Sunday, April 18, 2004


Last night was the dinner for the Italians. Of course it didn’t turn out quite as planned. In fact, it turned out to be a dinner for the Italians, an American and a Sardinian.

On Friday, Jill and Larry, recent transplants from Seattle, had come to San Venanzo to look at an apartment. Since they’re in school during the mornings, we had arranged to see the apartment around six. As it turned out, that day Larry and Jill had learned one of the most valuable lessons it Italy: it pays to know someone. In trying to obtain their Permesso di Sogiorno, they had made several trips to Perugia, to the questura. This usually means getting up in the middle of the night so that you can be at the questura by six a.m. to get a number to be helped when they open. So far Jill and Larry hadn’t brought all the right papers, and were getting ready for another trip.

This was when their friend Roberto stepped in and began making phone calls. Luckily for Larry and Jill, they were involved in Seattle’s “sister city” program, and as luck would have it, Perugia is their sister city! I guess they knew, or knew of, the person in Perugia who is in charge of the program from this end, and luckily, she also happens to be in the mayor’s office! At first she told Roberto she couldn’t help Larry and Jill, but as Roberto persisted, she realized she did know someone who could help. An appointment was set for Friday morning.

Apparently the meeting was successful on many levels, the most important of which is that they now have the Permesso di Sogiorno! And a friend in the mayors office! And they have furthered the good relationship between the two cities! What a day! We are hoping that the suggestion to move San Venanzo from the district of Terni to the district of Perugia is adopted, since we now know someone who knows someone!

This explains why those lines at the questura move so slowly, or not at all…there is always someone who had connections, who is meeting with the person YOU want to see, but since THEY know someone who knows someone, you are forced to stand in line, holding your number, hoping that they get to you before they close for the day, while the person with the connections is coming in the back door.

Wwith that accomplished, Larry and Jill had come to San Venanzo to look at an apartment, and we would later go to Ternana’s for dinner, and also to check with Pino about the apartment he had mentioned.
We had agreed to meet Rosalba and Luciano at the apartment around six. Larry and Jill liked the apartment, and asked about what furniture would stay. We thanked them and told them we would let them know when Larry and Jill had made a decision. Rosalba and Luciano said they hoped to see us on Sunday for the picnic, but that things weren’t looking good…rain is predicted for the entire weekend.

When we entered Marsciano, Art showed Larry and Jill another nice restaurant we like, Trattoria Rosatelli, and also where to buy the cheapest gas in town. Our next stop was the local cantina to buy some wine. After much looking and a few tastes, Larry and Jill bought a five liter jug of the red wine…fine for basic, everyday table wine. After that, we were ready for dinner!

We parked on the street, right in front of Gino’s hardware store. As we passed by and waved hello, Gino came rushing out to tell us that he wouldn’t be able to come to dinner on Saturday night! His wife (Daniela) was sick with the flu. Art asked if she might not be better in time for the dinner, but Gino explained that because she was nursing the baby, she couldn’t take any medicines, so he was sure she wouldn’t be able to come. We expressed our sympathy, but then got an even bigger surprise…Gino said that Enrico wouldn’t be able to come either!

Gino seemed surprised that Enrico hadn’t called us, and told us that Wilma had some sort of a tooth problem and needed to have surgery…at least that’s what I surmised…he made a slicing motion along his jaw line, so I figured it was a fairly serious problem. Although Art and I were both stunned by this double cancellation, we gave Gino our good wishes for both his wife and Wilma, and headed to Ternana’s

At Ternana’s, Marco told me that he had seen my blog, but he asked me why it was only in English! I told him he knows I can barely SPEAK Italian, much less WRITE it! I think he gets very frustrated with my inability to understand him, but I try. He also asked why there was no way for him to contact me, so I gave him one of our cards with our email address. This situation should change once Pauline makes some changes to the blog. I didn’t realize that other blog sites let the reader contact the writer, or post comments. Apparently even Marco knows more about computers than I do!

Pino came over to the table and began talking to Art about the apartment he had mentioned. It’s just outside of Fratta Todina, not in the town itself, but just outside the town. A little while later, the owner of the apartment would show up and there would be more discussion. I’m not even sure how that all ended up, or if Larry and Jill are even going to look at this apartment. They need to find something to rent for eleven months…at a reasonable rent, and in a convenient location. Since they are going to school in Cortona right now, they may want to stay closer to that area.

Part of the reason I don’t know much about this other apartment is because I had gone outside to call Wendy to invite her to dinner…we had made a trip to the IperCoop to buy food for the big dinner…and now there was no one to eat it! Larry and Jill had plans for Saturday, and we leave for the states on Wednesday! I apologized for the last minute invitation, but Wendy was happy to accept…she knew I was making ribs and apple pie, and that was enough for her!

On the drive back to San Venanzo, we had some of the heaviest fog I’ve ever seen. This continuous rain has saturated everything, even the air. We had a few things to give Larry and Jill, and Larry asked if the Formula One race (trial?) he was planning to attend on Saturday might be televised. Since rain seems to be everywhere, and every day, he thought they might be able to come for dinner, and just catch the highlights on TV without having to get soaked in the process. We searched and searched but never could find the coverage on our satellite schedule.

And then, someone rang the doorbell. This is a fairly unusual occurrence, especially when we aren’t expecting anyone! Art opened the door to see Enrico standing there with a bottle of wine in his hand. Of course we both immediately assumed that he was offering his apologies for the cancellation. Once we invited him in and made introductions, he told us that Yes! He and Wilma would still be coming to dinner! Huh?!? I think what happened is that he had called Gino while he and Wilma were on their way to the dentist, and somehow Gino just assumed that they wouldn’t be able to come. Okay, now we’re back to FOUR confirmed guests and two possible guests. Jill said “you can un-invite us”, but I have more than enough food, so it’s really not a big deal to have two more people. I told them to decide what they want to do, and let us know tomorrow. Maybe the weather will be clear where the race is being held and they might want to go. I’m not sure where it is, other than it takes several hours to drive there.

We had a hard time deciding what to make for this dinner. My first thought was to make something that would appeal to the cowboys-and-Indians loving Gino and Enrico. I had thought about chili and cornbread, but can’t round up the necessary ingredients in time. I had considered lasagna because it’s something I can prepare well in advance and stick in the oven. I was determined not to be a “Wilma” and be stuck in the kitchen the whole night. I had asked for advice on the SlowTalk message board, and had been advised NOT to cook Italian for the Italians. It was suggested that I cook something I would have prepared in the states for guests…but that would have meant Italian! Hmmm…

Well, fried chicken is out…too much trouble. What about meatloaf and mashed potatoes? I thought about making my mom’s mashed potato casserole, because that can be prepared in advance, but they don’t have sour cream in Italy. Okay, now Art says he wants ribs. He had whipped up a barbeque sauce the other day that was really good and thought we could recreate it. And what else? Spinach…when it was on sale several weeks ago he had bought a HUGE bag of it. I only like spinach in a salad, not cooked, so I was wondering what we were going to do with all that spinach. Then I was inspired. I browned some pancetta in some olive oil, threw in some garlic, then added the spinach. A few minutes in the skillet was all it took, and it was so good, even I liked it! But it would take several skillet-fuls to make enough for six or eight people. I wasn’t in favor of spinach at all. Somehow we ended up with several bags of spinach when we went to the grocery. Art cleaned and trimmed it, but I still wasn’t’ happy about the idea of making spinach for that many people.

The planned menu ended up being a simple antipasto tray, a spaghetti casserole, ribs with barbeque sauce, spinach, and apple pie for dessert. Most of the things I could prepare in advance. I decided to use a barbeque recipe from one of my cookbooks. The spaghetti casserole was from an Italian magazine. It was the same dish I had prepared for Patrick and Marilda last week, except this time I was going to use Provolone cheese, as indicated in the recipe. I didn’t have any provolone last week, so I had substituted parmesan, and it had been a little dry. The provolone should moisten it up.

I started off our Saturday morning with a substantial breakfast…I knew we would both be working all day long, and that the guests wouldn’t even ARRIVE until eight o’clock. Then I began the preparations…first I peeled the apples and made the pie shells. Two apple pies should be more than enough, even if we end up with eight people. After a false start, the oven was heating. This oven is one of my least favorite things in my kitchen…I hate it! It’s cranky…it goes off unexpectedly, the temperature is very difficult to get right, it has hot spots, and I can’t seem to get things to brown in this oven. Thank goodness I brought a centigrade/fahrenheit oven thermometer with me!

Of course I had to bake the pies one at a time, so that took a while. I was able to check my email and take care of a few odds and ends while the pies baked. Larry and Jill sent us an email saying that they were not coming…Larry had been looking forward to this race for so long, and really wanted to see it in person, not on television…not that we had it on television anyway. Now we were back to the original number.

Art did most of the cleaning and straightening of the upstairs. We were still waiting for the plaster to dry around the shelves we had put up in our bedroom. Art did the touch-up painting, but left the shelf braced for the time being. When it’s all dried and ready, it will look great. I had the glass taken off the oil painting of a horse that I had painted-by-numbers when I was a kid, and will display some of the ceramic horses I’ve collected…some of which I’ve had since I was ten or twelve years old. I was one of those girls who loved horses…at least until the Beatles came along.

In the midst of all this, I had the kitchen table covered with plastic sheets for a notebook/binder, and stacks of papers filled with recipes. These papers were pages that had been torn out of magazines, things I had printed off the internet, recipes from friends, from grocery stores, etc. I had just kept this big stack of papers, and had decided to put them into plastic sheets to keep them organized. Since the pies were baked and it would be a while before I could assemble the spaghetti casserole, I sat down to finish this project. While going through the recipes, I found one for a spinach soufflé that sounded good, and the recipe even said that it could be made in advance then simply reheated.

After preparing the spinach, I baked it then cut it into squares…now all I had to do at dinner time was remember to put it in the oven! Later in the afternoon I made the spaghetti casserole, got the stuff for the antipasto together, and that was it! We both took our showers and got dressed. I was hoping for a few minutes to just sit and relax, but unbelievably, at 7:45, everyone arrived!

I was still assembling the antipasto tray, rolling up the meats and inserting toothpicks into the cheese. I sent Art upstairs with the guests, and by the time it was ready, he was back downstairs with drink orders. Everyone had wine except Wilma. By the time I got upstairs, it was obvious that Enrico was entertaining Wendy and her friend Giuseppe. Enrico had brought some magazines and literature about the Texas Longhorn Society…he’s the president of the Italian Branch. The antipasto tray seemed to be going over quite well.

On to dinner….the first course was the spaghetti casserole, and as I began to serve it, Wilma told me no…and Wendy translated further…Wilma was trying to lose some weight and wasn’t eating pasta. I felt bad, but what could I do? I figured she catch up with the next course, or if not, this would be a very successful weight loss day! Enrico ate his serving, Wilma’s serving, and asked for another. He asked if it was an American recipe, and I’m sure it was a surprise to hear that I had found it in an Italian magazine.

Now it was time to pull the ribs out…I had used the last of my onions for the dinner, and had used half the onions in the spaghetti, and the other half in the barbeque sauce. I already knew from the spaghetti that these were some strong onions! The ribs were nice and tender, but boy, where they hot! Everyone ate them, and although Wendy encouraged them to eat with their hands, Enrico, Wilma and Giuseppe used a knife and fork. Wendy likes spicy food, and she LOVED the ribs…even asked for seconds. I was disappointed that they were so hot, but I don’t have a favorite BBQ sauce recipe…in the states I always used store-bought sauce. As usual, I didn’t hesitate to experiment on company…sometimes it works out better than others!

Next we had the spinach, but I thought it wasn’t really that good (could have used more salt), and all in all just wasn’t worth the effort required. You now how it is…some things just aren’t practical, and if it takes too much time or is too complicated, I just don’t bother. Now more than ever, keeping things simple is my goal.

After dinner I asked if we should wait for dessert, but everyone said no, they wanted it now, so I sliced up the pie…only to find out that it was runny. I had waited to buy the apples, checking with some cookbooks to see what type would NOT be runny. The cookbook I read suggested Golden Delicious as Not RUNNY…although later I would read in ANOTHER cookbook that the sugar should be reduced when using this variety. Oh well…

They did seem to like the pie, with Wendy explaining that this was “the” quintessential American dessert…as American as apple pie! Everyone seemed to like it, and we also enjoyed a sweet wine with dessert called Brachetto. Enrico had brought us a bottle because we had enjoyed it so much at his house.
It wasn’t until after midnight that Wendy said she needed to get home…her cat is sick, and she had a cat sitter!

We’ll see her again on Monday when we go into Perugia to get the plane tickets for Prague, and to sign some papers for the mortgage company. We’re going to close our checking account at Cass di Risparmio di Firenze…the fees on Italian bank accounts are high, and although we are most grateful to this bank for working with us when no one else would, we just can’t afford these fees. At the post office we only break even, but at least we aren’t LOSING money! We will keep the dollar account, unless the dollar gets a lot stronger, because it’s cheaper for us to transfer money as dollars, then convert it over here. Because our mortgage is set up to auto-pay from this chekcing account, we have to sign a fax that Wendy will send to the mortgage company.

During the conversation, Enrico had told us about his ranch, and had told us he has all the firewood we will ever need. He also told us if we ever need to borrow a car, or get a ride to the airport, he’ll be glad to help. I will be very interested to visit his ranch and to see his horses. As mentioned earlier, horses were my first love, before the Beatles, and before I discovered boys! We also discussed the fact that in Italy, when a spouse dies, their estate is automatically divided between the suriving spouse and the children...this is exactly how we want to do it, and Enrico had some helpful suggestions. Wendy is going to check to see how we need to handle this.

Fianlly, with everyone gone, Art helped me with the dishes…I would rather stay up after a party and wake up to a clean kitchen than to have it facing me in the morning. I guess it was about two in the morning before we got to bed. We weren’t worried about the lateness of the hour, because I’m SURE it will be raining on Sunday and we won’t be able to have the picnic with our neighbors. Luciano had told us today that if it rained on Sunday, they were planning to try for May 1st, a national holiday. We had to tell them that for us, it was Sunday or nothing, since we’ll be going back to the states on Wednesday.

Anyway, we survived the dinner, and from now on, I’m just going to cook whatever I feel like, and not worry about the menu.