Monday, May 28, 2012

Driving Lessons

On our first afternoon in Italy, we drove to the grocery store on the most narrow, twisty road I have ever driven on before.  Just in front of the store, with cars parked on both sides of the road, I gently nicked the side-view mirror of a car parked to our right while trying to avoid getting hit by a car zooming down the other side of the street.  Panicking, I pulled over and said to Mr. Oil, "Oh my god. Did we just hit that car? What do we do now?!"  I saw a man who had been standing on the side of the road watching us start walking toward us. Afraid that he was the owner or was generally going to yell at me for being an incompetent driver, I drove away.  But we still needed to go to the store, so we turned around and went back, and I parked on the opposite side of the street, where it seemed less likely that our car would be demolished while we were inside.  The man came over again, and said, "Don't worry! The owner isn't even here! And anyway, this is Italy! This happens all the time!" 

Welcome to Italy, indeed.
View from our apartment. So you can imagine what it takes to get up there!

Remarkably, I learned to drive the tiny, twisting "streets" of the Amalfi Coast during the week we were there.  My strategy was generally to pray that the other driver had better depth perception that me, and to never, ever look out the window as the giant tour buses careened past within inches of us. Fortunately, we had also had the good sense to purchase a Garmin GPS before our trip, and had loaded up the Italy maps.  This was the best decision we made for the entire trip.  No navigation issues, we just relied on Gracie to tell us where to go.  Yes, we named the Garmin.  Aside from the generally pleasing alliterative aspect of the name Gracie, we actually named her Gracie Belle Taylor, after the youngest daughter of Coach and Tami Taylor in the best TV series ever, Friday Night Lights.  This way, we could remember to channel a bit of Coach and Tami's excellent marriage vibes whenever we spoke about where to go next.  Gracie Belle got us through some rough times.  But you know what they say - Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose. 

We love you Gracie Belle!

One travel tip for parents with toddlers - get the audioguide.  It is worth six additional euros for your kid to be distracted enough that you can actually see whatever site you're at!   Baby Oil really enjoyed the audioguide at Herculaneum, though the man in the rental booth clearly thought we were nuts when we told him we wanted one for our son.  He looked at Baby Oil and said, "Well, maybe he is too young?"
Italians LOVE babies.  I mean, the French really like babies quite a bit. But the Italians LOVE them.  Everywhere we went people would ruffle Baby Oil's hair, and smile, and interact with him.  Restaurant staff were friendly and helpful, and Baby Oil made a lot of friends in Italy.   And in case we needed anyone to confirm that we have a particularly cute child, we have the Lost Camera Incident.   In Positano for the day, we stopped at a hotel to ask directions to our lunch restaurant (Bruno, which by the way, has an AMAZING pasta with pesto - one of our top dishes we ate the whole trip!).  An hour or so later, wrapping up our lunch, the restaurant received a call for Mr. Oil. It was the hotel.  Had we left a camera there? 

Yes, in fact, somehow we had left our very expensive camera with its additional lenses sitting in this random hotel lobby.  We ran back to the place to retrieve the camera.  The concierge looked at Baby Oil and said, "You know, I see many people, but this one is unique! So I looked at the photos on your camera, and I knew this was the camera for the people going to Bruno!"  Thank you Baby Oil.  You have totally earned your gelato today.
On the beach in Positano, post-camera retrieval.

Now, everyone knows that Italy has great food.  And I've already discussed our pasta binge and amazing pizza experiences in my last post.  But I would like to call attention to a more questionable area of Italy's cuisine - baby food.  In many stores, there were simply no vegetables to found in the baby food section.  Fruit, and many, many jars of pureed meats.  And not just chicken or fish, mind you.  Apparently, Italians feed their babies pureed horse, rabbit, and lamb, along with more typical chicken, beef, pork, and turkey.  Shockingly, I did not subject Baby Oil to this particular Italian trend.  Also curious - why can you start rabbit at 4 months, but horse not until 6 months?

One day, we headed to Maori because we had read that there is a big market there on Fridays.  Well, there was a market, but only the kind that sells cheap underwear and denim from the 1980s.  A total bust, we let Baby Oil wander around the town for a while, and he thought it would be fun to check out the local barber shop and watch a man get a shave. One thing led to another, and all of a sudden Baby Oil was receiving his first ever hair cut in Maori, Italy with a 75+ year old barber who spoke no English.  Both the barber and his wife got a huge kick out of it, and Baby Oil seemed to have a good time.  And you can't beat five euros for a hair cut!

If there is a silver lining to walking up 201 stairs from your car to your apartment, it is that it sure makes it easier to eat more pasta.  Actually, the real silver lining was the amazing view, the virtual silence save for a few roosters, and knowing that you really are staying in a place where even the horse stops at the bar for a drink.

Next post - Under the Tuscan Raincloud. Get excited.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Primi Piatti

Day nine of our Italy trip and I can't believe I'm going to say this...I might be getting sick of pasta. We've had fettuccine, spaghetti, tagliatelle, calamarata, gnocchi, fusilli, and more. With tomato sauce, with truffles, with pesto, with fish, and more. With cheese, though not always.

At one restaurant in Ravello, Mr. Oil asked for Parmesan to put in his fish of fish and pasta. The waiter looked at his plate and replied, "You have fish. No cheese." With that, he walked away.

If I do get tired of pasta, there is always my old friend pizza. Though it will be hard for any pizza to live up to the amazingness we devoured at Di Matteo in Naples. I'm really full right now (from pasta) and the thought of that pizza still makes me salivate.

France, in case you were worried, which I know you're not, has vastly superior desserts to Italy. It's not even worth eating dessert here unless it is gelato. I'm not sure I can bring myself to reveal just how much gelato we've eaten...though we are at the point where today we threw out gelato after two bites because it just wasn't good enough.

I have some great stories to share about this trip when we get back to Paris and I'm not typing on a phone with sporadic wifi in Bevagna, Umbria. For now, let me just say that 1) this is one of the most relaxing vacations of my life despite Baby Oil's refusal to sleep past 5:30 and 2) any of you who listened to me say that we were going to spend a week driving in the Amalfi Coast, and you have ever been there yourself, why did you not tell us that "adrenaline junkie death wish" is a more apt term than "driving"?!

Fortunately we are now safely ensconced in Umbria and I no longer have to mentally prepare myself to get in the car. Ciao!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Here's Why You Won't Hear From Me

Mr. Oil, Baby Oil and I are embarking on a 15-day vacation tomorrow. This is officially the longest trip that Mr. Oil and I have ever taken together (if you don't count 10 months of living in Paris, of course). I'm looking forward to having some fantastic anecdotes and gorgeous photos to show you from Italy. For now, I'll leave you when some gorgeous photos that I borrowed courtesy of Google Images.  Then you'll also be excited for me to return to the blog-o-sphere.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Shock and Awe

So Mr. Oil and I have been going around thinking that we're pretty good at this eating-our-way-through-Paris thing.  However, this past weekend we realized that we are mere amateurs, at least compared with our latest visitors, Mr and Mrs Foie. (As in gras. This will become clear.)  We have not yet recovered from the shock and awe inspired by their gastronomic abilities.

Mr and Mrs Foie are friends from DC. We knew they loved foie gras and all sorts of other Parisian delicacies which they discovered when they honeymooned here more than four years ago. In three days, we ate foie gras three different ways (in mousse/spreadable form, in awesomely delicious burgers, and seared with mango).  We ate at least 10 different pastries, and multiple macarons, and chocolates, and caramels, and cheese, and breads.  Baguette tradition, pain au figue, curry bread, sesame baguette, and more.  And viennnoiseries - pain au raisin, croissant, pain au chocolat.  I'm still full.

We joined Mr. and Mrs. Foie on Sunday afternoon for a few hours to better understand how serious eaters approach Paris.  This is serious, folks.  You should train for this. There are sacrifices to be made, and careful planning that is required, and most of all, dedication to the mission.  It's like an Olympic sport, or a surgical strike. 

Un Dimanche a Paris had been on our list for a while, and I am already looking forward to returning.  The brainchild of Pierre Cluizel, son of the famous chocolatier Michel Cluizel, Un Dimanche a Paris includes a restaurant, a salon du chocolat, and a boutique.  The chocolate-covered coriander, fennel, and peppercorns were just some of the delectable treats we discovered there.

Mr. Oil kicked it up a notch by deciding to go for the Chou Pistache avec Fruits Rouges.  Yum.

Mr. Oil chows down.

Keep in mind that Mr and Mrs Foie had already visited Patisserie des Reves, Sadaharu Aoki, and the farmer's market at Raspail earlier in the day.  Undeterred and with room still in our stomachs, we then hit up Henri Le Roux followed by Gerard Mulot.  After a break to eat a warm-from-the-oven baguette from Mulot and some awesome Taleggio cheese from the farmer's market in the Jardin du Luxembourg, we still had a few hours to get hungry for dinner at Yayin.  Lamb charlotte - just thinking about it makes me salivate.  Juicy lamb cooked to lamby perfection in a round, covered with thin strips of eggplant, with pesto and lamb jus on the side.

And I haven't fully done justice to the foie gras burgers that Mr. Foie cooked up for us on Saturday night in honor of his 30th birthday (yes, he cooked his own birthday dinner - I swear he wanted to! We at least provided French champagne).  Half a pound of fresh ground beef, with a solid chunk of foie gras in the middle - the foie gras gets all oozy and permeates all of the burger with its richness - yum yum yum.

I think we must go on a diet this week since we leave on Saturday for two weeks in Italy, in which our main activity is going to be eating. Oy.  Now I'm even happier that I recently purchased jeggings (jeans + leggings = jeggings = elastic waist!).

And just in case you were wondering if we do anything in France but eat, I would like you to know that this weekend we also attended a pirate-themed birthday party.  Photographic evidence of the Dread Pirate Baby Oil below.
No foie gras at the party. But no worries, there was truffle cream on warm flatbread and plenty of bubbly.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Oh France

On Wednesday I was in a fight with France.  To be more specific, it really seemed the French people had decided they were in a fight with me.  First, at the park, I was lectured by some grandfather after Baby Oil took a tiny fall - when the only reason he fell at all was because the grandkid of said grandfather was in the way of me reaching my own kid (and also because Baby Oil thinks he can walk down steps without help).  He was fine, by the way, no blood or anything.  Take that, grandpa. 

Then, I received 360 degrees of dirty looks from all the French moms at the aquarium that afternoon when Baby Oil took a tiny fall (he had not learned his lesson from the morning, and again tried to go down steps without me).  Yeah, so my kid was screaming his lungs out for 30 seconds.  It's an aquarium, Frenchies.  Everyone there is a kid. Or a parent (and occasional nanny). Sometimes they yell (the kids, primarily). Thanks for the support, Parisian moms. I'll be sure to have your back when your kid decides he won't eat Roquefort, or whatever it is that French kids do to rebel.

The dirty looks continued on the bus home from the aquarium.  Baby Oil decided to exert one of his new toddler tricks, yelling for no reason.  And the kid is loud (to be fair, he comes by this honestly.  If you've met me, you know this is true).  And if you give him a pacifier when he's already really pissed off, he likes to chuck the pacifier as hard and far as possible.  Apparently nobody on the bus had ever experienced this before.  I was not winning any awards for super-cool-American-in-Paris-mom, even if I was wearing a scarf. 

Our final set of springtime visitors arrived today.  She's currently pregnant with their first, and when she stopped into a fromagerie and asked which cheeses were appropriate for pregnant women, the confused cheese guy looked at her and said, "All of them?"  Oh France, you can be so cruel, then you turn around and become loveable again.