cookbooks are the best way to learn history

On my plane ride back to America, I flew Alitalia. Yes it was the cheapest flight (other than going through Eastern Europe; I’m not that brave), but I also felt better about going through Italy than through other cities in Europe because of how they feel about Israel. Then again, I feel better about Germany with Merkel’s remarks the other day in Congress–she’s certainly doing her best to redeem Germany in my eyes.

In the mean time, our flight was delayed an hour, but that’s okay because I could walk around around the Rome airport and see what I could not afford or really wouldn’t want to spend any money on, even to say “I bought it in Rome”…

And then there was another hour delay until the plane actually took off. One woman, upon seeing that the plane was shared with Delta/Alitalia/Air One, was very funny. She said that they davka (well she didn’t use that word) went with Delta, because the last time she flew Alitalia, they were stuck for 2 hours on a bus just like the one we were on at the moment.


Well, we got on the plane eventually, and we took off without incident, thank G-d. Yes, they’re just building in prayer into our lives! And thankfully I had an aisle seat. But there was no music and there was a screaming baby behind me (but not as bad as the 2 year-old on the flight from Tel Aviv to Rome, but that’s another column) and I really wanted to use my headphones to block out the sound, but…

So after fighting the system for a while, I finally started up a conversation with the cute young Italian couple next to me. They were going over a tour book of my fair city, and I heard him read in English with a fairly decent accent, and he had picked up an International Tribune paper, so I figured it would be safe to speak in English. Sure enough, he is the son of a diplomat, so he’s gone to English-speaking schools all around the world. They are both university students and they’re looking to perhaps go to graduate school in America. Basically, anywhere but Italy. They started telling me all the things wrong with Italy for them and it became very clear after a very short while that it was a miracle that anything worked at all there. Certainly it was impossible to depend on things getting better at any time soon there.

But one thing that was very clear was that he loved his Italian cooking. Actually, he loved to cook just about anything. He took the opportunity to ask about what this kosher thing was and why I was getting this food but not eating it (the oddest looking meat, not that I would eat non-odd-looking meat), so it was all in all a very interesting conversation. His girlfriend’s English was not as polished as his; she learned most of her English through watching American TV shows. Apparently, one of the odd things about Italy is that there are no laws prohibiting any kind of downloading from the internet, so you can get any kind of newspaper, journal, or TV show from all over the world. But she studies Chinese in university, and was looking forward to going to Chinatown here in our fair city. And, surprisingly enough, one of her grandmothers was American, which leads to the next story:

One of his favorite recipes from his grandmother was for a cake that she called “the brown cake”. As he got older and started connecting the dots about the recipe, he found it odd that the cake called for butter and chestnuts, since his grandmother lived in an area known for its rich olive oil, and they never used nuts in cakes. As he researched it more carefully, he found out that the cake actually was identical with

(have you guessed yet? I didn’t!)


So here’s the history lesson. In WWII, American soldiers were stationed in their village. Since his grandmother’s house was actually one of the largest in the area, many of the soldiers lived in their house. In gratitude for letting them live there, one of the soldiers either baked or gave them the recipe for brownies, creating an interesting cycle for a grandson who was looking to come to America for school and who knows what else?

By the way, he is planning on studying international terrorism, so he’s a good guy. We need as much help as we can get on this one.


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