Friday, July 9, 2010

Mambo Italiano

I just had to put that song as the title of the post, because I just can't help singing it while I'm here. Just like 'Climb Every Mountain' and 'Edelweiss' were on perpetual replay in Switzerland. And like how when we visited NYC I couldn't help but hum 'Empire State of Mind' in the middle of Times Sqaure. As if holding a camera and a phrasebook didn't shout 'tourist!' enough....

I must admit that when we arrived in Soriano, it was nothing like we had thought it would be. We pictured a tiny, one lane Italian village with infinite charm and sweet Italian grandmothers. It is much bigger than we thought, and a little more isolated too. So we erased all of our expectations and started fresh. And it has been incredible. We are staying in a 17th century building that has about 20 rooms. We've met at least half of the people staying with us, and it's almost like we are all sharing a house for the holiday with a sweet little garden out back.

On Wednesday we did an outing organized by the hotel to a local house where we prepared the makings for an Italian meal. What could have turned into a canned, cheesy excursion was actually very authentic and immensely enjoyable. We arrived with ten others at the home of a strictly Italian speaking older woman who had tables of flour, eggs, and large cutting boards set out under her covered patio. The backyard was full of olive trees and the shade of the patio saved us from the intense sun. We made pizza dough first and then moved on to make pasta. From flour and eggs we produced a lump of cornmeal looking dough that 'slept' for a few hours before we flattened it with long, skinny roling pins. Slicing it into small strips, it dried out a little longer before the mass of noodles was tossed into a huge pot of boiling water. And, voila! Edible, tasty, made-from-scratch fettucine! Our now close-knit group feasted on homemade meal with such pride. For dessert we made chocolate hazelnut biscotti paired with home brewed limoncello. Did I mention how dashing and domestic Chris looked in his apron?

Part of the outing also included wine tasting and olive oil sampling. I watched as the woman poured the olive oil over the sliced bread, sort of mortified that one piece had as much oil as I would normally cook with. Usually I like to dress up olive oil with some balsamic vinegar and pepper, but once the dripping piece of bread touched my lips, I could have drenched it in more. SO good. Everyone was going back to mop up the golden oil that covered the sample plate. MMmmmm.

After our successful day of cooking, we got everyone together at a local pizzeria to watch the Spain-Germany semi-final match in a little outdoor terrace. Though it can get incredibly hot and humid here during the day, the evenings are pleasantly warm with nice breezes.

The day before the cooking extravaganza, we took a rickety old train to the small town of Bagnaia to see a Renaissance garden. We ate at the front desk guy's cousin's restaurant, and I had amazing fettucine in lemon sauce. But other than those two outings, we mostly lounge around the backyard garden playing cribbage, reading novels (I'm following the 800 page adventure of Scarlett O'Hara), and drinking vino. I'm dreading the end of this vacation when we'll be back at work and it will be less acceptable (and more expensive) to go through a bottle of wine a day....

Rome tomorrow! Shade and leisure will be traded for heat and frantic sightseeing as we try to conquer all of Rome's monuments in three days. But a tourist's schedule is never too busy for frequent gelato stops...

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