God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tomatoes

A friend of mine, Barbara, lives in Italy--most of the time. A couple times a year she and husband Art brave the skies and return to whence they came--Kentucky. It wasn't too long before our final gathering of friends in Italy that they had happily returned from a visit to the states.

At our little party, Barb rhapsodized over the red, ripe, juicy, delicious tomatoes available in a bunch of varieties and sizes everywhere in Italy. It seems she hadn't been able to eat their bland, tasteless cousins here in the US. I sort of nodded and rather listlessly agreed with her, not giving a whole lot of thought to the question.

At Market in Italy

Now, being home ten days, I am in tomato withdrawal. Barbara is right--the difference between here and there is as if we speak of two different fruits. Strangely the best to be had here are from the big box store Costco--which, by the way, has fresh Mozzarella di Bufala from Compagnia, well-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from Parma and a very good Tuscan Olive Oil--the one in a glass bottle, not the plastic.

As I wrote last year, coming back to the states after our extended stays in Italy, demands adjustment time. The first few trips to the grocery store, I reflexively look for the basket of cellophane gloves. Produce is not to be touched by bare hands--no multiple shoppers squeezing and handling that peach before I buy it--makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? I look for the scale which provides a price sticky to adhere to the bag after I weigh the produce--makes check out a lot faster and easier. Walking up to the store, I reach into my wallet to get the coin needed to unlock the cart and then realize that we don't do that here. Instead, we have traveling carts finding their way to homes, schools and roadsides. The Italian system works because the shopper reclaims the euro by reattaching the cart to the chain.

Of course, we have some transportable ideas, too. For example, people who bag our groceries. This is really appreciated the days I do a big shopping. In Italy it is a quite a challenge to pay and bag before the next customer's purchases begin co-mingling with mine. I'm glad to see more and more fellow shoppers here bring in their own reuseable bags--a common practice in Italy for many years.

Because we are a new country, things like electricity, power, telephone wiring--let alone highspeed--are a taken for granted part of our daily experience. We can have large appliances and even run them simultaneously. Europe is different. Retrofitting centuries old buildings built of thick stone walls is difficult. In many places, power sources are limited, again due to infrastructures that go back hundreds of years. My most favorite place in Italy, Sant' Antonio outside of Montepulciano, does not have ovens or microwaves in its apartments or on-site guest laundry facilities because their power allotment does not allow for these things.

Back to tomatoes--so, I miss the Italian ones, along with snapping fresh green beans, delicate zucchini flowers to quickly fry in 00 flour, fresh pecorino in all its varieties, prosciutto from Falornis macelleria, fish from the morning's catch and fresh pasta from the pasta shop. Even our celebrity stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's don't fill the bill, let alone Ralphs, Von's or Wegmans.

These are things I can't bring home with me so, until next summer, I'll settle into San Diego and enjoy what we have--sandy beaches, corn-on-the-cob and no winter.

13 comments:

Gil said...

Sounds like you could grow some good tomatoes and other veggies of your own in a place that has no Winter?

Judith in Umbria said...

Jane, I also have to adjust to the idea that you are there and not here. It doesn't help that I don't know San Diego, either.
Are there not farmer's markets and farm stands? I was never able to use supermarket tomatoes in the USA. They are inexplicable.
Last night I ate a caprese salad with the star tomato of the year, miniature fresh mozzarella and great oil from Brindisi hills. I am convinced that that's how we were meant to eat-- but I would try an In and Out burger were I there!

janie said...

Welcome home!

Barbara said...

Today we had a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and oregano...then sopped up the delicious juices with warm bread. W also had prosciutto with melon and some porchetta....heavenly!!

Jane, I feel your pain!

Jane said...

Gil--the problem is that we are never here to reap what we sow. We even brought seeds back from Italy one year--several varities--and they are still in their packets. Do they go bad?

Judith--farmer markets are hard to find here and even then they are still all that good. In and Out Burger? Visit me--there's one not too far but I never go.

Judith and Barb--go right ahead--rub it in! I'll get you back sometime.

Janie, thanks for the welcome home.

Judith in Umbria said...

Yeah, but we have no cheddar and no real Mexican food.

Jane said...

I never had the nerve to try Mexican food in Italy. There are a couple places in Firenze but we didnt' go in. Maybe next year we'll check it out.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

I must agree with you...Tomatoes here are just not the same..I try to get to our little fruit and veg shop..Tomatoes have to smell like tomatoes!!

Anonymous said...

Jane,
On our recent trip to NYC, we went to Babbo & Luppa Italian restaurants.
DH had Caprese salads at both and they used the tiniest, most flavourable tomatoes we've ever had (outside Italy).
We have markets here and the only time we get decent tasting tomatoes is in August.

chiaro

Jane said...

Oh, Chiaro, I would love to go to Bappo & Luppa--we just don't get to NYC that often. Lucky you. Maybe I know have a reason to go.

Gil said...

An old time farmer puts seeds that she wishes to save in her freezer. She wraps the packs and the loose (harvested seeds) in plastic bags before freezing.

Last night I ate a caprese salad with grape tomatoes, miniature fresh mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar and great oil Italy. My niece grew the tomatoes and basil and the mozzarella came from a place in North Haven, CT that makes cheeses. Pretty good food from the inlaws!

Diane said...

And Jane, can you believe it but here in my town they look down on those beautiful San Marzano tomatoes I can get at the vegetable store because they're not home-grown! We canned both home-grown and the store-bought San Marzanos last weekend and the women who were helping me wouldn't let me put a few leaves of basil in the store-bought ones...that way I could use the home-grown ones first and the others only in an emergency!!

How's Casey's school going so far? We just picked up our new books for the new year. SO exciting, though we still have to wait more than a week for school to start.

Jane said...

Diane, Casey's on day 2--hopefully, yesterday's enthusiasm will continue today. How about sending me some of your canned tomatoes? Either variety will do.