This Week in Tomatoes

Dewds, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have a 4-year-old guest in the house. She is cute and energetic and smart and all the important stuff but she also thinks that accents are very, very funny. Oh, Emma, you are a joy and I will read you any book any time.

My Frida is also 4 and it is interesting to see how wrong I am about the cultural differences between European and American parenting. Turns out we all worry about the same stuff: sleep schedules, eating too much sugar/watching too much TV, wondering why she ate broccoli last week but doesn’t touch the stuff this week. The major difference seems to be in our approach to hand sanitizer. I mostly use hand sanitizer as a punchline when making unkind jokes about Americans; this week’s lovely houseguests use it to clean their hands.

(Hey, you know that I’m American, right? You can tell because I keep forgetting to wear gloves while cleaning this season’s bountiful artichoke crop, so the fingers and fingernails on my right hand are stained brown. It really looks like I need some hand sanitizer.)

Today at the produce stand, I had to commit to a verbal contract before I was allowed to buy the low-acid, vine-ripened Sicilian tomatoes. I asked for tomatoes, the produce lady asked which ones. I pointed to the small, dark red, deeply creased donut-shaped tomatoes. She said, “These are for sugo.” And I said, “Mhmm, half a kilo, please.” Those tomatoes are so good raw. They’re fruity and delicious and not drippy. I could practically taste them. She said, “These are for sugo.” And I said, “Um, and some strawberries, please,” thinking about the sandwich I’d make with the tomatoes. Again she said, “These tomatoes are for sugo,” this time making eye contact until I nodded. “Ok, sugo.”

She rang me up and it wasn’t until I was loaded up and on my bike that she said, “No basil?”


So now I’m making a minuscule batch of basil-free tomato sauce because having a clear conscience for future produce dealings is more important than a freaking sandwich.


Max, lately, 10 times a day: Here, Mom, here? (Gesturing to a place to put whatever is in his hand.)

Me: That’s just the place for it. Great.

Max, nodding hugely and trying not to smile: Ok, yeah, ok. (Puts the thing down, looks perfectly smug.)


Let’s all remember to be pleased with ourselves as often as we possibly can.

Life is Good

Things we’ll miss about Italy:

  • older men in elegant hats who make sweet faces at Max
  • fragrant flowering trees and bushes
  • never feeling overdressed
  • eating sweet treats for breakfast like it’s no big deal
  • people wearing flattering clothes
  • mothballs that smell good

Things we’re looking forward to about moving back to Germany:

  • good dark bread
  • organic everything
  • excellent air quality
  • reliable, convenient, high-quality healthcare
  • people wearing clothes geared for comfort in any weather

Things that are not on either list:

  • conversing fluently with the children’s doctors, teachers, and friend’s parents
  • an appreciative audience for the constant stream of occasionally hilarious sarcasm pouring out of my brain

The nice thing about operating at suboptimal fluency, though, is that I can still pretend that people will start laughing at my jokes just as soon as my vocabulary extends to pun-friendly levels.

Ps. if you usually get a holiday present from me, now’s probably a good time to tell me if you don’t want it to be mothballs.


What’s Hot

Spring has sprung, and the locals here in the greater Milan area are bringing out the shoulder-season wardrobe in force. Today is an absolutely run-of-the-mill Thursday; here’s what to wear to run errands in a Northern Italian suburb if you’re:

  • a 50-ish year old woman – smooth, puffy Jackie O hair, large horn rim spectacles, and a 3/4 length Sherlock Holmes cape. The kind with leather-lined slits for where your wrists should go.
  • a 25-ish year old man – very greased up hair, preferably longish on top but shaved on the sides, well-groomed eyebrows (duh it’s Italy,) a nicely tailored cotton single-button jacket with the sleeves rolled up, and gold glitter leopard print loafers.
  • 18-month-old boy/girl twins – matching sheer pink linen scarves.

There was no doubt about any of these people pulling off or not pulling it off. They were flawless, all of them. Those little babies in their enormous stroller were killing it, where ‘it’ is my ability to pretend that I can just throw a raincoat over my yoga pants and call it an outfit.