We picked olives three days running, ‘til yesterday, when it dumped the proverbial torrential downpour. We shook the proverbial s*** out of the trees with rakes (I thought of Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, innocently picking an apple, and the tree turning on her. Kind of hoped the olive trees would do the same to me, but of course they didn’t.) The weather up ‘til yesterday afternoon: Sunny and glorious – another day to thank Whomever/Whatever and be glad to be alive.
The Scallion has taken the first lot of olives to be pressed, and is due back imminently. Nothing like olio nuovo (new oil) … it’ll be fragrantly green, and we’ll toast Tuscan bread, rub it with garlic, sea salt it and black pepper it, and then be overly generous with the oil. It will be bliss.
In the Whelping Pool, four completely conked out dogs digest; the bellies of three youngsters twitch as they do so. (Yip enjoys this process, on her back, in total splay position.) Shortly, they’ll wake up, then eat, then sleep/digest. For those of you who have produced your own spawn, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of us who haven’t, all I can say is … well, nothing. Can’t compare human babies with puppies, since often human babies emerge sort of clueless about what to do upon entering the world, and often the mother is equally so. Rosie did exactly what she was supposed to do, thanks to genetic wiring, and her pups did exactly what they were supposed to do, thanks to genetic wiring. (Would that I possessed this skill at all times.) What a truly odd, inexplicable thing, animal instinct (as mother-in-law observed on the birthing day, thank goodness we knew beforehand that eating the placenta is part of canine birthing procedure).
No pups picked olives, unfortunately, nor did they gambol in the orchard or the woods. The two senior statespups, Lulu and Harry, can be fully relied upon to either get into mischief (Lulu) or exit the premises (Harry). Rosie was tending to three noisy pups. Yip now looks like a tiny Cornish game hen (if you flipped her over and pinned her paws to her side, you could bake her, and could serve two people with modest appetites). Hard to tell with the mysterious Yap, as she’s the quietest and darkest of the three. Yup remains scrawny, though he gains slowly but steadily (Jack White singing “Steady as she goes …” comes to mind), even though you can still see all of his little bones under his skin. He eats after the girls, which causes him great distress, about which he is quite vocal. (He doesn’t have a chance in hell bypassing either one of them.)
All of them, when they want food or their mother, whine. And their whining sounds like the sounds junior seagulls make while flying around landfills. Only nicer.
If you live in Italy, and live to eat, after a very short time you’ll find that basically your only options are Italian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but sometimes it does get a bit tiring, especially when the urge for fire and spice gives your stomach a homesick hunger pain. Thai chilies, coconut milk, pho, Jamaican jerk chicken (Jamaican jerk anything, actually), dim sum, tacos teeming with Scotch bonnet peppers (to name but a few) jolt your culinary memory bank with happy memories of wanting to grab for water while knowing it only makes the fire in your mouth worse. The safest thing to do is to eat more of whatever, immediately.
You can eat ethnic here, but for the most part, these joints aren’t very good. If you want non-Italian, you have to make it yourself.
This past Friday (Fish Night) we craved something decidedly non-Italian. Which we made ourselves, simply because we couldn’t go somewhere and order it.
Persico al vapore con salsa di funghi/Steamed sea bream with mushroom sauce
A generous pound of sea bream or other mild, white-fleshed fish
2 T. canola or sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, minced
¾ inch piece of ginger, peeled, and grated
As many hot peppers as you can bear, seeded and minced
¾ lb. champignons (or button mushrooms), trimmed (peeled if necessary), and chopped into fine dice
2 T. fish sauce (or perhaps more: have the bottle handy)
Juice of one lime (or perhaps more: have another one handy)
6 T. water
3 scallions, chopped
Handful fresh coriander, chopped
Assemble all the ingredients for the sauce before steaming the fish: heat the oil on a low flame, throw in the garlic and shallots, stirring frequently. After a minute or so, add the ginger and minced hot peppers. Another minute or so later, add the mushrooms, let gently brown, then add the water. When the mushrooms have released most of their juices, and the water has burned off, toss in the fish sauce and lime juice. (You might want to fiddle with the fish sauce and lime juice to get the right balance: it should be 50-50.)
Remove from the flame, and tent with aluminum foil. Now steam the fish: you will already have, at a steady rumble, a double boiler (with water's depth of about 2-3 inches) lined with parchment paper, upon which you steam the fish. This should take 5-8 minutes.
Put the fish in a serving plate, ladle the mushroom sauce on top, then the chopped scallions coriander.
Eat immediately; serves 2.
Depending upon your appetite, you may well have leftovers. It provides a marvelous base for a delicious fried rice (because of course you just happen to have some perfectly-executed cooked, cold basmati rice lingering in your refrigerator). Take a couple of shallots, mince, heat a tablespoon or two of canola oil in a saucepan, toss in the shallots, stir ‘til golden. Toss in a generous heaping of best-quality curry powder (like Fortnum & Mason’s), an equally generous heaping of cumin seeds, stir. Throw in fish/mush mixture, and heat through. Add a tablespoon of tamari or shoyu while continuing to stir. Throw in the rice, add a couple of tablespoons of water, heat through. Have on hand some chopped roasted peanuts and coriander (chopped, but not roasted), and add to conglomeration before bringing the saucepan to the table and eating immediately.
 The only ethnic food that’s spreading like wildfire in Florence is the kabob. A few months ago, a local rag reported that there were 51 shops serving them. Most of them are awful, but a couple – like Turkaz – are not.