Martha Miller recently published a a travel memoir Times New Roman: How We Quit Our Jobs, Gave Away Our Stuff and Moved to Italy. She and her husband weren’t self-made millionaires or trust fund babies, and they weren’t lucky enough to have purchased a winning lottery ticket. They made their dreams to live abroad come true the old-fashioned way–they saved for it. Here she explains how they made these dreams come true and what they learned from living abroad.
After much discussion, research, and planning, we boarded a plane departing Houston, Texas en route to Rome, Italy. This was the beginning of what we referred to as the ’21-Month Plan.’
When John and I quit our jobs to move to Italy, we knew we would have some things to learn, and that was a good thing, a welcome thing, what we came for.
After living in Rome for 21 months, we learned how to shop, cook, eat and dress the Italian way, and as you can imagine, Italians do not sacrifice on taste whether it be food or fashion, and you shouldn’t have to either.”
Martha has put together some tips from Times New Roman. “Some things are worth paying more for and others can be skipped altogether,” she says. “Here are some of my favorite lessons for eating as the Romans do.”
Produce will be fresher and taste better for one thing, and it costs less than shipping from a climate where it is in season, or being forced to grow out of season. For example, in Italy, if strawberries are not in season, you will not see them at food markets or grocery stores. They just will not be available. In the U. S. we know prices are lower when produce is in season, so take advantage and enjoy the bounty at the proper time. It’s an easy way to cut costs and increase flavor.
With produce this is always a good rule of thumb, but it applies to other items too. Wine shipped from 100 miles away will be a better value, dollar for dollar, or euro for euro, than one shipped from a couple thousand miles away. I still buy Italian wine for old times’ sake, but I also balance my purchases with bottles from nearby vineyards and have found excellent quality as well.
Don’t Skimp on Olive Oil
I cannot emphasize this enough. DO NOT skimp on olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the best type bar none. When a bottle is labeled extra virgin, the oil is derived from the first processing of the olives. Virgin oil is derived from a subsequent processing of the olives, but still contains only juice from the olives. Plain olive oil uses chemicals to extract the last bit of olive oil from the paste and is practically inedible until a bit of virgin oil is added back into it. EVOO is one place you do not need to feel guilty about spending a little more.
Change Your Thinking About Salad Dressing
When we first arrived in Italy, I was surprised to find only two choices of salad dressing at my local grocery store. Two! And then I learned why. All one really needs to bring out the flavors in insalata is a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This salad dressing is simple, healthy and frees up all that space those myriad bottles were taking up in your fridge. I wonder how many years of my life have been spent comparing labels and prices: regular, no fat, low fat, store brand vs. name brand vs. gourmet brand. Mammamia! And if you ever wanted an excuse to buy one of those cute little glass cruets with a cork, now you have one.
Less is More
Our biggest moment of culture shock didn’t happen when we got to Italy; it happened when we returned home. Watching a pizza being prepared a few days after repatriating to the United States, we stood slack-jawed as the cook piled on several toppings and gobs of cheese. I wanted to yell, “Basta!” Enough! Really, it was way too much. Roman-style pizza, which has a thin crust with just one or two simple toppings, like potato and rosmarino (rosemary), makes an absolutely delicious pizza, one where flavors complement, not compete with, each other.
Even though we live in the U. S. again, we keep these habits going. In fact, I still make my grocery lists in Italian as a sweet reminder of our adventures in The Eternal City.
Times New Roman is available from Amazon.
Martha Miller is a former retail manager turned freelance writer, essayist and now author. Her work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, Wanted in Rome, LifeinItaly.com, GoNomad.com, Go World Travel, International Living, Family Circle, Parents, The Christian Science Monitor and The Writer.