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Author: Host Ciao (More Trip Reviews by Host Ciao)
Date of Trip: January 2013

Buon Anno Nuovo!

Its New Year Eve here and I'm spending it in the usual way--staying home! Rome is very crowded almost more crowded than at Christmas. The hotel is full and I’m not the first one up for breakfast right now as I usually am. I really like breakfast--and I eat all kinds of things I wouldn’t at home: hard rolls delivered from a bakery, butter, jelly and milk and sugar in my coffee--marvelous!

Some afternoons I come home and just flop on the bed--some nights too after I decide where to eat. Tonight I am having supper in--piazza bianca con mortadella panini (flat foccacia). I ate dinner at noon at the Irish Pub--baked potato with cheddar cheese and Guinness.

I believe I told you I was going to visit the Ghetto area. I ate lunch there and did have carciofi Guidea, artichoke Jewish style. It is fried and somehow ends up looking like a flatish flower with leaves ranging from dark brown to pale beige. The heart is soft; the rest is crisp. I ate at a kosher restaurant. I also had "cous cous classico," made with beef, tomato sauce, chick peas, a bit of zucchini and served in a crock with a lid, drank wine too--all very good.

That same day I had done some church hopping and at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the porch area must have had 50 plus people in it all waiting to see the "Mouth of Truth," and probably stick their hand in it and have their picture taken, unless it bites, which means they have lied a la Gregory Peck for Audry Hepburn’s benefit in "Roman Holiday." Having already many pictures as well as a couple of small copies at home, I did not feel the need to take another picture.

On last Friday I took a bus tour to Orvieto and Assisi. We drove in fog, but as soon as we rode the cable car up to the upper city of Orvieto, the sun was out. Eventually the fog burned off down below too and we had great weather. The walking tour of Assisi was too fast for me. It’s such a peaceful town, but full of tourists because of a vacation weekend. Every time I go there on a bus tour I wish I had planned to stay a day or two--but not between Christmas and New Years! Excitement on the way back--the bus was stopped by the police; seems their computer showed we had driven between two points faster than we should have. This took about 20 minutes to straighten out, however that was done.

Saturday I rode the Metro out to EUR section of the city, more modern area. But I went mainly to visit Tre Fontane Abbey. This is beautiful, peaceful old place with three churches. One of the churches is built around three fountains that theoretically formed where St. Paul’s head bounced three times when he was beheaded. The water is very unhealthy so the fountains are contained in altars. Sunday I spent a lot of time in the Capitoline Museums, definitely worth a visit.

Other ramblings: for fashion fans I am not at all fashionable. The legs of my jeans do not require me to point my toes and tense my leg muscles to get them on; I do not have any boots and hope not to have to buy any I'll settle for the weather we have, I do not have any glitter on head, tops, pants or shoes including tennis shoes, plus accessories. I do wear black though more often with red than white. I am not bald as most of the mannequins I see are or wearing a strange hat; I do have a large scarf, but refuse to bundle it up around my neck when it's about 50 degrees. I bought it when I was freezing in Florence. And now I also wonder if my second childhood is here. I have bought three books about Pompeii, Ancient Rome and travelling through time in Rome, the latter two lead by a cat named Cicero and his "gladiator" buddy on a motor scooter for the last one. Actually there’s a lot of reading included. Ah well!

Indeed now I know why Babba Noel (Santa) has been in his house in San Silvestro Square waving and talking to children. I have been assured by one of the hotel staff that he and Befana work together. He drops off goodies and presents on Natale and she takes over for Epiphany, today. Also I have figured out that the woman with him at the Christmas Fair in Piazza Navona isn’t Mrs. Claus as I thought, but is indeed Befana, the old lady who was too busy doing house work to go with the Magi to follow the star, but now she flies all over looking for that star and visits children tonight. I must say the one in Piazza Navona is much better looking in real life than the ones that many, many stands there are selling as dolls of her, most of which look like they flew around on October 31 instead. Ah well! I am going to the Piazza soon for another visit as I think it ends tonight.

On Wednesday I went to the Testaccio area of the city, which used to be a port here. First I spent 45 minutes or so in the Protestand Cemetery or as its official called Non-Catolico. As a former English teacher I had to make my obligatory visit to one "whose name is writ in water," better known to most as John Keats. Then I wandered up the hill to visit Shelley too. This cemetery is a peaceful beautiful place, full of greenery and many, many interesting monuments. And it has its own group of cats or "guardians of the departed" as the little brochure asking for donations said.

Then in the same area of town I went on an Eating Italy food walk. Not sure I can remember everything we ate, but it was lots! We started with "breakfast" around 10:30, but instead of a cornetto we had a Christmas time treat panetonne, Roman Christmas bread. Then we went on to Volpetti, a marvelous, tiny food shop and since all 12 of us would hardly fit we waited outside and tasted pecorino cheese with specks of black truffles, prosciutto crudo, and chinghale salami (wild boar). On to the cafe around the corner and samples of pizza by the slice, only an inch or so wide, but so good--pizza margarita, tomato, mozzarella and basil. Off to the new covered market where we visited several shops, picked up some chopped tomatoes and garlic and went to another shop where we received pieces of toasted bread to rub with the garlic and pile with tomatoes for bruschetta (brusketta remember). Onward to another shop\counter for pieces of bufala, buffalo milk mozarella, with which we finished the tomatoes. We went to a restaurant built into Monte Testaccio (an ancient man-made hill carefully formed with broken amphora that couldn’t be reused). There we had pasta all' amatriciana, spaghettio caccio e peppe, and spaghettie carbonara along with wine, water, and bread. No we aren’t done yet. We stopped at another place for suppli ala Siciliana, not a true Roman suppli, but a darn good version of the famous rice ball. Also one of the best tastes--tiramisu' in a chocolate cup. Of course, it was only about a two-bite cup but very good And finally gelato!! A great tour.

After this I walked up the Aventine hill, mainly because there was no bus that could take me there and I had to look through that famous keyhole in the wall for the view of St. Peters and, of course, while I was there visit a couple of churches to see the Nativity scenes.

Now that I’ve done all that talking about food, I'm about out of time and typing ambition. And since I am still walking it off, I need to get ready for my walk to see Befana and probably by some croccante, solid nut brittle, all nuts with the sugar syrup holding them together. Some has been very good, some just OK. another oh so good item!!

I cooked with Chef Fabio and his assistant yesterday noon after shopping in the morning with her. Again this year I signed up with International Kitchens for a class with Chef Fabio in Rome. This time I chose the half day shopping, cooking and eating class. The class I took in the past was a full day which included a trip to his home in a village outside of Rome. I have chosen Fabio because he is one of the few offering classes for one person though more could join. This year I was the only one.

I met his assistant Monica and we set off. First we walked through the Ghetto area and stopped for a slice of pizza. This was about 9:45 am. Then we went to the market having discussed food I liked or hated. She bought artichokes, radicchio, onions, and tomatoes and then headed to a meat market where she bought a single chicken leg/thigh combo and had them boned.

As we headed to Fabio's apartment not far from the Trevi Fountain, we stopped for coffee at one of the two famous Rome coffee experts, the Cafe St. Eustachio. I just had coffee, but could have added the typical Italian breakfast of a cornetto (like a croissant). We arrived at this apartment (the other is near the Spanish Steps), and the fun began!

I won't go into the details of the chores I performed. Let's just say, I chopped, stirred, rolled, stirred, kneaded and filled following the chef's or Monica's directions. It was a fun experience though sometimes I felt like I had too many fingers, like when I couldn't manage to separate the yolk and white of an egg (I don't have trouble with this at home). Kneading the gnocchi dough was especially fun as he insisted I had to make sure it oozed out between my fingers at the start on the way to reaching the right consistency.

Here's the menu. First course was gnocchi with tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil. These were garnished with deep-fried eggplant. Chef Fabio ate several courses with me though he was also busy answering the phone. Next was ravioli stuffed with artichokes, ricotta, and egg (yes we made the dough and filled them.) I told Monica I would eat 4 max; I was already not hungry. We also made lasagna with some of the pasta dough. The filling was sautéed radicchio and onion in a white sauce with mozzarella and Parmeggiano. The chicken ended up in two dishes, one was marinated in brown sugar and half balsamic and half apple cider vinegar then sautéed until caramelized. The other was baked after being "double dipped" in flour, egg, and bread crumbs ("always make your own!"). Monica added a bit of tomato and mozzarella to the top. I managed one piece of each. There was also a deep-fried potato croquette and another of eggplant, luckily both small, but good! And, of course, we had wine--red because that's what I like.

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