27 August 2012


When I was little, I had an Easy Bake Oven. I think it came with two miniature round cake pans and a handful of mixes for cakes that would fit the tins.  One of the reasons my memory is so spotty is that my sister and her friend spent the afternoon with me making every cake combination possible with the mixes at hand. I don't think we used it after that.

When I bought my apartment in the suburbs of New York, my then boyfriend bought a glorious stainless steel European beast of an oven with iron burner casings that made the top into one cooktop. Back then, he was more interested in cooking and I just thought it looked awesome, so I was down. I even had the plumber move the gas line so it could be on the particular wall I wanted. It came in handy when a friend gifted us with too many oysters and I made a couple of oyster pies, it helped make perfect pizzas and cookies cooked in the expected twelve to fifteen minutes. I was happy. He was happy. All was well with the world, or at least our world of cooking.

When we first moved to Italy we took an apartment, like many here, sans cucina. The thought was, in the beginning we wouldn’t be spending too much time at home (and we were right) and we would eventually get something small yet functional, maybe from Ikea or from a restaurant supply store. Y’know, all stainless steel counter tops, shelves, sink and maybe a work table with a small, inexpensive oven and cooktop that would have to be hooked up to a bombola that would get hauled up all six flights of stairs and switched out when empty. Things didn’t really work out. We ended up spending six months with a purloined mini fridge that you’d expect to find in a bar holding Gatorade and one electric burner. We washed our dishes in the bathtub.

When we moved here, we were thrilled to find an apartment that was both big enough to house all of our furniture and had a kitchen. A twenty year-old kitchen, but a kitchen still. Turns out, the space-age Smeg dishwasher is a little too funky inside for me to tackle with the cleaning prodcuts. The set-in lava rock grill and deep-fryer trip the breaker as soon as they’re turned on. The stove is good, though. Some of the burners make a scary “sshhhhh” noise, but it’s hooked up to mainline gas, which means no lugging and connecting propane tanks so I’m happy. The oven, though? The oven is on the other side of the kitchen, set above a cabinet behind a marble peninsula. I am short. It is difficult for me to open the door, reach in and grab things without wedging myself between the door and the island and my reach is not so “reach-y” when the door is hitting my solar plexus. I’m like the little kid swinging at the big kid whose hand is on my head, holding me at arm’s length. But that’s ok. I can work around that. The bigger problem? The real problem? I can’t set the temperature above 175° Celsius. That’s around 347° F. If I do, the breaker trips which usually means that flipping the switch by the front door will do nothing and someone will have to make a trip to the bottom of the building to flip the breaker down there. But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that even though the dial is set for 175° C, that is not how hot the oven gets. If it did, it wouldn’t take five hours to cook a chicken. Or forty five minutes to bake cookies.

But, y’know, I have an oven. I can bake things. It’s quite an improvement. I really shouldn’t complain.  

Once it cools off around here, I’m going to try to make bagels. It just might take an entire weekend…..

21 August 2012

Pollo Frescho

We wanted to barbecue chicken. We were pretty sure we wanted a whole chicken and we knew we didn’t want to drive twenty minutes to the Oasis hypermarket to get one, even though that’s where normal-to-us-sized chickens can be gotten.

You see, Italian chickens are often big. Some chickens look like turkeys to me. Their turkeys? Well, I’ve never seen a whole one, but the parts I’ve seen—the breasts and the legs—make me think an entire Italian turkey might look something like an ostrich.
Giant Italian chicken

Since we weren’t taking the drive to the supermarket with the “regular” chickens, we had four choices.

This town, small as it is, has four butchers. One, I’ve never been in. I’ve taken pictures of pigs and lambs hanging on hooks inside it while I stood furtively on the cobbles, but I have never gone inside to buy anything. The second is the fancy butcher in what used to be a piazza and is still called one even though it’s really just a parking strip along the road can be a bit intimidating. It’s always crowded, its motion-sensor door swishing open and closed every few seconds to let more patrons into its white tiled enclave of pig parts and sausages, roasted meats and vegetables They will give me half a chicken if I ask for it, but they’ll start skinning and de-boning it before I’ve thought of the words to say to stop them and the crowd doing the Italian-no-line, stand-your-ground, push-up-front and speak-loudly-thing intimidates the hell out of me The furthest one, up the old street that runs from the pseudo-piazza to the Comune is good for fegato sausage, but that guy won’t cut one of his large chickens in half for me. The fourth butcher is in the little supermarket across the street. Two women man the counter, in their paper hats like short order cooks from 1954 and always seem slightly amused by whatever question I might have or how I might ask it, like the first time I asked them NOT to pound my chicken breasts as the mallet was about to come down. What on earth was this crazy straniera going to do with a chicken breast, if not take its pounded slices and fry them up?

I chose the supermarket butcher.

Di’mi,” she said.

“Um. Chicken? Mezzo?” I turned to V. “Look, they’ve got the back half of one. We could get that, two legs, two thighs..... Or maybe they’d cut that whole one over there in half from top to bottom.” I made a little lateral move with my right hand.

Si, si. Posso,” the paper hat lady said, mimicking my sign language. “Che cosa voi che fate?”

“Uh. Barrr-b-q?” I ask-wered. My typical style of response to any question in Italian that I think I understand being a one word answer in the form of a question. I’m not really sure how to answer “What do you wanna do with it?” grammatically.

Her eyes lit up. “Something-something-something freschi freschi,” she said, heading out of sight toward the door to what must be a giant fridge.

She emerged with a very frescho chicken. It was so fresh as it lay across her outstretched arms like an offering for the poultry gods that it still had its head and feet on.

“Um….possible cut the head and feet?”

“Si! Faccia un manicure,” she chuckled.

“Pedicure? And haircut?” I pleaded.

I don’t know if it was that I was so thankful she’d chopped off the head and feet so I didn’t have to do it or that I was so traumatized by looking my dinner in the eye, but I ended up telling her I’d take the whole thing which she kindly hacked into barbecue-able pieces.

We ate chicken for three days.

Approximately one third of our freshly butchered chicken

17 August 2012

Things I’ve Learned in Italy this Week

  • Cellulite is an illness. And the pharmacy’s got the cure (or, at the very least, an awful lot of euros from peddling that particular idea).
  • Feragosto is really just the Italian Marathon of Eating holiday, despite evidence that it’s all about the Assumption of Mary. Tho there may be something to this stuff about it having ties to the pre-Roman Catholic celebration of the goddess, Diana, as I was instructed between courses to go home and make babies.

  • A handful of peanuts and dark chocolate Perugina mini chocolate chips make a very poor substitute for a Reese’s peanut butter cup.