Cooking at home

Ten days in another country constantly eating in restaurants is exhausting. You get homesick for your own food. Or I do anyway. My mom, once, on a trip with me and my wife-in-the-eyes-of-the-Lord, to England, started crying and when I asked her what was wrong, she said she missed her spaghetti. I totally feel that. So did his Royal Mountedness. The first thing he did when we got back to Berlin after Italy was claim dinner. Surprisingly, he made Thai curry. I suppose, well, it is curry so maybe that counts but it was not what I was expecting. When it came my turn I made white bean soup (which he said was delicious—he rarely comments on food, or the food I make anyway) and mushroom lasagna.

I loved it. He did not comment. I used a packet of “forest mushroom” soup as the sauce—as a side note, this is not like using a packet of McCormick’s turkey gravy since it is in a foreign language—I took the time (I had nothing but time) to shingle the sliced mushrooms on the top. Unfortunately that was entirely lost in the final production.

Various spaghettis I have known

While we were in Italy, we had spaghetti a lot, as one might expect. Aside from the amberjack tartar which was more suited to cats than me, these were all fantastic. That said, there was almost no garlic and little salt.

Italy in review

We were in Italy a total of 10 days, 6 in Naples and 4 in Palermo. It’s not like I wouldn’t go back to Naples, but I could certainly live without it. Sicily on the other hand, I really need to go back to. I’d never been this far south before and while the food was certainly Italian there was an almost complete lack of garlic and everything that said “spicy” was not. At all. There seemed to be a strange lack of salt. And there was never salt on the table. Facial sculpting seems to be a thing here. Lots of women with Donald Duck lips and enhanced cheeks. Young women. I don’t know why this would be a thing.

Naples.

But also Naples.

Padre Pio. All over the place. My grandfather adored him. He is a saint who had the stigmata. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of Mussolini and a fascist. And canonized by John Paul anyway.

Lotta these sorts of things all over the place. The baby Jesus thing was sorta spooky.

Italian death notices.

A selection of various luncheon beverages.

Graffiti. It’s everywhere.

Good Friday. So weird. Jesus in a glass coffin being paraded around while people drank beers. Very unlike the Good Fridays of my youth. However not unlike a lot of my college years.

Fishy. Whatever that green thing was I gagged it down in an extremely dramatic way. I did not touch the other ones. There was fish there and just no way I was risking it.

These treacherous streets paved with stones like this. I tripped. In grand style, I mean, like flailing completely down onto my belly. People came running, a car stopped to see if I was alright, a lady offered to get me water. Ashish looking at me like I was on my death bed. I was fine. But now I’m very worried about wherever I am walking. Fortunately, Berlin, where I am now, is not paved like this. I feel vaguely safer.

Palermo. Fabulous.

Soup, er, I dunno

Our last night in Italy was Easter and we opted to have dinner in our hotel as we assumed, wrongly, that the city would be virtually closed. It was not. Utterly nothing was closed unlike Germany where you could not get so much as a bottle of water on any Sunday, much less Easter. Italy was hoppin.’

Our hotel was a glorious, luxurious place. And the dining room had a kind of 50’s feel with navy blue velvet cushioned low chairs with cream welting, and marble floors. We had a seat in the window with a glorious view of the Mediterranean. It was crepuscular (setting the scene here). I ordered the four-cabbage soup (zupetta) as a starter probably not the most scenic, romantic or Italian thing I can think of but I like cabbage soup. What I got was beautiful but also insane.

The leaf thing was a savory cookie. The “cabbage” turned out to be cauliflower, an error in their English translation on the menu which is sort of understandable I suppose. An expensive hotel serving expensive food ought to know better. But OK.

This was not soup. The cauliflower was not cooked. Or if it was cooked at all it had been only for a brief moment before it was artistically placed in the . . . the . . . the . . . the . . . I have no idea what that was, pudding maybe. It wasn’t pourable and It was almost unflavored. It wasn’t bad although I do not like running into clusters of uncooked rosemary and thyme. If it had had more flavor I would have had some guilty pleasure eating this decadent dish. As it was I ate it more in confusion than anything.

Someone is a lot braver than I am

The day we arrived in Palermo, we had lunch at a cute little place somewhere near where we were staying. I have no idea. I was constantly lost or tripping over cobblestones.

He ordered the pasta with amberjack (a fish) tartar. I had the caccia é pepe. No way I was eating raw fish. I’ve seen the documentaries about liver flukes—but in fact I am not worried about liver flukes. I have other, just as effective, ways of damaging my liver.

I know there are people who like raw fish. I am not one of them. And, taking a guess from the look on his face when he had his first bite, neither will he be in the future. Essentially he ate the pasta and pushed the fish off to the side not even attempting, as I would have, to scatter it randomly around the plate to fool the server into thinking an attempt at eating it had been made.

Being Neapolitan

Husoor was feeling peckish. And for him that reads hangry to me. It’s something I like to avoid if I can and so when we arrived back in Naples and he wanted “a little something to eat” I knew we had to fly into action which, in Naples, involves standing in line.

He ordered pizza fritta the fried Neapolitan pizza that everyone is gaga over and he waited. And waited and waited and waited. I waited across the street. And I waited and waited and waited.

He finally emerged. I don’t know what the fuss was about. It was fry bread with watery fresh tomato and some cheese. Not all that much. Lotsa dough, fried, that’s for sure. Nothing else. No oregano, parmesan, basil. Nothin.’ I don’t know what the fuss is about and it’s certainly not worth the wait.

The blood of St Januarius

At the episcopal cathedral in Naples, which is to say the seat of the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of the city, they supposedly have the blood of St Januarius. A martyr whose blood is contained in a glass vial, apparently solid most of the time, becomes liquid at certain times and for different reasons, what these might be, no one knows.

The Naples duomo, the Italian word for the cathedral of the seated bishop of each city in Italy, also houses an enormous treasure of various jewel-encrusted religious garments, vessels, reliquaries, monstrances and I am not sure what else.

No 1. I cannot imagine how God might choose to make a miracle in which a vial of solid blood (or something) periodically liquifies as something significant for us mortals without any kind of hint as to why, or what that message might be. And how did they get an air tight glass vial of his blood from wherever he was martyred in 306 C.E. to Italy anyway? The first reported witness to the liquification was in 1364 . . a freaking thousand years later.

And yet . . . the blood liquified for the new, relatively liberal Pope Francis but not for Pope Benedict of the Nazi Youth or for John Paul II. I can get behind that. The liquification for Francis is a fun event that makes me think, not enough for me to return to the sacraments, but edging in that direction.

No 2. These jewel encrusted things. Look at that miter. A bishops hat and that scapular (or something). Those are real diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and citrine. How did they get so far afield from the message of a poor carpenter? Did they imagine St Januarius’ blood would liquify? Mine would boil.

The cathedral, though, is spectacular. Really glorious. The vial of St Januarius’ blood is housed in a small chamber behind the altar. You cannot actually get that near to it but you can see it, well, the container it sits in. And you can if you want, pay a euro to turn on an electric light. No candles are lit here in Italy it seems, the smoke of a thousand years was dirtying things. I understand. But it’s just so, um, less holy somehow. Maybe if i wore more jewelry it might sanctify things a bit.

Waiting in line for pizza

It’s a thing in Naples. And assuming I could have gotten near any of these places I’d have tried them to see what makes them so special. The first two sell fried pizza—pizza fritta—which is appears to be just a pizza folded over and deep fried. The restaurant we went to last night had fried pizza on their menu. Pizza with ceiling it said. In French it was called Pizza avec plafond—pizza with ceiling. What it meant was sealed pizza. It didn’t look so great to me and in fact the pizza I had was not so great. Although it did not have ceiling.

The last 2 pix are a place my sister told me to go to. We risked our lives getting there in a taxi only to turn around and walk home when we saw the line—not standing in line for pizza—or goddamn getting in a taxi again if I can help it.

Naples

Is an easy trip from Berlin—aside from the fact that we had to get up at 4 am for a 6:30 flight but it is a short flight. My sister had been here last year and loved it. So we, the ol’ ball and chain and I, decided to go. After all the weather in Germany is not all that great at this time of year and, well, Italy.

We arrived at like 8:30 in the morning and what had not occurred to me, among the many other unrelated things that don’t occur to me, was that we’d gotten up at the buttcrack of dawn and would arrive in Naples shortly after that buttcrack but we would be unable to access our (spectacularly stupendous) hotel room until 3 in the afternoon so we’d walk like zombies around the city until then. So . . . fun!

We chose Naples in part because it didn’t seem to me like a top choice tourist destination and that appeals to me (as, you know, a tourist). Visitors or not, the streets were completely and absolutely jam packed with people. Apparently all Italian. I can’t say what they were doing there because the shops were, in fact, pretty much just for the tourists. But I loved looking up the side streets. We walked up a few and I can say, with some authority, that they are better viewed from a distance. We stopped early on and had what the Italians think of as coffee and later a pizza (Naples, the home of Pizza) which was fabulous.

Eventually, and about 10 minutes before I was going to just freaking lie down and sleep in the street (a quieter side street, tho), we were let into our hotel room. OMG. So fabulicious.

The goddamn view from our room!!

Italian flag salad

Some of the Royal Mounted Police’s colleagues came over for dinner (all on horseback) and I made an Italian flag salad since were leaving for Italy on Saturday. (It’s just Irish flag salad but with tomatoes instead of carrots—that god we weren’t going to Swaziland). The meal was Italian with an American dessert. No, not HoHos or DingDongs, key lime pie.

I love it when people ask for seconds . . . on dessert no less!

Swaziland flag, not planning any salads at this point.