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Archive for January, 2010

Snow fruit

This is my third week back in NYC without Fabio.  I’m feeling a little homesick for him and the house – thus, another dose of nostalgia from the holiday visit. 

I’m fairly obsessed with the idea of living in the house and tending to every season of fruit that comes with it.  Christmas 2009 brought another season in the garden: snow.  The weather gods were totally with me.  My flight left smack dab between a foot of snow in Manhattan on one side and a 2 foot dumping in Milan on the other.  I felt like I held my breath the whole flight to Malpensa… hoping that it would ward off the forecast storm in Italy until I got there.  And it did.

It rained soft persistent snow for 2 full days after I arrived.  With no wind, it fell straight down and piled in gentle layers on everything.  Each fence post grew a tall snow cap.  Every tree branch was coated with thick fluffy icing, turning the world into a Scandinavian snow forest.  The silence was mesmerizing. 

We spent the first 3 nights at his parents house on the other side of the lake.  We always stay in the same room with a simple iron double bed, decorated by a delicate silver rosary with glow beads wrapped and dangling over our heads.  The rest of the room is modern, with floor to ceiling sliding glass doors.  Every time I opened my eyes, I stared out the window, warm under the down duvet snuggled next to Fabio.  I imagined the trees would be as cozy under their snow blankets.   As it cleared, car lights below twinkled through the snow-crusted branches along the lake road.

When the deluge finally stopped, we drove over to our house to check on the garden.  Our footsteps broke the knee-high snow on the path leading up the hill from the gate.  It was all white snow, grey sky, and brown trees  – with the exception of the persimmons.  The persimmon tree was decked out in full Christmas with hundreds of orange round baubles hanging from every branch.  I’d seen the persimmons before in winter, but never like this.  They were densely packed with heavy branches dangling just a few feet from the ground.

We trudged up the snowy stone steps, around the chestnut tree to the cachi or persimmons.  Every fruit was covered in a dewy, shimmery frost; some with hats of snow.  It was the height of the persimmon season and they literally fell off into our hands. 

Clean from the blizzard, we split them in half with our fingers, turning them inside out to bite the gooey sweet centers.  We picked enough to fill two flat crates – maybe 80.  We could have stayed all day, but it was getting dark.  Fabio took my picture under the fairytale tree and pressed his lips warmly on the tip of my frozen nose.  Time to go.

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Oh holy eggs

Christmas in Italy is all about food.  Three days of traditional breads, appetizers, pastas, meats, and sweets from familial regions.  Many of these traditional foods are made with eggs, and this wasn’t going to change just because I was joining Fabio’s family for Christmas.  Even if I had to vicariously watch other people eat them – I swear I didn’t want them to change!

I’ve always been allergic to eggs.  I remember stuffing my face with Toll House cookies at age 8, wanting to have after school milk and cookies, like a normal American kid.  I’m sure they were chocolate-chip-cookie-yum, but all I remember is the aftermath… little freakish allergy me, extra freaked out and moaning on the couch with a cold washcloth over my swollen-shut eyes.  Lesson learned.

So before Thanksgiving when Fabio asked, “Have you ever tried eating a non-chicken egg?”  I scoffed, “No… that’s crazy talk.”  Every doctor I’d ever seen had told me to beware of all eggs.  “Well, how can you be certain you’re allergic to all eggs if you’ve never tried them?”  he innocently pressed, “ What about duck eggs?  Or quail?  Or oyster?” 

He meant “ostrich.”  The word ostrich is really close to oyster in Italian.

“I never investigated.” 

This was shocking news to Fabio, who knew first-hand about my obsessive-internet-infomania-research disorder.  I research nearly everything that pops into my head on the web.

A new search revealed that there are in fact, people with chicken eggs allergies, who can eat other types of eggs.  This kind of rocked my world.  We set out immediately to test the hypothesis, starting with the smallest, least dangerous looking eggs we could find: quail.  Step 1:  I put a dab of quail egg white on my tongue and waited.  No reaction.  Step 2: Fabio fried one of the mini eggs and I took a bite, heart racing.  Again, nada.  Step 3: Fabio hard boiled a quail egg for me the next day.  My very own egg.  I salted, peppered, and downed the whole thing.  Salty, peppery, eggy deliciousness.  And no allergic reaction.  Amazing.

Quail eggs were exciting and a whole new world – but still, an impractical world.  Have you ever cooked with quail eggs?  Not only are they impractically mini, their shells are as impenetrable as a latex condom. 

So after Thanksgiving, we conducted the same experiment with duck eggs and fingers crossed.  Duck eggs are just slightly larger than chicken eggs with the same  flavor – a perfect substitute for chicken eggs. Operation Duck Egg was another success!  Soon I was gorging myself on my first tastes of frittata, spaghetti carbonara, and homeade Magnolia Bakery cupcakes.  I ate them all with a mix of gusto, wonderment, and a little fear.  But there was never any reaction.

Fabio relayed every episode of egg testing back to his mamma, with much interest on her side.  Before I knew it, Silvana and Emilio (Fabio’s parents) were conducting a full-scale search to locate duck eggs in their area.   They discovered a convent in the hills around Lake Como where the nuns sold duck eggs at a regular Saturday market.   The D’Orazios decided then and there to make all the traditional Christmas foods with duck eggs instead of chicken eggs. 

I can’t describe how incredibly touched I was by this gift and welcome to my first Christmas in Italy.  One of the highlights of my visit was making the once-a-year homemade ricotta ravioli with Emilio and Silvana.  Another highlight… eating it.

  

My first ravioli – made with holy duck eggs from the Italian nunnery.  Buon natale!

 

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