What’s up in a Roman January?

January is a cold, dark, short month.  It’s sometimes better just to hunker down and get it over with.  Then again sometimes its hard to notice it at all.  By the time Christmas and New Years festivities are gotten over, it’s almost finished anyway, and there isn’t much to do until the Carnevale starts livening things up again in February.

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So this post will be short.  It’s just to let you know that January is not a great month to visit Rome.  Everyone is tired, especially at the Vatican.  Many places close for a restful few weeks, and those that can, get out of the city and go skiing.  No one wants to party or eat much, and no one is very interested in serving you.  It’s too cold to stay outside for very long and enjoy the best parts of Rome, which are actually mostly outside.  Although the keen winter sun does make it lovely for a short stroll either just before lunch or just after.

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If you do happen to be stuck in Rome in January the three best things to do all begin with S – shopping (there are lots of sales), skiing (ski fields only about an hour away) and sipping hot chocolate.

A Roman hot chocolate is a spiritual experience and will revive even the most jaded of palates and auras.  When I first got handed a hot chocolate in Rome I thought someone had made a mistake in my order.  It looked nothing like the brown, milky, liquid hot chocolate I grew up with.  You basically had to eat it with a spoon and it came with an inch of whipped cream on the top to “even out the chocolate”.  In Rome a hot chocolate is taken standing up at the counter of your local cafe, or sitting at a table alone or with friends.  In Winter it is one of the basic five food groups, along with deep red Chianti.  But as most people are heartily sick of drinking by January, and are saving themselves for Carnevale, a hot chocolate is a steady substitute.

Italy has some of the best ski slopes in the world, the most breathtaking scenery and the most comfortable accoutrements to skiing in the Western world.  Added to this is the high fashion still apparent on the slopes, the spectacular food and venues, and it is a pretty good way to pick yourself up during a dark, cold January.

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Lastly the sales.  While others are working off their Christmas kilos on the slopes or dieting by drinking hot chocolate alone, some are using shopping as their cardio.  It’s not just the heart stopping deals and the adrenaline inducing battles that go on between shoppers, it’s that you end up walking for ages, laden down with bags due to the fact that the bargains just go on and on.  It is also an ideal way to throw off Winter blues.

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Oh and if you are still stuck for ideas, try http://www.wantedinrome.com and  http://www.facebook.com/TheYellowRomeGuide  between these two you will find everything else you need to enjoy a Roman January.

Happy 2018!!!

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Italian Four Seasons

Hi everyone, Spring is in the air, so I thought i would share my latest column from ‘Segmento’  – the Italian/Australian magazine that seeks to be a link between modern Italian culture and the rich history that Italian migrants have preserved where ever they have migrated.

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Roman Daze – From notes to first draft

http://www.the-art-of-writing.com/2016/01/from-notes-to-first-draft-with-bronte-jackson/

How does a writer go from an idea/passion about Italy to writing a book about it?

Lisa Clifford is an internationally acclaimed author of many novels and non-fiction/historical books on Italy, her adopted country. Here she interviews me about how/why I came to write ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons.

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Top 10 things to eat in Rome!

I thought i would make this post a little lighter than the last one and focus on the one thing that brings joy to every heart, and travellor, in Italy – the food!!!

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Residents of Italy, as opposed to travellors, will understand the importance of the title not being “Top 10 things to eat in Italy”.  This is because, as I have mentioned before, Italy is a country of REGIONS, and towns, and none more so obviously than when it comes to food.

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When I first arrived in Rome, after several months of eating what I called Italian food, I was longing for a change and enquired of my Italian friends if we could go to a different type of restaurant and eat another type of food. “Oh sure”, they answered, “we will arrange it.  Plenty of variety here in Rome.  We could go to a great Abruzzi restaurant we know, or the Sardinian restaurant on the corner is good, and there is an amazing Tuscan place in town and a new Sicilian place opening up.”  Not quite what i had in mind but a good demonstration of how different the food is between regions.  And  not just regions.  If you are wanting variety it is often enough just to drive an hour up the freeway to the next little town, and the food will be different with unique dishes and ways of preparing salads, pastas, desserts etc.

Often dishes that you can get in one part of Italy are unavailable in others.  So it would be a shame to focus on general “Italian” dishes at the expense of the local cuisine and that way you can taste your way around Italy knowing that the variety will be significant.

For example it took me about seven years to work out why I couldn’t find Spaghetti Bolognaise on the menu in Rome.  I attributed this fact to it possibly being an Anglo-Saxon made-up Italian dish, like garlic bread that is not available ANYWHWERE in Italy.  Until I took a holiday to Bologna.  Then I found it on every menu.  Rome of course has its own version, but it is made with pork meat not beef and is called Spaghetti con Ragu.  If you want Spaghetti  Bolognaise when you are in Italy you need to go to Bologna.

Therefore this post will focus on the top 10 dishes to eat in Rome primarily because they are mostly only available in Rome and represent some of its best cuisine.  They are not the type of dishes that the average Italian home cook would make as they are quite tricky or have special ingredients.  They are the type of dishes that Italians go out to eat.  All the restaurants featured in my post ‘Top 10 Restaurants’ will have these dishes available.  I have written the dishes in the order of how they will appear in the menu and in the order you are supposed to eat them.

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There were so many yummy savoury dishes that I ran out of numbers before I got to dessert so I have cheated and included a number 11.  Also you may have heard me comment previously that Roman desserts are not prolific or spectacular.  Especially when you compare them to the ice-cream desserts of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia or the creamy custards of Tuscany and Umbria.  Also Romans have available at all times spectacular ice-cream which is not only a dessert but a daily medicinal requirement, and recommended to all travellors at all times, and they have adopted the Tiramisu (probably the most like a ‘national’ dessert that Italy has) with avengence, so no need to suffer a dessert desert when you are in Rome, but not alot of desserts that you can only have in Rome.  The one I have included is the only one unique to Rome unless you count Chestnut honey which the Ancient Romans used prolifically as a dessert and which I also recommend you try.

Just one other thing then.  Roman cooking is characterised by two things – its simplicity and its focus on offal (which i have reccomended only in one dish but should be tried in its various forms if you have the stomach for stomach…..).  This is because of its history of being a Papal city, one of the most signficant.  Traditionally most of the best cuts of meat and produce went to the Vatican, and the local food producers of Rome had a prolific amount of Priests and nobles connected with the Vatican who they could provide food for.  It meant that the local citizens were left with the lesser cuts of meat.  The general poverty of the food producers and other city dwellers meant that simple, local, ingredients, along with offal was what made up their cuisine.  Like many culinary traditions, the food of the poor became adopted by the rich and now its quality and custom is entrenched in the average modern Roman diet.

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Here are the first five, next five, next week.

1.  Fiori di ZuccaStuffed zucchini flowers.  These are spectacular and not to be missed and to be eaten at every opportunity possible.  Many of my ‘regret’ moments are about the fact that I did not eat enough Fiori di Zucca when I had the chance.  They are also not to attempted at home.  I tried it once and have had much empathy with my gynachologist ever since.  It is almost impossible to open up the delicate petals enough without splitting them to get in the ingredients you need to get in there to qualify them as stuffed, and it takes ages.  These beauties usually come two or three to a dish and are small and light.  They consist of the end of the zucchini, the flower, stuffed with golden, melting mozarella and a sharp tasting anchovy (just enough to flavour it), dipped in a light batter and quickly deep fried.  Have I mentioned they are divine?

2.  Olive ascolane.  Stuffed olives.  Much more robust than the Fiori di Zucca they are green olives stuffed with pork mince, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.  They are like little mouthfuls of intensely flavoursome and chewy peices of heaven if you like olives and pork.  They usually come 8 -10 to a plate.

3. Spaghetti Carbonara.  No translation available.  This dish is not to be missed and comes after the antipasti dishes mentioned above.  It is usally served as a spaghetti but can also be served using penne or rigatoni as the pasta.  If you have ever eaten what you think is a Spaghetti Carbonara outside of Italy, you will be quite surprised, and then very angry with the previous person who cooked you Spaghetti Carbonara.  This is a thick, rich and highly filling dish.  It is the Italian version of bacon and eggs and therefore can be eaten as early in the day as you want and is recommended as a great hangover cure.  It is simply eggs cooked together with so much parmesan cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano) it is scary, until a cream develops.  It is then thrown together with some small pieces of  pigs cheek or pigs stomach (guanciale or pancetta) lightly fried in their own fat and then mixed with the pasta.  More parmesan and a splash of pepper usally accompany it.  Under no circumstances is cream used.   Talking and fast movement may need to cease for some time after this dish has been eaten.

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4. Amatriciana.  Same.  This is a pasta dish which can be served using Spaghetti, Penne, Rigatoni or Bucatini.  The pasta sauces is made from tomatoes, pigs cheek (guanciale), a pinch of chilli and Pecorino (sheep’s) cheese.  It is salty, flavoursome, and makes you feel like you could run a marathon afterwards.  It is my hands down favourite food in all of Rome.

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5. Spaghetti Caccio Peppe.  Spaghetti with Sheep’s cheese and Pepper.  And lastly for today we come to another Roman favourite.  It is so simple and sounds so foreign that many people shy away from it but it is also not to be missed and one day long into the future you will remember how good this dish tasted.  It is served only with Spaghetti and it comes with a mountain of fresh sheep’s cheese (Pecorino) finely grated on top of it and dusted with a thick layer of black, cracked pepper.  Your job is to mix it all in until the cheese melts and then just eat it.  Talking will not be possible during the eating of this dish and it is fun to watch the face of the person eating this dish as the unlikely yumminess hits them again and again.

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If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about Roman and Italian food and food stories, my book ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons‘, will have you longing for pasta and searching for an Italian/Roman food fix!  Available at your local bookstore (in Australia) or from

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

Stay tuned for the final top 5 things to eat in Rome!

 

 

 

Every one is an expert on Rome…..

A beautiful and insightful review from the Editor of ‘Insights.  Melbourne Business and Economics.’ by Associate Professor Geoff Burrows.  A regular and passionate visitor to Rome.

REVIEW of ROMAN DAZE – LA DOLCE VITA FOR ALL SEASONS

The saying that ‘every immigrant is an anthropologist’ is colourfully realised in Bronte Jackson’s Roman Daze.   Arriving in Rome as a backpacker courtesy of a free airline ticket won in a raffle and after a failed marriage, she immediately fell in love with the city during what turned out to be a 17-year stay, acquiring along the way fluency in the language, an Italian husband and employment with the UN’s Rome-based World Food Program.

 

Loosely structured around how the four seasons impact on Rome and its inhabitants, the text offers a series of fascinating excursions into Rome’s geography, history and the living, working, courting, shopping, eating, beach-going, and other socialising and recreational habits of its citizens.  Some clichés are shown to be true – timetables are largely works of fiction, Italian women do apply make-up before exercising, bank tellers do demand the personal phone number of young female customers as a condition of providing service.  At least one legend is also verified: the existence of a keyhole, remote from the Vatican, which offers a breathtaking view of the Holy See.

 

There is no air-brushing of Rome’s frustrations: long waits and customer-unfriendly banking procedures and the lack of a service ethos in Italy’s bloated public sector.   However, there is always the compensation of superb food and coffee, the search for which is a sub-theme running through the text.  Frustratingly for tourists, the best food and coffee is served in small obscure establishments, mostly invisible to foreigners.  The locals never patronise establishments directed at tourists.  The subtleties of local variations are constantly described.  Unexpectedly, Italians emphasise the taste of pasta itself rather the toppings.  The author also describes her own culinary triumph – a quiche at a neighbour’s crowded sixtieth birthday party.

 

Much travel writing is by experienced journalists based on quick impressions on sponsored trips.  Roman Daze is the account of a 17-year love affair with a city.  Written in a deceptively easy prose style, it is recommended to both first-time and regular visitors to the Eternal City.

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The Perfect Bun

Arriving back in Italy after having been away I am always dying for an Italian coffee and a cornetto (Italian sweet breakfast pastry).  So my first stop is always………the airport.  Yes, that’s right, I can’t wait until I get into the city for a long awaited cup of Italian coffee, so I stop at the first cafe I see in the arrivals section of the airport.  It is important to note that this does not apply to the departures lounge.  For a simple reason.  The Italian airport staff are served their coffee in the arrivals section of the airport (as it is open to the public).  The departure lounges do serve departing Italians but they also serve mostly tourists.  So you know that the standard of coffee etc. you get in the airport will be the same standard as that outside the airport as their custom is the discerning Italian local and worker.

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As well as providing me with my Italian coffee fix this stop also serves to gently ease me back into Italy by being able to sit awhile and leisurely savour my cornetto and cafe.  Otherwise it all hits me hurriedly in the face as soon as the glass sliding doors open and its almost too much to take in.  The perfectly coiffed women of all ages, the impeccably suited men of all shapes, the uniformed personnel of all statures, the crisp neatness of the designer clad children, the amount of women wearing high heels that can actually walk in them, the sun tanned slick haired touts and tour guides.  It overwhelms me and I feel an immediate need to go to a hairdressers and book a gym appointment, or the other way around.

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“OK can we go now?”, says my husband ten minutes after we have both finished our respective coffees and cornettos.

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I have been watching a steady flow of men and women of all ages and shapes come to take their morning coffee standing up at the bar.  They all look magnificent and I try to analyse why.  I notice they dress in a way that suits their particular forms, strong features, and advantages – so well that you don’t notice their less than perfect statures or girths. And their clothes fit.  Their hair is also groomed, all different styles and generations of fashion but they all have good hair cuts, and shoes.  Even those that are not naturally gorgeous looking, dress as though they are, and it has the same effect.

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I watch a short, grey haired man walk to the bar in an immaculate suit with a tall, wrinkle-faced woman wearing a gorgeous green silk knee-length dress and gold high heels.  They happily talk and greet others, chit chat and move on. With his perfectly cut suit, silk tie, shinning skin and good hair cut he looks ten feet tall even though he is a head shorter than the beautiful woman on his arm.

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“Oh please just a few more minutes, now the Carabinieri are coming over, and they are wearing their winter uniform…………..knee length boots…..”

The carabinieri notice me checking them out.  They glance boldly fully at me in the face, an acknowledgement of the compliment they know I am paying them, before they turn their backs to me, one heeled boot resting slightly higher on the bar running under the counter in order to show off butt muscles to perfection.  I appreciate the gesture and salute them with my empty coffee cup. Ahhh viva Italia I am home!

Speaking of perfect buns………The Perfect Bun restaurant, American bar, is celebrating their fifth anniversary this month!  I am particularly excited about this because it is a place I visited for the first time five years ago and features in my book “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons”.  It is the setting for the Chapter entitled ‘Foreigner’ and features because it was a good example of what was so hard to find in Rome back then (and still now).  That is, an authentic escape from Italian culture, which all expats need from time to time!

There are many wannabes and my book talks about why that is so disappointing – imagine missing a particular Anglo-Saxon dish and then ordering it at a place that advertises itself as producing it and then having an Italianised version of it served up.  It is better to avoid the whole experience than to try and convince yourself that your ‘Greek salad’ which consists of mozzarella cheese, tomatoe and basil with an olive thrown in, is really OK.  The list goes on – cold pasta as “brunch”, Italian almond biscuits as “Devonshire tea” and my favourite – a pastry case full of melted chocolate advertising itself as a “brownie”.  No, the disappointment is just too keen.  Sometimes it is just best to accept that Italian food is SO good, they don’t need to offer other nationalities as well.  Sometimes its best to wait a year or two til you get home.

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For this reason many places fail to survive after a year or sometimes only a few months.  The fact that The Perfect Bun is celebrating its fifth anniversary is truly a feat and shows they have catered to the Anglo-Saxon palate and those Italians that remember their Anglo-Saxon treats and want to re-visit them, successfully.  Well done Perfect Bun and many happy returns!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Perfect-Bun/120823150120

 

 

 

What’s up in a Roman January?

I know, I know i’ve said it before.  January is a dull, cold, dark, short month.  Its sometimes better just to hunker down and get it over with.  Then again sometimes its hard to notice it at all.  By the time Christmas and New Years festivities are gotten over its almost over anyway and there isn’t much to look forward to or do until the Carnivale starts livening things up again in February.

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So this post will be short.  Its just to let you know that January is not a great month to visit Rome.  Everyone is tired, the Vatican in particular.  Many places close for a restful few weeks and those that can, get out of the city and go skiing.  No one wants to party or eat much and no one is very interested in serving you.  Its too cold to stay outside for very long and enjoy the best parts of Rome which are actually mostly outside.  Although the keen winter sun does make it lovely for a short stroll either just before lunch or just after.

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The three best things to do in January in Rome all begin with S – shopping (there are lots of sales), skiing (ski fields only about an hour away), sipping hot chocolate.

A Roman hot chocolate is a spiritual experience and will revive even the most jaded of palates and auras.  When I first got handed a hot chocolate in Rome I thought someone had made a mistake in my order.  It looked nothing like the brown, milky, liquid hot chocolate I grew up with.  You basically had to eat it with a spoon and it came with an inch of whipped cream on the top to “even out the chocolate”.  A hot chocolate is taken standing up at the counter of your local cafe or sitting at a table alone or with friends.  In Winter it is one of the five food groups, along with deep red chianti.  But as most people are heartily sick of drinking by January, and are saving themselves for Carnivale, a hot chocolate is a steady substitute.

Italy has some of the best ski slopes in the world, the most breathtaking scenery and the most comfortable acroutements to skiing in the Western world.  Added to this is the high fashion still apparent on the slopes, the spectacular food and venues and it is a pretty good way to pick yourself up during a dark, cold January.

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Lastly the sales.  While others are working off their Christmas kilos on the slopes or dieting by drinking hot chocolate alone, some are using shopping as their cardio.  Its not just the heart stopping deals and the adrenalin inducing battles that go on between shoppers its that you end up walking for ages laden down with bags due to the fact that the bargains just go on and on.  It is also an ideal way to throw off Winter blues.

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Oh and if you are still stuck for ideas, try http://www.wantedinrome.com and  http://www.facebook.com/TheYellowRomeGuide  between these two you will find everything else you need to enjoy a Roman January.

Happy 2014!!!

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