Pass the olive oil and cheese, please

Alex isn’t eating solid foods yet, but that introduction is only a few weeks away. I see how he stares at my pasta during dinner! So, I was reviewing the food chart our pediatrician gave us earlier this month and thought it was interesting that they recommended starting with a few spoonfuls of olive oil and some parmesan cheese. It makes you think about how cultural food really is—I mean, when you think of Italy, olive oil and parmesan cheese certainly come to mind. Italy also recommends giving herbal remedies like chamomile or fennel-based infusions to calm fussy babies. Fennel is a popular vegetable here so it’s not a surprising choice. Apart from what foods are considered healthy, the recommendations that each country makes about what children should eat is clearly influenced by culture.

My husband has a friend in Estonia with a baby and she said the pediatrician recommended introducing potatoes as a first meal. Being near Russia and Poland, that makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m guessing that in Japan they feed their babies congee (a type of rice porridge) and probably introduce fish at a very early age. In America, they recommend starting with rice cereal or even meat. I did hear of something disturbing from a friend—she noted that her friend fed her child what appeared to be Cheetos made especially for kids. I looked it up and Gerber’s makes cheese puffs for toddlers—what a brilliant way to get our kids hooked on junk food early. I think I’ll stick with parmesan cheese!

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A good melon is hard to find

According to La Cucina Italiana magazine, a popular saying in Italy goes like this:

“Nella vita di un uomo ci sono tre cose difficili da avere: un buon amico, una buona moglie e un buon melone”

which translates to:

“There are three difficult things to have in a man’s life: a good friend, a good wife and a good melon.”

Now, we just had a delicious melon this afternoon. Your thoughts on the other two? What’s more difficult to find?

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You know it’s tourist season when…

The local café puts a chocolate design on your cappuccino. I’ve been to Café Journal throughout the year and chocolate was never a condiment. In fact, I normally don’t like chocolate as a topping on my coffee, but this time it was syrup instead of a powder, which I admit was pretty delicious. And, the designs are fantastic! Unfortunately, having breakfast at 8:30 am is already too late for a summer morning in Pesaro. We were sweating in the shade. My resolution? Be out the door by 7 am tomorrow and hit the beach.

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A tale of two coffee houses

Caffè Sant’Eustachio and Tazza D’Oro in Rome are famous among locals and tourists for making some of the best espresso in the city—or, in the centro storico, at least. Is it true? I’ve been to both coffee houses in the past, and remembered that I loved the coffee, but when we were in Rome for Alex’s baptism, I knew it was time to revisit these two cafés located near the Pantheon.

A little background: Caffè Sant’Eustachio was founded in 1938 and slow roasts its fair trade Arabica coffee beans over wood. Tazza D’Oro was founded at the beginning of the 20th century and moved to its present location in 1946. Today, their claim to fame is the use of an “ecological” roasting machine that maintains the traditional method of roasting the coffee beans but does not expel polluted air.  The major difference that tourists may see, however, is that Caffè Sant’Eustachio continues to serve its cup of espresso pre-sugared (unless you request otherwise).

Sampling the espresso at Sant'Eustachio

I always thought I preferred Caffè Sant’Eustachio, but this time Tazza D’Oro won the prize. Don’t get me wrong—both serve delicious espresso, rich, dark and slightly creamy (Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio even tasted like it had foam on top, but it was just the result of how expertly the espresso was poured), but, of the two cafés, Tazza D’Oro offers a more economical cup of joe. The espresso was surprisingly cheap in price, but not in flavor. It only cost 1 euro for a cappuccino compared to 1.20 at most bars in Pesaro. An espresso was only 80 euro cents—truly, “a cup of gold” well worth the price. Not to mention that you’re right around the corner from the Pantheon which is a perfect place to hang out and people watch.

Tazza D'Oro

I bought two bags of ground espresso from both cafés and plan to try them out soon. I’ll of course report my findings!

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Grande festa per il piccolo pesarese

Baptismal font in St. Peter's--formerly the tomb of Emperor Hadrian

A few days ago, we returned from Rome after a whirlwind week of celebrations. Alex was baptized in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 26 and was surrounded by friends and family from across the U.S. and Italy. Our friend Fr. Giampiero co-celebrated the ceremony with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and even wrote an article about the baptism for the local Catholic paper in Pesaro, Il Nuovo Amico, as well as the regional paper, il Resto del Carlino. It was quite a nice surprise to see our photo in the paper! If anyone has an extra copy of the June 29 Resto del Carlino, please send me an email.

Resto del Carlino

After the baptism, we held a luncheon reception in a hotel/restaurant overlooking St. Peter’s. The view was spectacular. For the next few days, we braved the June heat and fully explored Rome—including the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps and the Bocca della Verità. We also took a day trip to Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope has a summer residence, and to a vineyard in the Frascati region. Throughout the trip, Alex was in good spirits and clearly enjoyed traveling, just like his parents! I also sampled some delicious coffee which I’ll discuss in my next post.

Piazza del Popolo

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Ciao Roma

Things have been hectic here as we prepare for Alex’s baptism in Rome this weekend. Tomorrow, my family is flying in from Portland and Michael’s family is arriving from New Jersey; in addition, we’ll have a big group of friends and family from Italy joining us. I’ve only been to Rome once in the past year which is a shame because it’s one of my favorite cities in Italy!

Last September, I had an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Rome to write a declaration saying I was the same person listed on my passport and on my marriage certificate. Pesaro needed this information to grant me residency and since Italian women don’t change their last names when they get married (I had NO idea about this), they needed documentation that I was the same person since my last name is now different from my maiden name. It was a long process that took several months to correct. I wasn’t amused at the time, but now I can chalk it to another interesting cultural experience. Anyway, we’re visiting the Embassy again tomorrow to apply for Alex’s American passport. Wish us luck!

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Carta Bimbi

We received a letter in the mail the other day from the comune (town hall) of Pesaro informing us that we were eligible to receive a Carta Bimbi (discount children’s card) as a gift to celebrate Alex’s arrival into the community. La Carta Bimbi is a project of goodwill sponsored by the comune that aims to promote good health for all families. The discount card is available for all children between 0-12 months, born in 2010 and who are residents of Pesaro.

So, we went to the farmacia on via XI Settembre—only due passi from our apartment—and presented the pharmacist with the letter. She gave us the card and explained that, for a full year, we’d receive a 10% discount on baby items in any farmacia; a kit filled with ecologically-friendly detergent, baby wipes and 4 reusable diapers; a 20% discount on taxi services; free bus rides for moms until their babies are 12 months old; 22 free parking passes for strategic zones in the city that are close to pharmacies and pediatric clinics; 4 free passes to a local parking garage; and, if I wish to enroll, I can access certain pediatric and obstetric services for free.

I’ll have to check out the reusable diapers . . . I’m all for saving the environment, but using cloth diapers also requires using the washing machine more frequently and wastes a ton of water. But, I might as well try them out. It’s also great that the scale we rent weekly to weigh Alex will now be free. And, did I mention there’s a “Bimbo a Bordo” sticker for our car? It’s more fun than a “Baby on Board” sticker in English. I better save this to use in the U.S. All in all, a very nice gift for new parents!

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Project Cappuccino

Unsurprisingly, the Pascucci cappuccino I made at home this morning can’t even begin to compare to those made by Pesarese baristas. Who was I kidding? The Pascucci espresso did taste better than other brands I’ve tried, but even after frothing the milk and using my favorite sugar—Sugar in the Raw—it just wasn’t the same. I simply cannot replicate the delicate yet rich flavor of the espresso pulled in the cafés (the process gets muddled in my caffettiera and always tastes slightly more bitter) and the foam is definitely not frothed just right. However, just because my experiment failed, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good cup of coffee. I’ll leave the cappuccinos to the professionals, but quality espresso is still quality espresso, and it was a nice way to start the morning.

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A Pascucci Pilgrimage

Cappuccino at the Pascucci shop in Fano

On Friday, we made a pilgrimage to Fano, the beach town next to Pesaro, to visit a Pascucci coffee shop. Yesterday, we went to the source: Monte Cerignone. Pascucci is a local coffee brand that is served in many of the cafés in Le Marche province, and it’s one of my favorites. In 1935, Mario Pascucci opened the first family shop in Monte Cerignone, about 40 km west of Pesaro. Ever since, Pascucci has been one of the most popular brands in the region and it’s distributed to many of the cafés in Pesaro. I prefer it to other local coffees because I think it has a richer, smoother flavor.

We visited Fano because I wanted to buy coffee from a Pascucci distributor so I could compare a homemade cappuccino to that of the cafés. The odds are stacked against me—I’m going against years of professional barista experience and high-quality machinery—but I was a barista at a bakery one summer during college. I’ll have to test out my skills this week.

So, I ordered a cappuccino at the Pascucci shop and, ironically, it wasn’t the best. The coffee tasted slightly burnt and the foam was too foamy—a problem I notice frequently in the U.S. It could also have been that I was drinking a cappuccino after 10:30 a.m., an unspoken “no no” in Italian culture. Tourists order cappuccinos at any time of day, but most Italians don’t. Cappuccinos are for breakfast and espressos are for the afternoon, most likely because cappuccinos, with their thick, frothy milk, are heavier. It’s true that cappuccinos I’ve drunk in the afternoon never taste as good.  My husband thinks that it’s because the baristas who work the morning shift are more experienced (they make probably a hundred cappuccinos a day—and quickly, too!) than the afternoon baristas, who specialize in aperitivi. But, I was on a particular mission and felt I had to try one. I still decided to buy some ground coffee—I’d rather buy the beans to preserve the freshness but we don’t have a coffee grinder. I also bought some Pascucci-brand cappuccino and espresso cups (hey, I need a few mementos from my stay here).

Monte Cerignone

Yesterday, we drove to Monte Cerignone, the birthplace of the first Pascucci production plant. The plant is still located there because the climate stabilizes the moisture of the raw coffee. Monte Cerignone is a lovely hill town that boasts a fortress built by the Malatesta family and a sanctuary dedicated to Beato Domenico Spadafora, or, Blessed Dominic. Like many sanctuaries, Domenico’s bones are still located in the church and a prayer log is kept for visitors who write to Domenico and pray to his bones. We also visited San Biagio, the main church in the town. Alex has recently realized how loud he can sing—or screech—and discovered that the church had excellent acoustics. When we left the church, two elderly ladies were standing outside, waiting to see who was making all that noise. They couldn’t stop playing with Alex—amazed, as everyone seems to be, by the amount of hair he has.

Before we left Monte Cerignone, we went to the only café in town, which of course served Pascucci coffee. This time the trip was worth it. We ordered espresso and it was dark and flavorful, the beans perfectly roasted. My first coffee pilgrimage was a success.

A Pascucci espresso in Monte Cerignone

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Forza Azzurri

World Cup fever is abuzz in Italy. Italian flags are displayed in stores and cafés and dangling from balconies around town. My favorite? This tuxedo style outfit, complete with Italian stripes down the leg. Priceless.

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