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The Bare Necessities of Life: Stovetop Espresso

13 Sep

Upon moving to Rome two weeks ago, we were immediately faced with several daunting tasks: figuring out the Roman bus system, getting an Italian phone, finding a place to live, starting Italian lessons, etc. So what did we do on our very first weekend here? We addressed the most pressing matter of all: getting a stovetop espresso maker and the coffee to go with it. We hopped on a bus, missed our stop, ended up on a freeway, dashed across various underpasses, found another bus going back and finally made it to the mall (where, yes, we also found a new cell phone and sampled some gelato–it was a multi-purpose shopping trip). But we accomplished our main objective: purchasing a 1-cup Bialetti Moka Express for me (yield: 2 oz; it’s actually 1 shot) and a 3-cup/shot version for my husband (yield: 6.5 oz.), and some Illy coffee.

We returned home, rinsed the Bialettis, let them dry, made a maiden batch of espresso in each (which we then threw out since the first brew is meant only to season the pot, not to drink–you are actually supposed to make 2-3 such brews, but we were too impatient). Finally, we were ready to make espresso we could actually drink, by: 1) filling the bottom of the Bialetti with water* to a point just under the valve, placing the funnel inside, gently filling the receptacle with coffee grounds (without tamping down), screwing the receptacle/top on, and bringing the water in the espresso maker to a boil on the stovetop.

The boiling water gets pulled up through the coffee grounds and into the receptacle, and is accompanied by a wondrous gurgling sound. When that ceases, the espresso is ready; you can open the lid to check if you are not sure. Below, some freshly made espresso in the Moka Express, and the resulting cup of espresso with a dash of cream (that one was my husband’s–I usually make a home-made latte with a single shot of espresso and a lot of milk). Mmm mmm good.

*If you have “hard” (ie mineral-rich) water, you may want to use filtered or bottled water instead, or the minerals will build up inside the espresso maker.

This Road Leads to Rome

26 Aug

In four days, this blog and its author are moving to Rome. The logistics involved in making the move happen–selling the house, months of packing, driving Schnauzer 1 and Schnauzer 2 to their wonderful new home in Nebraska, shipping our belongings, leaving our jobs, and saying our farewells on two coasts–have left little time for blog posts of late.

However, I’ll make amends after we arrive in Rome: lots to see, do, taste, and write about there! I’ll focus on the same eclectic mix of topics: food/cooking; plants/gardening (most likely container gardening), and travel-related snippets—albeit with a more Italian/European flavor. And there will undoubtedly be some commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in the Eternal City.

I hope you’ll make the move with me.  A presto!

A Farewell to Books

29 Mar


With spring comes a desire to rouse the house and its inhabitants from hibernation, to tidy, streamline, and welcome in the new season. A charming book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, suggests a new way to shed things. As motivating as the book is, however, we did not follow the recommended order of starting with less emotionally charged objects such as clothes (which we have been shedding for a while now—metaphorically speaking; our decluttering efforts have not yet turned us into nudists). Instead, we headed straight to a particularly difficult category: books.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by books. I grew up with two avid readers as parents, and remember with great pride the moment—when I was about 6 or  7—that my father cleared an entire shelf for me and said that was where I could store my own books. My father could never understand why anyone would want a pair of designer jeans (with someone else’s name on the bottom?), but books were always an acceptable purchase. So I, too, became an avid reader. I would lay a towel along the bottom of my bedroom door at night so there wouldn’t be any light shining through to alert my parents of my nocturnal, page-turning activities. In hindsight, I’m sure  I wasn’t fooling anyone, but my parents never said a word.

When I was in elementary school, I loved Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, the Great Brain, the Chronicles of Narnia, and any books about horses and dogs. In 8th grade, I went through a very serious Agatha Christie phase (I still have all 60+ of her mysteries), and in high school I had a friendly competition with my lab partner as to who could read the most classics (American, British, Russian—most gleaned from my parents’ shelves). When I went off to college, I added Latin American, African, and Indian authors to my reading repertoire, but I was an equal-opportunity reader; I enjoyed all sorts of fiction.

I kept the books I read, taking them with me every time I moved. I brought books to my marriage and my husband contributed his own as well; I married a fellow reader. In the course of our marriage, we have moved 10 times and have lived on four continents, and with one exception (a 6-month stint in Rome), we took our books with us each time. When we started having children, we bought them books as well. We may have been on a strict graduate-student budget, but that budget included books.

So, over the years, we ended up with quite a collection: classics from ages ago and newer fiction, cookbooks and gardening books, young adult books and “grandchildren books”—the books our kids loved so much when they were young that we set them aside and kept them for future grandchildren. We have bookshelves on every floor of our house.

But we have come to realize those books represent another era. The kids are unlikely to load up their suitcases with books on each return trip home. And my husband and I now read most of our books digitally; I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing on my iPad. Today, we admitted that the physical books that have been part of our lives for so long have served their purpose. They brought us great joy, but it is time to see if they can bring joy to others as well. So we went through all our bookshelves and took 75% of the books we once owned to our local library.

It was a process tinged with denial: “I know I haven’t read that book in 25 years but now that I see it again, perhaps I should reread it; I’m certain that by now I’ve forgotten the plot.”  Or: “This was one of the best books I ever read. And so was this one. And that one. Oh, this one here was fabulous–what great writing; I really must reread that one and take note of some of the beautiful phrases the author employed, which I always meant to do.” Except I know I won’t. So we were ruthless. And now many shelves’ worth of books are gone–old friends following the children out of the house. Life-changing perhaps, but a bit sad, too.


Supermoon Fun

13 Jul

There are some fantastic photos out there of last night’s supermoon–but the B&W one I took just after midnight wasn’t one of them. It showed the moon and the aura around it (which, upon further contemplation, may have been the result of shooting through a window…), but was otherwise pretty boring. So I decided to have a little fun with the photo. The result is a bit over the top, but oh so much more interesting that what I started out with; thank goodness for color! This collage shows the heat-map spectrum from beginning to end.