Friday, November 18, 2011

Normalcy and Nonna

The past few days have, for lack of a better word, sucked.

We've been emptying out more muddy, half-ruined stuff, but since it's the end of November, it's a little cold in the shade. We're bringing everything outside into the street, using a few buckets and a power hose, rubber gloves that get holes in 5 m
inutes, and old sponges to attempt to scrub off the sticky, oily mud before we begin the aforementioned cleaning cycle. Standing in cold muddy water all day is getting old, and it's hard for me to believe I've been doing this exact thing for about a month. We're keeping our spirits up as much as we can, and laughing a bit too much, which for me is an indication that we may be going a little crazy. We need a break.

Today, Manuel and I spent the day with his grandma. A bit of normalcy is what we need, and it's funny - even the moments when we're not knee-deep in the remnants of the destruction of the flood, it's all anyone can bring themselves to talk about. Manuel's grandma is 80 years old and fantastic, as most women who are that age are. The kind of woman who complains that she can't taste the liquor in her cocktail. More then that, the kind of woman who still goes OUT for cocktails with her friends, and has no problem navigating the flights of stairs all around this town. She cracks jokes and speaks a fluid and confusing mixture of Italian and dialect and cooks lunch, dinner and everything else with the motions of
a woman whose been doing it her whole life. She's a little stubborn and really strong, like everyone else here - I guess that's the mark of a Ligurian. Since the flood, she's been watching the news, like everyone else, but I can't imagine how it could be for her, having been born and raised in Vernazza, then having raised her family here in Monterosso. I couldn't imag
ine seeing what I knew my whole life in this condition.
It's people like her, the little old women I see sitting outside Franca's (the little grocery store on Via Fegina) or in front of the Church that really make me smile, and give me hope for what this town can achieve. These people are incredibly resilient, and they might sigh and shake their heads, but they pick up the pieces quickly and move on. Ligurians are a sturdy lot, and Monterosso, especially it's women, are a great indication of that.

Not surprisingly, she can cook. Ligurian food is something I'm still trying to get the hang of, since my kitchen experience oddly consists of a mix of latin american, southeast asian, indian and southern italian. Ligurian cuisine is an interesting experience for me, as many of it is familiar - think pesto and minestrone - but more of it is unique - have you tried farinata? Or can you even guess what it is?

Thought so.
Today we made fritelle di mele, which is Italian for apple fritters. As I followed her, taking pictures and asking for measurements, I encountered the same problem I have asking my own grandmother for recipes. These firey old women don't measure a thing. Is the milk hot enough? Stick your finger in it and find out. Watching me carefully whisk an egg white, Isolina took the whisk from me and laughingly chided, "You can't cook without getting your hands dirty". Manuel peeled beautiful apples, while I tried to pay attention to his nonna. She put together the batter of flour, butter, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of oil, a spoon of sugar, a bit of baking soda, a pinch of salt, enough acqua frizzante for it to look "good enough", a splash of milk, an egg yolk, a whipped egg white (you see my issue with the measurements), we then fried thin slices of apple from Alto Adige in sizzling peanut oil then dusted them with sugar. The apple melted into the dough, and the whole thing was devoured by a hungry, flood-exhausted family at the end of a long day.

It's the same batter you use for baccala, or zucchini, or anything else fried. Just add sugar instead of salt. And if you don't have butter you don't need it, she added. Also, don't think too much about the water, you can use naturale. The apples are better if they are the green ones, she threw in, but don't worry. She shrugged about the oil, too, "You can just use what you have around". Singing quietly to herself as she leaned over the stove, frying happily away, I was again reminded that what we're working so hard to rebuild. It's hard to find
something so resilient that can also be so adaptable, be it an old recipe from a grandmother and her tradition, or a little village steadfastly reconstructing in the mud. The recipe will still cook, but you just have to work with what you have. Pick up the pieces, see what you've got, hum a tune and get to work. After 80 years, grandmothers have easily acquired this beautiful trait - and after so many centuries, clearly Monterosso has as well.


  1. REALLY NICE....grandmas are all alike in any part of the world!
    Is there a way to contact someone of Miky restaurant during this Muddy period? I have requests for a next year wedding, couple would like to have lunch or dinner at Miki and I would like to give info to them! Hope you can help me
    All the best...and Forza Monterosso!

  2. Thank you so much! We're doing everything we can :)
    For the restaurant, the website is and you can either email or call/fax 0187817608

  3. Dear Chistine,
    thank you! I tried to reach them but phone is not working and by mail did not get reply
    I give you here my phone number 340 7947358 so if you can handle them that would be great
    thank you so much! e buon lavoro!