinewy pedestrian walkways that unfold among the homes and caves of the Sassi are leg-achingly steep but endlessly interesting. The utter silence as we walked lent an almost mystical quality to the experience.

My parents are now in London visiting friends and giving us a break for a week. They'll return just before Easter so we can celebrate Pasqua tutti insieme in Rome with Chef Giorgio and Francesca. Another trip to Rome in two weeks...I guess we really are sempre in giro.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Sunday Night Lights

Our new apartment overlooks a walled park. It is technically a garden, I guess, as it lies behind a government building and is city property. The inhabitants in this part of the centro storico take advantage of this small expanse of grass to walk their dogs. Birds dwell in the trees and lovers sit on the benches during lunchtime. We get to watch all the activity going on down there, without being seen as the sun reflects off our windows (I've gone down to the park to determine if one can see in).

But the coolest thing about our locale is that the building also happens to house a senior center. They sometimes hold special dinners and functions, such as a grand New Year's Eve party. Every Sunday, though, is dance night. The cars start arriving just before 9:00 p.m., dispelling people dressed up with their hair "done". They park in perfect lines, filling the parking lot in a very orderly manner, unlike the city employees who leave their cars all haphazard and angled. We've already witnessed two fender-benders in that lot during the daytime parking frenzy. The old folks have a dance hall set up for their weekly fete.

At 9:00 p.m. sharp the band starts up, cranking out old-time Italian dance tunes. Many of them sound like the soundtrack for Roman know, the songs being played on the barges while Audry Hepburn dances with the barber. Sometimes the strains of an accordian flow out. Occasionally there is a singer, but mostly it is instrumental and the music just sounds so typically 1940s and 50s that it makes me want to open a jug of red wine and invite all the country dwellers I could muster up, it's just all so...classic. Like right out of a movie. Except for the disco lights. Yep, these hip seniors get flashy.

It makes me smile to hear the music, to watch them coming and going. They're still going it at when we go to bed, which doesn't say a lot about our exciting lives, but does speak to the stamina and enjoyment these folks have. Last night was incredibly warm. I went out on the terrazzino and stood up on my tip-toes to listen and observe. I'm really enjoying those Sunday night disco lights.