Sunday, February 24, 2013


We went to an orthopedic hospital in Milan yesterday to get some more X-rays and tests done, as the emergency room's X-rays were deemed "not thorough enough" by the family back doctor. Since I can't walk, we had to call another private ambulance to cart me there. It's not that bad, except that the family house is on the 4th floor, so the ambulance drivers are never thrilled. Nor am I, as being carted up on a backboard is a little scary.
The tests at the clinic came back normal save for the fact that it looks like I actually have 2 or even 3 fractured vertebrae, which they missed on the first X-ray. I also was apparently fitted with a brace way too big, so we got me a new smaller one. Thank goodness we decided to get me a fancy universal insurance policy earlier this year.
It doesn't change anything in terms of my recovery time, so we called ANOTHER ambulance to bring us back home.
We have explained every time to the drivers, who usually are from the region
the hospital is in, how the roads to arrive in the Cinque Terre are horrible. They usually laugh and say they've seen worse. When we arrive they start out zooming around curves and then slow down, no longer laughing and commenting that the road (singular, yes) to arrive in Monterosso is like roads were in Trentino (or insert other region here) 50 years ago.
Our ambulance from Milan wasn't much different save for the fact that we have another factor to add to the equation.
It's snowing. A lot.
They inform us confidently that they have taken courses driving in the snow and ice in Switzerland. They have driven in Austria! They have been to the mountains in a blizzard and didn't even use the snow chains! This is nothing! It's not even snowing!
I nervously nodded, knowing the outcome when we got off the highway would be the same. It does not normally snow here, and with the roads already as they are, plus an area unprepared for weather of this kind, it makes getting around in a car nearly impossible.
After exiting and getting to Levanto with some effort, they turned back and laughed, feeling confident in their snow tires and driving skills, until we informed them we were actually the next village, and yes, we have to climb back up another mountain then down to arrive in the village.
They were not happy. Even less so when they learned they'd have to go back the exact same way, as there is just one road in and out of town. I knew this drive would be added to their bragging list as the started to quietly snap pictures. Strapped to the back in a gurney with no view of what was happening outside, I was pretty nervous.
Climbing up, we got stuck in the snow for 15 minutes as they finally relented to the snow chains and grudgingly got out into the thick flakes to put them in the tires. As they opened the door to the back of the ambulance, I craned my neck to see the sea a haze of grey as it blended into the sky, the dark green terraced hills laced with a white icing of snow, and our one lane mountain road covered in slush and ice. A few other cars had also pulled to the side, the drivers nervously planning their next move. With the snow chains we were able to climb up the mountain then down into monterosso, but a normal 3-3.5 hour ride took us a little over 5.
The roads were promptly closed by the police shortly after.
As always, another adventure. And only 12 more days lying in bed!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Another little "break"...but literally this time

I had planned an entry about the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, or about skiing, snowboarding, winter vacations in Italy, the "settimana bianca", northern Italian foods and the influences of surrounding countries...but things can change quite quickly, as I've learned in the past few days all too well.
We headed up from Monterosso in a little bus full of friends and family and other residents for a traditional and happily anticipated week in the mountains.  Cousins, friends, family, people you see in passing in the village, the mayor- it's more or less everyone.  Our bus,accompanied by other groups in cars, drove up to the village of Moena in the far northern part of the country.  Signs switch to German first and dishes include sauerkraut and wurstel.  It's a different world and an autonomous state of Italy, like Sicily.
After a few tries at snowboarding 2 years ago, I was eager to restart.  We headed to the slopes of beautiful Lusia, and I was actually better then I remembered.  After a few days, I was completing turns and pretty happily confident.
Then, sliding into a turn on an easy slope, I fell backwards and heard a snap and realized the screming I heard was my own voice.
After getting packed into a sled and bobsledded to the ski lift, I was put in a gurney, swooped down, and then rushed to the ER in not so nearby Cavalese.  A few hours later, I learned I have a stable compression fracture of the T7 vertebra.  I'm in a brace and on some tough painkillers for the next 8 weeks or so, but for the next 2, I'm in bed immobile and lying flat.
It's pretty painful, a little embarrassing, uncomfortable but above all, incredibly boring.  Mind numbingly boring.
I'm lucky because it could have been much, much worse.  I'm going to make a full recovery with no long term damage to my ability to move, and I should be totally fine in 4 months, at the most.
The entire experience was horrific and scary because the night before I urged Manuel, who is a great skier, to go on ahead with his friends and do some black trails, because I'd be ok with the girls on the easier slopes.  I was alone when I fell, and fortunately a girl from Monterosso was nearby so she could call everyone and let them know what happened, but the experience getting to the ER was really scary being alone and not knowing what I had hurt.  Thank God for the amazing people I encountered working in the ambulance, police, hospital and first aid.  They were all efficient, caring, and really, truly angels.  From the police man who stayed with me holding my hand the whole way, to the nurse in the ambulance who sang me little songs to calm me down, to the priest who came to see the "American girl who speaks his Italian", everyone was incredible.
So, I won't be writing too much while I'm immobile.  But when I'm able to move little by little, I'll be back :)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

In a pickle

The basics
People have lots of odd hobbies they like to get their hands in when they have some down time.  When it's a long, rainy, grey Monterosso day, there isn't too much you can do this time of year.  You can, like some people next to me on the couch, watch soccer highlights and YouTube videos.  People clean out old closets, organize storage areas in the garage under the house, iron, read, catch up with friends and family, and so forth.

I've found that I can do all of these things in the morning and still have the afternoon free.  There are really just too many hours in a rainy day.

So, I've returned to one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen, which is to pickle.

Vegetable rainbow waiting to be pickled
I love pickles, of all sorts.  Okra, carrots, green beans, radishes...cucumbers, of course, but man does not live on pickled cucumbers alone.  I started pickling years ago, meticulously sterilizing Mason Jars then using tongs and boiling tops with a deep fear of Botulism pulsing into my pounding heart.  Several dozen times later, I'm still here and happily munching away on my jars of preserved vegetables, but I found myself simply put off by the whole process as well as too impatient to wait that long.

Refrigerator pickles are the easy, simple and fast solution to keep your favorite snacks for at least a month, though I've never had them last that long.  I use a very basic recipe that I make differently every time - the only thing I measure is the vinegar and the water, the rest is something that is a happy surprise in every jar.  Using a variety of small jars means that I can experiment with different spices, produce and sweetness while ensuring if I make something completely inmangabile (inedible), it's just that little jar that will get tossed.

First, take several glass jars with screw tops and clean them very thoroughly with hot, hot water and soap.  Make sure they are well rinsed and dry, then pack them to the top with the veggie of your choice.  Okra makes a lovely jar as do sliced carrots or a mixture of radish, onion and celery.  Cucumbers, of course, and cauliflower are other great choices.  Italians use this process of putting vegetables sott'aceto, or under vinegar, as much as we do, but for a far greater variety of produce then just cucumbers.  Get creative!

Start by slicing a few onions paper thin, and then adding them liberally to the jars.
Cooling before finding their homes in the fridge
In a medium sized sauce pan, over a medium high flame, bring 1 cup of apple cider vinegar plus a few tablespoons and 1 cup of purified water to a boil.  You can add less vinegar, of course, but my tastes veer towards the vinegary side, so this recipe always works for me.  Add a heaping spoonful of sugar, and the same amount of salt, plus another teaspoon.  Crush a few cloves of garlic, remove the skins, and throw them in as well.  A spoonful of whole black peppercorns, dried dill, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and a dried peperoncino, and when the mixture is boiling, remove from the flame and immediately pour into the veggie filled jars, seeds and all.  Make sure to get at least a clove or two of the garlic and a good amount of the seeds in each jar, and make sure the veggies are totally covered.  Seal tightly, and leave out for a few hours until the jars are cool, then move to the refrigerator.  Leave them for about a week, then get snacking.

Spicy cucumbers with turmeric
Sometimes I'll add more sugar and omit the coriander for a more "bread and butter" variety, sometimes I'll throw in a hefty spoonful of vivid orange turmeric and a skinned chunk of ginger.

It's also fun to add things like more hot peppers and more sugar to okra, warm middle eastern spices like cumin to some thin sliced carrots, and sweet raisins to a vinegary cauliflower.

Radish, celery, carrot and ginger
Refrigerator pickles are easy, not at all intimidating, and a great way to pass a few hours, ensuring that in a week, you have a fridge full of all the colors of the rainbow.

Just in jars, under vinegar.