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October 14, 2008
"I've never bought this many galline," Tom said, as he placed the sixth gallina on top of the pile of food in our shopping cart. We had cleaned out the store's entire inventory of galline, it looked like. A gallina is a hen of a certain age; she makes a great chicken broth. These galline are going to end up in several large chicken pot pies. The cart was almost overflowing as it was, with six bags of potatoes, 10 litres of milk, two pounds of butter, three bags of flour and lots of other stuff.

"Yeah," I said, "Shopping for forty is like being a giant."

"What kind of cheese should I get?" he asked himself, standing before the gorgeous array of Italian cheeses. I could tell already that this chicken pot pie was going to be beyond any chicken pot pie I've ever experienced, and that was before he decided to blend a goat cheese and a fontina into the bechamel.

I was preoccupied with our young pastry chef's order for his five torte riso, which he had emailed to me earlier today. I didn't want to make a mistake. Sterling says he needs 650 grams of almonds. What kind, I wondered, looking at the ground almonds, the whole unblanched almonds, the whole blanched ones, the sliced almonds. 1200 grams of rice, the short grain kind. There must have been twelve distinct types of short grain rice for sale in that store. 400 grams of candied citrus. What kind, again? They had orange and lemon and something else whose name I didn't know. He needs 24 eggs. Eggs in Italy come ten to a carton, not twelve. Okay. He needs 8 litres of milk. Milk comes in cartons of twelve 1-litre containers, packed in such a way as to need no refrigeration.

"How did you learn to cook?" I asked Tom.

He shrugged. "I don't know. My parents, I guess." Most of the young people I meet here are the children of American mothers and Italian fathers. They are all bilingual, at least. They know the food. They drink the wine, a substance which does not carry the same moral freight here that it does in America: people just drink it with food, and few seem to drink it to excess. Children here love a snack of bread dipped in wine and sprinkled with sugar, a treat their great-grandmothers gave their grandmothers and their grandmothers gave their mothers.

There are so many things I like. I like the way nothing is wasted here -- yes, it means that some of the chickens in the store still have their heads on, and you have to allow for that, but recycling is everywhere, electricity is used carefully, cars are small. People use clotheslines, not electric dryers. People don't have dozens of outfits or pairs of shoes; they just have enough, and take beautiful care of what they have. I like the way the law concerns itself with ordinary people's needs -- the law does some other things that aren't as charming, but it does aim to protect the little guy.

We listen in the morning to the last evening's news from America. If I can stay awake late enough, I listen to "All Things Considered" before turning in at night. There are so many things I like here. But always, I turn on my computer and find WNYC. I am so glad to hear from home.
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