Monday, February 4, 2013


The director of my kids school is one of the nicest woman I have met in Italy.  She has taken such great care of my children both in school and out of school.  She is genuine, kind-hearted and fun loving.

During the holiday season, she invited us to come over for dinner.  She wanted to prepare alici
 - a typical Napolitano delicacy that is really nothing more than fried anchovies.  But they are not the kind from the can...they are fresh anchovy that are filleted and fried.  Street vendors and walkup windows in Naples sell these fried treats in paper cones and they are quite popular here.  What she didn't tell me when I arrived for dinner is that the kids and I were going to prepare them!

We get to her home and she showed me about a kilo of alici that have been beheaded at least.  All I had to do was pull out their spines and then hand them to the kids to flour them.  At about the age of 6  I had a bit of a traumatic experience with fish.  My grandma handed me a knife as big as my arm and told me that if I were going to continue to catch fish all day, I was going to have to clean them.  She showed me how to slice the fish open and clean out the guts.  It made me quite nervous to even hold the knife...not to mention actually clean the fish.  Now, I'm bold in the kitchen.  But when someone hands me a nice ziplock bag of fresh caught fish, I usually graciously accept them, put them in the freezer for months until they develop a nice coat of freezer burn and sadly, toss them when I purge the fridge semi-annually.  I just haven't been interested.  I'll cook salmon steaks and anything else that's already filleted and prepared, but I don't start with something that appears to be looking at me!

Our daughters flouring the alici

Katia preparing salmon in the fireplace

So here I am.  I can't be a wimp!  I have to do this, lest I carry on the badge of shame, fearing fish to my kids!  So I pull out those spines one at a time.  I think something changed.  My swedish fisherman ancestry must have taken over because I was not even grossed out. I just did it!  I pulled out the spines and my kids happily floured them!  We proudly handed over the dozens of filleted and floured fish to my good friend and the end result of frying was absolutely delicious!  I found myself standing next to the plate eating them as they came hot out of the oil as if they were popcorn.

Meanwhile she was cooking salmon in the fireplace!  She is my hero!

Heat the house and cook at the same time!

Salmon deboned!

This particular evening my hubby was not able to join us.  He was working.  So I told him I would make these wonderful little goodies for him all by myself!  I went to the Ipercoop (local supermarket) and there were NO ALICI!  Went to a smaller market called Deco and there were none.  I looked for weeks and everyone was out of these little fish!  :(

So almost two months later I'm strolling through the supermarket and happen across the fish counter.  Speaking little Italian I'm sometimes intimidated to get my number and fuddle my way through, but today there was no one in line so I walked up to the lady and asked for mezzo kilo di alici.  She happily plops the fish into a bag for me.  I then get brave and try to test out my italian skills in some small talk.  I try to tell her that I have waited a long time for the store to get alici.  She responds in Italian, "No, they don't take long to cook.  Just a few seconds in the oil to fry!"  Uh, she didn't understand.  I try again, she said she didn't understand me.  Then I try a third time and she finally got it, I think!  She said that they had the alici prepared in tomato sauce and such but not fresh!  Yes!  Fish and smalltalk.  A successful trip to the store.

Alici Fresche

So I take the little guys home and dump their little lifeless bodies into a bowl of water.  I stare at their eyes, making sure they look clear.  Pretty sure I read somewhere that fresh fish should have clear eyes.  They were crystal clear!  Channelling my Swedish ancestors I muster up the bravery to cut off the first head.  I did it!  The guts seemed to pull open the belly all on their own and they were clean!  I pulled out the spine of the first fish and it came clean out.  "ME VIKING! ME CAN DO THIS!"  After a few more I was finding it difficult to pull the spines without losing too much meat.  These were large anchovies, but I tell you, once you clean them and fry them, they are less than two bites!  Losing meat is not good.  I decided to cut off all their heads and stick them back in the water.  In a second pass I took out their spines.  It seemed as though letting them soak helped release the bones.  I don't know if there is any science to back that claim up though.

Filleted Alici

Then I set the little filets on a plate before taking pass three to flour them.  That went very well and they were sent to the oil in no time.  A quick pass through the hot oil, a dusting of sea salt and into the mouth they go!  They were tender and delicious!  My family ate them so quickly that I barely got a photo of a few of them!

Fried Alici

I posted a picture of my fish (with heads) on Facebook and an Italian woman commented suggesting that next time I add breadcrumbs to the flour to thicken it a bit and add some yummy texture.  I think next time I would try this.  But I also think you should all try this.  That is all there is to making alici!  

Here's an approximate recipe.

Recipe:  Alici Fresche Fritte (Fried Fresh Anchovies)
1 lb of fresh anchovies
Flour and breadcrumbs for flouring
Olive Oil
Salt (any kind will do but I recommend fine ground sea salt)
Lemon (Optional.  Napolitani don't add lemon usually as it can make the fish soggy, but you can if you desire)

Prepare the anchovy as described above - remove heads and guts, then debone.  Slide a thumb starting at the head side of the fish between the spine and the body.  Once loosened, grab the spine and pull back toward the tail.  Sometimes the tail will come off, sometimes it will stay intact.  It won't make a difference as it's edible.

Pass the fish into the flour and/or flour and breadcrumb mixture.  I didn't bother with egg but you certainly can as it may make for a thicker coating.

Heat the oil to very hot on the stove and pass fish quickly through it.  Not more than just 5-10 seconds. They will be cooked all the way through.  

Salt the hot anchovy fillets and serve immediately!

Buon Appetito!  Leave me a comment and let me know if you will try it!  I'd love to hear about your experience!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Keeping Warm in Italy

We decided to take the risk and move out to Mercogliano.  A small town in the province of Avellino.  If you've seen some of my recent Facebook posts, you see that it started snowing this week!  I light dusting here and there.  There isn't much to build a snowman with or to play in, but the views of the surrounding mountains are magnificent!

With snow brings cold weather.  Although the last couple of days have been a bit rainy and even a bit warmer (for instance I was cleaning up the dog poop in the back yard in a t-shirt yesterday), the nights do get cold.

When we moved in, we had radiators, but we didn't know how to use them.  We had one air conditioning unit that worked in our bedroom that also puts out heat, and we had a pellet stove that wasn't completely installed.  And it was COLD.  We lived Italian - we slept in layers and almost slept in coats.  We kept the kids in our queen size bed so that they could stay warm (us too).  One time I remember seeing my breath in the hallway.  It was a bit miserable.

Piano, piano (or Slowly, slowly) we started to get things fixed and working.  We bought some space heaters to heat individual rooms that we were in.  We finally got the pellet stove working, which is on the third floor of our 4 floor house.  It puts out heat, but the problem is distributing that heat to the other areas of the house.  It makes it up the stairs to the kid's floor, but not quite inside their rooms.

Then we learned how to use the radiators.  We vowed that we were not going to use them because gas prices in Italy are so high!  But we talked to our landlord who told us that we probably only need  to run them 1-2 hours in the morning (before getting up) and 1-2 hours at night.  We started doing this, and it really helps!  I have yet to see the gas bill, so I'm not sure what to expect exactly, but we'll hope for the best!

Then we finally got the other air conditioner unit installed in the living room (that like our bedroom also puts out heat.  Still waiting to get the electricity run in the wall instead of a giant cable meandering around the fireplace, but hopefully that will happen today (LOL).

Radiators require hot water to run through the pipes, just as we got settled into our routine of using them, the hot water heater for the first two floors went out!  I've really been without hot water waiting on repairs to complete for over two weeks.  It doesn't only affect the ability to heat the house, but it also makes hand washing dishes virtually impossible without boiling some water on the stove.  I have slowly been developing some arthritis in my hands (self diagnosis anyway) and my hands just ache whenever I have to wash my Italian coffee maker!  The only saving grace is that major appliances like the dishwasher and the clothes washer make their own hot water, so I am still able to use these appliances and for now EVERYTHING is going into the dishwasher without a pre-wash.  Amazingly it does pretty well!

And yesterday we had firewood delivered to the house so that we can use that too.  Our house has two fireplaces, but we don't anticipate using the one in the basement much.  I mostly go down there to bake and the oven and radiators heat the room up nicely already.

There is one last way Italians heat their home.  With bombola heaters.  Bombola is another word for the propane tanks we use for gas grills, etc.  Many restaurants in the states use bombola heaters for outdoor patio spaces.   Here Italians use them inside!  We've been cautioned that this is very dangerous, but yet most people still do it.  We did get a heater, but we have opted to use it on the patio.  It actually works very well and we can sit out there on a cold night comfortably and watch our crazy downtown street below.

The last variable in the equation is electricity.  Electricity has two rates - the daily rate and the evening weekend rate.  But it doesn't work like you think.  If more than 50% of your energy consumption is during the day, then you are charged the DAY rate for ALL power you used.  If more than 50% of your energy consumption is NIGHTS and WEEKENDS, then you are charged the lower rate (almost half) for all power used.  This is a great incentive to not run your laundry and heaters during the day, for sure!  So if I'm home and cold during the day, I will choose to turn on the radiators for a bit to warm up the area verses the space heaters and air conditioners that are electric or do as I'm doing now, keep my hat and scarf on in the house!  On the weekend we are more flexible.

When we first moved in we also were competing with ourselves for power.  In the states we had circuit breakers for different areas of the house, one for the kitchen, one for the bathroom, etc.  Here we had once circuit breaker for each floor.  If something tripped the breaker the whole floor went out.  So in short, if we could not run two things at once.  If I had the oven on, I couldn't run the dishwasher.  If I had the space heater on, I couldn't use the oven.  We were constantly losing power because we couldn't keep it all straight!  Our electrician finally replaced all the circuits with larger ones, and now I can do everything at once with no outages! Of course now, I have to consciously be more frugal with our power...

So there you have it.  There's lots of ways to heat your home.  Haven't seen any of the bills yet, so we will have to see how it looks after a few months, but for now, that's how we stay warm!  But my favorite way is to snuggle with the kids!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saddest Day in Italy

Well, I was hoping to have some lighthearted blogpost to share with you all, but the fact is, I don't.  The fact is that we live in Italy, as do a lot of other American families and we all still have lives.  We have good days and bad.  We shuttle kids to school and activities.  We get in car accidents.  We get sick.  We  keep on living our lives...and sometimes we even have tragedies.

This week was an awful week for one particular family that I'm quite fond of.  They lost their 7 year old son yesterday.  He wasn't feeling well one day and less than a week later, he was gone.  Type I Diabetes was the cause, and yet last week, they didn't know he had it.

Today I found out he passed away.  I didn't even know this was happening until I read his Mom's Facebook message about his passing and his upcoming memorial service.  This sweet family spent a lot of time at the hotel pool we were staying in this summer visiting other friends they had, and we got to know them.  Ivan LOVED to play with this little boy.  He brought some pretty cool pool toys over, they enjoyed playing foosball at the hotel...and they swam until they were prunes.

We enjoyed some barbecues together throughout the summer and into the fall.  This is a top notch family.  The kind of family that would do anything for anyone.  They offered us a car when they heard one of ours was in the shop.  And not their beater, but their nice car from the states.  This was a perfect military family and now they are shadowed by this tragedy.

I cried all day.  I held my kids close.  I prayed.  I briefly spoke to the Mom, some pretty unintelligible babble probably on my part.  I cannot even imagine what life is like for them today or what it will be.  I cannot imagine even for a second what they are dealing with or going through, but I know that the rage of this happening at all, was overshadowed by the fact that this happened in Italy.  All day I asked myself, "Would he still be alive if they were in the States?"

And there is no answer to that question.

It happened and it happened in Italy.

I ask that you all join me in prayer for this sweet family.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I'm Back! And I'm Blaming Lance! :)

Ciao Amici!

Well, I completely failed at my challenge to blog every day in November...It's January!  Well, a lot has happened.  We finally got into our home and are still getting settled.  Chris' mom came to visit for the holidays too so we did a lot of travel and fun.  Now the Christmas tree is down, the kids are back in school and life is starting to settle in to a small calm and normalcy.

In the title I mention I'm blaming Lance.  In the wake of Lance Armstrong's recent confession, I blame him not for laying low under the radar, but rather for something entirely different!  Yes, another Italian experience!  :)

Emily started taking an Italian dance class.  It's sort of a cross between Hip Hop and Rhythmic Gymnastics.  They use the ribbons and hoops but also do more modern dance styles.  She really likes it and all the Italian girls in the class are very sweet to her.  Whenever you sign up for a sport in Italy, the athlete is required to get a physical exam and a certificate of good health.  Well, after much procrastination, we took her to the base hospital and they generated a very generic certification, rubber stamped and signed saying she's healthy and okay to dance.  They also signed a couple of other forms specific to an upcoming dance competition that the dance company gave me.

I proudly took in my forms to the dance studio one evening thinking I've totally got it all together.  Well, they look at this paperwork and they freak out!  The certificate was not exactly what they were looking for, and they insisted I must send Emily to a Sport Specialist Doctor.  They told me they would make the arrangements on my behalf and let me know what we need to do.

One week later, I get a hand written note with my "instructions".  First, I must take Emily to the lab to have her give a urine sample and be tested for performance enhancing drugs.  PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS FOR A 9 YEAR OLD GIRL WHO WANTS TO DANCE?!?!  I am just in shock.  I wonder, "Is this a huge problem in Italy?"  Children doping?  My first response was, "Have you SEEN her dance?"  She's not terrible, but believe me, she's not on performance enhancing drugs.  She's just a normal 9 year old girl who loves to dance!  And that's how she dances.  But none the less, I have to now explain to Emily what she is going to do and why.  Boy, that was fun. :(

Then thankfully, the Dance Instructor picked us up this morning and drove us to the Italian Sports Doctor's office.  I giggled when we walked up, because there were about 5 men in doctor coats eating pastry and sipping espressos when we walked in.  This has become such a normal scenario for me but it still makes me laugh.  Well, you could tell they were professionals because right away they came and greeted us to commence the exam.  That was actually the surprising part ;)

Then we proceeded to the exam room.  I was armed with a folder that had my and Emily's passports and Sojourner permits, Codice Fiscale documents (akin to our Social Security Cards in the US), lab results for Emily's urine test, a passport photo and forms from the dance society.

Immediately they take Emily's height and weight.  Then they give her some cards that I think test color blindness.  Images are hidden in series of different colored dots.  She named them all, in ITALIAN no less!  (Proud mama!)  Then she had another set of cards in which to find hidden images.  Then the old Eye chart (and she said all her letters in Italian!) Then she had an EKG at rest and after exertion (running in place).

Meanwhile they ask me questions like, "Does she have any allergies?" (Fairly normal) and "Was she a natural childbirth or Cesarean?"  (Still trying to figure out the significance of that one!)  When we were all done, she walked away with several forms and a 26 page Libretto Sanitario Dell'Atleta!  (Athlete's Health Booklet).  Every sport she participates in must be listed individually in the book.

Well, we passed the exam with flying inkblots!  And she is now good for 5 years!  YAY!  But boy, that was much more than I ever expected.  Emily has participated in sports like dance, martial arts, and gymnastics since she was 2.  I have never had to go through something like this.  Only for daycare and school, but not because of the sport itself.

So of course in reality I blame no one, not even Lance.  Just another fun aspect of life in Italy.  I also will have to go through something similar as I have to for running road races in Italy.  So thanks to Emily, I know what to expect!