OUTSIDE THE SKY WAITS … BECKONING, BECKONING

Part 7 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

It’s July 1, and David’s quarantine is in its final days. The EU opened its borders to 14 non-EU countries … but not the USA. David had threaded the needle, just like I had, to make it home.

To celebrate his liberation, we went to OSTERIA PER BACCO. We shared a tartine of bietola and alici cantabrico … a tender blend of chopped chard and bread crumbs wrapped in chard leaves to form sort of a giant gnoccho, then topped with those delicious Spanish, oil-cured anchovies. And of course we both enjoyed tuna tartare burgers … a delicious dish that includes guacamole, mango coulis, and homemade potato chips. Sitting in the piazza on a long, lingering summer evening as the light slowly fades is a reminder of the good life in Italy.

Our Annie’s birthday calls for a party … and later in the month, we have one for Aurora, Hayden, and Betelgeuse. I always write to fur-siblings on those days, exchanging fur-family photos.

I got together with Petra. Happily, her B&B has re-opened and rooms are full. The new regulations are strict … temperature checks … sheets must be rented from a specific local company who also washes them according to rigid standards … no self-serve breakfast, everything must be single portions and served directly to the guest … chaise lounges separated … hand sanitizer everywhere. She says it’s different this year. We have lunch outside in her tree-filled backyard as she tends to guests or meet at LA CASA DEL PROSCIUTTO, our favorite osteria, for an aperitivo along the river.

Allegra was AWOL for 8 nights. Eight. Long. Nights. Her previous record was 4 nights … the family record, held by her apple-didn’t-fall-far daughter Aurora, was 5. We think she might have been stuck in a garage or shed … and when the owners came back from vacation on Sunday evening and the door opened, she came home. To her relieved parents.

At the end of the month, we participate in something I’ve long wanted to do. A flash mob! It was with our original zumba instructor and Latin dance instructors, Gloria and Giovanni. I saw her video of their first event on Instagram … and immediately loved the song and learned the steps. When Gloria announced another one, I told her we’d participate. There was a practice to set the staging and refresh/learn the official dance-challenge choreography to the popular song Jerusalema. Two nights later … all of us wearing our assigned outfits … “it’s showtime” … we danced in front of the medieval Castello dell’Imperatore in Prato. It was fun-and-a-half …!

I realize that I can no longer say, “Is it Tuesday or is it July?”

As August began, there was a cluster of cases in the town where we shop. A 22-year-old girl went to a party … and 70 people were now quarantined. But a few days later, Petra said 500 are quarantined. It’s unsettling, but I’m relieved to know that contact tracing is working. There are no deaths.

On the 10th, we celebrated … no, not a kitty birthday … 8 years of living in Italy. Time flies when there’s delicious food to eat and paperwork to complete [wink].

David decided to play golf with his traveling group. But I don’t want to sit in a strange clubhouse for six hours … and I can’t sit in the sun for one hour. So there’s that. I told him to go and have fun. In hindsight, it was good because our Allegra and Aurora were away from home, and it was important that somebody be here when one or both returned. (Which they did.) A couple of weeks later, David went to a pair of events along the Adriatic coast, south of Rimini. Again, I told him to have fun … and enjoy the beach during the gap day between the two tournaments without worrying about me.

By month’s end, all the kitties had spent 1 night out of the house … much to my dismay and disapproval. Last summer it was only Allegra and Aurora who broke curfew … we’re (almost) expecting it. Accepting it, not so much. I ask Allegra if her other family is as nice as we are.

Italy closes discotheques. And says that masks … for months mandatory inside and encouraged outside … are now required there, too. Prompt action makes me feel comfortable. As much as one can feel comfortable during a pandemic.

The numbers in Europe are going up. Spain, bad enough to lockdown a region or two. France, bad enough to require masks in and around Paris. England, bad enough to impose mandatory 14-day quarantines for anyone returning from assorted countries on the Continent. Italy, not so bad. The numbers inch up, but mercifully the deaths are low in this wave. I start watching, worrying, checking every day.

The curve of cases in the USA goes up. Several months ago, the country plateaued at 20,000 cases a day … then cities here, counties there saw people partying and socializing. Experts warn that this behavior will lead to outbreaks starting in about two weeks, serious illness in three to four weeks, followed by hospitalizations, then deaths. Now the nation … as many look on in disbelief … seems content with 40,000 cases a day. Is it resignation? hesitation? helplessness? I wouldn’t take an unproven vaccine, but once approved and given to those most at risk, I want protection.

I’m still mosty home. Grocery store … pharmacy … plant/pet food store. Repeat. When I see Petra, we eat outside. Zumba and pilates re-started. Reservations are required … only 12 participants in squares marked on the floor … everyone’s temperature is taken at the secretary’s desk by the front door… locker rooms and bathrooms are closed … the large, 1-room studio will keep its two doors open during class … then exit directly out those doors … 15-minute breaks between lessons and sessions. I always pick the spot nearest the door. David & I always sing … sang … but now pretend with equal enthusiasm. However … the room doesn’t have any ventilation system, so I wore my mask. Yes it made me hotter, but after a song or two, I’m used to it. Better hot than feverish.

We shared tomatoes and zucchini and eggplant with our friends.

As the month ends, a big storm comes through. We actually managed to herd all the cats inside … !! … for the night, though they seemed too happy when we opened the door the next morning. It’s always funny when they start to run outside after the rain … only to realize the pavement is wet and the trees are full of drops still dripping unexpectedly. (As a good cat mom, I hide my amusement [wink].)

… and so it goes …

CARROT-WHITE CHOCOLATE-SPICE CAK

The photos show a mini loaf pan … made with some extra batter.

3 eggs
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1–⅓ cup oil
4–½ cups grated carrots
4–½ cups flour
1 oz. (2 Tbl.) cinnamon
1 Tbl. ginger powder
2–¼ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup raisins
½ cup candied ginger, chopped
½ cup white chocolate chips

- Preheat the oven to 350° F (170° C). Butter and flour a Bundt pan.
- In a large bowl, mix sugars and eggs, then add oil, followed by carrots. Blend well.
- Mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger.
- Stir in walnuts, raisins, candied ginger and chocolate chips.
- Pour into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 35 — 40 minutes, or until done.
- Serve at any temperature.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.