Thursday, October 30, 2008


The grapes have been harvested and pressed. New wine is already creeping up in the cantinas and some of the stores, though the official debut of vino nuovo isn't until the feast of San Martino on November 11. Bryan has already taken his bottle to a local winery to have it filled up for an early taste; he enjoys the fruity, grapey flavor as a change from the norm. The olive harvest is getting underway.

Now that the vines are barren of fruit, the leaves are changing color. Driving along the country roads we noticed the vineyards are speckled in hues of yellow and red. I'd never realized that grapes, like trees, change color in the fall. Just never thought about it, I guess. It's a pretty sight, the ordered rows of autumnal tints.

But the clearest sign of fall is seen in the local sagre. The focus has shifted from summer fare and grilled goodies to heavier dishes like polenta and fall foods like mushrooms and truffles, foraged from the local mountains. The main event this time of year is the chestnut. They are being proffered from roadside stands, in the weekly mercato, and and the grocery store. Sagra events are focusing on the versatile humble nut.

I admit, I'm not a huge fan. It's a very starchy nut with a flavor reminiscent of a sweet potato. Unless it is fresh off the roasting pan, I can only eat a couple before I've had my fill. But Italian ingenuity brings the chestnut into play in many different ways. It can be dried and ground into flour (which makes a rather tasty sweet bread); it can be roasted and turned into a sweet paste that is used to fill sweet ravioli, usually in conjunction with cocoa (now we're getting closer to my taste!); and it can be used to make gnocchi (good with a gorgonzola sauce!) or polenta (not so yummy, though I've never tried it with gorgonzola, hmm). I also rather like me a helping of marron glace` when topped with a bit of whole-milk, honey-sweetened yogurt. The best marron glace` are the ones that have been carmelized in the sugar syrup and then soaked in booze.

Something I've noticed with the chestnut vendors is that they are careful to keep a distinction between castagne and marroni. My dictionary translates both simply as "chestnut" so just what is the difference, I've often wondered. Especially when marroni can cost quite a bit more. For the answer, I asked a grower/vendor at a sagra in Castignano, a town whose very name derives from chestnuts (castagno means chestnut tree). I figured if anyone knew the diffence it would be a Castignanese.

He kindly and patiently informed me that castagne are just your common chestnuts which grow wildly and naturally all over the place. Anyone can go into the woods and forage for these run of the mill babies. They grow three to a pod, encased together in their furry outer shell. Marroni, instead, are a cultivated hybrid...the Cadillac of chestnuts, if you will. The nut inside is shinier, sweeter and plumper than a common chestnut. They also peel out of their skin much more easily once they've been roasted.

So how can you tell the difference when they're piled up on the vendor's table? Simple, he said. The "white" of a marrone is elongated, narrow and oval, almost rectangular. The castagna has a rounder, darker-colored marking. Now we know.

I love autumn, and I like the change in food focus, too. Just when you start to tire of the summer fruits and "same old" veggies, the season brings a new harvest to enjoy and vibrant colors to behold. Viva autunno.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Quick Note

I know. I have been a delinquent blogger. Truth is, I've been unusually busy this week, and have also been without an internet connection for several days of the busy week. I'm sure things will be back to normal soon.

Meanwhile, I ran across a link to this funny video reminder to vote. Send it to yourself to view it. Then - if you have friends who say they are not going to bother to vote - send it to them to prod them into turning out at the polls. It's very clever!

Buon weekend tutti!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


It's a little hard to believe, I know. When I say "ventidue anni," it's always met with an incredulous, eye-widening gaze. At first they think that with my accent or lack of fluency in Italian that they have either heard me wrong, or I've somehow managed to screw up my numbers. Si, si, I assure them. Venti-due. Twenty two years.
Today is our anniversary, and even for me it's sometimes hard to believe that it has already been twenty two years since our wedding day. I mean, sometimes as we look back we can count the happenings and the memories and we realize we've needed that many years to fit it all in. But other times it seems like not so long ago. Dreams are fulfilled, sorrows mingle in, days blur, and love, happens as the days and months slip by.

We were young when we clasped hands and went out to face the world...maybe a little dreamy-eyed, certainly filled with enthusiasm, always finding common goals, common faith, and ready to work together, love together, and grow together. So, here we are...further down life's path,
able to count dreams we we have fulfilled and mourn the losses...together.
Ventidue anni. Hard to believe, but oh so sweet to celebrate.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

Well...sealed and sent. My absentee ballot didn't require any type of signature or validation, as Bryan has already pointed out. I assume that the bar-code type of hashmarks along the edge of the sheet provides the bureau of elections with the proper information to ascertain that I am a registered voter and have not photocopied a wad of the ballots to skew the results (as tempting as that may be ;)

As far as "delivered" goes, it was with great faith and fervant prayers that I dropped the envelope into the letter box, because that, and an 85-cent stamp, is what is required for mail to depart Italia and hopefully reach its intended recipient. Me and the Poste Italiane are not exactly best buds, as you know.

Voting just feels good. Filling in the little ovals on the sheet to mark my choices, to select which bond issues I thought were worth supporting, which state consititutional amendment proposals should be confirmed and which should not just feels good to participate even though I am far from home. If you are a citizen, you *need* to vote! It is a right that people fought and died for you to have; apathy is not acceptable. If you think it's a hassle, remember that in many places around the world, people are still dying to try to gain this right that we so easily take for granted.

I encourage you to arm yourself with information. This seems especially important this year with the amount of mud-slinging, half-truths, manipulated sound bites, and outright lies that are flying fast and furious. (How glad am I to not be there to suffer the constant barrage of TV attack ads?) There are numerous sites for you to easily find information on the issues and compare the candidates' stances. A little time perusing them will help you decide who deserves your precious vote. A few to check out:

Smart Voter

Fact Check

Select Smart

CNN's Campaign Issues page gives information on state-by-state requirements and polling places.

No candidate meets my ideal. I had to weigh the issues, examine their words and positions, and picture each one in the Oval Office. Neither fits my ideas on every issue, so I had to choose the one who came the closest. (In case you're wondering, my ballot was cast for Obama.) I urge you to take some time to check facts, peruse the above links, and weigh their words and ideas for yourself. And then get out there and vote.

My stepdad, John, is a Republican but here outside the Obama headquarters in Alexandria, VA he seems pretty comfortable. He took a little nap...and hoped for better days.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

I just *love* the old style Vespa. You know the one, like Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn tooled around Rome with in the gorgeous scenes of Roman Holiday. The new ones are pretty cute, too. They come in vibrant colors and look hip and breezy. But there is something about the old original that makes me smile whenever I see one. Maybe because they're such an enduring presence; or maybe its the pretty pastel colors. Perhaps it is because I am hopelessly addicted to Roman Holiday. Either way, sighting them is one of my favorite things.

Are you a Roman Holiday fan? Stay tuned for details about a new release of the classic film, due out soon. It contains new special features, including one that I consulted on. ::proud grin::