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Vino Sfuso a.k.a. Bulk Wine

17 Feb

Today I had the pleasurable horrifying experience that all of us here in Rome dread: having to go to the Italian post office. (If you’re new around these parts, see this, this, this, and this, in no particular order.)

There was a package that a friend of mine sent, that I had to pick up personally from the post office, because I mistakenly forgot to instruct him to write “no value” on the US customs label, thereby avoiding any sort of random customs charges getting slapped on over on this side of the pond. The post office where they left the package was a neighborhood a couple blocks over from my own. Arbitrarily enough, for this package the PT gods decided that €15,10 plus €0,53 as a “holding charge” for holding the package at the post office for me for two weeks, was the sufficient amount.

Wine! Yes, I’m getting there.

So, I took my number at the post office and had fifteen people in front of me. Once I saw that the average time for the “P” numbers (ie, “pacchi”) was about 5 minutes per turn, I decided to wait outside like the other sage postal customers. And next door to the post office, what do I see? This:

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That there folks is what we call “Vino Sfuso,” aka “unbottled wine.” So I’m sitting on my little bench out in front of the post office and I think to myself, yes, unbottled wine. I might as well.

So here’s the thing: vino sfuso is a really nice way to save a bit of money on your daily table wine. You see, here in Italy, as you probably already know, wine isn’t seen as something we drink just for special occasions, but rather something we can indulge in on a daily basis with lunch, dinner, or both. (No, I have not tried putting wine on my breakfast cereal. I still use milk for that.) Vino sfuso is a nice way to get a simple “table wine” without spending a lot.

Before you go thinking I’ve discovered the wheel here, many other bloggers have sung the praises of vino sfuso before me. Girl in Florence Why I Love Vino Sfuso, i-Italy Wine from the Pump, Studentsville Florence Blog A 10-Point Introduction to Vino Sfuso: Your Solution to Good, Cheap Wine in Italy. (Leave it to the students to know what they’re talking about!)

It’s just that in all my years, I’ve never written for y’all about vino sfuso. So, now is as good a time as any!

Strangely, the owner’s wife in this store (the owner wasn’t there) told me I couldn’t take pictures inside because “we had someone ask us to do something like that before and it didn’t turn out well.” She didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t push. I mean, come on. My blog is free and I do it as a hobby. So, rather than take her suggestion to come back a few days later to talk to her husband about the possibility of taking in-store photos for my blog (as if!) I just took an outside shot, and the shot you’re about to see, of the bottle I bought.

There were about 5 big stainless steel tanks with a tap for whites, and about 5 for reds. Then, underneath all the tanks, there were clean 5-liter plastic jugs and 1.5-liter plastic bottles with caps. I chose a Sicilian wine, “nero d’avola,” for €1,90 per liter. The lady took out a clean 1.5-liter plastic bottle and it was all “fill ‘er up!”

Let me tell you something: I am no frills when it comes to wine in this house. I am raising three little children by myself, I am single, and I work. I need my adult beverage liquid sanity. And yet, my ex-husband is a sommelier. That being said, I’ve been treated to some pretty fancy schmancy wines in my day. And yet, give me a good, old-fashioned red table wine and I’m happy as a clam. (Aside: who determined that clams are so damn happy?)

So, here you have it, folks. No label. We don’t need labels around here! No siree bob! Just give us some drinkable red that goes down like a charm, and we (royal we) have the perfect accompaniment to a lunch that is suitable for a wine with no label: fresh-baked “ciabatta” roll, prosciutto di parma, ricotta di pecora, and–wait for it–potato chips.

That’s right. We drink wine with potato chips around here. Got a problem with that?

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I strategically placed my humble bottle of vino sfuso on my kitchen counter next to the pasta jars and the lighters that almost every Italian household needs for their gas burners.

My verdict? Fantastic. This shows you where priorities lie. In the US, we have the “bulk foods” section of the supermarket. The more food you buy, the more you save. Here in Italy we have the “bulk wine” mini-market. The more wine you buy, the more you save.

And you continue to ask me why I decided to settle here? Pshaw!

BTW, in case you were wondering (and I’m sure you weren’t, so I’ll help you along) why I was at the post office in the first place, it’s because I needed to pick up a very special shipment from Arizona that contained this T-shirt:

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What? You didn’t know about the Fighting Artichokes? Shame on you! GoChokes.com

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Cristallina Fizzy Water from the Nutella People

21 Nov

In a nutshell, that’s it. Pun intended!

I needed to buy some baking soda, and I saw this box on the shelf today. Intrigued? Why, yes–yes, I was. Also because look how clever they are with the logo, making the name just like the Nutella jar with its signature black first lower case letter and the following letters all in red:

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A closer look revealed just what the picture seemed to show: the Ferrero people are selling packets of powder you can add to a bottle of water to transform it from what we call liscia or naturale (still) to frizzante, what my kiddos lovingly refer to as “fizzy water.” While I myself actually prefer fizzy water, and strangely enough my 4 year old girls and 6 year old son also prefer it, I just can’t be bothered to lug home packages of six 1-liter bottles of the stuff. Tap will do just fine, thank you very much. And yet! What have we here? A solution? Hmmm.

It was just under €3 for a box of 24 packets, which produces 24 liters of water. Yes, math wizards, that does come out to something like 12 cents a liter. And, it’s environmentally friendly because you’re not wasting all that plastic. I’d never seen it before, so I was willing to give it a go. Also, how to resist the yellow sunburst proudly proclaiming the proverbial “new and improved” fact that the powder packets now have the “little bubble saver” double-lining? I was sold.

The directions are clearly set out on each individual packet:

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Basically you fill a hermetically-sealed bottle with 1 liter of water, you add the powder packet, you close the bottle, turn it upside down a couple of times, and then wait. As the packet instructs: “The water will be ready in a few minutes.”

I felt like I was back in 7th grade science class doing a lab experiment. I carefully poured in the packet, and turned the bottle over a few times, and then started the wait. At first the water was pretty white and cloudy:

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Yes, I did strategically plan that exciting starbursty fireworky screensaver to enhance the excitement surrounding my first venture into the land of Cristallina. Natch.

But it settles into a nicely clear and bubbly appearance after a few minutes. The taste verdict? After a satisfying “pop” upon opening the bottle, it tasted like–well, like baking soda.

Yeah. Not super excited about Cristallina. Granted, this isn’t a new discovery. Back in the late 80s there were some hyper-happy kids and a Jane Fonda-eque woman who were all kinds of excited about Cristallina. So, you know. I’m not the authority on the subject. (And, I might add, OHDEARGOD if you watch that ad, I dare you not to have “Bevi, bevi, Cristallliiiinaaa!” rattling around your brain for the next, like, forever.)

Active ingredients, you wonder? Sure, happy to oblige: carbonato acido di sodio (E 500), acido malico (E296).

I learned something(s) new here, folks. Thinking I’d been duped into buying fancy packets of baking soda, I did a wee bit o’ research, and discovered that there’s this stuff called WASHING SODA. What? I know! And so, I feel justified in having purchased an entirely different product, because–people! It’s actually washing soda that they’ve packed here, together with malic acid as a food additive that I suppose gives it a tartness (to offset the saltiness, perhaps?). I also discovered that malic acid is the source of the sour part of “extreme” sour candy. Nice trivia, no? And as if that wasn’t already enough, I now know what an E number is. These are good pieces of information to have readily on hand at your next cocktail party, if conversation lulls.

So, if you aren’t fortunate enough to have Cristallina in your local supermarket, why not buy simple old baking soda and turn it into washing soda? Apparently it’s used as a water softener, or something. Don’t know where you can pick up your garden variety E296 malic acid, however. You’ve got me there.

Snot-Colored Juice

24 Jul

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Am I the only one who finds it rather disturbing that the folks at the Yoga juice company thought it would be a fabulous idea to make their “Green Apple” juice the color of snot?

I dunno. These are the things I wonder about. I mean, apple juice that’s clear or even slightly iced-tea colored in the States has really culturally conditioned me to believe that there is no need for a split pea soup version of apple juice.

In case you were wondering what produces that spectacular hue, it’s called “clorofillina rameica.” That’s sodium copper chlorophyllin to you and me.

Man, the things you learn when you have a mind that works like mine. Snot juice. Who would’ve thought? Reminds me of those 7th grade science lessons about algae. The only reason I even have this monstrosity in my house is because my daughter insisted on it in the grocery store today. Frankly I find it revolting looking and can’t even bring myself to try it.

Ok, I’m done. You can go back to your regularly scheduled programming now.

Pre-Fabricated Italian Diet

19 Jul

There are plenty of great Rome food blogs, many of which are run by people I am very proud and humbled to call friends and acquaintances.

Alas, this is not one of them.

And so it is, without a shred of indignity, that I give you my latest supermarket discoveries and thus evidence to prove that Italians love convenience just as much as the next guy. No shame in my game. Call me on it, I’ll admit it. I’m your big-box Walmart with endless parking in a sea of Nordstrom blogs about Rome. It’s all good. Hell, I nearly killed myself last night carrying my daughter to bed by tripping over a round pillow strategically left by my son in front of his door when I was carrying her out. I hardly have time to shower, for the love of God! I’m a mess! And yet—yet. I care about my readers enough to be the asshat that takes a picture of this package in the dairy section of my corner supermarket:

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Proudly proclaiming “New,” it’s the folks at Buitoni giving us another reason to abandon the joys of homemade pasta, kneaded on Sunday from scratch. You know the type, where you put the big pile of flour on your counter and crack a few eggs in a welled-out space in the middle and presto-change-o, freshly made pasta! (I do, because my Roman ex-husband used to actually do this for fun, and we loved it. I bought him a little hand-cranked Imperia to make pasta and it was good times, let me tell you. Try it, honestly it’s not that hard.)

You know, you Americans across the pond might have your “Boboli Italian Breadshell,” but hey! Over here we’ve got Buitoni’s ready-to-make ravioli. Hell yeah, people! 16 pre-cut discs just waiting for you to stuff them into delicious oblivion. [Post-script: I get that these aren’t pre-made discs of pasta all’uovo to make in water. An astute reader pointed this out to me. I call them ravioli by mistake, referring to the fact that they’re mini. They are DOUGH to STUFF for cooking in the oven, a pan, or frying in oil. Aka CALZONI or PANZAROTTI. That being said, please put all your food corrections, observations, or upturned noses in the comments, as again, this is not a food blog therefore I am not qualified to debate the merits of different types of pasta).

Now, I’ll be honest with you. My kids wouldn’t touch the things. Preschoolers with a palate, Dio mio. Which means I ate like 10 of them. Threw my diet into a tailspin, yes indeedy! I don’t think Weight Watchers has this in their points system. Let it be said that I don’t recommend you try any of this at home. That’s why I’m here.

I do so love the package. It’s very DIY.

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Here it tells us that we can either make them into mini fried ravioli (like mini calzoni, really) and fry ‘em up in a hot pan of oil for 2 minutes, or, perhaps more sensibly, bake them in the oven for 10 minutes. I made mine into those little gift bag-looking shapes. Really, all that was missing was a tomato-red ribbon tied around the top. Maybe that’s why my kids didn’t eat them.

And, who said we don’t have bacon over here? Move over bacon, here’s something leaner more Italian called fette di pancetta affumicata!

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This for me is rather epic. Since when do Italians sizzle some sliced bacon and serve it up on a plate next to a pair of fried eggs? Since, um, never, as far as I know. I found this randomly placed on top of a package of gnocchi. Like, someone had it in their cart and then had a last minute change of heart and just slyly threw it back in the dairy case on top of a random bag of gnocchi. *no one saw that!*

Now, here’s a kind of a weird yet fun thing that Coca-Cola has going on right now. Don’t ask me to explain it. They just think they’re cute by printing something like “Share your Coca-Cola with…” and then a name, or some cutesy phrase like “il tuo tesoro” – your sweetheart, etc.

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Personally, if they think that’s going to make me buy more Coca-Cola (they don’t say “Coke” around here), well then, they’re sorely mistaken. Because I’ll tell you what: I turned around every damn bottle in that there fridge and none—and by that I mean NOT A ONE—had the name “Shelley” on it. Humph! (Does anyone ever really use that word/phrase in real life, or is it just written to show haughty dismay? This is clearly a completely irrelevant side question. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

But folks, let’s be honest here. When it comes to pre-packaged “Mediterranean” foods, no one does convenience—or Italian stereotyping, for that matter—like the U.S. advertising industry.

Witness “hot sexy Italian man-chef” stereotype:

Witness “grown boy-man totally dominated by overbearing Italian mamma” stereotype:

Witness “Italian before the dawn of the P.C. era” advertising strategy: (and might I add here, oh dear God)

So, you know. We Americans love our Italian imports. Then again, let’s be fair. Bet y’all Americans out there didn’t know there’s this overblown Southern good ol’ boy from Chattanooga, Tennessee who became famous in ads over here in the 80s by hawking Lipton iced tea with an unbearably thick American accent in Italian? No, seriously. Italians asking me if I know all about the mythic Dan Peterson and I’m like, WHO THE FUCK is this Dan Peterson guy, and they look at me like I’ve been living under a rock my whole entire LIFE.

Ah, yes. Just stick with me, kids. I’ll teach you everything you need to know.

FE-NO-MI-NALE.

Family Size Milk in Rome

6 Apr

When you live in a foreign culture, everything becomes relative to your native culture. Take, for example, milk.

Here in Italy, milk is sold in one-liter bottles. And, it only stays good for about 3 days, tops. I suppose this makes it “fresher.” At least that’s what they’ll tell you here, and please don’t ever contradict an Italian on food, especially if you’re from the States. Because if you’re from the States, you are only qualified to talk about obesity and your home gun collection. Anyhoo, apparently the milk here is pasteurized at a lower temperature than US milk, which tends to last at least ten days or longer, and which you can usually even stretch a couple days past the printed expiration date. (This fact, needless to say, horrifies Italians almost as much as Cheez Whiz.)

Here in Italy, you can choose between the 1-liter bottles of milk in the fridge, or the “UHT” milk which is in 1-liter boxes on the shelves and tends to cost a bit less. This is milk pasteurized at a super high temp so that it doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened.

Why am I boring you with a discussion of milk in Rome? Because I am reminded of my shopping at Costco when I lived back in the States from 2008 to 2011. (Italiani: Costo sarebbe più o meno l’equivalente della Metro qui a Roma, solo che devi moltiplicare ancora per 3 volte le misure delle confezioni.) There, it was perfectly normal for me to buy not one, but two, plastic jugs of ONE-POINT-FIVE-GALLON size milk. Meaning, it was completely normal for me in the States to buy ELEVEN LITERS of milk in one fell swoop. And anyways, the expiration dates were three WEEKS out, rather than three days.

The other day one of my Italian mamma friends came over with her two sons who are about the same age as my kiddos. She couldn’t believe we eat dinner around 6 pm or so. But the real shocker was that we drink milk with dinner. Her look was half bemusement and half OMG-ness.

There’s a devilish side of me that loves making Italians squirm over the fact that we drink milk with meals. COLD milk, no less. (Italians have a weird thing about drinking cold drinks, especially kids drinking cold drinks. I do not know why this is so, but it is. Actually, that’s a lie—I do know. They say it will give them stomach cramps. You know, cold beverage = total seizing up of the intestinal apparatus, all 28 feet of it. Come to think of it, everything eventually makes its way back to the topic of digestion or lack thereof, here in Italy.) So I really milked this one for all it was worth. (Pun absolutely and most totally intended, hence the italics! Oooh, amusing myself here!)

I began my torture thus:

“Yeah, we drink a lot of milk around here. In fact, we drink milk with all our meals. Come to think of it, I drank milk with dinner all the way through high school and beyond.

[speechless]

At that point I didn’t have the heart to deal the final, always fatal blow: Americans drink a tall glass of cold milk with pasta. Tell an Italian that and the reaction is akin to the delightfully sadistic feeling you might have experienced while slowly roasting an ant on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass as a kid.

Anyhoo, reminiscing about my 11-liter milk shopping trips, I can only look upon the “family size” milk here in Rome with the same bemused and OMG expression. Because “family size” in Rome is a whopping ONE-POINT-FIVE liters. Wooo! Hold me back, folks! Make way in the fridge for that wide load! I bought two of those the other day and they were gone in as many days. But God, just look how happy the family on the family-size milk is! Red cheeks and all!

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That special offer price of €2,45 is roughly $3.20 for less than a half a gallon of milk, while the US Bureau of Labor Statistics helpfully gives us an average price of a U.S. gallon of milk for each month of every year for the last ten years (!), and for Feb. 2013 we’re at just under $3.50 a gallon.

Now, if only we could get the price of wine in the States to come down to Italian level, we’d have Utopia.

Oh and P.S., if you think I’m the only expat who discusses Italian milk on their blog, well, you’d be wrong. It baffles the best of us.

Oh and P.P.S. another interesting trivial milk fact here. “They say” that the milk sold in the Vatican supermarket is absolutely superior. I had the occasion to taste the Vatican holy milk only once, at breakfast on vacation with some friends, one of whom had the all-hallowed and clearly God-granted privilege of shopping at the mythical Vatican supermarket. And I know I’m about to destroy dreams here, but, it tasted like–well, milk. But the package did have a really cute cow on it.

UPDATE: Ok, silly me, I’m getting old. I did actually post the thing about the Vatican milk. Duh. Here it is. And the picture wasn’t of a cute cow (that must’ve been some other milk I’m thinking of.) Instead, naturally, it’s of the Vatican gardens or something. Best part? It says it’s from Pontifical Villa Farms. YES!

Caffè Propaganda

26 Feb

Came here for a drink with my BFF Arlene. Very Paris bistrot, by the Colosseum. I have to say that my cocktail, special of the week called the “Honky Tonk,” was lovely. St. James Blanc (I still have no idea what this is, but I think it must be some kind of cream liqueur), raspberry, sage, lemon, sugar, and cocoa powder on top.

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This is what it looks like when it’s all gone:

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The cocktail was served with a trendy little plate of munchies. The potato chips tasted like they were made there in the kitchen. They were actually kind of soggy/greasy, but in the end that was kind of good for soaking up the alcohol.

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Unfortunately no one explained to me what the heck was on the plate, so I dove into that little cup with pistachios thinking it was some kind of sweet cream mousse or something, and got a rude awakening when it was kind of pungent and salty. I later overheard a waiter explaining to another customer that it was I believe a pecorino mousse. Hence the salty flavor. I have to say I wasn’t a big fan. But maybe it’s because I was expecting it to be sweet.

Bartender Giorgio was fun, just call me “George,” he says, and come to find out mom is British, and he marveled at how UK mom and Roman dad are still married after all these years. God bless them! I love it! At the end of the evening he posed for me, very come-hither-ish style:

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Lots of the “pretty people” here, and I wouldn’t necessarily take a visiting guest looking for Roman cooking, but the trendy atmosphere is fun for a once-in-a-while break from the ordinary. The whole menu-as-newspaper and the vintage graphic design are fun. I sat at the bar by the cash register and the house phone was ringing off the hook…lots of people making reservations here. And, they have my favorite snob gin, Hendrick’s (infused with cucumbers and rose petals). That in and of itself is cool.

Caffè Propaganda
Via Claudia 15

The Best Coffee in Rome

23 Feb

No, it’s not Sant’Eustachio. And no, even though I like them better than Sant’Eustachio, it’s not Tazza d’Oro, either.

It’s my ongoing, never-ending, visceral passion and true obsession for Cafffè Camerino’s caffè completo.

All those who know me well enough tell me that I’m obsessed.

Exhibit 1: My original post from 2006.

Exhibit 2: When I introduced my BFF Sara Rosso, aka Ms. Adventures in Italy, to it this past summer (and we all got to see how smart she is in geography, too!)

Exhibit 3: When I read Sara’s “How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy” and realized that the complete coffee she was talking about was “MY” complete coffee, I felt very proud of my shameless promotion and happy that it impressed her enough to include it.

Fine, fine, I own up to it. It’s a torrid affair.

The caffè completo, in short, is an espresso with a dollop of perfectly bitter dark chocolate paste (thicker and more chocolatey and way more sophisticated than anything like Nutella), wrapped all around the little spoon which they place inside the transparent glass, so the chocolate gets all melty in the espresso which they add next, then fresh whipped cream on top, and cocoa powder dusted on that.

Don’t add sugar, for the love of God! Just stir that chocolatey goodness in, then lick the choc off the spoon, spoon the whipped cream, stir it around…

I often think of the infamous scene in “When Harry Met Sally” when I drink this coffee. You know the one. The “I’ll have what she’s having” one.

I am so obsessed with this coffee that I feel constantly compelled to blog about it, but in the spirit of not being totally redundant, instead of another photo, today I took a video with my morning cornetto (with apricot jam super sugary yumyumyum).

No, clearly I am not normal. What of it?

Did you hear how possessive I got when he didn’t realize it was mine? It’s like I was about to throw down. Do you hear my “mmmm” at the end? I was like shaking with anticipation.

I think the only next logical step from here on out is either ask one of the barista guys on a date or try to get hired there.

Those being my options, I think I’ll just keep paying my €1 and try to leave my obsession alone. Trust me, it is, in the words of Ferris Bueller, so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Cafffè Camerino
Largo Arenula 30 (in front of the 8 tram depot at Largo Argentina)

PS For the total indulgent sweet tooth experience, grab a gelato at Corona Gelateria next door. You will not be sorry! Especially in the summer when they have lemon with basil…OMG. People, hold me back!