Monday, August 29, 2011

Hot and Cold

Last week I felt hot, as I drove home from work. No wonder, a clock on the side of a bank posted 107 degrees. The heat continued through the weekend, plus humidity. My little Tuscany looks a little scorched; its grasses, wheat-colored just days ago, seem to have taken a pinkish tint, like New Mexico soil, or perhaps sunburn.

The medical insurance threat I wrote about in my August 7 post seems to be cooling down, but I won’t rest until I know the co-payment I made this morning satisfies that bill to its final place of rest.

Yesterday, cantaloupe was six pounds for one dollar at that wonderful Latino market I wrote about in my August 17 post, last year. Two, fully chilled, sit on a shelf in my refrigerator.

- PJ

Sunday, August 21, 2011

France, coming up

Two months from today I’ll be in France. Arriving the day before, it’ll be my first full day, a pleasant but misleading period when my body sends me an illusion that it accepts the nine-hour time change, without protest. My system sometimes protests, on the second day. Queasiness is unwelcome, particularly six thousand miles from home. Eating light and walking a lot help. At three days, my body is on a new track.

After Paris, it’s looking more like our second week will be Bordeaux (see 6/20 post) which will include visits to St.-Emilion, Dune du Pilat, La Rochelle, and Ile de Re.

Stories come from trips like this, from funny to exasperating, and into my queries they go.

- PJ

Friday, August 19, 2011

End of Week, and the Pasta

This week’s pasta will get finished tonight. It heats slowly in the oven. Scents drift down the hall, into my study. I sip a whiskey, and write. Tasty until the end, this sauce is. (Forgot to say I chop the carrots and throw them onto the shredded meat, before I “pour the remainder of the Dutch oven mixture over it all.”)

The scent from my kitchen, combined with the view out my window, of that little area on the hill I call my little Tuscany, connect my memory with a calm day in Montepulciano, Italy, 2007, the day I tasted my first cinghiale ragu. My, my, my, my, my.

Work is a little better, these days.

No responses yet to any of the email queries of 8/15 and 6/12.

Cousins have been supportive. Caller ID, too.

- PJ

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This Week's Dinner

During visits to Italy, I’ve enjoyed meat sauces different from those I know in California. Growing up, I often wondered why “meat” sauces I experienced seemed to be mostly tomato sauce. My family packed more meat into theirs than did any restaurant, but tomato sauce still seemed the primary ingredient. Then I visited Italy and discovered wonderful meat ragus with little, if any, tomato sauce, unlike anything I’d ever had. For the record, I’ve traveled from the Swiss border to Rome, but I’ve not yet been south of Rome. I’m told the further south you go, the more tomato-y sauces become.

Yesterday, I made the bolognese sauce I mention in my January 5 post, this time in a Dutch oven, cooked at 225, for twelve hours. I use tri-tip, with a nice layer of fat. I season the meat and then slow cook it with diced tomatoes, chopped red bell pepper, carrots, onion, and a little garlic. The garlic is optional -- I’ve noticed in America a belief that to make any dish “Italian” all you need is garlic, and lots of it. Restaurants often spoil otherwise good dishes with excessive garlic. This is not the case in Italy; in fact, some Italians don’t even use garlic in their meat sauce.

After twelve hours, take out the roast and shred it in a roasting pan large enough to hold all the contents of the Dutch oven, plus cooked pasta. Here’s the Dutch oven mixture, less the roast.

Here's the shredded roast.

I throw some crushed red pepper and herbs de Provence on the meat and then pour the remainder of the Dutch oven mixture over it all. Mix in cooked, drained pasta and let the whole thing sit in the oven for a while on 225, so the pasta and sauce can get to know each other.

This meat sauce is similar in character to Tuscan cinghiale ragu, wild boar sauce, simple and delicious. Here’s the finished product, with shredded smoked fontina, waiting above the plates.

- PJ

Monday, August 15, 2011

Queries and Cousins

Yesterday, I visited a book store to check out travel magazines. Today, I made four email queries, similar to my France Magazine query, earlier this summer.

Funny, how the mind works. For months I’ve been saying I need to know someone in the publishing business. My beautiful cousin, Dianne, made a comment on this blog over a year ago about once having to reject submissions made to the publisher for which she worked. She’s been retired for years, but you’d think that comment might have rung a bell in this old head…? Like to welcome her advice?

Hey cousin, tell me if I pass the time to give up!

- PJ

Friday, August 12, 2011

A tip from the French

The French family who visited last July left me with more than good times, wonderful memories, and a great chocolate cake recipe; they introduced me to a vinegar and salt potato chip I've never tried that's out of this world. So I'm passing on the tip. Available at most grocery stores.

- PJ

Thursday, August 11, 2011

And Forward

Doctor’s visits and physical therapy related to Dupuytren’s Contracture surgery I mention in my 5/24 post are finished. It’ll be a year before I know what stiffness or limitations I’ll be left with, but both my surgeon and physical therapist have declared the surgery a big success. Typing is a breeze, gripping thin objects remains iffy. The photo in my last post shows my healing hand, but the chocolate cake is truly more interesting.

The blowup I mention in my previous post continues to weigh on me. Distance is needed, perhaps long term. Blood relations don’t prevent vindictiveness. Religion has been used as a weapon.

My beloved cousins support me. If Half Italian is ever published, readers will meet some of them, on printed pages.

Out the window, shadows fall earlier each day, over my little Tuscany. Autumn approaches.

- PJ

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Moving forward

I’ve considered dropping out of sight for a while, since I’ve been out of ideas on how to move forward with Half Italian. That project, after all, is the purpose of this blog.

Life has been jerky, lately. There was a major family blowup. Then, I learned that the surgery center where I had my hand surgery last spring was “out of network,” leaving me with a balance to pay of $19,237.00. It’s your responsibility to check where your doctor sends you, not your doctor’s office, my helpful and supportive insurance company told me -- after the fact. Supposedly this will be resolved to my satisfaction, but I’m still waiting. The visit from the French family helped offset these things, but when life is jerky, it’s draining.

Recently, I spent an enjoyable evening with some people I’ve wanted to meet, and from that evening ideas have come, some offered, some my own.

So for now, I look for places to submit travel articles, like those I recently made to Travelers’ Tales. The research isn’t always fun, but moving forward feels good.

The chocolate cake I made yesterday was…awesome.

- PJ

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Awesome value

The family I mention in my 6/21 post returns to France tomorrow. Their older boy celebrated his fifteenth birthday while they were here, and from his birthday card they all learned a new word: “awesome.” In a video clip they later sent, standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, they cry out, “It’s awesome!”

When I visit a place where I don’t speak the language, I feel small, in a way. This couple’s two boys, fifteen and almost twelve, learned the value of knowing even a small amount of another language while they were here. During their visit I was the one limited, by speaking English only, while they were fluent in their native tongue and some of my own. When they asked me how to say something in English, they asked me in English. When I asked them how to say something in French, I asked in English.

By knowledge of English, they have the advantage whether they’re in France or America. I hope I helped them to not feel small, but to realize their awesome(!) value.

And speaking of awesome, their mother taught me how to make the cake she whipped up for her son's birthday, a simple chocolate fondant cake. Here's my first attempt, out of the oven just fifteen minutes ago. Thank you, Tiphaine!

- PJ