Tuesday, February 19, 2013

boiling water for dummies

Trying to get a handle on this whole cooking thing in Italy is like a baby deer learning to stand. With four hooves tied behind its back.

Most recipes call for garlic in quantities ranging from "a lot"  to "a ton" (still working on my metric system skills). Okay, so I needed garlic. Easy enough. It's Italy. Garlic is a staple. Except that I couldn't find it. Not in any size. I wasn't being all COSTCO/Sam's Club American or anything; , a small jar of minced garlic would have been fine. But it turns out that garlic doesn't come in jars. It grows in the ground, someone picks it, drops it off at the market, and then you are expected to do the rest! It comes in bulbs.Bulbs. Like I was trying to repel a vampire. Unless you believe in  Twilight vampires  and then I guess you have to hang a wolf around your neck.

So I took home these "bulbs." I hadn't the faintest idea what to do with them. It looked like they had some kind of husk on them. So I peeled that off. And then some additional peeling and then I chopped it up a lot. So annoying. My brother-in-law taught me a trick to remove the garlic wrapping but I can't repeat it here because I think it's copy-written.And I asked for a garlic press for Christmas.

And onions! I can't bear to cut onions. The smell is so overpowering that not only do I cry, but I am forced to seal the onion peels in a ziploc bag and put them outside or I'm in sensory overload. And then my lovely grocery store in the States (what's less annoying, calling America "the States" or the "US"?) started selling them in a nice plastic container pre-cut.And from that day on, I vowed to never again cut an onion. If the grocery store didn't have them pre-cut, I just made something different for dinner. Perfs. Italy does not have plastic containers of pre-cut onions. See above paragraph on garlic.

I also now grate my own cheese.It does not come already grated in a plastic bag with a top that you can easily reseal. Sigh.

Because here, God help me, here everything is fresh. (Don't quote me, but I'm starting to think that may factor into why the food in Italy is so amazing.)You make everything from scratch. Unfortunately, our kitchen is barely equipped for the first round of humans that used electricity. I boil water on the stove and make toast in the oven.

My son asked for mashed potatoes and not one of the stores here seemed to have that nice brown box with those flakes that you pour liquid into and they become mashed potatoes. Y'know, like sea monkeys. 

Finally I looked in an American cookbook because my Italian cookbooks are way past those kind of basics and just assume that you have already mastered such things as turning your goat's milk into cheese. My American cookbook is very remedial and assumes that you believe all your food comes in a package and/or through a drive-through window.

Step one was peeling the potatoes. I dug through my drawer of kitchen tools looking for my apple slicer (sort of like a potato peeler, right?) and lo and behold, I discovered that I own my very own  potato peeler! I think my mom must have snuck that in there when she was helping me pack.

And after I peeled the potatoes, I had only to boil them and add milk and butter and mash them and then whip them. And then my son ate them!

So I'm getting there. I haven't burnt a grilled cheese for ages and  even I have to admit my bucatini with amatriciana sauce is decent. And I can still whip together a smuggled-into-Italy box of American Kraft macaroni and cheese like nobody's business.

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