Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hello gorgeous

Today officially marks the day my lower left eyelid has been twitching for one week.

The Dance Dance Revolution ignited by the nerves of my left eye began immediately following the resolution of the herpes outbreak in my right nostril [your internal dialogue of lascivious innuendo is soo rudimentary], meanwhile, I have also acquired some sort of fungal or bacterial rash on my chin and left nasolabial fold; all this in addition to the extra pounds I've put on [in my face] following the advent of the new year, makes me wanna look in the mirror, wave my arms around deliriously and shout:

H E L L O . G O R G E O U S 

But if you can imagine, there was something even more gorgeous than my beat up mug that I had the pleasure of bearing witness to this week, so gorgeous it was worthy of a snap:

Perfectly manicured pasticcini from the Sicilian bakery around the corner. 

.... but if you don't share in my delight with cutely packaged things, there were also these, more grotesque goodies that arrived at the same time:

When my spirit is down and I'm feeling perpetually anhedonic, fried bread stuffed with chocolate or ricotta is my last chance for emotional revival, albeit temporary - which is why our highly intelligent friend Udit came 'round bearing FIVE fried bread balls stuffed with chocolate and ricotta. This meant FIVE TIMES the cascade of serotonin to my starving brain cells. 

Despite the fried prozac, the eye twitch persisted, due to what I reckon to be unrelenting stress secondary to the maniacal studying I've been doing in preparation for my driving theory exam this week (yesterday). Yes, I realize the absurdity of my former line,  but I sincerely have never had so much fear going into an exam in my entire life, not even for the Hepatitis C exam following the tattoo I got in Nicaragua. The prospect of the driving test made me really really afraid. Not only was it in another language, but the exam itself is more difficult than that which we Americans are accustomed to. I'm not trying to overstate its relevance [we all know nobody in this country follows the rules anyway], and certainly not my own intelligence ["pessima" according to the robot administering my practice tests], it's just a fact that in Italy you have to know the rules pertaining not only to standard motor vehicles, but also the mechanics of the car, how to change a flat tire, the rules regarding semi trucks, four-wheelers, motorcycles, scooters, three-wheelers, agricultural vehicles, trailer hitches, as well as the civil and penal codes of various infractions. And, my anxiety was definitely not assuaged by my Italian friends who insisted the test was molto molto facile. Bless them, but the fear of failure is only aggravated when you know in advance that in the event you DO fail, you'll be placed forever in the humanity category of "molto molto dumb".

So yesterday morning I collected myself (at least on the exterior), went to the Italian DMV, and after a devastating visit to the ladies', sat down to take my exam. It took me 30 minutes to complete the 40 questions and then revise them with an obsessive-compulsive-like attention to detail.

And guess what? I passed! I've never been more thrilled after an exam as I was yesterday, stoked with the kind of satisfaction that not even a cream-filled pastry can supply.  

So now my sticky fingers are entitled to my very own foglio rosa, which I'm proud enough to elect as my flag and pledge allegiance.  H E L L O . G O R G E O U S.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Some yellow ass rice

Risotto allo Zafferano is as Milanese as it gets. 

Saffron has this wonderful, almost plasticky, cardboard flavor that you can't imagine appreciating until the moment it seduces you; for me this means shoveling it straight out of the pan with a wooden spoon into a hole in my face until I enter a state of delirium, even though I don't even really like it.  It is traditionally served with ossobuco (bone marrow) and red wine. In its complete rendition it's a dish fit for a King whose wealth is paralleled by the firmness of his arteries.  

I'm frankly too lazy to tell you how to make it, but pretty much all ya'll need is arborio rice, a chopped onion, two glasses of dry white wine, saffron threads, beef broth, butter, salt, and pepper. Basically you just throw it all in the pot for 30 minutes then grate a block of parmesan on top at the end. What results is some yellow ass rice. 


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Deranged Lover

I'm pretty sure some of you assume I pass the time adhered to my canvas ikea sofa, eating ragù and drinking chianti on weekday afternoons. and you know what? you're not even half wrong.

Today before my second dinner of chinese takeout, I made a loaf of bread with my bare hands, watched it rise for an hour, then watched it bake for another hour, and then spent three minutes gobbling half of it down after smothering it in black truffle pâté. I actually ate so much minced truffle that I considered this may be the source of the mild hallucinatory headache I am currently experiencing. That, or the MSG, nobody can say for sure.  

But there are other things I do. Like school. I do school. and at the moment that's driving school. Actually if I'm to be sincere, I'll admit I skipped school tonight in favor of fresh bread and truffles on my canvas ikea sofa, but it's Friday so I petition for charity. 

Hell hath frozen over.  I know this to be true because I have officiated the reincarnation of my 15 year old self, a life milestone I thought I left behind in the plastic chairs of Bakkers Driving School that made my butt itch whenever I wore lycra tights. The only difference is that this time I'm twice the age of my peers and don't understand a lick of what my 90 year-old, sass-throwing, bowtie-wearing, southern-italian-speaking instructor has to say.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that there are only two things he's ever muttered that I was capable of understanding. The first was the day I made my debut in the classroom:

Prof: "Ciao cara, da dove sei?" [Hi dear, where are you from?
Me: "California" 
Prof: "Che cazzo stai facendo qua?" [What the dick are you doing here?

The second underscores the only theoretical point in the last four weeks to have left his lips, entered my ear, and successfully wriggled its way into the folds of my cortex. It occurred when he proselytized last week in all seriousness that "periods of driving for 3 hours or more merit a pitstop for a leg stretch and a cigarette." Dogma, folks. I mean, I paid 500 euros for this kind of golden wisdom. 

I frequent the autoscuola because I have to. Because there's no reciprocity between each our great nations in spite of the fact that it's TWO THOUSAND BLOODY FIFTEEN and I've been taking the road more AND less traveled for over fifteen years. My American license is effectively no more valid than my diminishing sense of self worth. 

The exam consists of 40 questions, True or False, and I have to miss not more than four. It's not as easy as it sounds, thanks to a language barrier more formidable than those shields employed by the riot police on American college campuses these days. I do my practice questions online with two windows open- one dedicated to sample questions, the other to GoogleTranslate.


Umm.. False????????

Next time my vehicle catches fire actually I think I will throw a wet blanket and earth at it.

One of my favorites:

"If you see a wounded person in shock, you'll help him if you make him drink small amounts of liquor". 


And this one:

"In the event of fog, it's better to leave your seatbelt unbuckled so that you're more ready to abandon the vehicle in the event of an accident."


And a question that recapitulates and even substantiates the stereotype of driving in Italy:

"This sign indicates the MINIMUM speed limit"

(TRUE). I mean, these people park on the sidewalk, ride mopeds with four dining room chairs strapped to the back and one under the crux of each arm, and have limits on how SLOW they're allowed to go. 

So my theory exam is in precisely one week. I am having some some serious doubts about my preparedness considering on my last four practice exams I missed 12, 13, 18, and 14, questions, respectively. 

One evening while on a stroll with my Italian husband-to-be (who is the embodiment of why I am willing to suffer said annoyances) I brazenly asked if he would reward my perseverance with a beautiful new black painted tinted-windowed Range Rover (a deplorably environmentally unfriendly vehicle I will never admit to secretly adoring) once I pass  the tests for my driver's license. He responded by saying that he would get me one someday, only if I agreed to have the writing on the back changed from R A N G E R O V E R   to    D E R A N G E D L O V E R, a suggestion I think demeans his true genius, but he seems to think is great.  He also said that in the meantime he would get me something similar but more affordable. Something more like this: 

So, nobody's going anywhere in a hurry. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

it's called a COOKIE, fool

I think the world would agree that Italians do a lot of things right. Art, science, architecture, food, romance, fashion bla bla bla. 

One thing Italians do not do correctly however, is cookies. They don't even know what a cookie is. They are so clueless that they call it a "biscotti".  And they eat biscotti for breakfast, and not in the advertised devilish way Americans do, but in the nonchalant "this is absolutely normal breakfast food" way. Why? because their "biscotti" are plain, minimally caloric, and frankly more boring than a piece of cardboard sprinkled with stevia. This, along with the fact that Italians are extremely misbehaved when it comes to forming a line, make me want to throw all my papers up in the air sometimes and just quit at life. I mean, you can't even find chocolate chips in a grocery store.

I did not grow up in a home culture where my mummy was constantly patting me on the head and baking me cookies. She would however allow me cantaloupe. Nevertheless, I was raised in a country that celebrates few things with more passion and nostalgia than the freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. And now that I can't have them whenever I want them, i NEED them.

The advantage of living in a cookie-forsaken foreign country is firstly, that my mother can no longer control the terror that is my diet at times (particularly of emotional stress), and secondly, that I have adapted to the deficit of chocolate chips by making my own cookies with chocolate CHUNKS chopped up from swiss chocolate bars. 

Occasionally it occurs that good energy is catapulted into my universe, as it has happened recently with having wrapped my sticky fingers around the magical recipe claiming to yield the greatest chocolate chip cookies known to man. I recently verified this as fact.

So I bestow you with this recipe below, making the very important disclaimer that if you share the same flawed soul as I ("going to eat all of these NOW so I get them out of the house so I can be healthy again starting tomorrow"), you're really going to regret the way you feel once resurrected from your impending hard cookie coma. I am cautioning you: THESE WILL ANNIHILATE YOUR FREE WILL. THEY WILL MARCH THEIR WAY ONE BY ONE INTO YOUR PIE HOLE UNTIL YOU PASS THE EFF OUT.  You can thank me later. 

  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour (265 grams, farina 00)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch (o fecola di patate)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 oz (170 grams) butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup (210 grams) brown or cane sugar
  • ½ cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups (285 grams) dark chocolate CHUNKS [i used a mix of dark chocolate orange and dark chocolate with hazelnuts, but use any type you prefer]

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together cooled melted butter and sugar for one minute. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Beat until just combined.
  3. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix briefly, just until there are no flour clumps left. Fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Cover and refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Remove dough from refrigerator and preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 celsius), making sure the rack is in the middle of the oven.
  6. Scoop ¼ cup of cookie dough at a time and roll into balls. Flatten them a little bit, then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure the cookies have plenty of space to spread.
  7. Bake for about 12 minutes or until the cookies have spread out and the edges are golden, but the center still looks soft and slightly under-cooked. Let cool on the baking sheets until the cookies are firm enough to remove. 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Rat Droppings

Happy New Year, if you're into that sort of thing. 

Reflecting on the last rotation around the sun, I'd say 2014 was pretty good. The echo of the impeccably timed carnival-esque emcee at the local bingo night in Sestri Levante failed to sully the moment my curly-haired q-tip formally proposed we go steady forever. I saw my first full-term pregnant woman smoking a pipe on the beach in Ibiza. I turned 30- a fact actualized by the automated transition of gmail advertisements from the best clubs in Amsterdam to $100 off your next tummy tuck. There was linear growth. I learned how NOT to use Uber - it's an app, not telepathy, and one must not stand on the curb at 3am sozzled in west hollywood prepared to enter the first vehicle that stops unsystematically, promising to fulfill you of your request for taquitos. The pinnacle of 2014 wasn't slamming vodka sodas at the same intimate afterparty as Leonardo DiCaprio, but shouting "Auguri!" at a New Year's Eve party in the basement of a pastry shop in Milan while eating lentils off a plastic plate and smoking something dubious under a shroud of a hundred panettones that had been glued to the ceiling.

Another major life event was ticked off the list when I had my first encounter with THE EX while out Christmas shopping with my man (her ex). Believe it or not, in my fantasy of how this moment would eventually transpire, I imagined showering her with kindness because from the anecdotes I had heard over the years, I sort of came to like her. So there we were, finally face to face, my opportunity to throw some warmth into her universe, when my internal google-translate went on the fritz and instead of saying "buon natale" I said "happy birthday" with a goofy smile that in the context of such a cunty salutation could have only come across as draconian sarcasm.  

Giulio came back to visit after spending the autumn working in the United States, evidenced by the fact that he was received off the plane wearing tapered maroon sweatpants, new balances, and a giant yellow northface backpack.  I don't judge because I personally have passed 80% of my life wrapped in spandex, I just never expected the man who posesses a paradigm banning pajamas after 8am to trade in his Church's for his tennies. That, and he has also begun confusing the expression "24/7" with "7/11" saying stuff like "the Chipotle by my house is open 7/11."  

Over the holidays my dad popped over the English Channel for a quick visit. The two most remarkable things that happened were introducing him to Giulio's extended family, and watching him have a mini freakout when he mistook a grain of black rice on my sofa for rat poop.  

I know January 1 is meant to mark the day everyone puts their life in the paper shredder and starts over or whatever, but I spent the day doing exactly what I always do- eating an entire box of cookies and procrastinating. So after all the chocolate-covered peppermint Joe Joe's were exhausted, I decided it was the appropriate moment to de-ice my freezer- an activity hastened by my active involvement chipping away at it with a wooden spatula. I followed this up by gathering all the loose snow, placing it in the sink, then watching it melt. And you know what? The year hasn't gotten any better from there:

NONE of the socks from the clean laundry make a pair.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The best summer ever

You know when you're lost without a compass (allegorical or not) and you keep saying "i've come too far to turn around now" until you're suddenly in an oh shit moment with beads of sweat dripping into and burning your eyeballs, irritability that has persisted to the point of indifference, and a culminating fear has risen to the now nihilistic prospect of your imminent death?

Ok, well for me there was NONE OF THAT this summer. This has been without question the most decadent, relaxing, and surreal holiday of my life. In my previous travels I have always sought some trace of adventure that although not always comfortable, has afforded me a repertoire of share-worthy anecdotes. I have barfed (at least thrice) in every third world country I have ever visited, slept with a knife in my hand in the fresh-out-of-war militarized zone of Trincomalee, been insisted upon the company of two armed body guards moving through the streets of San Salvador, and paid $2.50 for a room in Livingston Izabal that had been decorated by a person whose intention was to make you feel as though you were to be slaughtered there before dawn. 

While this year I admittedly vomited again, I must clarify that it was not because the chef had sprinkled fecal matter onto my samosa, but because I had been coaxed to drink sangria (by my doctor/lawyer/scientist/writer/mathematician friends) while sailing the Mediterranean. Like, ON A BOAT. Like, on a boat on the water with a sail thingy. While wearing a gold watch and a sarong and a designer bikini. There was no damp duvet smelling of human bodies, no shigellosis, no firearms, and no fear. My pedicure was intact. This vacation was different. 

August 1st began with the honeymoon suite overlooking Santorini's caldera. It was by far the fanciest hotel I've ever stayed, so when I walked out of the room the first day in my decade-old powder pink gym shorts and the housekeeper stopped me to whisper "Miss, you cannot go upstairs like that", I thought I had made a mistake by booking a place reserved for pretentious snobs. But during the five seconds of mental exhaustion in which I began to formulate my righteous rebuttal, I realized that she was actually an angel sent from the heavens of the Tholos Resort itself, saving me from impending social suicide in a moment where I had unknowingly been gifted an early arrival of my biological alarm clock saying: "you're fertile, but not pregnant". 

We spent three blissful days going on long explorative strolls, shoving souvlaki into every orifice, and drinking adult beverages in our private jacuzzi. And you know what? I don't even feel a little bit bad about it. 

There's something magical that happens when people who are used to traveling decide instead to take a vacation. There is a difference people. We unwound and we relaxed. In the absence of vigilance we had the chance to talk to each other about current events, music, literature. To ask questions other than: "honey, where are the quinolones?" or "are you still pooping blood?" or "do you think those guys are going to rob us?". We had our guards down, and in the process were reminded of our mutual peculiarities. Had Giulio not acquired a farmer tan on day 1 and I not perpetually eaten ungodly amounts of raw onions, I'd say we might have fallen in love all over again. 

On day four we packed up for Milos. We had five days there zooming around on ATVs, wandering through every deserted beach we could find, wrangling vipers in the desert (lies), and covering our bodies in baklava. 

Then we met up with our friends Bruno and Valentina, Bruno's uncle Guglielmo, and Guglielmo's longtime friend "Bob" for a week of sailing. We started in Athens and made our way down to Cape Sounion, Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos, and eventually back to Milos. Over the course of the week I barfed once, Giulio almost barfed twice, and one person not to be named took multiple craps in the ocean (it wasn't me, Valentina, Guglielmo, or Bob). I was assured that this was in line with standard sailing etiquette, but have some doubts about the veracity of such an assertion.

And with that, late night talks of constellations under an ouzo illuminated sky came to a halt.

The day after we returned from Greece, my best friend Marah came galloping in from Montana to grace me with her presence for two weeks. If I could chain her to me without being socially chided, I would make us each other's permanent accessory.  

We started our Eurocation in Budapest under the semblance of my 30th birthday. Yarden flew in from Milan and my cousin Hannah from England. My cousin Dávid, his girlfriend Zsu, and our mutual friend Eszter came down from Pécs, and Milla sent champagne over from across the atlantic. For three days we relaxed in the bathouses, danced on many a floor, watched fireworks, took a cruise down the Danube,  braided each other's hair, and ate cream puffs in the plush beds of our presidential suite.

After the third night we flew back to Milan and immediately hopped in a car headed for the Italian Riviera. Over the weekend we hiked and ate a varied diet of prosecco, gelato, seafood, and pesto smothered on anything nontoxic or toxic.  

When we came back to Milan on Sunday night, it was mine and Marah's intention to spend the next three days hiking in the Italian Alps. But the weather was crap and we were less than enthusiastic about trudging through mud in the cold. So we started throwing around alternative ideas as a matter of playfulness, and before we knew it were paying homage to Signor C. Diem with flights booked to Ibiza for the following morning. 

I could have never imagined what we'd be in for. To summarize, we stayed in our bikinis for three days dancing to electronic dance music and nourishing ourselves on bananas, calippos, and bloody mary's (for vitamins). The good vibes were being handed out faster than condoms in Planned Parenthood. The place was magic.

And then there was Amsterdam. A decision fueled less by the inviting prospect of legalized prostitution and more by the opportunity to watch our dear friend Megan Kalmoe compete in the World Rowing Championships. We made it in time to see her take home silver in the women's pair, second to the reigning olympic gold medalists from London. Everyone was very happy.

(She's a mega babe too.)

In between rowing events, we squeezed in a little more electronic dance music at the Voltt Loves Summer Festival. Just below you can see me posing with some Dutch Hollandaise paying tribute to my country while I paid tribute to Spain. There was a lot of love in the air. And then there was Mr. G. You just need to youtube that.

And yes of course we also had some time to reap the benefits of Amsterdam's progressive attitude, a decision which we evidently found imprudently amusing. If this photo doesn't make you laugh then you must be glaringly stone cold. 

To close, I got to pass some time with my favorite Dutch man ex-colleague friend who I met four and half years prior while working in an immunology lab in Southern California. It's a beautiful thing to slam a beer with someone outside the context in which you typically know them.  

Now I'm back in Milan and the endless summer has ended. Marah and Giulio have both buggered off to faraway lands and I have found myself starving for serotonin and eating plain pasta straight from the pot in effort to convince my body to release some more.  I'm studying brain circuits which is not nearly as interesting as it sounds. I've got three computer tabs open to the effect of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Immanuel Kant which serves to cyclically distract and depress me. I smell of mosquito repellant. My face might as well be one giant pimple. But I smile thinking back to what was really the best summer ever.