How to choose wood or pumpkins…

I’ve learned two things since coming to Italy that make the cold weather more tolerable: how to pick pumpkins that are just right for cooking and how to select firewood. In case you need to know…

Pick a pumpkin that seems heavy for it’s size, the knobbly ones are the sweetest. You can’t carve them for jack o’ lanterns but they make mouthwatering risotto that will make even a 4 year old ask for a piece of bread for ‘la scarpetta’

On the contrary, firewood should be light for its size…weight is not an indicator of density but rather an indicator of how wet and/or full of sap the wood is. Wet or green wood is not useless, it will slow down an overly hot fire if you have a closed wood-burning stove.

 Now, if you feel like settling in to a nice cosy dinner for two by the fire, here’s the pumpkin risotto recipe as taught to me by my sweetie:

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Pumpkin Risotto for 2
1 small knobbly pumpkin cut into ½ in. chunks – approx 2 cups (if you can’t find a good pumpkin, butternut squash is fine)
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
olive oil
½ onion finely chopped
2/3 cups of arborio rice (or other rice for risotto)
1 heaping tablespoon of butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan
if you can find a good, small knobbly pumpkin (not the big smooth orange ones which tend to be watery and tasteless) cut it into cubes, 1.5-2 cm. put a small pot of good broth (Chicken or vegetable) on the burner and in another, medium sized saucepan simmer half a finely chopped onion. when the onions are almost transparent put the pumpkin in there (for a risotto for 2 people, you’ll want about 2 cups of pumpkin. (if you can’t find a good pumpkin, butternut squash is fine) once the pumpkin starts to soften, it may soak up all the oil from the onions, at which point, add a ladle-full of the broth and simmer until it’s all soft but not completely pudding. throw in 2/3 cup of rice for risotto: vallone nano, arborio etc.) and stir continuously into the pumpkin, so that it soaks up all of the oil and moisture from the first simmering. then pour in a ladle of the broth at a time, and continue to stir evenly as the rice soaks up all of the liquid and cooks together with the pumpkin, making a creamy, starchy glop. it should take about 35 minutes to get the rice to the point where the pumpkin is almost completely dissolved into the orange gloppy mass of rice,but the individual grains of rice are still “al dente” under your teeth. it usually takes about 3 cups of broth. when the the rice is still a bit terse but has made a lovely creamy goo around itself, turn off the heat and add an abundant tablespoon of butter and about 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan. stir it all together well and let it sit while you prepare the table (5 min. is perfect)

Got hot?

It finally got to 95 degrees today! I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much to my Texas friends and family (yes, Dallasites, I know, 105/105/105/105….all week long) but, I have no AC. Not because it’s busted but because there is none. Still, it feels good to close the thick wooden shutters in the house, feel the still air and the stickiness of my skin.
The southern wall of the house is soaking up the heat, in preparation for winter. Sometime in January it will all have leached out and the cold seeped in, weaseled through the brick, mortar, and plaster so that I can feel the winter pushing in the house and the little wood-stove pushing back.

For now I’m enjoying the brief summer here in Northern Italy, especially the light….

Ghost World

If I look pasty in this picture it’s because I’ve been sanding fossiliferous limestone curlycues all day. At one point I stopped to carry a few loads of wood from the van up the three flights of stairs to our house and I met an old fellow coming the other direction up the very narrow street that passes in front of our door. He looked away as we neared one another but did respond when I smiled broadly and said good-morning. Only later did I realize how odd I must have looked, dressed like a rapper in glasses with flowered wellies and covered from head to toe in fine cream coloured powder.
Even at 42 I’ve yet to decide if it’s fortunate or unfortunate that I almost never realize what I look like. I think about it when I’m dressing and then I forget…until someone else notices.
Meanwhile, while her dad and I were busy being stoneworkers, my daughter had a ‘you know you’re going to nursery school in Italy when’ moment. Her whole class tromped down to the church to hear the beginning of the Christmas story. I’m a bit edgy about this part of the school but thought I’d let her go and see if she liked it or no. 
She said: “Mamma! I saw a ‘gesu bambino’ at the church. His mamma was with him.” She didn’t have much else to report other than she was glad that the bells weren’t ringing because they’re too loud and that they’d been fortunate because no one’s toes had been ‘sciaciata-ed’ (squashed) because they’d walked through the main piazza where there were CARS. I had a flash-memory of being in a blue dress on the stage at my 3rd grade christmas pagent playing the Virgin Mary and singing carols in Spanish…”Adorar al nino, corremos pastores…”

Thankful Anyway

Today is Thanksgiving but not in Italy; at least it’s not a holiday here. I think we’re planning to have onion soup. I miss the food and being with my family and hanging out in the kitchen talking about food; but, I don’t miss being irritated at the pile of people huddled around the TV watching football. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LIKE football, I just don’t like it when it’s an excuse for some people to zone out on the couch while everyone else cooks and cleans up. 
That said, it’s funny that it’s just a regular work day here. I went this morning and bought wood for the woodburning stove we use to heat the house. Something that I never had to know as a Texan: when buying wood choose the pieces that are light for thier size they’re drier and cheaper. After that I went to the grocery store; the’ve just started the Christmas merchandising here. No big bin of turkeys in the meat section, no piles of sweetpotatos and bags of fresh cranberries in the produce section…just business as usual.
I came home, had lunch and then went to work with Matthew on finishing these:
I wonder how many years it will be until no one knows how to do this work in a first-world country? Today I’m thankful for my wonderful family, that I got lucky and found lots of dry wood at the woodyard, that I live in a beautiful house in a beautiful country, and deeply thankful that there are still people around who are willing to buy something that they can’t pick out of a catalogue.
Have a beautiful day full of good food ya’ll!

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