Old Country Ambiance and Avocados

seedsOne of the best things about living abroad is the old-country ambiance that seems to have infiltrated the entire nation. Admit it, when you think “Italy” you think stone streets, gondoliers in Venice, old people with gold teeth and spaghetti with meatballs.  And to an extent these American stereotypes of the Italian way of life are on target: most roads in city centers are stoned and not paved, there are an awful lot of rowed boats in Venice, 4 out of 5 people have at least one gold tooth if not a whole set, and…well, I hate to break it to you, but nobody actually eats spaghetti and meatballs in Italy.  It can be romantic, but in many aspects, Italy is a backward country.

Take the mail for instance, I only get one English language magazine subscription, but in the two years that I’ve subscribed, it hasn’s once arrived on time.  Now, you may think that getting culinary news a month late could be a real disaster, but it’s really a blessing in disguise because by the time you get your Bon Appetit or Cook’s Illustrated, all of the featured foods are in their prime!

This was definitely the case this month when I tried out Bon Appetit’s recipe for Salad with Avocado-Lime Viniagrette and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds.  It is so incredibly awesome that I’ve already made the salad twice and the spicy pepitas four times in the last two weeks.  Their “viniagrette” is more like a garlicky spicy green goddess dressing than a viniagrette.


Luca mixing things up

The method for the pumpkin seeds is so much easier than the oven-baked version I usually make – BA made the recipe way more complicated than it needed to be – I mean who has chiles de árbol laying around in their pantry?  I used some cayenne and a mix of other random spicy things I found in our spice cabinet and they came out great.  I made the same substitution in the salad had great results too.  I also switched the cilantro that the dressing called for with parsley, which is way easier to find here.  Had to leave out the cucumber (Italians DON’T do cucumbers, at least in our neck of the woods) and the jicama (yeah…never seen that around here either…), and I switched the cotija cheese to parmigiano instead.

I guess I made more changes than I thought, but it was still an incredibly wonderful salad – the dressing and the spicy pepitas are the key ingredients, you can change up the other ingredients without any real problem.

I’ve also made some interesting crepe recipe discoveries lately, but that’s another story…


My Finished Avocado Pepita Salad


Here are our pictures of Venice (and Padua)!  We went for a quick weekend trip with our friends Claudia & Fabrizio from Torino at the end of January.  Warning:  they’re mostly pictures of buildings/landscapes.  Not too many people pics, but if you’ve never been to Venice, it’ll give you a good idea of what the city looks like.  I have to say, it wasn’t what I was expecting.  I thought there would be more…water.  I suppose when you dream about going to a certain important destination for so long,  you can’t help but feel a little let down when you actually see it in person.  Though this isn’t always the case.  I remember when I got to Las Vegas I was like, “Holy crap!  This is SO not what I expected!!”  Venice is certainly beautiful, with gondolas and striped poles and live musicians like you would expect, but I always thought it would have a romantic feeling about it, and instead it just felt touristy.

We also visited Padova on this trip.  The highlight of the city for me was the Basilica di San Antonio, which is this huge basilica dedicated to Saint Anthony.  I’ve never seen a church like this, and I at least peek my head into all the churches I go to in the area.  Every single inch was covered with some sort of painting or sculpture or marble decoration.  I think they’re overdoing it a little on the whole Saint-Anthony-worshiping thing though.  There was a line of about 20 women waiting to throw themselves on his marble tomb and wail their miseries, and two walls dedicated to pictures and notes from people asking for his help.  Containers asking for donations abound, though I found it odd that they don’t let you light candles like they do in most churches.  You can donate money for candles or donate candles, but you can’t actually light one yourself.  There was also a chapel inside of the basilica that was filled with Saint Anthony’s embalmed body parts (cheerfully on display in golden canisters).  Umm, eww.  Besides, isn’t that like illegal in this religion?

Padova & Venezia

We had a very exciting weekend exploring North Eastern Italy. Our friends (the architects) Clauda & Fabrizio gave us a gift certificate for a night in a fancy hotel of our choice last year for Christmas. (Luckily they had also received the same gift certificate, so all four of us piled onto a train from Torino to Padova on Saturday morning and stayed at the B4 in Padova on Saturday night.

I’d love to tell you what else we did, but I drank three glasses of wine at dinner tonight and can barely keep my eyes open…pictures and more details tomorrow!