26 September 2008

New book idea!

As a bit of a diversion from all the new and yummy foods available here... I thought I'd write about writing. I'm working on a novel, but I might have to take a bit of a break to write a much needed piece of non-fiction. I was thinking I'd call it: Appliances for Foreign Dummies. A manual for non-Europeans who are living in Europe...and having great difficulty with the appliances. The idea came to me this morning when I was vacuuming with what I thought was a normal vacuum cleaner. But NO. It was not normal at all...a fact I discovered when I sucked the curtains right off the wall. You might be thinking that's not such a big deal, but our place has 14 foot ceilings. And the curtains go right from the ceiling to the floor. So sucking 14 foot curtains off the wall is a very big deal.

See, the vacuum has only 2 settings, from what I can figure: something I call the butterfly setting, and the turbo setting. The butterfly setting is so light that you could actually catch a butterfly that's loose in your house, and gently, with a poof of light air, deposit the butterfly all safe and sound outside. Then there's the turbo setting, which resulted in the above mentioned curtain incident. I think maybe the vacuum is made by Ferrari or something. Because it is quite powerful. Powerful enough to suck dust bunnies from clear across the street. And here's where I'd put the section in my book about insects. Because with such a great huge suction force, it is quite logical to this non-European that this is a great tool for dealing with those pesky huge spiders and centipedes that seem to come with all oldy-worldy European villas. Except it isn't a good idea. As I learned. Oh sure, the vacuum cleaner will neatly and efficiently slurp up those giant black spiders. And suck the centipedes right off the ceiling or right out of the bathtub. But that's not the end of those bugs. Oh no no no. Because the vacuum cleaner does NOT kill them. No. It just holds onto them. Puts them snuggly into a warm and dusty place where they can thrive. Growing bigger and bigger. And then only God knows what they do. Hmmm, giant black spiders marching OUT of the vacuum cleaner. I think that'll make a great picture for the cover of the book.

Of course, then I'll have to add the section on dish washers (um, that liquid soap isn't foaming because it isn't soap...it's rinsing liquid). And the whole thing about being sure you're using soap in the washing machine...and, um, not just fabric softener. Don't ask how I know these things.

22 September 2008

Polenta dangers....

I have figured out a way to make polenta so that it is the consistency of tapioca pudding. This is not a good thing, because I LOVE tapioca pudding. And now I can't stop eating the polenta. It came out tasting so good, that I actually had to leave the house to prevent myself from eating the whole pot. Of course I returned later in the day and cleaned up that pot, so I guess leaving the house only postponed the inevitable.

I must figure out how to handle delicious foods now....before chestnut season gets into full swing. Did I mention there is an entrie MOUNTAINSIDE filled with special chestnut trees that produce something they call Marrone...these giant, yellow, sweet, indescribably delightful types of chestnuts that burst with goodness when they are ROASTED OVER AN OPEN FIRE. And they come into season in mid-October. And there's a chestnut festival to celebrate their arrival. And I'll be attending that festival. Save me!

16 September 2008

Carrots & caffeine

I know this'll sound stupid, because I feel stupid just writing it down.... but that's never stopped me before. I'm in love with carrots. There. I said it. I love carrots. You must understand I've always hated carrots. Their rubbery texture. That horrid sort of metallic taste. Blechhh!

But it turns out that's not how carrots are supposed to taste. I got carrots this morning at the market. They had been pulled out of the ground not more than a few hours before. They still had the leaves attached. Some dirt on them. But my goodness....they looked tender, and young, and they had this aura that can only be given off by natural, homegrown vegetables. So I bought a half kilo. And now, sitting here in the living room, I'm so overwhelmed with the joyful taste of these carrots that I had to write about it. I've warmed up some espresso that I made earlier this morning, and am enjoying the oddest yet most down-to-earth taste combination possible: coffee and carrots. But let me be specific here: really good coffee and really good carrots. Weeping tears of joy over carrots.

What's next? Well, it could very well be: crying over calamari. We're headed over to the island of Hvar tomorrow and I'll be investigating the seafood situation. Investigation notes to be posted soon!!!

12 September 2008

Chew warning on figs...

As a public service, I'm mentioning here that if anyone is planning on eating the dried figs available here at the market...they should take note: it is very very important to CHEW them. Oh, you'll want to just swallow one down after another. I know. I sympathize. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. But I had to discover the hard way that all those sweet nectary pieces of joy go down easy enough. But each of them will re-hydrate into a full-blown WHOLE fig in your stomach. Or as in my case, in the intestines. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

So, be sure to chew. Or, if the figs are just too tempting, um, make sure you've got stretchy pants to wear. Pyjamas will do nicely actually.

09 September 2008

Dried figs & pomegranates

It is hard to complain about anything when there are so many delicious and exquisite foods available to be eaten every single day. This morning I got a very early pomegranate. Inside, the juicy seeds are more of a rose colour than red. But bursting with sweetness.

Then there's a new favourite for me: dried figs. I've never liked dried fruit. Actually, I hate dried fruit. I spent many hours as a child diligently picking all the dried fruit out of fruitcake each Christmas. So it took some cajoling for me to even try a dried fig here. And what a surprise. These figs were grown down south, picked ripe, then dried a bit, then washed in salted sea water, then left in the sun to dry again. They are rather soft and the skin is a bit chewy. And the inside is a brilliant red colour. And the taste is indescribable. Just let me admit here that I ate 15 of these beauties in one sitting. Yup. Don't recommend it. But I did it. And if my stomach didn't feel like it was bursting...I would have eaten even more. I figure if I wait about 2 hours, I can probably have 5 or 6 more!!!

P.S. they are quite awesome when eaten together with fresh roasted hazelnuts.

05 September 2008

Notes on making polenta....

It is hard work making polenta the old fashioned way. I'm making up a batch that is extra thick so I can slice it up later. So I have to stir it for an hour and it is really really sticky. Difficult! My arm hurts. Boo-hoo!

Here's a shot of my polenta that is almost done. Note how the spoon is standing on its own!

But here's an important note on making polenta (I didn't read this ANYWHERE). Use a big pot. Like three times bigger than the amount you are cooking. Because when you add the dry corn meal to the boiling water....the whole thing foams up and rises way way way up and will spill over if the pot isn't big enough. It'll spill everywhere. Over the side of the pot. Into the burner. Under the burner. Under the knobs. Down the counter top. Down the front of the oven door. And then onto the floor. And inevitably stepped into...and then tracked all over the house. And all of it sticky. Oh, and it dries harder than diamonds. So it must be removed by razor-blade.

Do not ask how I know all of this.



So this morning I learned the hard way that it isn't a good idea to try and cut the hard rind off a small piece of cheese using a sharp butcher knife that is longer than my arm. Took a rather big slice out of my thumb which now needs some time to heal. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Luckily I can still stir with my hand...and therefore the giant cut on my thumb will NOT prevent me from making up another batch of slow-cooked polenta tonight.


p.s. Did I already mention OUCH!

04 September 2008

New grain mill!!! Polenta!!!!!

Europeans are pretty wild about fresh food. And fresh-ground grain is no exception. I've never heard of counter-top models of grain mills, but they are incredibly popular here, especially in places like Germany and Austria.

I haven't been able to eat any grains over the last few years because most of the commercially prepared ones are processed in places that also process wheat and barley. So I just avoided them altogether because of the chance of cross contamination.

But grains are back on the menu now that I've got my own grain mill!!!! It is the cutest thing you've ever seen. Very heavy. With a serious motor, and two grind stones made of, well, stone! The particular model I got is hand-carved in a beautiful wood, and it all comes from a company called Waldner (http://www.waldner-biotech.at/en/produkte.asp).

I also went to my friendly grain lady at the farmers market and requested some special corn they use for making polenta. She'll have it for me on Tuesday. So in the meantime, she gave me some of her popping corn and I milled that today and cooked it into a creamy, delightful, and unabashedly simple and delicious polenta.

Fresh milled grains must be prepared immediately because the milled grain starts to go bad as soon as it encounters oxygen. So the idea is to mill it, and use it immediately.

Here's a picture of my beautiful mill actually grinding corn.

And here is a picture of the milled corn. I mixed very fine corn flour with a heavier grind.

Then I cooked it the old fashioned way into polenta. Basically I put 1 part corn meal into 3 parts boiling water, then stirred for an hour. Yup. A full hour. The corn gets creamier and creamier. And gives off an aroma that is something like a cross between sunshine and happiness. Comfort food at its best.

Here is the finished polenta. Afterward, I put it all into a dish and let it cool so I could cut it into wedges and then put it into my homemade chicken soup.

03 September 2008

Wood-fired pizza

There's a little pizza place with a real wood-burning oven (wood burning inside the oven). And they make pizza all day long. I of course can't eat pizza with all that gluten in it, but my hubby heroically stepped in to help, once again.

Here's a shot of the fire coming out of the oven.

And here's the pizza (about 16 inches/40cm across), which took EXACTLY 2 minutes to bake (and yes, I timed it).

02 September 2008

Peaches and pears...

I have never in my whole life tasted anything as good as the peaches and pears that are currently in season here, and available at every market stand. It is so hard to try and describe these things without being able to offer a taste and a smell of the perfume-like fragrance from these fruits. Honestly, it is just unbelievably good. So I'm including a picture of the peaches which are about 8 inches/20 cm around. Big. Along with some branches of fresh rosemary and bay leaves that are in plentiful supply right now as people go about canning the summer harvest for enjoyment into the winter months.

I'm also including a picture of the local pears. These are Williams pears which they also use to make a particularly fine brandy called Wiliamovka. Can't explain how it tastes here, because I have NO METAPHORS that do it justice. Anyways, back to the pears. I washed them. Sliced them, and put them in a bowl. I had this wonderful bag of fresh-roasted hazelnuts that I bought from a woman who grows them in her backyard. Using a very sophisticated method, I took a handful of nuts, put them between some plastic wrap, then crushed them with a bottle of olive oil. You don't need to use a bottle of olive oil though as this is one of those rare times when a bottle of cola can be used instead of olive oil ;-)

Then I took the crushed roasted hazelnuts and sprinkled them on my sliced pears. And, well, I had planned on taking a picture, but I'll be upfront here and admit that I pretty much inhaled the entire thing. So you'll just have to imagine the whole thing.