Monday, February 28, 2011

Our first visitor!

We are anxiously awaiting our first visitor here in Todi.  Trey Dusseault, one of our close family friends, is able to come see us!  He arrives on Thursday (?  I need to check the calendar...) and we will go to Rome to pick him up.  I didn't tell before, because I was keeping it a secret from the Hook kids, but I couldn't keep the surprise any more!  Besides which, seeing our laundry situation, I thought the girls might want to remove what are politely called "unmentionables" from the drying rack.

On the day we go to Rome, we'll visit San Clemente, then the Palatine hill.  After that, it will be about time to get down to the airport.  Then we'll drag a very tired kiddo for 2 hours back home.  I think we'll get our "grande tassi" to get home from Ponte Rio, since he'll be tired & have luggage.  But if the bus schedules work well, we may just throw him into the deep end.

Our plan is to stay here a few days, so that we can see whatever Carnevale celebration there is (they are supposed to have a Medieval market in the square).  Then we'll head up to Venice for a few days, to check out the locals.  I've managed to rent an apartment (still working on payment, so keep your fingers crossed), and it will provide our home base.

The remainder after our first helping

A view of the filling, a vanilla custard with slight tang of lemon
Speaking of Carnevale, when Paola came to check out our family pet (called "Muffin, la muffa"), she made the egregious error of introducing us to "bigne fritti."  Think of a fried cream puff rolled in crunchy sugar.  You can roll them straight onto your hips. 
Love,
Alexandra

Mummy's Birthday


All of the kids wanted to do something nice for Mummy. We don’t usually do that much for Mummy’s birthday and we thought it would be nice because she has done so much in taking us to Italy! Also, it is nice to have something special on a birthday.
Anyway, we had been thinking about it for about a week, planning and brainstorming. Unfortunately, it is hard to get something that we all agree on, but we managed to think about getting a mug and some candy for Mummy. We didn’t want too much candy, though.
The day before Mummy’s birthday, we started to panic because it was already starting to get dark and we didn’t have a present! Thankfully, Mummy and the boys were going out to have a play date with Margarita and we asked if Eleanor, Florence, and I could go out too. She said,” Yes,” and after they left, we walked about a mile to the grocery store in ten minutes!   That was beating our record!
When we got to the store, we quickly got some Baci candy and strawberries. There was a long line and a kind lady let us go in front of her because we didn’t have much.
Mummy's big red mug
We crossed the street and walked down the sidewalk to the kitchen supply store. It is a store that we have been to before and is probably the best store for our family! Big pots, pans, mugs, etc. We went in and it was only an hour until it closed. We got a big red mug for Mummy.
We almost ran back home, stopping on the way to get earrings as an excuse for where we went.  Thinking that Mummy would already be home and worried, we made it home to see that she wasn’t there.
It only took us thirty-five minutes to walk two miles and shop.  Mummy came back and told us about her day and when she asked us were we went, we said that we had walked a long way and got some earrings for Eleanor. It was very true, but we didn’t want to tell her about the surprise.
The next day, Mummy got the mug, filled with strawberries and Baci. She loves it and now uses her mug all the time, big surprise!
Love,
Ashley
P.S. – Baci means kisses in Italian, but the Baci candy is a chocolate candy that has little fortunes in the wrappers that are in Italian and English writing. The fortunes are like what you would find in a fortune cookie.  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Just Babbling Again!

Now, that we're back in shape with the internet, for the meantime, I can keep babbling about our trip again.
James is making dinner tonight, but I think it will still be a little longer until dinner tonight because James was playing and taking his time with dinner so now we are eating crackers, so we won't start getting too hungry and pull our siblings' arms. 

In not too long, we are going to be going to Venice. We're going to be staying for three or four days, and I can't wait. I'm looking forward to seeing the churches and canals. We'll have a blast!


No, we're not tired of Todi, yet! I still LOVE it!
Love,
Ashley

Jeremy's Dinner

The cake before serving
I made shrimp risotto for dinner and for dessert, a cake.  The day before we ate the dinner, I made the cake.  First I baked a cake, and then Florence and Mummy helped prepare the filling.  I had to cut the cake into triangles to fit inside a bowl.  Then I spooned a sweet liqueur onto the cake.  After that, we made the fillings and put them inside -- one chocolate filling to become a bowl-shaped layer and the other a fruity filling made with blood oranges that we candied.  Last, we put a layer of cake on top.  When it was time to serve the cake, we flipped it over, poured cocoa and powdered sugar onto it, and dug in!


A view of the filling
I had the experience of cleaning headed shrimp for the risotto.  It had vegetables and shrimp mixed with rice.  We can't find the pictures; they're probably on Mummy's computer.

Love,

Jeremy

Our Pizzeria


We probably haven’t told you enough about “our” pizzeria.  It’s in the Piazza Jacopone, which is right up the street from our house.  We don’t have lunch there EVERY day, but embarrassingly close to it.  For about $10 or $11 we can get a substantial, seriously yummy meal for all 6 of us, and they’re so nice up there!  I excuse it by considering it another “interaction opportunity” for the kids.
The customers’ area is about 6 or 8 feet by maybe 12 feet, but there is a double cooler (large) taking up quite a bit of floor space.  There is a counter about 5 feet long, where those who wish to may eat inside.  Did you know that it’s absolutely NOT DONE to eat walking around or driving?  So you eat at this miniscule counter cheek-by-jowl with the other patrons, or you go outside to the metal tables and chairs in the piazza.  During their busy time, it’s a real crush of people. 

The back part of the customers’ area is a glass case over a granite countertop.  They sling these rather large (20” X 30”?) rectangular pans of pizza, which have different toppings across sections of the pizza.  When you order, you tell them which section you want, and they start cutting it (with scissors), and you tell them when the piece is big enough.  They weigh it, you pay an astonishingly small amount of money, and then have a  luscious mouthful of airy, chewy crust with a slight saltiness and the brisk acidity of tomato (sometimes, depending on which you get). 

 I often have “melanzane” (eggplant), which comes with some really strong cheese sliced thinly on top – possibly a goat cheese?  Anyway, it has no tomato or mozzarella.  It’s simply: crust, eggplant, strong cheese.  The eggplant cooks into this creamy puree, and with the ripe saltiness on top…divine.  Another favorite is potato with sausage.  It’s mashed potato (no tomato) and little blobs of sausage.  No cheese.
On the wall are proudly displayed three certificates of commendation from the “Scuola Italiano Pizzaiola” saying that our friends are competent pizza makers.  We happen to think that this is very cute.  Did you know that there’s a certificate of competence to make pizza?
Tonight we went by after dinner, and I decided that it was time to try their “crepes” that they advertise.  We were ready for dessert, and …how bad can that be?  The lights were on in the shop, so we walked in and asked if they were still making crepes.  Our buddy Massimo peeked out from the kitchen and said, “Sure.”  So about 20 minutes later (I think he had to mix up some fresh batter), we were the proud owners of three crepes – filled with Nutella (Nutella is everywhere, including on pizzas).  As we walked out of there at 9:45, I checked the business hours.  Yup – they close at 9 – or, apparently, when the last customer has left.

Love,
Alexandra

Language Barriers

I wanted to reach Michael because today’s our talking day – Saturday.  But Tim and Alice are still fighting, so I needed an alternative.  I went to the tourist office, and asked about an “internet point.”  She circled a spot on the city map that was near the Coop (far, in other words), and said that it was the only place in town with the exception of the library (closed, of course – it’s Saturday).

Down we trekked.  We found some picturesque alleyways, but no internet point.  We came across this little old lady (dressed in black, of course), and I asked, “Lei sa dov’e un internet point?” (“Do you know where there’s an internet point?”)  She looked completely blank for about 10 seconds (no exaggeration).  Then her face cleared, and she said excitedly, “Ah! Un’internet-a point-a!”  And then everything was just grand.

End of story was that the internet-a point-a was no longer there, but we have expanded our Italian vocabulary.

Love,
Alexandra

Shopping

The shopping here continues to delight me.  We went to our friend in the alimentari, and she helped James procure the items he needs for lasagne tomorrow night.  We were stumped on one item that she didn’t have but tried to explain.  I was pretty sure it was a bay leaf, but it wasn’t clear.  Her dad, the owner of the tabacchi next door, asked if we could wait a minute – he would run home and get some for us!  He came back with a huge bag of bay leaves – all for free!  Isn’t that sweet?  And he has the cutest smile.  He LOVES seeing us coming in and always comes to visit when we’re in that shop.

Next stop:  the butcher.  James needed some ground beef and bacon.  So he asked for the bacon.  Rather than being sold in slices, or rashers, they just have a big hunk of meat and whack some off.  Wow.  What a way to serve it!  While she was trimming some yummy-looking beef cubes (we assumed we’d misunderstood the directions, and that it wasn’t ground beef that we were requesting), the other butcher came in carrying…a chicken.  No feathers.  The funny thing was that he was casually swinging it by the ankles – it still had its feet!  Trying not to crack up, we watched him plop it on the scale and confer with the customer over the size.

Back to our butcher.  She’d finished the trimming (by the way, none of them wear gloves – they use the clean hands rule) and threw this beautiful bit of meat into a grinder that was behind her.  She grabbed it as it came out, weighed it, added a bit more, and voila!  Ground beef (silly us, we thought that ground beef came in plastic-wrapped packages).  And home again, home again, jiggety jig!

Love,
Alexandra

Cozze!



Note the parsley on his nose
The mussels (“cozze”) for dinner were…mmmm…extravagantly good.  I sautéed chopped onions and garlic, then added chopped fresh tomatoes, gallons of parsley, and a euro’s worth of cooking white wine.   After a bit of simmering, I threw in the cleaned (thank you, Jeremy & Ashley) mussels.  After a few minutes, during which the pappardelle cooked (it’s a very wide pasta), it was pronto!  And delicioso!  James had three helpings after I taught him to use the empty shells to extract the mussels and eat them!
Serious yumminess in the offing

I'll post more pics of the dish once Tim and Alice get back together.  Momo doesn't work on my computer, and the pics are on my hard drive.
James slurping mussels
Love,
Alexandra

Fuzzy Wuzzy


We’re still fighting the mold issues.  We have an astonishing variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.  Word for the day: “lanugoso” = “fuzzy” (I needed it to describe the mold on the back of the sofa).  La Cleaning Lady came and told me that it was all my fault because of the dust bunnies that seem to congregate on the floor – despite daily vacuuming*.  She also said that the green fur on the ceiling of the kitchen wasn’t mold.  I asked her what it was, and she shrugged.

Anyway, back to la problema della muffa – I ended up writing to the owner of the house (the estate agent made me contact him directly, which was probably the best thing, actually).  I let him know what I had done to try to work with it, and he’s actually (hurray!) sending a “specialist” to look at it today.  We may have to move from our adorable house – which is SO SAD.  But we really can’t live with furry walls.  And ceilings.  I’ll keep you posted.
(Update – the specialist came and confirmed that, no, it wasn’t because of us, but rather because of the construction of the house – big surprise.  La Cleaning Lady is going to come and swipe with bleach on a regular basis.  We’ll think we’re back at Dynamo every time we walk into the house – but at least it won’t be the locker rooms….)
Love,
Alexandra

*Wool skirts, sweaters, and six people make for some serious housekeeping.  James has a game that we call “hunting for dust elephants.”  He gets the Swiffer, puts on the pad, and then (“Shhh!  You have to sneak up on them or they’ll run away!) pounces on those bad elephants.  He’s a real pro now.

Tim and Alice Are Fighting


I don’t know why it’s called that, but I have a thing that plugs into a USB port (called TIM) and it uses a program called Alice Mobile to contact the internet.  I have the impression that Tim and Alice aren’t getting along too well right now, because they aren’t letting me get on the web.  It’s been very sad – pray that Tim and Alice can reconcile, please.
In the meantime, I click the button to “connect” – and it comes back with a cheerful “Fail to connect!” dialog box, complete with exclamation mark.  What – is it proud of itself that it’s not doing what I asked it to do?  My blood pressure goes up 20 points when I see that dratted dialog box.  They should have a frowny face and a “So sorry, madam, but I’m not able to do as you request at the moment.  Please try again” complete with soothing music.  Web programmers, take note.

Love, 
Alexandra
p.s.  In the meantime, our alternative friend is Momo.  That's how we're posting now...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Internet Problems!

I am terribly sorry if we are not able to blog in the next few days. Our internet connection is pretty bad and we may not be able to get much blogging done tomorrow. Our older internet connection failed and today we spent hours trying to get a new one. I have been trying to get this one to work and I have gotten it a few times, but it has failed on us before.
Keep checking this blog just in case we figure it out, and we'll see if we have better luck tomorrow.

For those who have been concerned about the mold, we are fine and we have La Cleaning Lady who will be cleaning up the mold with bleach. The house will smell a little, but that's better than a smelly mess. This morning, people came to look at the mold and we are back on the good side.

Thank you for keeping up with us and I'm sorry this internet connection program is not working well, but I will definitely work on it because I love blogging, as you can probably tell, and I don't want to disappoint our followers!


Thanks,
Ashley

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Disappearing Fish Shop

Does this look like a shop of any kind to you?
One day last week, on our way back from our daily trip to the Coop, Jeremy and I spied a little fish shop -- barely more than a kiosk, but in a building behind glass doors.  We were intrigued, and agreed that we'd buy the squid there next time he made stuffed calamari.

And then we never saw it again!  It was GONE.  No sign of it.  There was a set of closed doors where we thought we'd seen it, but the doors looked like a house or something that was permanently closed.
People!  Fish! It's Open!


But this past Tuesday...voila!  There it was!  It was like a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't trick.  So I poked my head in and asked the smiling owner when he was open.  Well, of course!  I should have known:  his regular hours for business are Tuesday and Friday from 7:30-11:30.  Silly me.

We went back today and got mussels for dinner -- this time, I'm wresting the pans from the kids' grasp, and we're having pappardelle with mussels, tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, and our $1.50 wine.  I find the price on cooking wine tremendously amusing.

Love,

Alexandra

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Present for Mummy


I just finished knitting a tea cozy for Mummy! I have been working so hard on it and I have finally finished. It is useful and stylish, two in one! It only took me about three days to make!
I was bored one day and Mummy said I should knit a tea cozy.  I didn’t really think it was possible for the shaping and curving, but I managed. Mummy showed me how to short shape my rows and you have to turn around in the middle of the row! It is a bit confusing, but not too hard.
I have a picture below. Enjoy!
Mummy also got some cards in the mail! We all enjoyed seeing and hearing the funny things in the cards. Some of them described Mummy perfectly.  Our whole, non working, fireplace is filled with the colorful cards. Thanks!
Tomorrow, all of us are going out with our friends. James and Jeremy will be with Margarita and her dog Daisy, and Eleanor, Florence, and I will be going out with Maddalena. It will be a busy, but exciting day!
Love, 
Ashley 
Mummy's tea cozy!

To attach the sides together, I sewed in yarn and braided it so that I could tie the laces to hold the tea cozy on.

This is the bottom and it was the most annoying part to knit.

It looks like I braided the string holding the fabric across the spout, but that is something called toe weaving. No, I did not use my toes, just fingers!