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


Oooh-ooh sail on, hon-ay

...good times never felt so good...

I'm off to Ischia today and the only way there is by boat, so you must bear with the Commodores' lyrics. I think we'll come back tomorrow, but maybe not. The Weekly Wino will be late this week, as it is a wino and winos are not be trusted.

I hope this devastating news causes neither household anarchy, nor desperate screaming pleas to the heavens of "WHY? WHY? WHY?!" Please stop waving your fists at the air. It will not make me stay and write...

Ok, ok, just kidding. My great and ignorant imagination has one self-important life of its own...just ask Lionel Richie.

...oooh-ooh sail on, shoo-guh...


These dreams go on when I close my eyes

I don't normally talk about my dreams here, but I done had me a doozie. Picture this:

I am walking toward the stage of a live music fundraiser. As I approach, I see Dolly Parton sitting on a stool in a cream shirt/skirt combo. It's just her and her acoustic guitar doing a cover of Stevie Wonder's Signed, Sealed, Delivered. (I don't know if it's important that this is my favorite Motown song--and I do love me some Motown-- that always makes me happy no matter what, but there ya go.)

Anyone out there a self-proclaimed dream expert? Please help. I have a continuous loop of "lahke a foo I wint n stayed too lawng" in my head and I JUST MAHT GO CRAZY.

oooh babay, here I am...


The Weekly Wino: April 22nd

This week's review will involve something with which you all are surely familiar--Cabernet Sauvignon. Last night I returned to Vinarium. There wasn't much to decide as I ordered steak and everyone else ordered salsiccia con scamorza (sausage with grilled scamorza cheese). The choice would be, without a doubt, red wine. The waiter was told to bring a bella bottiglia di vino rosso (a nice bottle of red wine) and he delivered it right away.

The choice, to my dismay, was a cabernet sauvignon from the Veneto made by Tenuta di Sant'Antonio, called Capitel del Monte. The minute it filled my glass I could see that it was going to be heavyweight. It was an inky dark red with a ruby tone (as opposed to violet, or brick, or bright red...or so many other shades that a grape can become!). The first thing that caught my nose was the scent of oak, which almost masked the aroma of dark fruits, followed by a bit of alcohol (14%, whew) that could have been remedied by 5 minutes in the refrigerator. "Room temperature" is just not specific enough!

The flavors agreed with the scents and brought me a mouthful of blackberry jam followed by much more than just a little kiss of oak.** While the toastiness wasn't overwhelming, it made it's presence known and my suspicion was confirmed when the label said that the wine spent 12 months aging in Slovenian oak barrels.

(**Here is my very opinionated digression. I am finding more and more Italian wines that are aged in this way. It seems that the "new world" obsession with that rich, vanilla flavor has crossed oceans and borders and is influencing the newer generations of Italian wine makers. I am fully aware that oak aging has long been practiced in Europe, but it has always been used with finesse, giving a soft edge of complexity to very tannic wines. It's like using heavy cream in the kitchen. A spoonful can enhance many a dish, but an entire bottle can overwhelm every flavor and mask the the ingredients that are in the pan. Cream can certainly be very tasty, but, if what you make is good to begin with, you shouldn't need it. I feel the same way about oak. It can be so overwhelming sometimes (California!) that one cannot taste the grape and all it has to offer.)

Ok, I am climbing off the soapbox and we can get back to the Wino.

This wine was thankfully saved from the vanilla clutches by its sensual jamminess and a nice, long finish. The oak was a bit stronger than I would prefer, but overall it didn't kill me. The steak was deliciously medium rare, but a wine with a bit more tannic structure (this Cabernet had uncharacteristically soft tannins) to balance the juiciness of the meat would have made an unbeatable companion.

One more thing--I just want to point out that any decent review of a specific wine would have included the production year, but I am sorry--I forgot to remember. Maybe it was that last glass...



There was a bad man with a tube

I will never whine again (maybe) about a leg waxing after what I went through yesterday. Back in 2001, I had a gastroscope procedure done in Texas. They hooked me up to an IV, injected me with drugs, and exactly half a second later, I woke up and the procedure was over. I went home and had good, long nap. Not bad right?

I do not want to use my blog as a forum for complaining about various personal ailments, but I will certainly have to vent about my first and-if-I-have-anything-to-do-with-it LASTLASTLAST Italian hospital experience.

Hhhaaaaah. I know it is not necessary to point out the fact that things are different here, but things are very different here. I went down the private hallway where there were 2 examination rooms and the gastroenterologist's office at the end. He walked out of his office to greet me while asking if we minded that he smoked. By the open window, he asked me a few questions, while smoking--in the hospital. Classic Italia.

I was quite nervous, having been told already that there would be no shots of sleepy drugs and no anesthetic to kill my gag reflex, but I was assured that the scope was very small and that it would be fast. Small is relative.

Relative to a drainage canal, the scope was indeed small.

I won't go into the details, but having a finger-sized tube shoved down my throat into my stomach for 7 minutes with all reflexes fully functioning is something I will unfortunately never forget.

Even though my brain knew that the tube had to stay in just a little longer, my basic survival instincts guided my hands toward the scope to pull it the hell out of my throat. The doctor even yelled at me, can you believe that? He yelled! Dr. Smokinginthehospital yelled at me. He told me to calm down and BREATHE. If I were able to BREATHE I would have told him exactly and precisely and not so gently where he could shove that evil scope. The only problem was that my entire throat was almost closed by a tube that was causing me to vomit.

Ok, that was a little graphic. But WHY did I have to be conscious? At least the nurse was with me, letting me squeeze her hands as tears streamed down my face. I'm such a wuss.

Although he was doing his job, and surely doing it well, I just might do it all over again for a chance to be alone in a room with Dr. Smokinginthehospital.

Just him, me, and a waxing table.


Wow! THAT hurts.

I went today for my post-winter leg waxing--time to trim the hedges, cut back the grass, take off the winter fur. As always, it was rather unpleasant. My mom called me as I was having the hair ripped out of my calves, so you can only imagine how attentive I was.

Me: Hello AHH?
Mom: Hey Tra, what are you doing?
Me: WAAHxing. AH!!
Mom: Does it hurt?
Mom: You want me to let you go?
Mom: Well, I'm going to look for paint for the living room today. Any suggestions?
Mom: I'll call you back later babe.
Mom: That's ok! Love you.

I don't have to tell you that those weren't sighs of relaxation. What actually precipitated this self-torture was not the encroaching swimsuit season, but a little visit that I have make to the hospital to have some hopefully competent Italian doctor explore my stomach with a camera tomorrow (Thurs). I didn't want to confuse anyone. I thought it was better to get rid of my monkey legs rather than have the nurse mistake me for a hairy Mediterranean man and proceed to examine my testicles.

Anyway, I might not be in tomorrow, but I have a fabulous excuse. I am sure that the prognosis will be good and since I will have to starve between now (12:00a.m.) and tomorrow morning, they will likely find that the only thing threatening my health is mortal hunger.



Just me and my meme, meme and me

Expat Traveler has tagged me for a meme. Apparently, being "tagged" for a "meme" is quite common in the blogging world. As always, I am the last to know, and I'm still not sure why a meme is called a meme, but it appears that I must make a list for said meme.

Expat told me that if I didn't complete the task, the blogsphere would likely implode under void that is left by my lack of meme. I have been given the task to list 6 interesting facts about myself. Sorry Expat, I can make the list, but it will likely be far from interesting. Here goes:

  1. I love prosciutto. I can eat it every blessed day and never get sick of it. It amazes me that a pork product can taste so much like cheese. It's like eating a ham and cheese sammich, without the bread and at its very best, its saline goodness can almost be floral. All that from a pig's leg. Thank you pig.
  2. I HATE MAYONNAISE. Or anything that wiggles like mayonnaise. Don't try to mask the truth with a fancy culinary term like "aioli." I'm on to it.
  3. I love having my teeth cleaned. I live for the moment when they scrape my teeth with the scrapey thing. I know it's weird, but I find it very very relaxing.
  4. I guessed from the very beginning of The Bachelor: Paris which girl would win. Just ask my mamma. The very beginning. Incredible, isn't it? When it comes to important issues such as reality TV, my psychic powers are a force to be reckoned with.
  5. I cannot fall asleep without rubbing my feet together for at least a minute, I think...not that I time it or anything.
  6. I own a first edition copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I love the whole book, except for the parts where she talks about mayonnaise.

There! HAHA! I'm not "it" anymore! I know that my depth of spirit conveyed by this list may increase my readership exponentially. I hope that I have not made anyone feel less unique, or caused any sudden drop in self-esteem when confronted with the wonder that is my meme. Don't worry, I will remain the same girl, even after I gain international fame followed by candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize. You can always be sure that sincere humility will remain the cornerstone of my brilliant character.


Pasqua a Tavola

So, I survived and I didn't even overeat--relatively speaking. .

Back to Easter. The festivities don't start until the patriarch of the family blesses the table by sprinkling holy water with an olive branch. We began the meal with various salami, salted ricotta and boiled eggs, then onto the pasta, which was fettucine tossed with the drippings from the roasted lamb.

The poor little lambs were cooked 2 ways: braised with wine and peas, then mixed with raw eggs stirred over the flame until a smooth, clingy sauce formed. The other was roasted in the oven with wine, cherry tomatoes, onions, and lots of olive oil (which formed the sauce for the pasta).

After these 3 initial courses, it is customary to eat stuffed, boiled artichokes, then--THEN (can you believe there is a "then?") the Casatiello, which is also called tortano, is brought to the table. This is a bread cooked with pork lard (mmm), stuffed with salami and cheese, and topped with whole eggs. One might say that this is the "lighter," palate-cleasing part of the meal...

The Casatiello is followed by la Pastiera Napoletana, which is like a cheesecake cooked with ricotta, eggs, grain, cinnamon, candied fruit, and orange blossom water all baked in a sweet pate sucree-type crust.

The last gasp of the meal is the opening of the colomba (dove). This is a sweet bread (That's right! More bread...) baked in the shape of a dove. If you want to know the history, recipe, etc., click here.

When all is said and eaten, bellies distended from too many trips to the feedin' trough, the children in the family open their large chocolate eggs to see what surprise hides in the hollow interior.

I must say that Easter in Italy is quite a treat. I miss my family in Texas, and since I can't be with them on this particular holiday, I count myself fortunate to be able to share it with others.

Even though I have left my home for a life across the ocean, some things never change. Whether I'm in Texas or Italy, I can always take comfort in the familiarity of ritualistic holiday gluttony.

Post publication note: I am now going to hypnotize all of you who read this post before I spell-checked it. OOOOOO...you did not see those errors made from a lazy typing hand...OOOOO...they are gone GONE...from your memoryyyyyyyyyyyyy...Tracie is a perfect tiepist and she dusn't even kneed the spel chekkerOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...


Gotta love those Italian donkeys

I am completely addicted to my stat counter. I am constantly amused by what people search for on the internet, and stat counter always shows me the searches (Google, MSN, etc.) that lead to my blog.

I mean, from the privacy of one's home, one can be pretty weird. It's not just me, have a look at Mel's Diner and Chantel's site for some other examples...

Just yesterday, someone from India landed on my site by searching for nipple suckers without virus. I'm sure it loses something in the translation...

And, presumably from my post Italy: Romance vs. Reality, I had a hit from someone looking for men stinking foot revenge. Now, it's not really clear whether the person wants to get back at someone who is tormenting them with malodorous feet, or someone with funky feet is seeking revenge and using said feet as a weapon. I shall never know the answer.

Someone from Colombia searched for romance life in Italy, only to find the above post about farting men.

Italian boobs--Sorry, I'm not Italian, and my boobs are in scarce supply.

Imagine the disappointment of the person searching for relief from esophogeal spasms, only to find a love letter to my favorite grease-filled Tex-Mex breakfast. Oh the agony!

Italian donkey photos--I cannot even begin to explain that one...

The meaning of mangia--to that person/people (it is a repeated search): IT MEANS EAT!! Mangiare is the infinitive of "to eat" and mangia is the third person singular, and also the imperative. I hope you're happy now.

I am sorry for those of you who seek and find neither donkeys, nor boobs--cures, nor revenge. But if you are looking for a virus-free, wine drinking donkey with stinky feet who likes to romance Italian women while eating Tex-Mex, look no further! Your search will surely lead you here... :)


I think that Heaven fell on Italy

What a lovely day yesterday! For those who haven't heard yet, or for others who just need their beliefs confirmed, ITALY IS UNBELIEVABLY BEAUTIFUL. So fantastic in fact, that I was forced to take 425,331 pictures as I zoomed along the highway that runs from Napoli down to the Amalfi Coast. Even though there are corners of Naples that are characteristically Mediterranean, I sometimes need to be reminded of why I am here.

Saturday evening, a friend suggested that I go eat at a little trattoria high up on the mountains of the Sorrento Peninsula (Penisola Sorrentina), so Sunday morning we headed that way. The village of Massalubrense sits at the tip of the peninsula overlooking Capri and far enough from the city that Naples quickly becomes a distant memory buried by flowers, clean air, singing birds, and a view of the sea that could convince a willing soul that its infinite blue is the entrance to heaven.

After having a few antipasti, a little pasta and some home-made wine, we continued down the tip to find the best view possible. Here is what greeted me:

That island is Capri and the other is a photo of a little vineyard with Ischia peeking just above the haze in the distant horizon.

I turned around, not being able to go further in the car, and when I was faced with the choice of turning right to go Naples (Traffic! Chaos! Noise!) or left to continue to Positano following the most beautiful stretch of highway in the world (Blue! Sea! Ahhhh...) I naturally chose the latter.

Just outside of my window my eyes met sheer cliffs, the Mediterranean and uninhabited islands, while car navigated the hairpin turns of the road carved right out of the mountainside. I will share these pics with you, but you must keep in mind that my little camera is no match for the reality of the Amalfi Coast and my hand was not so steady in the moving car.

I am amazed that anyone is able to drive with a view like that...

To your right is Positano, home of the famous Nicky who graciously ignored my bad behavior as I called her from the parking garage to announce my arrival.

Oh a bell tower! Nothing says "Mediterranean" like a bright pink bell tower.

You may think that I am a bit dramatic, but this tiny piece of earth will exorcise the dreamy romantic in anyone. It is the kind of place which puts roots in your soul that will compel you to go back because only there can you find your fix. It is thousands of years of changing tides washing against ancient rock. It is antiquity against modern life all wrapped up in a confused, colorful, gesticulating package of people and place. It is the very thing that makes you fall in love with Italy.

Ah, now I remember. I am where I want to be. My decisions reconfirmed, I am renewed and grateful to know that for me, paradise is just one hour away.

3 things for which I am very UNgrateful

1. Blogger has refused to let me upload pictures for my new post. BRAT.

2. Someone hovering hoveringly over my computer.

3. I NEED a big piece of chocolate cake. Right now. NownownowNOW.


In my former life, I was new and shiny...

These 3 little vespas, it appears, have resigned to their broken fate of life on the mean streets of Napoli.


What You Can Tell from a Dustpan: Life Lessons from Naples

There is a certain someone that I know who has, on several occasions quoted another certain someone (I shall not name names) as saying, "You can tell how clean a person is by looking at their dustpan."

That would mean a really clean person has a clean dustpan, get it?

I tend to believe that you can tell whether or not a person suffers from OCD, Obsessive Cleaning Disorder and I can guarantee you that there is many a clean dustpan 'round here.

However, I, being the cavalier** American Tracie, would be suspicious of a person with clean "dirt collecting" utensils. I would think that this type of person NEVER cleans, or else there'd be a little bit of funk in there. For me, that just make sense.

BUT, you must understand that I am not to be trusted. No no, not at all. I am the girl who had to ask why one would iron underwear.

**Tracie is the cavalier American only when dealing with the following: (1) bare feet (2) wet head (3) well-hidden dust bunnies located underneath heavy objects

p.s.--I had lunch with my latest victim Nicky and her guy Carlo yesterday. She told me that she finds having a stalker to be quite flattering. Click here if you want to read about it...


The Weekly Wino: April 5th, 2006

I cannot put it off any longer. I always intended to talk about food and wine (2 of my favorite things in the world) more, but I am not cooking lately and I haven't had any exceptional wines since I've been back.

So I am going to go ahead and start my weekly wine discussion even though this one will be a little more on the negative side. Why pay a lot for a not-so-great bottle of wine and be disappointed when I can clearly do that for you?

Another friend has a wine bar called Vinarium (that would be Chinese for wine bar), but it is owned by the same group of guys as Berevino.

They have a full menu and a detailed selection of wines, but I'll get right to the point. After a bit if debating over what to order, it was decided that we would drink Barolo. Expecting more of an aglianico (native red grape of Campania) evening, I was pleasantly surprised. Just in case you don't know, Barolo is a wine from Piedmont--not just any wine--the "King of Italian wines." It's made from the nebbiolo grape that is grown in a strictly delineated zone surrounding the village that gave the wine it's name, Barolo.

(Barbaresco is also made from nebbiolo, but its zone is that surrounding its namesake village, Barbaresco. The same grape that is grown in 2 different zones exhibits its territorial character in 2 very unique ways! BUT, the dork in me digresses...)

The Barolo that was chosen was Michele Chiarlo 2001. Some of you out there may say, "Tracie, that wine needs to age longer, you fool!" But I have no cellar, and the wine was on the table.

Let me just start by telling you what I expect from a glass of Barolo. I expect 21 layers of scent to jump out of the glass. I expect to be slapped on the tongue with a chameleon-like flavor profile that enters as one thing and finishes as quite another. I EXPECT the complexity of dried cherries, (not fresh!) old leather, and earth all executed with the wisdom and sophistication that the Piemontese winemakers so often deliver.

This time, I was disappointed. The Barolo of Michele Chiarlo was flat, uninteresting, and completely one-dimensional. The bottle was neither corked nor oxidized, nor did it have the excuse of having been mistreated with undesirable storage conditions. This is, however, my very unprofessional opinion, and if any of you out there disagree, feel free to leave a comment. I am always open for a little wine debate.

Despite the not-so-great Barolo, I had a great time, ate a good plate of bucatini with fresh tomatoes, and a mean slice of steak with sauteed scarola (escarole). Vinarium is as welcoming a wine bar as any, with a typical, warm ambience and a loyal local clientele.

(I am not anti-Michele Chiarlo and I cannot leave you without telling you that he makes a lively Moscato d'Asti called "Nivoli," that makes a perfect bubbly acidic foil to the rich, silky texture of strawberry panna cotta or creme brulee.)

Go out and try a Barolo, it's well worth the expense, and if you choose the right one you will understand (if you are not yet convinced) why for some people wine is poetry, an enthusiastic pursuit of greater knowledge, passion, and an eternal celebration of such a capable little fruit.


Here comes the sun (dooten-doo-doo)

We have had 2 official full days of sun. I had to take pictures to prove to you that the sun does, in fact, exist here in Naples--and oh, it was glorious. Nothing but Italians and their sunglasses. Everywhere.

That's Piazza Plebiscito. Go ahead, try to say it without spitting.

Little darlin', it seems like years since it's been here...

All of the sudden, people ran screaming as the whole city turned sepia.

...and I said, it's alright