Once upon a time in Texas, there was a girl with an appetite and a dream...


Crud-ilococcus Seri-us

I have recently observed a widespread public health crisis to which you must be alerted. It is an epidemic that is infecting homes all across Southeast Texas. It's called "the crud, " and nobody in the south is safe. It is more frequently referred to as "that ol' cruuuud, " or the non-colloquial "common cold."

Take care people, 'cause that dang ol' crud is ugly.


The smells of my happy childhood

Today as I walked out of my mom and dad's house, I was hit by a wave of olfactory nostalgia. In my small East Texas hometown (where I have passed most of my visit) we have a mile-long stretch of refineries affectionately called "Chemical Row." This large landscape of steel and smokestacks is just about a mile south of my parents' house. Normally, one must be much closer to pick up the chemically delicious odor, but today, the wind was blowing in from the south. That wind carried with it memories of many barbecues as a child spent down at the Dupont Employees Recreation Association. Here you could find the makings of any great family cookout. There were barbecue pits, a playground, a swimming pool, and a softball field all flanked on one side by the swamp (known to us as Cow Bayou) and on the other side by DuPont, Chevron, Texaco, etc. We didn't mind the smell because to us it meant that we were with family and friends spinning on the merry-go-round, eatin' hot links, watching dads play softball, or just sitting on the dock with our feet dangling in that brown bayou water. Those were happy days, though! You see, we didn't know that there were clean, clear, unpolluted streams running through a protected national park somewhere, or that our own environment was hopelessly flawed. There would be time for knowing later. On those hot summer days as we laughed and ran around sucking in lungs-full of that air, we wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.


It'll make you stronger

These are my niece and nephew. He gets his incredible blanket-covering superpower from just one bowl of pasta e fagioli...

Oh, for the love of legumes...

In just 8 days I will be back in the land of pasta. A place that knows no Atkins, speaks of no "carbs," and has no South Beach. This is a magical land where good boys and girls must eat a plate of pasta every day, lest they throw whole digestive tracts into an uproar. Yes, I am speaking of Italy. This is the country where I have frequently been asked with an astounded curiosity, "Tracie, is it true that in America you eat without bread?"

Well, be afraid no more! Eat your pasta and eat it with beans! OH carbs upon carbs of delight!! In my previous post, I mentioned a very typical winter dish, pasta e fagioli (pronounced fah-JOH-lee). I'm not talkin' about the one you used to eat on your high school dates at The Olive Garden. (Oh shut up, you know you did!) This is the real deal. It's delicious, home-made, and will make you want to live in Italy.

I'm not going to give a recipe, just a concept. In Italy, or in my experience in the south, all members of the legume family get the same treatment. Every pot starts with a "sofrito" of carrot, celery, and onion (about 1:1:2). They also throw in a few cherry tomatoes, a healthy dose of olive oil (do I need to specify extra virgin?) and let it all cook down and get a bit caramelized. Now here is where I insert my Texan ignorance of the Italian law. I throw in some garlic too. (Don't tell Italy, it would faint from the idea of aromatic overkill if it knew that I made something with onion AND garlic! BUT, everybody loves it.) Besides, garlic is good for you. You can also put some pancetta in the sofrito, but that's optional. After it's been cooked down, add enough water (or chicken broth if you want) to cover your beans by a few inches. Let it all cook until the beans are tender, and add salt to taste. (You can make a big batch and refrigerate or freeze what you don't use now.) And please, for the love of the patron saint of the Italian Kitchen, don't try this with canned beans, it will not taste the same. Although the cooking time is long for beans, the active time is quite small. Don't be afraid...

At this point, it's time for the pasta.

Let's talk about pasta. The Italians I know are very persnickety about which pasta goes with what. (And by "persnickety," I mean dogmatic, specific, and inflexible.) In Naples, pasta e fagioli is generally eaten with the mixed-cut pasta, although I have seen it with the short tubes in other parts of Italy. These 2 suggestions go for pasta with canellini beans. If you were making pasta con lenticchie (pasta with lentils, yum), you would probably use ditalini. Or if you were to make pasta con ceci (pasta with chickpeas, my favorite), and you were from Naples, you would probably use broken fettucine or spaghetti, but I am a rebel and use the short tubes mentioned above. They are much more fun to eat and every now and then, a chickpea gets stuck inside a tube. Che sfizio! There is nothing more fun than that. (NOTE: This is the only time when breaking long pasta would be even remotely acceptable! And it must be broken into 2 inch pieces for goodness sake.) Whatever you choose, put it in the boiling pot with the beans (one box is good for 4 people) and make sure that there is enough liquid to cover the pasta and beans by about an inch or 2. Now all you have to do is keep stirring until the pasta is cooked, al dente please, and plate it. Drizzle a little olive oil on top, throw on a little parsley, and cover it all with some Parmiggiano Reggiano.

Are you in heaven yet?


Multicultural learning through futbol

Well, it just wouldn't be a site about living in Italy if I didn't talk about the Longhorns winning the Rose Bowl. Or, I guess you could say that it wouldn't be a site about a University of Texas alumnus living in Italy and being home and able to witness the glory that was the Rose Bowl game, if I didn't gloat about having won that very well played and historically significant Rose Bowl championship game. (I am the queen of run-on.) As I watched the game at my friend Misti's house, I couldn't help but survey and compare male football watching behavior in the U.S. to male "futbol" watching behavior in southern Italy. This is what it looks like:

TEXAS: loud game on, men yelling, yelling men drinking many large beers

ITALY: loud game on, men yelling, yelling men drinking many tiny coffees

The post-game effects of these copiously consumed substances would be as follows:

TEXAS: loud post-game on, men yelling, yelling slurring men accidentally putting someone's eye out with mis-fired high fives

ITALY: loud post-game on, men yelling, yelling nervous men accidentally putting someone's eye out with overly-zealous Italian gesticulating


Oh why not...

Ciao tutti! Vi auguro un buon anno! That means happy new year. So I thought I would start off 2006 with a new bloggy-blawg. I figured, hey, look at that bandwagon--I wanna jump on it. Anyway, there just aren't enough blogs written by American women living in Italy. HA! Well, at least I haven't found one about a Texana living in Italy, now aren't you all inspired by my originality? Whatever. I just need a good stimulating distraction from lying on the Mediterranean beaches sipping prosecco and eating clams every day. So boring! (Come on, you believed me for second...)

Right now though, this Texana is still in Texas. I'll be returning to my surrogate country on February 3rd. I'll be sad to leave this glorious weather, but I'll return happily to plates and plates of pasta e fagioli! I'll be sending recipes and pictures and chronicling (sp?) what I am sure will be my fun-filled tangle with Italian bureaucracy, also known as "trying to get a visa." (I have a feeling there will be a lot more tryin' and a lot less gettin', but that's just my inner pessimist regarding all things needed quickly in Italy.)

Ci vediamo! (see you later)

FYI: Did you know that the blog's very own spell checker doesn't recognize "blogs" as a word?


Is this thing on??

Hmmmm, hey everybody. Just checking to see if the "mind control" button is enabled on this here new blog thing. What did you say? The site is wonderful already? You love me? It makes me look 10 years younger?

Oh yeah, looks like things are workin' just fine...