So a few weeks ago I had a fit of frustration at work, went home, and bought myself a plane ticket to Italy.
What was i thinking.
I was thinking, food, sea, family, and food. More food. Time away from the madness.
I arrived yesterday to the gorgeous hidden secret of the island of Ischia on the Amalfi coast, at the hidden “Rotonda sul Mare” residences on the water. I took one step inside with the brilliant acqua tiles reflecting the sun on the sea (the huge veranda is right ON the sea!), and the madness of the beauty of it all made me a bit overcome with emotion. I will take photos for you all tomorrow. Today, we do food. :)
Last night i went to the host family restaurant, stunning, food gorgeous, and my camera without a CF card. oopsie. guess i’ll haaaave to make that sacrifice and go back so i can take photos. Really, the sacrifices i must make. ;) I had a lovely dinner with four lovely English gals and we spent the night oo-ing and ahhh-ing over the food and dtalking about royals. Ah Canadians. Secretly we are a bit more English than we would admit…
This morning I walked down to the local market and bought some random ingredients to cook with. How much do i love the fact that everything i bought was local- right down to the Ischian red wine and sea salt from Sicily! The lemons were gigantic- one lemon was the size of two giant peaches. I bought another that was the size of a small basketball, no jokes.
Side note on the food:
The Ischian red wine i bought will make you grow hair on your chest. I could barely swallow a mouthful- it was all peppercorn- like an explosion of spice and heat on my tongue. Crazy.
Lemons- are so strong here that you barely need a squeeze to season your food. My eyes popped. They’re hardcore beautiful.
Ricotta- what we have at home in Canada is like wilted spinach. There’s just no comparison to this sheep’s milk, sweet, light and fluffy make-your-head-spin beautiful ricotta.
Olive oil- ok i think we get screwed on that at home too. Its so fruity, so light, so flavourful- not the dark green overpowering flavour that we usually have.
Mozzarella di Buffala- again, another one. I cut into my mozzarella at dinner last night and i swear the inside was half butter half cream and only slightly solid like cheese. Phenomenal. I think i almost shed a tear there.
Generally, the ingredients here are on crack. They’re like the sexy version of what we have at home. *sigh*. Did someone offer to buy me elastic waistband pants-? i’m going to need them. ;)
I will note though- that even here stuff is being messed around with by big companies. I couldn’t find yogurt that was full fat or more than 0.1 % (what! come on.). And the packaged goods proudly proclaimed ‘made WITH real….’. Almost 10 years since I’ve been here and things have changed.
Now, on to the food!
So, we start with dessert first. Fichi e vino.
Ficchi e vino.
This is a simple dessert and it really depends on the quality of your ingredients. You need a really really strong red wine. My eye-popping, chest-hair-growing Ischian wine was perfect. Strong as you can get it. You need fresh figs- but if you only have dried ones, then double the wine.
- 4 fresh figs (i would have had more but ate them. oopsie.)
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 tbsp honey (i found local lemon honey. how fabulous) Vegan: use about 2 tbsp coconut sugar. But honey is the best for this.
- 2 scoops vanilla ice cream (Use this dairy free vanilla ice cream. its perfect.)
- Cut the figs into quarters. Put in a small sauce pan, and add the wine.
- Simmer on low heat about 20 min or until the wine is a thick syrupy consistency.
- Scoop ice cream into a bowl. Pour figs over top, drizzle honey, and generous squeeze of lemon juice.
- You are so welcome. I know. Its so yummy. :)
Some random thoughts on Italy so far: (I put these at the end of the post because heck, I read blogs for food and want to get to the point first. Meandering thoughts can go later. Figured you might too. ;) )
- 26 degrees celsius in Rome is WAY hotter than 26 degrees in Ottawa. no comparison.
- looking out the taxi windows to the arid landscape i’m hit with a sudden pang for the green of home. Canadian cities still have such green in them. Speaking of home- how much do I realize how un-italian i am. I can dress and look like a local but this girl is all Canuck, all the time, eh. ;)
- Darn. I forgot to sew a canadian flag on my backpack. ;)
- The outskirts of Rome are like the outskirts of any large city. Don’t look. Its really not pretty. Speaking of which, and pardon my language. But holey smokes Naples train station is still such a dirty, dangerous, polluted shithole. Don’t go unless you have to. Just do not.
- First class is the ONLY way to go by train in Italy. Zero gypsies and air conditioning that works? Yes please!
- A suitcase without wheels is not an option.
- Whats with the random one day nation-wide general strikes? Specifically the day I need to travel across the country? Welcome to Italy. Chaos awaits. You can never, and i mean never, plan anything to the last detail here. I forgot. :)
- I realized i worry more about what books to bring than what clothes. They are my friends for company. This trip its only familiar friends i’ve brought that I’ve neglected and must re-read, refocus, and re-love. Jeanette Winterson (The World and Other Places, Art and Lies), Yann Martel (Life of Pi), Philip Yancy (Whats so Amazing about Grace), Gennaro Contaldo and Ursula Ferrigno (Passione and Truly Italian– must have cookbooks!)
- In my head. Bliss Carman, Low Tide on Long Pre:
Was it a year or lives agoWe took the grasses in our hands,And caught the summer flying lowOver the waving meadow lands,And held it there between our hands?
I chuckle inwardly as i notice, again, everyone in this country is about my height. Its a veritable sea of 5’2 woohoo!! It literally messes your sense of proportion. And since the cars and houses are all smaller, you have no idea what ‘size’ things are. You see someone and think, wait, would they be short or tall at home? An American is working at the resort here and at home i think he’d be considered ‘normal’ sized, but here, he’s a freaking giant. Not even 6 ‘ tall and i swear he is gargantuan.
The dark evening wind blowing over the ocean is like nothing else. I leaned out into the salt of it, into the blackness, and felt myself almost disappear.
The Ischian dialect doesn’t follow the pattern of typical southern italian dialects. A shopkeeper and i were comparing notes on dialect differences on where we were from. Here they have french words in their dialect due to the conquering people centuries ago. They count in french and use french words like ‘boite’.
i eat when i’m hungry, sleep when i’m tired. I never realized how difficult that would be without the constant sense of planning and urgency i’d grown accustomed to at home.
I’m a solitary beast when i need to relax. Italians find me odd. I’m ok with that. Southerners in particular find it worrisome that i’ll spend the whole day alone, with books, or wandering the village with my camera and then retreat to my room at night to blog or rest. I’m asked frequently if everything is ok, if they can take me anywhere, how i am doing etc… There may be many maddening things about the South, but the people’s hearts and hospitality are legendary. I find it deeply touching. I’ll be walking by and the owners will call me out by name from across the room to see how my day is going and want to know if all is well. I get blushy. My private anglo-canadian side is alway startled by their direct outright concern. Its lovely. I’d forgotten how lovely.
Jeannette always spears me with her words. I find my biggest challenge in life is to learn to live in the very moment rather than planning for the one ahead. How often have i been too busy? How do i snare that beast? A great quote from Art and Lies:: ” I said, ‘ “Alan, the least of the animals can find a home that suits it, can get enough to eat, can bring up its young, play its part in the pack, and have time to bask in the sun. For a human being, the roof and crown of nature, those things are a considerable achievement. Most of us are substantially worse off than the rabbit in the field.”