Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Lickety-split Lunch

I’m having one of my favorite lunches today: Bean and Tuna Salad. It’s quick and easy to make. The ingredients are always on my pantry shelf. And I really like the taste. What more can you ask of a dish? It also lends itself to some variations, and measurements don’t have to be precise.

When I first learned to make this dish years ago, the recipe called for cooking the beans from scratch. Well, scratch that. With canned beans, I can put it together in little more than ten minutes. On those days when I have a rumbling stomach at high noon and have made no plans for lunch, I make this lickety-split and can feel virtuous that I’m having a healthy lunch instead of a grilled cheese sandwich or other fatty foods.

The standard bean for this salad is cannellini, but you can choose another type if you wish. Italians tend to prefer dark tuna, so I make this dish made that kind, but you could use white tuna if you really like it instead. I use tuna packed in olive oil, but again, you can save some calories by choosing the type packed in water. 

The traditional recipe calls for red onion, which I favor, but you can use fresh spring onions, basic yellow or white as well. I think there’s enough salt on the canned beans, but you may add a bit if you think the salad needs some.

Pour something to drink and eat a piece of fruit. The perfect lunch.

Tuna Bean Salad
1 small red onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
1 6-ounce can tuna
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup cherry or other small tomatoes, quartered
Black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Optional: capers (about 2 tablespoons), balsamic vinegar, black olives, salad greens, chopped basil.

  1. Chop the onion first and put in a cup of cold water while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Drain the beans and rinse under cold running water. Drain and place in a bowl.
  3. Drain the liquid (either oil or water) from the tuna and add it to the bowl.
  4. Drain the onion and add to the salad.
  5. Add the tomatoes, parsley and black pepper. Pour over oil to taste and mix.
  6. And it’s ready.
Variations: Add some chopped black olives and/or capers. Mix basil with the tomatoes before adding them. Add a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar with the oil. Arrange salad greens on serving plates and spoon on the salad.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Health Care, Italian Style

While America has been embroiled in the great health care debate, I have been settling in as a customer of Italy’s National Health Service. The Italian constitution lists health care as a basic right, so once I had applied for residency, I was eligible to join the service. It’s been an illuminating experience.

I was able to choose a primary care physician, and I based my choice on a friend’s recommendation. I can change physicians at any time. The doctor practices with her sister, also a doctor, and I can see either of them whenever I need to by dropping by during office hours. Yes, I often have to wait for a while, but since I always have a book to read, I don’t mind. I pay nothing for these visits.

The two doctors are the only staff. No receptionist means that patients keep track of who’s next to see the doctor. No nurse means the doctors give injections or take temperatures or bandage wounds. No technicians means the doctor writes an order for lab work. The patient goes to a lab (either one within the NHS or a private one). If the order requires a urine analysis, the patient buys a little sterile cup at the pharmacy and prepares the sample at home.

At my neighborhood lab, we all stand outside waiting for the doors to open early in the morning, most patients carrying a telltale green and white pharmacy bag with our personal liquid. Inside the lab, the receptionist records the doctor’s orders on the computer, accepts urine sample, takes the fee (I usually have to pay about $75 for a general work-up), gives me a number, and tells me when the results will be ready.

When my number comes up, the technician has printed out labels for the various tests I need. She draws blood, applies the appropriate labels to the vials, and bids me good day. When the results are ready, I pick them up and take them to the doctor who analyzes them and makes appropriate recommendations. I take the results home for safe-keeping and to bundle with the results next time.

I am quite healthy, so I’ve needed no serious care, just the usual winter sniffles and summer allergies. I get an annual flu shot (no charge) and get the usual mammogram, PAP smear exam, bone density tests for diagnostic purposes.

Friends who have been here longer than I have and who have more serious health problems or have had babies praise the system, too.  It’s worth noting in Italy life expectancy is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than the U.S.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Titty Bar

There’s an establishment in my Roman neighborhood called the Titty Bar. It’s not what you think.

Prim grandmothers meet there for morning coffee after hitting the market, dragging their shopping carts along. Workers from nearby offices crowd in at lunchtime for a plate of pasta. Teenagers arrive in groups after school to sip Cokes and text absent friends.

The Titty Bar is named for a cartoon character. Can you guess which one? It helps if you know a bit about Italian pronunciation. Generally, with some precise exceptions, all vowels are pronounced the same way every time: a is “ah,” e is “a,” i is “ee” o is “o,” and u is “oo.” So that means titty is pronounced teety.

Still can’t guess? An additional hint: there are some letter combinations in English that are impossible for Italian speakers. The “th” sound wreaks the most havoc. This particular sound is difficult for Italians because the “h” doesn’t exist as a sound in their language. It exists as a letter solely to indicate the correct pronunciation of the vowel that follows it or to underscore meaning. For example, the word ci in Italian is pronounced like beginning of the English word “cheese” while the word chi is pronounced like the English word “key.” In both cases, the “h” tells us how to pronounce the vowel. When Italians see and “h” in English, they ignore it.

Birthday becomes beertday. Notice that the “i” becomes “ee” and the “h” disappears. Third becomes teard. I spend lots of my time as an English teacher sticking out my tongue at my students to get them to practice the “th” sound.

But that doesn’t help you identify the Titty Bar. Another combination causing grief to Italian students of English is the “tw” sound.  Italians ignore the “w,” so Titty is the Italian pronunciation of Tweety.  And Tweety is surprisingly popular here. His image, and name, appear on children’s pencil cases and on t-shirts and even on kitchen appliances. Yes, there’s a Titty cappuccino maker!

Sometimes Titty is spelled Titti. My last cat was named Nefertiti, and I called her Titi. I always do a double take when I see this alternative spelling. It’s not as provocative, but it evokes a warm reaction from me every time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Award!

My pals at Novel Adventurers, a blog featuring four fearless travelers whose characters roam the globe solving mysteries, have presented me with The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award. All I have to do to accept is write five random facts about myself and pass the award on to five other blogs.

  • I have always hated petunias. REASON: My third grade teacher told my mother that I read too much, and they devised a plan to make me water petunias every day to keep me out of the house. I retaliated by moving covers from book to book to hide the number I actually read. 
  • I don’t have a sweet tooth, except for chocolate. BUT: I can eat a can of Pringles or a bag of cashews in one sitting. When my sister introduced me to eating potato chips with Hershey bars, I found true joy.
  • I held a White House press pass for a day. REASON: I wrote for a national publication interested in a particular press conference given by President Carter, so I asked for credentials.
  • I love anchovies and often cook with them. CHALLENGE: You probably eat them more often than you know. Check the ingredients list of Worchestershire Sauce.
  • I’m afraid of heights and bridges. BUT: I once walked across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with my heart beating my eardrums for all four and one-half miles.


  • Letters from Earth Kathleen Marsh records random thoughts about life in general and marriage in particular. Her husband, the Prince Consort, is a frequent participant. 
  • Fiori di Zucca (Squash Blossoms) This blog is in Italian, but it is full of authentic recipes for Italian food--all translated into English. To find the English version, click on any recipe under “Menu” then scroll down. The English version follows the Italian. 
  • Mystery Lovers Kitchen Eight mystery authors, who all write books about food, blog about it, too. Every day there’s a new recipe plus news about the books from these award-winning writers. 
  • 2Friends4Cooking Ren Finch writes this small blog which offers information about unique events in Italy and great recipes. In the past, Ren has held cooking classes in her home near St. Peter’s. She has recently moved to Tuscany and will be offering cooking classes there very soon. This blog will tell when. 
  • Diane Vallere Diane writes about shoes, clues, and clothes and other random thoughts.
If I have mentioned your blog, you can accept the award by passing it forward. Write five random facts about yourself and five short reviews of other blogs.