Gladiator School, Rome

We are back from a fantastic weekend in the beautiful city of Roma! We left on Friday morning which just happened to be Max’s 12th birthday and figured the boys wouldn’t mind an extra day off school. After singing “Happy Birthday” to Max we caught an early, high-speed train down to Rome with our dear friends, E, Ross and the girls. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday if you ask me: good friends, Roman food and lots of fun. I’m not sure we will be able to top this year!

Happy 12th Birthday Maxi

Happy 12th Birthday Maxi

It was glorious, the sun stayed high in the sky all weekend and we were strolling the streets in t-shirts and jeans, we couldn’t have planned for better weather. It goes without saying we walked a lot, ate a lot and laughed a lot; however, what I really want to tell you about is the  Gladiator school.

I watched a video of it on the internet a few months back and it looked pretty cool, however, it seemed expensive. In hindsight I was completely wrong and it was really worth every euro! The boys and their friends were very hyped-up about their Saturday morning class (you really need to book in advance as it sells out) and feeling a little nervous as we headed out to the school to see what they were in for. I was blown away by the two-hour class. OMG! The gladiator teaching the kids was a scary looking guy with muscles as big as my head and thighs that could crush you in one sitting, not to mention the chest on this guy! We were all a bit stunned when we first saw him and the kids a little more nervous.

Alex feeling what it is like to be a Roman soilder

Alex feeling what it is like to be a Roman solider

It wasn’t until he opened his mouth and started talking that we all began to relax and enjoy the show. From start to finish he was an entertainer, inviting the kids to join in, listen, learn and experience all things Roman and gladiatorial. It started with a tour around the museum room where he explained all the military equipment used back in Roman times (the kids loved this). He then moved on to explain the history of the equipment used by gladiators, who became gladiators and the levels of different gladiators…I didn’t realise women were gladiators, however, we were told only the ugly ones! We were mesmerised by his knowledge, appearance and general enthusiastic approach to the class.

When it was time to go outside for the ‘practical’ lesson things only got better. In fact the boys had so much fun Alex came home saying “That was probably the best day of my life”. They were glowing from this experience and Max actually made a trailer of their time at Gladiator School which is better than me rambling on, check it out…

If you are heading to Rome anytime in the near future I urge you to check this place out. Gladiator School is for all age groups: I wished that I had booked a spot for myself when I saw how much fun the kids were having!

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Morning walk

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The weather app on my phone told me this week will be sunshine and warmth. I was a little apprehensive as I lay in bed and looked out the skylight at the whitewash of cloud at 7.30am, however, by 9am the sun was shining, clouds passed over and there was nothing to see but deep blue sky stretching over the hills. The boys were at school, I had no plans for the morning so I popped on my sneakers, downloaded a podcast from This American Life titled: Somewhere in the Arabian Sea and head out the door.

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I love going for morning walks, especially when you have scenery like this to cast your eye over as you climb a steady pace up a surprisingly large hill.

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As I am walking and slowly stripping down to my t-shirt (a very un-Italian thing to do in March!) under the suns warmth, I am listening to a whole other world. They are talking about people working everyday jobs in the Navy, out at sea. These people are travelling the world, working and seeing more than they ever dreamt they would and here I am taking a casual stroll in the Tuscan countryside…

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As I am heading down a hill toward home, I smile to myself as I walk past the street where our friends came to stay when they visited a few months back.

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In fact, it is the same road that butts up onto casa di Boccaccio. Kathleen, I am sure you remember this stretch of road like the back of your hand!

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As my postcast comes to an end, so does the stretch of road that brings me back to our main square. An hour was filled with someone else’s stories and views of another persons country while I leave behind nothing but footprints, yet I’m full with memories.

Boys, school and Italian life

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March sky, 2014

The rain has stopped, the sun is out and life is pretty sweet in Italy this March. I read in the papers and in friends’ emails that the snow is still dumping down in America and the sun is beating hot in Australia, while I look out my window and see a cool breeze blowing and the sun in the sky. We have a good life here, there is no doubt about it.

Our time is slowly dwindling down, we have a mere 4 months to go before returning to the real world of work (well for me anyway), houses, high schools, primary schools and day-to-day life back in Sydney with the friends and family we said goodbye to some 8 months ago. A lot of great things have been happening this month, however, I haven’t had time to sit down and jot it all down as I thought I would. Max turns 12 this Friday, WOW I find it hard to believe I have a 12-year-old under my wings.

We promised Alex for his birthday last year (it was the day after we arrived in Rome) that we would take him to gladiator school, alas, the night before I got struck down with food poisoning and was up all night trying to keep myself alive, therefore, gladiator school was delayed. Seeing how Max will be 12 on Friday and we have nothing else better to do, we decided we would go down to Rome for the weekend with friends and finally keep our promise to the boys re gladiator school! The tickets are booked and I’m staying away from seafood so we are set. It was an easy decision really, with 4 months left we are trying to do and see as much as we can. It’s not everyday you can say ‘Oh let’s pop down to Rome for the weekend’. I know it doesn’t mean as much to the boys as it does us, however, in years to come I think they will appreciate the flitting around more than they do at present.

The boys got their Italian school reports back at the end of last month which is quite a process compared to Australia. Back in Sydney the kids get a sealed envelope at the end of the day to give to parents. In our school here, there is a note sent out a week before with information telling you when you can come and pick the reports up and as usual I totally forgot. I was walking Max to basketball practice on a Thursday evening when a mum who is never at the school unless it is pick-up time, walks past me, says ciao and then asks me if I have the reports already? At this point I was trying to figure out why this mum was at school at 5pm, then trying to understand what she was saying to me (she always speaks super fast) and then when the penny dropped I looked like a complete idoit but had to keep walking in the other direction to get Max to basket…I left her standing there very confused, especially when I told her, NO not yet…see you soon!

I finally dropped Max at basketball (which is a 20 minute walk one-way), then Alex and I high-tailed it back to school to make the 6.30pm deadline to pick up these bloody reports…It was about this time I was preferring the Aussie system. We made it in time to be then told we must wait in line to speak to the teacher. ‘WHAT!??’ I was not expecting teachers to be there at 6.30pm! Anyway, after about 40 minutes standing in line it was my turn to go in (and it was at this point I told Alex to help me out with the Italian, to which he says ‘I doubt I’ll be any good mum’ and then proceeds to abandon me to look at pictures!). Thank god Max’s teacher is a lovely lady, she handed me his report, and said she was sorry she could only give him a 7 for Italian; however, it was working towards an 8.

SEVEN? He got a seven?? OMG!! I looked at her and said BELISSIMA!!! FANTASTICO, REALLY…7? Of course, she was super confused and then started talking at me in lightening speed which I only caught about 5 words in total before leaving the classroom with our first Italian report cards. Nic and I were so gobsmacked that the boys didn’t get any 3s or 4s on their reports (it’s out of 10) and to see the lowest mark was a 6 for science, well we were so overjoyed. It was actually quite funny when Max was reading his report, he laughed and said he wasn’t sure how he got that mark because he never does anything in science.

And truth be told, the boys constantly come home and tell us they understand nothing, they do nothing all day at school and really, why bother. Well, after seeing the reports I now believe they have been playing down their Italian with us (especially me) and in fact they are rocking along very nicely in school. The funniest report however, was the English mark…both boys scored an 8! Seriously, an 8 in their native language?? When I asked about this they both shrugged their shoulders and said “She (teacher) really doesn’t know very much English and we have to correct her” Note, HAVE to correct her, so I figure giving them eight is just her way of saying, “Get out of my class already!!”

So eight months into a twelve-month stay in a foreign country, I can honestly say as a family unit we are happy, involved in the community and eat like kings. We still feel like foreigners but also feel excepted by our neighbourhood, Nic and I are so happy we took the scary step of immersing the boys into Italian school cold-turkey-style because it has really paid off. Although the talk of being back in Australia is coming up more and more these days (especially from the boys), we are loving our life here. However, some home comforts are seeming a little closer (like having my car to do the grocery shopping!). I have a feeling the next 4 months are going to be action packed.

Sunday Breakfast

This morning the sun was out radiating it’s warmth, something it hasn’t done in what seems like weeks! Nic and I had a Sunday sleep-in (awesome, as did the boys!) and then we went for a run to really embrace the sun and lack of rain (I’m trying to be positive here).

We returned home to cries of “I’m hungry!”…”What’s for breakfast?”…”We are starving!”

As I was running up the last bit of our hill I had the same thoughts running through my head. What I really felt like, what I really wanted to eat, was poached eggs. Not just your garden variety, I’d had a brilliant day the day before with my lovely friends E and Shelly. We took E out for lunch because she had a pretty full-on week at home single-parenting and a ‘girls day’ felt like it was in order as soon as Ross got back from his business trip.

On this ‘girls day’ we had lunch at one of my favourite places, Aquacotta and then proceeded to stroll casually through the streets looking into boutique shops (something you do not do with the family in tow). One of the shops we looked at was a foodie haven (will have to get back to you with the name) and instead of buying a lovely top or dress I was hell bent on the delicious looking sale al tartufo staring me down!

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Heaven in a jar

Like anything new you want to use it asap and considering our lunch then turned into an apperitivo before we headed home for dinner, Sunday breakfast was the first chance I had to test my delicious looking sale al tartufo.

I think after many years of poaching eggs in restaurants I can turn out a pretty awesome poached egg and to make it even more appetising than usual, a sprinkling of truffled salt was in order.

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Poached egg perfection

The sun shining, a run out of the way and beautiful poached eggs with truffled salt was an awesome way to start the day. I love, love, love truffled anything but with the addition of salt, well the list is endless as to what I can create.

What is your perfect Sunday breakfast?

Successo coniglio

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When I go out for dinner here in Italy there are two ingredients I usually hunt down on the menu coniglio (rabbit) and carciofo (artichoke). These are two ingredients I don’t cook with a lot…and if I am really honest I would tell you I had never cooked coniglio, until last night. Artichokes are always classed as ‘a lot of effort’, I’ll make them on a day off or I’ll just eat them out. I am not sure why I have such an aversion toward them but I am guessing it is because I was never shown what to do with them as an apprentice. It wasn’t until I came to Italy, had a ton of time up my sleeve and kept looking at them in abundance at the store that I finally decided I’d give them a smashing red hot go…THANK GOD! So far I have boiled, roasted, made risotto, blanched and marinated them, and every time I try something new it works!

I learned one of life’s lessons with artichokes: they look scary and difficult but if you tinker around with them and have an open mind, you soon work out they are pretty easy to work with, taste amazing fresh and have loads of different cooking methods to explore.

Rabbit on the other hand was a different story and like most things I rant about there is an actual story to this as well. It goes back to when I was a little girl living in Darwin with my family and dad offering to cook dinner one night: ‘Mum used to make the best rabbit,’ he said. ‘I’m pretty sure I can remember what she did…’ Famous last words.

Now I was only very young but this memory has stuck in my mind to this day, you see that was one of the only dinners I can recall when I said I just wanted to go to bed (and skip dinner). ‘NO’ were my dad’s words and then something along the lines of: ‘I’ve worked all bloody day on this sauce, and you will eat it!!’

With that said and a look of ‘geez girls, not much longer’ from my mum, dinner was finally served to us around 10pm. It was rabbit with a beautiful sauce (I don’t remember the sauce, only mum’s instance the sauce really was good). The rabbit was inedible, tough as old boots, you couldn’t even stick your fork in it. Tarsh and I ended up going to bed without any dinner after all.

The years after this episode were haunted by the thought of no dinner (I ate everything, all the time) and eating boots. I was never going to eat rabbit again. Thankfully at some stage in my life, not sure when, I was reinstated with a new found love of rabbit. I love it! Can’t get enough of it when eating out, however, I was never game to try and cook it myself because I had years of dad saying, “I don’t know what happened? When mum made it, it melted in your mouth”

I was not about to suffer the same fate as my dad so I decided to just ignore it…and then Max found a fondness for coniglio. When we first arrived in Italy he was shopping with me at the Coop and spotted the coniglio. “Oh mum, rabbit! lets have some for dinner tonight,” he said and started to toss a packet in the trolley. “Umm, no I don’t think the oven is big enough for rabbit Max, let me go home and make sure”

Pathetic I know but there was no way I was going to fail at cooking rabbit when we both loved it so much. We have now been here a little over 7 months, eaten lots of coniglio and I have been thinking…

It wasn’t until I had a dream the other night, in which I was making a rabbit braise with white wine, lots of garlic and serving it with mash potato that I decided enough was enough, I’m going to make a rabbit dish.

OH MY GIDDY AUNT!

I cannot tell you how delicious it was AND it was not tough (silent cheer from the crowd). Dad I am sorry to bring this up after all these years but there was a story to tell as to why I never cooked rabbit and finally I can put this chapter to bed. This rabbit tasted so delicious I can now see quite a few coniglio dishes garnishing our table. I did look up quite a few recipes and thought I would go with one from Saveur magazine, however, I forgot to pick up the bacon and didn’t have the right beer in the fridge so I decided I’d follow my dream instead. There is no recipe, just a method so if your game grab a pen and paper and jot this down because it is a winner.

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Flouring the rabbit

I am not sure how it is anywhere else, however, you can buy rabbit here all ready cut up into bite size pieces (nice). Some I made a little smaller just so it would go around the four of us. Once I was happy with the size I threw a bit of plain flour, salt and pepper over the pieces and lightly coated them in flour and then browned them in a frying pan until golden (approx. 6 min). Once the pieces were all browned I added them to a baking dish with fresh, whole cherry tomatoes (about 8 of them). I wanted fresh cherry tomatoes instead of using tomato paste because I was after a light, Spring flavour instead of a heavy wintery one. Once that was done I then sauteed diced onion, celery, carrot and parsley in the frying pan with a whole bulb of garlic just cut in half and thrown in.

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Bringing the wine and stock to a boil

Once I was happy with the veggies it was time to add a good slosh of white wine (approx. 3/4 cup) and then same again of vegetable stock. Once this was brought to the boil I then added a good chunk of butter (approx. 2 tablespoons) and then poured the wine, veggie mix all over the coniglio and whole tomatoes so it was just covering.

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Covering the rabbit and cherry tomatoes with wine, stock and veggies

I then covered it with baking paper and foil, popped it in a 180 degree oven (on fan) and cooked it for 40 minutes. Once it was cooked I then removed the foil and added a tin of fagioli cannellini, mixed those in, tested the seasoning and adjusted it then re-covered it with paper and foil and left it until I needed it that evening (it rested for about 5 hours).

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Adding of the fagiolli

I took Max to basketball practice that evening and when we came home, I popped the rabbit back into a hot 180-degree oven without a lid and let it reheat for a further 30 minutes while I made a pot of creamy mash potatoes. The house smelt fantastic and had me praying for success. 

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Spring rabbit with bursts of roast cherry tomatoes

Max was the first to offer up his approval and then Nic and Alex followed suit- I could breathe! The meat was tender, juices were mouthwatering and the effort very minimal. I will make this dish again and then some. I loved how the tomatoes kept their shape and then burst their sweet flavour into your bowl when pierced with a knife. 

So there you have it, living in Italy has taught me to stop being scared of two items I have kept out of my food repertoire for the past 20 odd years. What have you been avoiding because it all looks a bit hard? Reward is in the game of chance, especially when it tastes as good as the rabbit!