Archive for June, 2011


Confessions of a Plant Murderer

I give up, and hereby turn myself into the proper authorities.

I killed them.

I recently spent $50 for two of these flower baskets:

I bought them 4 weeks ago. They were full and lush and beautiful. When I put them into their special hanging baskets the foliage was so thick I could barely see to get the hanging chains around the pot. When I took them back to the store, 2 weeks ago, I was told that I had underwatered them, and that I should water them twice a day until water runs out the bottom. Now they’re still dead, but they’re also really really wet. I’ve removed them from their hanging locations on my front porch so as not to frighten neighborhood children.

I also bought four of these little mum pots:

These were not underwatered, but, rather, drowned in the water captured by the deceptively innocent-looking, brightly-colored, outer pots after the last big rain storm, a development which went unnoticed by me for a couple of days.

The above were all purchased from a fancy nursery chain, where I paid premium prices.

This basket was purchased at my grocery store for a humble $12, and for some reason seems to be thriving. Apparently my aura doesn’t reach to the back yard.

Go figure.

You’ll also notice the beautiful tomato plant in the background, which has yet to be eaten by the deer, and is, at this moment, the proud bearer of a single green tomato. This is, of course, only a matter of time.

I was under the mistaken impression that the stinky spray I squirt around the yard was actually protecting the daylilies by my mailbox from the local deer population, until I went to get the mail yesterday and noticed that, while all of the stalks are still there (they’re tricky, those rats with long legs), there were only 2 actual blooms remaining. I give them a day, two at the most.

I was visiting First Son in Cleveland over the weekend, and we were sitting outside Presti’s in Little Italy. (If you haven’t been there, get thee hither. And have a buccalati or two, and a cinnamon star, or three, and their antipasti, and a cappuccino. Not necessarily in that order. Their “Italian Sandwich” didn’t look half bad either, and the lemon ice was crisp and refreshing. And no, they’re not paying me for advertising. That’s funny, I almost wrote they’re not paying me for free advertising. Ha!) Hanging over our heads were beautiful flower baskets, not unlike this one:

As I had spent several hours there that day, first eating my lunch and sipping my coffee and reading my book (The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, I highly recommend it!) while First Son worked his shift, and then again when he met me there afterwards, I eyed them frequently, on the alert for signs of wilting or the loss of the will to live.

I’ve decided my gardening efforts might be better spent with plants like this one:

Although one of the little metal petals (see what I did there?) have been bent by the hose. At least it’s not dying. Not yet, anyway. Give me a few weeks.

Here we see Second Son celebrate his 18th birthday:

First Son was 21 in February. Only Daughter’s a beautiful 10.

Given my record with plants, I guess they should count themselves lucky that I’ve managed to keep them alive for this long.


Politics as Usual: Dumb and Dumber

It’s good for all of us feministas out there to know we have two women vying, each in their own way, for the position of the presidency. Although if Hilary Clinton wasn’t “good” (smart, savvy, experienced, educated, coherentforcryingoutloud) enough to be president, I can’t imagine either of these (Michele Bachman, Sarah Palin) could qualify. Unless, of course, we’re not really concerned about any of the above, nor of our potential president’s grasp of facts, or reality; a possibility that looms large while continuing to boggle the mind.

Today’s quiz: see if you can identify the (mis)speaker in the following quotes. To make it fair, I will cross out speakerisms which might make it too obvious.

1.  “John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa,” Ms. _________________ told Carl Cameron of Fox News in an interview. “That’s the kind of spirit that I have, too.”

The actor was actually born in Winterset, Iowa, which is about 150 miles southwest of Waterloo. It was John Wayne Gacy, known as the killer clown who raped and murdered 33 teenage boys in the 1970s, who lived in Waterloo.

John Wayne, beloved actor; John Wayne Gacy, pedophile rapist clown; what’s the difference?

2.  “He who warned uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”

Besides the blinding obliteration of the facts, one can’t help but ponder. As we try to teach students to write, we ask them first if they can speak. If they can’t, they should run for president?

But look how pretty they are.

I love that the source from which I got the Michele Bachman photo was an article with the headline “I am Dangerous.” No shit, sherlock.


Say Her Name

I’ve just finished reading Say Her Name, a rambling but effective book written by Francisco Goldman shortly after his wife, Aura, dies while body surfing in Mexico. I found the book, the story, to be incredibly sad.

A photo from their wedding

was included in both of the reviews of the book I encountered, in which they look so incredibly happy, and so completely surprised to be so happy. I get this surprise, though. I feel it too. I went through about the first forty years of my life “making” the decisions I was expected to make, and realizing more and more that I felt like I was walking through water, and now keep wondering when somebody is going to pinch me.

I was thinking, as I was reading Goldman’s book, about how many of these tributes are written after the object of the author’s love has died, and I wonder why no one’s writing them earlier. Maybe the difficulty is the one I fear, the hearts and flowers syndrome, or that no one will want to read it without the empathy-generating tragedy. I guess we all feel a stronger connection to stories that recount stories of sadness and loss; tragedy draws us all closer, hence the interest in trapped-miner and teenagers-in-tragic-car-accident and couple-on-the-way-to-their-honeymoon-when-the-plane-crashes stories. There’s a pull, that could be me, a rush of sympathy, a quiet little guilty thrill that we’re still safe at home with our children in the next room and our husband making us coffee, that this person has suffered unimaginable and irretrievable loss, but at least it’s not me.


Reed Krakoff

Just read this article about this new “designer” and his newest project.

Here’s a slide show of his newest collection.

IMHO: The clothes are boxy, shapeless, and unappealing. It’s quite clear that his years at Coach have directly influenced his artistic aesthetic, and I can’t help but think he’d be better off sticking to designing utilitarian handbags rather than clothes. He’s apparently quite enamored of his wife, a “gamine French” woman, but I can’t imagine that even she would look good in these outfits.

Some questions for Mr. Krakoff:

Is the point of the gray sheer blouse just that we be grateful for the pockets?

As opposed to this:

Now I’ll be the first to admit that she does have firm, beautiful breasts, and I’m not such a cretin that I don’t understand that fashion is supposed to be as much about “art” as it is about “clothes,”  but aren’t you also supposed to be able to actually wear the clothes without getting arrested?

And what’s up with the blacksmith’s apron?

All she needs is one of those masks.

And how about these for pure fashion hideousness?

It’s a box, it’s a paper-towel tube, it’s _____________________!

These clothes don’t even fit her. The shirt looks like something cut for a 10-year old, the pants fit awkwardly across her “hips,” and the length, especially paired with the clod-hopper shoes, just doesn’t work.  What Mr. Krakoff doesn’t seem to realize is that if the clothes look this bad on a model, noone’s going to buy them, unless, maybe they feel they have something to prove.

I can’t find prices on the website, so I have no idea what Mr. Krakoff is charging for these beauties, but I’m sure I could find a Catholic-school uniform shirt at a Kmart, and a pair of my son’s outgrown dress pants in my basement and let you have them for, say, $150. Is it a deal?

And is there maybe an elusive yet compelling aesthetic reason that the model be generally unattractive AND bowlegged? Just wondering.


Dumbest question ever

So I’m Googling the question “Is it safe to swim in Lake Erie,” and I find this question:

“I went swimming in Lake Erie last week and I missed my period that was due on Monday. Can I be pregnant?”

Seriously? Is it possible that someone is this stupid?

Or maybe it’s a joke, like Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous meltdown, or this “singing” teacher that posts a bunch of tutorials on youtube:

Which reminds me, how about this guy?



my own personal “core” club

An invitation to my newly opened “core” club

No “initiation” fees, no membership fee. You’re welcome to bring your gadgets, but please don’t “talk” on them while talking to me. I’ll feed you, make you coffee, share our latest under-$7.99/bottle wine discovery, and even do the dishes afterwards. You can dry, but only if you want to. I might commiserate over facial blemishes, but only if they are actually visible under natural light. If you are taking your family to any exotic country via your own private Gulfstream, I will NOT commiserate about the difficulties of modern travel. Your difficulties are not mine. I just flew coach, had someone’s chair back resting on my forehead all the way over the Atlantic, and was asked please not to use the bathroom in the middle of the plane anymore.

I can’t help but wonder if you or your spouse or your parents or whoever has earned all this money you apparently have, if any of you have actually done anything worthwhile for society. Some kind of contribution — cured cancer, invented a clean alternative energy source, taught first graders how to read. Somehow I doubt it.

I guess I shouldn’t be so hasty to judge. Some of the more exclusive clubs do go to great lengths to make sure you don’t have to stoop so low as to pop your own pimple. They will apparently even run out and buy your favorite beer at the corner store if one of their bartenders is a victim of his own bad judgment and they run out (I wonder what the price differential for that turns out to be; anybody want to guess? And I guess, once you earn a certain amount of money, it’s unreasonable to GO TO THE STORE YOURSELF).

But really, those luxuries are really just your rights once you are earning, on average, $13 million a year. Not really that much more than the rest of us. Last year, for example, I made how much you make in, just a minute, I have to get out my calculator. . . .hmmm, like a day and a half or something. Not really that far at all.

Whatever. We won’t run out for your favorite beer, but in the summer we usually have a few Coronas in the fridge, and a couple kinds we made ourselves in the basement — right now I think there are Viennese lager and a stout, but I might be wrong. There is a cat. She sheds, and is a little evil, but she’s very cuddly, and most people aren’t allergic.

There’s also a snake (in a tank in my daughter’s room), and, well, full disclosure requires that I point out that there are also a couple children. And a fish. But I have two tomato plants that the deer haven’t eaten yet, and the basil looks like it might do something this year, and the light, about 45 minutes before sunset, when it slants through the trees behind the house, is quite lovely.

I might ask if I can try on your Manolo Blahniks, since I really like shoes, and could never spend that much on a pair. Plus I have wide feet, and a bad back, so I probably won’t steal them or anything. But you’re probably privileged, and entitled, and snooty, and I’m generally intolerant of all of those things, so maybe it’s better if you just go to your club and I’ll just stay home.

Never mind. Sorry to bother you.


Oh, and NYTimes, what’s up with the “precious” writing? “. . .honeyed streaks conjured by some magician at Frédéric Fekkai”?  “It was the handbag that told the story, of course, as a handbag often does”? Seriously?  I can’t tell if I’m reading an article, or ad copy. I expect better from you. Please try harder.


mob mentality: not just an american “disease”

Some great photo shots of the rioting in Vancouver last night at this site.

I commented thus:

People are stupid. And violent. And looking for an excuse to behave badly. In some weird way I’m comforted that it’s not just Americans who act like this, although I wish no one would.

They can’t really be expecting this to accomplish anything — it’s not like they can expect to turn the game around: “Oh, look! We broke that shop window and stole stuff that wasn’t ours, punched that guy in the face and set that car on fire, and now the score is 5-4!” They have to know this, somewhere in the backs of their addled little brains.

Wonder how it all looks in the morning when they realize their faces are on facebook and people are identifying them. Wonder if they realized beforehand that there is still a standing law that makes participating in a riot 30 minutes beyond when being asked to disperse is punishable by life in prison. Wonder if that would have made any difference.

Mob mentality is a scary thing. I’ve felt myself caught up in it a couple of times before, most specifically once in a religious/retreat setting which I now look back upon with something like horror (I had no idea I could be so easily brainwashed, suspending all things I knew to be logical and true about both the world and myself). I’ve also been around when the crowds have started swirling, both times on the Michigan State University college campus. Once was at the beginning of a much-publicized block party in the mid 1980s which the police were reputedly going to discourage, and a lot of people were threatening to go and “show them.” I stayed home. The other was more recent, I think in 1999 when the MSU basketball team lost to Duke, but when I look it up online there are a disturbing number of post-sports disturbances on the MSU campus. To the point, alas, that they warrant their own entry on Wikipedia. In any case, I was driving west alongside campus as more and more people were rushing out into the open spaces on campus and along the sidewalks. I couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

Besides mob mentality is a thing referred to as herd mentality, which describes how people are influenced by their peers in areas like fashion, music, etc. This urge to belong, combined with what might even be an instinctive sense that we have more power if we act together, can trigger us to act in ways which we would never act alone.

There was a video clip on the CBC this morning of a man hurling things at police — and not just pieces of trash, like many in the crowd were throwing, but the legs of barricades, heavy things, things that could hurt someone. And he’s standing there in front of them, arms outstretched, with a look of proud defiance on his face. A look which would be heroic if he were staring down tanks in Tiananmen Square, or the National Guard at Kent State. But he was looking at police who were showing great restraint, who were there to keep people from getting hurt, and who weren’t hurting him, even though he was posing a threat to them. So, wow, yeah, you really showed them. Asshole.

Anyway, apparently there have already been ~ 150 arrests. Many businesses are trying to clean up their messes; a lot of (innocent) people are going to be contributing to a lot of rebuilding via insurance payouts. We don’t really seem to learn anything, just keep making the same mistakes over and over and over and over. . .

And many consider us to be the most “advanced” species. Anybody ever see any wild animals tear up their own place of residence or set their modes of transportation on fire after other animals vaguely and remotely “related” to them lose in a sporting event?



eating italian: pizza

Thanks to alisonamazed for her suggestion for a finer grain flour. This is how I made pizza last night after “fine-grinding” my own.

Put a pizza stone in the oven, and put the oven on 450˚ (if it’s a convection) or 475˚ (if it’s not).

Put 1 c. of whole wheat and 1 c. of unbleached white flour into a food processor with the dough blade. Let the flour whir for 2 minutes (or more), to “sift” it into a finer grain.  Keeping the blade whirring, add 1/2 tsp. yeast and 1/2 tsp. salt. After ~ 30 seconds, add 1/2 tsp. honey and 1/4 c. olive oil, then 6.25 ozs. of warm (100˚ -105˚) water. Allow to process until it forms a ball and rolls around in the bowl a few times. Let rest, covered with plastic, on a  flour-coated cutting board.

Meanwhile, slice an onion into THIN THIN THIN, no, even thinner, slices, and sauté over medium heat in a cast iron skillet until soft and starting to brown. As they cook, you may need to reduce the heat as you go, because you want them to caramelize, not crisp.

Chop a handful of kalamata olives and 1/4 c. of sundried tomatoes (best if they’re the stored-in-olive-oil, no-sulfites-added kind; we dry our own), mix 2 T. of pesto with 1/3 c. of goat cheese, slice authentic Italian salame VERY thinly (as thinly as the onions), and don’t forget to keep stirring the onions.

Roll 1/2 of the pizza dough out on a piece of parchment paper under a piece of saran wrap. (Put the other half in a bowl to use later; it will keep for at least a week.) If you want to put the pizza directly onto the stone, lift the rolled-out dough and sprinkle the parchment with cornmeal so you can get your pizza slip under it. Warm the goat cheese/pesto mixture for about 10 seconds in the microwave, and spread directly on the crust. Put the sun-dried tomatoes on next, and then bury them with the pieces of salame so they don’t dry out and burn. Sprinkle the olives, and then dollop the onions around.

Drizzle olive oil around the outside of the crust that doesn’t have good stuff on it.

Bake ~ 6 minutes (maybe a little more, depending how crispy you like your crust). Enjoy with a Tuscan red wine.


official survey

My husband and I are having a bit of a disagreement over each gender’s basic responses to images of “buff” members of the opposite sex.

I am enlisting your help.

If you’re a woman, or a man who is physically/sexually interested in men, pick the sentence that best describes your reaction to this image:

A)  Sign me up, here’s my phone number_______________ (please, don’t actually include your phone number).

B)  Nice to look at, but I would be intimidated by his physical perfection.

C)  I prefer “my” men more ____________ (feel free to fill in the blank; keep it R rated please).

D)  No thanks, this man obviously spends too much time in the gym.

If you’re a man, or a woman who is physically/sexually interested in women, pick the sentence that best describes your reaction to this image:

E)  Sign me up, here’s my phone number_______________ (please, don’t actually include your phone number).

F)  Nice to look at, but I would be intimidated by her physical perfection.

G)  I prefer “my” women more ____________ (feel free to fill in the blank; keep it R rated please).

H)  No thanks, this woman obviously spends too much time in the gym.

Please honor the scientific intent of this unofficial study, and only answer the question which applies to your particular preference.


if I had a million dollars. . .or 17.9

So I’m enjoying a quiet day at home, after a couple weeks of extreme busy-ness and yesterday’s Great Strawberry Project, (which involved picking and processing more than 30 lbs of strawberries,) leafing through the Sunday New York Times Magazine reading about the imminent demise of the lightbulb and looking for the crossword puzzle, when I encounter page 59, “Luxury Property Showcase.”

First offer is “The Bellingrath on Peachtree” —

Located in Atlanta’s epicenter, eight stunning 7,000+sf four-story residences, including private garden courtyards & terraces, 12′ ceilings, dramatic atrium stairwells, highest quality appliances and state-of-the-art security, starting at a reasonable $1,800,000. According to the “lots available/sold” graphic on the website, there are still some available, so remember the adage that he who hesitates is lost. If only it weren’t one of eight; it’s quite unreasonable to be expected to spend that kind of money to live in a house that looks just like seven others; kind of like wearing the same dress as someone else to the Oscars.

Next we have Old-World luxury meeting modern lifestyle made manifest in an Italian Cabinet Masters custom-built 6500 sf home, with European elegance demonstrated by its marble floors and custom mahogany “appointments,” (as in doctor’s? dentist? psychiatrist?) and including spectacular views of the Great South Bay (in Bay Shore/Islip, wherever that is). As if that isn’t enough to set your real-estate salivary glands adrool, it’s also a “nautical dream,” with 540′ of bulkhead, boat slips, jet ski lifts AND a heated pool and spa. All this can be yours for a mere $2,400,000.

What the ad doesn’t mention, but is included on the website, is the fact that there is also an indoor waterfall. Almost enough to make you overlook the fact that the house appears to be three separate houses which have, perhaps as a result of global warming, melted together.

I’ll skip over the details of the listings for East Islip/The Moorings (the South Shore’s “most exclusive gated community” [got to keep out the riff-raff, you know — like those people who pay less than a million five for their homes], and “closer than the Hamptons,” which allows you to be “on year-long holiday,” $3,400,000) and Newport, Rhode Island’s “Fairholme” (4+ acres, carriage house, Horace Trumbauer ballroom and staff wing [the indoor version of the gated community; wouldn’t want them using your toilet or anything], $17,900,000) to get to. . .

A “Classic Estate” adjacent to the Arizona Biltmore Hotel — 6-bedroom, French Country manor with guest house, 14,000 sf, stunning wine cellar, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, outdoor kitchen, swimming pool and 4-car garage. Was $14,000,000, recently reduced to $10,000,000. Details can be viewed at I’m not making this up.

Barenaked Ladies: If I Had $1000000


stupid art

Except I don’t see “themes of the human condition, humor, warmth or poignancy”. To me it’s just stupid. And ugly. Stupid and ugly.

I can kind of talk myself into “getting” this one,

if it’s only supposed to represent a “hedgehog in blankets.” But for some inexplicable reason it seems to be part of an exhibition entitled “Disagreeable People.” So is the hedgehog hiding from disagreeable people? or is the hedgehog supposed to represent “people” who are disagreeable, and who should therefore do society the service of hiding themselves from sight and the need for the rest of us to interact with them?

And what’s this supposed to be/mean? Must be some kind of shortcoming on my part. I just don’t get it.

This next one is called “Headthinker,” and was apparently part of an exhibit about what actually happens when we’re sleeping and/or dreaming. It’s not clear whether the “sculpture” was created for this event, or if it was adopted for its use after the fact. In any case, I can’t really figure out what Ms. Ford is trying to say. That thinking makes us tired? That thinking turns us into asses?

It just seems stupid to me. And ugly. Stupid and ugly, ugly and stupid.

Maybe it’s just me.


Anthony Weiner, and what’s THAT got to do with anything?

Anthony Weiner is seeking counseling. Anthony Weiner is probably going to take a leave of absence. Anthony Weiner’s wife is standing behind him, (or isn’t she?). Anthony Weiner is losing weight, overemotional when talking to friends on the phone, distraught. (NYTimes, “Pelosi Calls on Weiner to Resign”)

This all makes perfect sense to me.

This, however, does not:

“His scandal erupted at a particularly bad time for the party, as Democrats had briefly regained momentum after a surprise victory in an upstate New York election, and put Republicans on the defensive over a proposal to revamp Medicare.”

I apologize if this is a stupid question, but what do Anthony Weiner’s sexual proclivities have to do with the Democratic party and their momentum towards revamping Medicare?

Maybe if the media didn’t act like we were complete idiots unable to differentiate between these two vastly different topics we wouldn’t all act like complete idiots unable to differentiate between these two vastly different topics.

Maybe it’s just me.


what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

A good question for all of us.

I may have to think about it for a few days and get back to you.

Meanwhile, read this.

If you know already, please share.


Public service/private lives: never the twain shall meet?

Why is it that so many male politicians seem to be lascivious little boys who think that their various and sundry salacious acts will remain private?

Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner.

And it’s not just confined to Americans — recently there’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Silvio Berlusconi, an ongoing embarrassment for Italians for both political and personal reasons.

Perhaps we should start by asking why so many people men in power seem to have such a hard time (no pun intended) behaving themselves.

A recent New Yorker article points out that women politicians have their share of sex scandals, too, and lists nine examples. Particularly telling is the fact that four of them date from previous centuries, one of them involved a videotape of the female politician in question, (Chu Mei-Feng, councilwoman for Taipei), having sex with her husband, and another is a woman whose husband had purchased pornographic films using her parliamentary account. Hardly seems to fit in the same category. Plus, is it really such a slow news week that the editorial staff at the New Yorker decided this was worth reporting? Maybe that’s an even more important topic. Discuss?






Just watched Platoon for the first time since the late 1980s. Some random thoughts:

First of all, I enjoyed the fleeting glimpses of a very young and unknown-at-the-time Johnny Depp. Beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

John McGinley is a whack job. This is clear in this movie, as clear as it is in Scrubs. In some strange way, they seem to be the same character.

Tom Berenger (Barnes) is a terrible actor. He had one convincing moment, when his eyes met Charlie Sheen’s (Chris) in the helicopter right after Chris realized that Barnes had killed Elias.

Willem Dafoe (Elias), on the other hand, is amazing. Even when he’s playing a character who seems a bit over the edge, (English Patient, too), he’s completely convincing and sympathetic.

And finally, if Charlie Sheen were old enough to play a soldier in a movie made in 1986 he is, in fact, old enough to know better. And what’s up with the forced smiles? Not happy in his work? You can see more here.


Eating Italian: Coffee Gelato

Heat 1 1/2 c. almond milk to a boil.

Meanwhile, whisk together 5 egg yolks and 1/2 c. sugar. Add boiling milk to the egg and sugar mixture, then add 1/2 c. strong brewed coffee or espresso. Return to a lower heat, and cook ~ 8 minutes, until custard has thickened (will coat the spoon you’re using to stir it).

Chill at least 3 hours, then process in an ice-cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. If there’s any left, freeze it in an air-tight container.


eating Italian

Last night’s Florence/Cinque Terre – inspired pasta dish:

Slice and sauté mushrooms of the button, portabella, and shittake varieties, enough to fill a 10-11″ sauté pan. Sauté in olive oil until they’ve released their juices, set aside.

In a separate sauté pan, infuse olive oil with 4-5 large, minced cloves of garlic over low heat. When garlic is soft, throw in a pint of cherry tomatoes that have been halved. Turn off the heat and let sit for the tomatoes to soften.

Slice a can of black, or kalamata olives, set aside.

Chop the hard rinds of the Parmesan cheese in your refrigerator into slivered-almond sized chunks.

Chop a medium-sized handful of Italian parsley.

Meanwhile, bring a LARGE pot of salted water to a boil, and listen to your son complain about how many dishes you’ve gotten dirty; deflect accusations that this was done on purpose in the manner of your choice.

Cook a pound of twisted pasta — rotini, or, if you can get it, trofie, until just al dente. Drain, rinse briefly, and immediately drizzle with olive oil.

Assemble the pasta in this order: cheese, mushrooms, parsley, garlic/tomatoes, olives.

Serve with a Tuscan red wine. Follow with limoncino and a good movie. Feel free to drool.



Eating in Italy

I’m sure this is pretty much common knowledge, but the food in Italy was amazing. It was very interesting, too, to see how good things could be without a lot of fuss or numerous ingredients. Even the food on the European-run airlines was fantastic. Why can’t American-run airlines serve delicious chicken, garlic-rich mashed potatoes, and dense chewy bread?

Some of our favorite meals in Italy:

Pasta with several kinds of mushrooms, a smattering of diced tomato and black olives, parsley, and olive oil.

Trofie with mussels. Trofie is a type of pasta that’s about three times as thick as a spaghetti noodle, but only a couple inches long, and twisted. The result is a noodle that’s extremely chewy, almost like gnocchi. Of course we had to run across the street and buy 2 bags to bring home.

A serving of chicken, merely a thigh and a leg, that apparently had been cooked in lemon juice for a day and a half until the meat was saturated with flavor and falling off the bone and the lemon had been reduced into a thick, rich, sauce.

Pizza on a cracker-thin crust (does anybody know how to do that? it’s one of my life goals) with a smear of reduced tomato, a few bits of basil and buffalo mozzarella.

For our hiking day in the Cinque Terre we bought salame, provolone, mixed olives, two bread rolls and a quart of locally-grown cherries, all for under 10 Euros, and ate a fantastic picnic under a tree a thousand feet above the Ligurian Sea.

Fantastic coffee — black and thick and strong without being bitter, and pretty reasonably priced. I had one of the best cups of coffee of my life in the car-rental building at the Pisa airport.

And of course, gelato. It seems to be a universal recipe, as all of the gelato stands claim their gelato is “fatto in casa,” but it’s all rich and flavorful without being too sweet. My favorite: frutti di bosco (berries); but the strawberry, coffee, and chocolate flavors were close seconds.

We also enjoyed many “local” wines — Tuscan red in Florence, Chianti in Pisa, a fruity aromatic white in Cinque Terre. If you ask for water you can have either “naturale,” or “frizzante,” which is lightly bubbly, and served chilled but without ice. We just hope they’re recycling all of those water bottles, because they’re everywhere.

What was most interesting to us is that no one will rush you out of a restaurant. They take really good care of you until you’re done eating; after they’ve brought your limoncino or coffee or dessert they leave you alone – you invariably have to get your server’s attention to ask for the bill. We enjoyed the opportunity to linger, a relaxed mind-set which seems to permeate the country.

Next: public transportation.

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