Archive for 2006

Love Thursday Seconda Parte: I Don’t Mean to Brag But…

I have the best mommy in the world (no offense to your mommies, of course).

Today I received this:

NB: This is the fourth outrageously heavy package I’ve received within the past month and a half.

Before my mom sent it, the story goes, my niece handed her an already sealed envelope to put in for me. Here are some of its contents:

That there on the left? Why yes, it *is* a snowflake cut out of a coffee filter.

Again, I don’t mean to brag, but let’s just say I’m a pretty durn lucky gal.

Love Thursday: Whoooo’s Feeling It?

One day in June, a little girl showed up at our door with a shoebox in hand. Eyes droopy, she said, “Can you take care of him?” and pushed the box toward me. Him was a baby owl.

Now why would this little girl bring a baby owl to our house? Obviously because we have the (well-deserved) reputation for being the local animal rescue station.

And, yes, I know you’re not supposed to try to raise baby owls, that they’re wild animals, blah blah, and I’m not in any way encouraging such behavior, but will you look at this face?*

So we took in this little guy and we fed him and loved him and named him Filippo. And for three weeks, he did silly things like this:

And this:

Then one morning, P rushed into the house asking whether Filippo had flown the coop. Why no, I said. He was safe in his cage.

“Well then whoooo’s this?” he asked me (loosely translated).

In his hands, P was cupping a brown spotted owl, smaller and, quite frankly, prettier than Filippo.

Now, mind you, we do not live in the woods, so owls showing up on our doorstep isn’t exactly expected. So we were left to wonder whoooo had been talking, because it sure seemed like word got out that our house was *the* place to grow up to be a big owl.

I think it could be because I went to law school at a certain Philadelphia university, but let’s not jump to any conclusions. We named the new addition to the parliament Filippa, because clearly she was a girl owl from her petite and pretty status.

A few days later, once she emerged from hiding in Filippo’s box, we were able to determine from the looks in their eyes that love had, indeed, bloomed.

And maybe I’m biased, but I think they both bear quite a resemblance to John Chaney–how cute are all of them?

In a personal side “Love Thursday” note, through taking care of Filippo and Filippa, I learned to love winged creatures, which, previously had only served to scare the bejeebers out of me.

The Filippi have since been freed and sighted nearby.

Happy Love Thursday everyone!

*All pictures taken months ago with a webcam and *not* the new digital camera.

Italian wedding soup

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Italian Wedding Soup

Wedding soup is an important, delicious Christmas tradition in my family, and even though P had never even heard of it, I made it this year as part of our Christmas festivities.

This soup has kind of an interesting history, I think, in that although many Italian-Americans know it, it’s not well-known in many parts of Italy. I’ve read that its origins are in the south (not surprising as so are those of many Italian-Americans!), particularly in Campania (the region of Naples), and that it’s name comes from the fact that the ingredients “marry well” as the Italians say . . . si sposano bene. In southern dialect this becomes “minestra maritata,” or wedding soup.

Be forewarned: from start to finish, it was a 3 and a half hour (fun-filled) journey.

My grandmother’s version of Italian wedding soup is with escarole, mini-meatballs, pasta “bubbles,” and egg drop on top, and it is so time-consuming it’s usually made only for special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Trust me, though, every minute of toiling over a hot stove is *so* worth it.

A few days ago was the first time I’ve ever made it by myself so indulge me while I give myself a big ole’ pat on the back. I tried to pay special attention to the amounts of ingredients, because all that was passed down to me were basic guidelines (see my grandmother’s original recipe for the pasta “bubbles” below). Incidentally, I’ve never seen another recipe that adds these “bubbles,” as my grandmother called them, but they do add a lot to the soup (and personal satisfaction for a job well done).

Italian Wedding Soup

(serves 8-10)

Italian wedding soup

For the broth:

1 three to four lb. chicken
Enough cold water to cover the chicken and to boil escarole
1 lb. escarole, chopped coarsely
3 stalks celery
3 white onions
2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste

For the mini-meatballs:

1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tablespoon parsley
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

For the bubbles:

3 eggs
1/4 cup cold water
pinch salt
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

or as my grandmother wrote:

Bubbles for Italian Wedding Soup
For egg drop on top:

4 eggs
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
pinch salt

1. Take the chicken (an old hen if possible) and put it in a large stock pot, covering it with cold water. Cook on medium to high heat for about an hour and a half, skimming off any white foam that surfaces.

2. At the same time, put the coarsely chopped escarole in salted water and, as my mother says, “boil the hell out of it.” Seriously, you’re not going to overcook this, so just let it cook until you’re ready to throw in into the broth.

3. In the meantime, mix together all of the meatball ingredients and make little 1/2 inch balls–about the size of a marble is what we’re looking for. Put these aside.

4. For the bubbles, beat together the egg, water, and salt, and then add the flour until you get a thick dough. If it’s sticky, add more flour. Take off chunks of the dough and make into little snakes, and then cut off 1/4 inch pieces on an angle. Keep the bubbles separated from one another by using lots of flour; they are happier this way.

5. Also in the time the chicken and escarole are cooking, clean the celery and onion. No need to chop, as you’ll be putting them in the broth whole and then taking out their biggest remaining chunks later.

6. Now you’re ready to fry the bubbles. Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan set to high heat. Add as many bubbles as comfortably fit. Once they are a light golden brown color all around, remove them and put on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

7. Fry the meatballs in the same way, browning the surface, or, if you like, you can add them directly to the broth when you add the escarole and fried bubbles.

8. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the water and let cool. Add the celery, onions, salt, and pepper to the broth, and let cook for another half hour or until you start to see that the vegetables are getting mushy. You’ll want to take out the biggest chunks, but if you like, take some of the mushiest and chop them very finely to throw back in.

9. In the meantime, clean off the chicken and put the meat back into pot, discarding bones and skin.

10. After you’ve removed the celery and onion chunks, drain the escarole and add to the broth. Also add the bubbles and meatballs. This mixture needs to cook for another half hour or so (possibly longer if you didn’t fry the meatballs). The bubbles shouldn’t be chewy but rather al dente, like any good pasta, and the meatballs should have no pink left.

11. Now we’re ready for the finishing touch: the egg drop on top. While bringing the soup to a boil, in a separate bowl, beat the egg, cheese, and salt together. Once the soup is boiling, drizzle the egg mixture over the top of soup, swirling with a fork while the egg sets. Once the eggs are cooked, your wedding soup is ready.

12. You can serve with fresh grated Pecorino if you particularly love this cheesy flavor as I do.

13. My grandmother also threw in a pasta called “Acine di Pepe,” (àh-chin-ay dee péh peh) but, um, I couldn’t find it. In Italy. Go figure.

And actually, a quick Google tells me that it’s fairly popular in something called Frog Eye Salad (anyone ever made this?) and that the Acine isn’t necessarily easy to find in every part of America either. From personal experience, if you happen to be in Northeastern/Central PA, though, you should be fine.

Anyway, any small soup pasta will do, but this time around I let the bubbles speak for themselves, and the soup was as delicious as I remembered.

Final Tips: 

If you didn’t add the bubbles, or want to add soup pasta too, cook the pasta separately, and keep separate. When serving, put the desired amount of pasta in a bowl and then put the soup on top. If you leave the pasta in the soup, the bits get really bloated, and no one’s happy bloated.

On the same note, if you’re storing leftover soup, take out the bubbles and keep them separate in the refrigerator as well; they, too, will suck up your hard-earned broth. This is assuming your pot will fit in the fridge. If you live in a climate like where I grew up, you can do like we did and keep the pot of soup on the porch for natural refrigeration–just make sure it’s actually cold enough to do so.

Because, you know, rancid wedding soup isn’t really, how you say, enjoyable.

Buon appetito!

Post-Christmas Wrap-Up

No, this picture hasn’t technically cleared the censors (P), but, in true holiday spirit, I’m going to do what I want and then hide the results. The real reason I’m posting this photo is to announce that I now have my very own digital camera!

Babbo Natale was extra generous this year, although he did require that I brave the nasty two-days-before-Christmas weather of driving rain and wind in order to earn my prize. But it’s all good, folks–

We’re here and we’re taking pictures!

Nothing in Italy is ever easy though, folks (fellow expats, can I get an Amen?), and neither was acquiring my brand new Acer CS-6530.

After arriving in the town where I’d be shopping (half hour away), I walked into the store I had, weeks before, secretly chosen as my vendor of choice. In the window interspersed with various available photography-related products were lots of wedding portraits, but even that didn’t stop me from attempting to buy there.

So what did stop me? The clerk.

Rude? No.

Unhelpful? Sort of, but not exactly.

The real reason I didn’t end up buying from this store was because this guy wouldn’t sell me anything! I shuffled into the store after shaking off any excess water that had gathered on the brim of my baseball cap (worn only in the heaviest rains here), the hood that was over the hat, and my rain jacket. As I wiped my feet on the benvenuti mat, I asked the clerk to see the Fuji camera in the window.

The following exchange ensued, translated for your reading pleasure:

Cute elderly man: Oh we don’t have Fuji, but we do have Sony, Canon, Acer….

Me: But I saw a Fuji in the window.

CEM: Oh, really? Well this is my son’s store. I’m just filling in for him.

Me: That’s nice of you. Can I see the camera?

CEM: I don’t know anything about the cameras. My son’s the one that can tell you about which one you’d need, how to set it up, the warranty. I’m just a 70-year-old man. I don’t know about these things.

Me: Right, but I know a little about cameras myself, and I know which one I want.

CEM: But I can’t sell you one without my son here.

Me: I see. Will he be back soon?

CEM: Tomorrow.

So that was my first attempt to buy a camera. Now, granted, the guy may have been doing me a favor and doing the ethical thing by not selling me something he had no idea about, but since when am I looking for ethics in a commercial enterprise? I’m American, damn it! At the time I was just fearing that I wouldn’t find another option and I’d be without a camera (again) for Christmas.

The spirit of Babbo smiled upon me, though, and in the next store, the ever-important son *was* there. Mom was too, but Helpful Son explained the differences between the cameras they had, set up the date and language on mine, and sent me on my merry way.

So for the past couple days, I’ve been playing around with the settings and generally learning how to take advantage of all its features. Today was the first sunny day, so I haven’t had much opportunity to get out there in the field. I’m finding that it’s rather user-friendly, though, and I think that figuring out the lighting and closeness stuff will all become natural very soon.

But imagine how much more I’d have to learn if the Cute Elderly Man had actually agreed to sell me something. So, as it turns out, I am grateful to CEM for not selling me a camera. Think I should go back and tell him, or better yet, his son?

Anyway, that was/is my big excitement this holiday season. P didn’t feel well Christmas Eve, so instead of going out, we stayed home and ate Italian wedding soup (recipe to be tomorrow’s What’s Cooking Wednesday). Can’t complain there.

We spent Christmas morning in the piazza, offering up “auguri” greetings to one and all, and then had a quiet lunch, just the two of us, at home. We did linguine agli scampi (linguine with prawns), which just may be the dish next Wednesday. Oh the suspense!

We were invited to his sister’s house, but we reasoned that since P already didn’t feel very well, hours of screaming children probably wouldn’t help. So, aside from eating, we spent a lot of the rest of the day on the phone talking to his brothers and sisters and their families spread around Italy and France.

I had spoken to my family on Christmas Eve, so the evening was free for movie-time. P made popcorn old-fashioned-like on the stove, and we watched The Italian Job, which was one of his Christmas gifts. Neither of us had ever seen it before, and I have to admit that I kinda loved it. A lot. I can’t wait to watch it in English when he’s not around.

Then we watched what is perhaps the least appropriate Christmas flick of all time–Legends of the Fall. I kid you not, this is what Italy’s Canale 5 featured last night for the family to gather around.

Has anyone ever seen a more depressing movie that didn’t include the Holocaust? If so, please let me know so that I don’t happen upon them either, particularly on Christmas.

I had never seen Legends, and let me tell you, I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I’d ever want to watch it again. If only the children had died gruesome, violent deaths, too, it would’ve really instilled the Christmas spirit deep within.

By the way, I hope I’m not spoiling anything for the one other person out there who hadn’t seen it as of yesterday.

Legends aside, though, we had a lovely Christmas. And around sunset, the pink in the sky told me we’d be having a sunny day today, finally, so, like I said, it’s all good:

And finally, Happy Saint Stephen’s Day to those who celebrate (like us in Italy) and Happy Boxing Day to our friends in Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, but let’s all take a moment to remember the victims of the December 26, 2004 tsunami.

Warmest Greetings

And a lovely piece by Anna Quindlen on the essence of the season.

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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