Friday, January 13, 2012

Red tape, white soup - Cream of celeriac, potatoes and roasted garlic

You know how they say a little sneeze can start an avalanche?

Well on Monday I sneezed…

My first mistake was waiting till pretty much the last minute to get some important paperwork done. This knowing very well for something like, uhm, ten years that this day was approaching. This even if I had started working on the process well over a month ago.

In my defense I would like to point out a few of things:

  1. I am normally a pretty organized person
  2. I usually don’t leave things to the last minute
  3. The immigration officer on the other end of the phone seemed pretty relaxed about deadlines when I called to enquire
  4. How was I supposed to know that as of 1 January 2012 the whole certification procedure between bodies of the Italian Public Administrations was going to change? I mean even the guy in point 3) didn’t know! Ok, I live in Italy, I shoulda known better.

Back to Monday:

Blonde female puts papers into an envelope with a satisfied smirk (she has after all just solved problem in the above point 4) and fills out the last page of a stack of forms. She pulls out her passport to copy the number and expiry date and lets out a bloodcurdling scream. (Cut)

Yes, my passport is expiring in 3 weeks, when the abovementioned envelope should have been sitting on a desk at immigration containing a valid copy of said passport.

After this horrible Monday-morning discovery, images of a big red stamp reading "deported" loomed in my mind for the rest of the day. Images of my Italian children crying out "Mamma, Mamma" as I am being dragged handcuffed onto an airplane. My husband declaring eternal love and promising he will find a way of getting me back.

A question arises spontaneously: how the heck did I not remember that my passport was expiring exactly in the timeframe of the process required to renew that slip of paper that allows me to live in this country?

Well, the truth is I have a phobia of all things involving red tape. As a citizen of one country with a parent from another country growing up in yet a third country, my situation is sometimes a little confusing. As a person who often feels like she belongs everywhere and nowhere, bureaucracy can get a little intimidating. I am always waiting for that paragraph 10b, subsection VIII to jump out at me demanding a paper everyone else in the country has that totally screws me over because "I am not an xyz citizen" or "I wasn’t living here at the time sir". My phobia is not at all helped by the fact that I live in a country that is notorious, to say the least, when it comes to bureaucracy.

So let’s just say that despite point 1) and 2) above, this is one of the few cases when I tend to push off a problem, to pretend it does not exist.

Maybe if I don’t think about it, it will go away… (girl rocks back and forth in a dark corner with children’s song playing in the background).

Oh, and then life got in the way with birthdays and Christmas and family visiting and then the deadline was suddenly upon me. I always leave extra time for last minute problems or emergencies. But no, when it involved something as important as this, yours truly decided not to count the days and to live in lala land instead.


And that is how the avalanche started and got worse and worse.

The rest of my day was spent on the phone, on the Internet, mumbling and cursing, with a tear or two in between.

Did you know, conveniently, that immigration calling hours are in the morning and Consulate calling hours are in the afternoon? And that I work in an open plan office space? And that the lines are constantly busy and when the line is free you are endlessly transferred to another extention where you have to explain your whole life story again? I am sure my colleagues enjoyed that. And the pigeons on the terrace, where I eventually moved after a few dirty looks.

And did you know you have to make an appointment to even get in to the Consulate? And that the US passport photo format differs from the European size? And that only one out of ten photographers will print in that size? And that this is the era of digital photography so finding a photo lab (what where they even called when they existed???) is practically impossible? And that when you find one their computer has broken down? And when you find another one, they are closing early? And that I had to print out three pages in English from the Consulate's website for the Italian photographer to study before clicking away?

Well, as much as you like a good story, I will admit that at the end of all this I found a place right next to home where a lovely lady studied hard and knew exactly what she was doing (25 to 35mm from chin to top of head, no smiling, white backdrop, no headgear, no strange accessories etcetera, etcetera, etcetera).

And then after searching for the entrance for quite a while and leaving any electronic devices at the office and asking the bar tender next door if he could watch my bike helmet while I disappeared into Fort Knox because it could turn into a weapon of mass destruction if inappropriately used, and getting undressed and storing my lip gloss in a miniature locker and showing my passport and answering questions and being escorted from the elevator I actually got everything done at the Consulate in the matter of minutes with the assistance of very kind and helpful personnel, both inside and out.

And it seems, after searching on line for hours, like the deadline for my permit renewal is actually not as close as I initially read so the man in point 3) had every reason to be relaxed.

So fingers crossed, but it seems that things are looking up.

After a week like this, a nice bowl of warm and comforting soup is all I ask for.

If you have been reading my blog for a while you know about my revelation. This time I changed the ingredients around a bit, getting the creaminess from potatoes instead of flour and a nice little additional boost from the garlic.

It hit the spot!
1 medium-sized celeriac
4 medium-sized potatoes
1 head of garlic, roasted
about 4 cups vegetable stock
olive oil

Preheat your oven to about 200°C/400°F, peel the excess skin off of a head of garlic and cut off the top. Sprinkle with salt and oil and place on a baking tray wrapped in alluminum foil. Roast in oven for about 30 minutes. In the meanwhile, peel the potatoes and celeriac with a potato peeler and cut into smallish chunks. Warm a little olive oil in a pot and throw in the root vegetables. After you have let them cook for a couple of minutes, mixing well to coat with oil, cover with vegetable stock and let cook with a lid until the vegetables are soft. When the vegetables are tender and the garlic is caramelized and soft, squeeze the cloves right out of the skin into the pot. Let cook a few more minutes and then blend. Adjust with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese sprinkled and some extra freshly ground pepper.


  1. Well bless you, this sounds like a pretty hellacious experience! You definitely deserve some warm, comforting soup -- heck, you deserve someone else to make you some warm, comforting soup, and then to serve it to you while you relax on the couch with a book or a good, long movie!

  2. I was shocked at what you cannot bring in the consulate. I had to leave my little purse mirror and my labello and of course all electronics including the charger of my mobile, which I'm not even sure qualifies as electronics, but maybe I could have used it to strangle someone.... Anyway, tutto e' bene quel che finisce bene! And that soup looks like a real happy ending!

  3. yummy recipe...I will try it soon....This makes me drool..Bookmarking it..


  4. Yeah, that's pretty much a nightmare! I hope things work out, I'm sure they will! And keep eating your delicious soup in the meantime. By the way, that's a kick-ass vegetable peeler in the revelation post. Bet that would not be allowed inside the consulate either!

  5. I have never been able to make soups like these... intimidates me a little...

  6. Oh, no. I feel for you having had very similar experiences. For me the time change is added which means getting up in the middle of the night to still reach anybody at an office in the afternoon in Germany. You just have to stay up longer, which would be more manageable for me. These early morning phone calls with German government employes are just terrible. I also check passports all the time frantically in case one would have expired over night.My German one takes forever to get renewed and includes a trip from Denver to L.A. to the consulate.
    Good luck with all your paperwork. I hope it all turns out well.
    By the way, your soup sounds delicious. I am in the soup eating mood these days.
    Wishing you a good weekend.

  7. What a week you've had! Whenever I'm stressed or worried getting in the kitchen always makes me feel so much better. I'm not a huge fan of soup, but if anything was going to convert me it would be something silky, smooth and comforting like this. Hopefully everything will come through ok - my thoughts are with you!

  8. Meister - the cooking part actually helps me relax, but I am totally with you on being served while reading or watching a movie!
    Pola - hehe. yes, it is quite a bizzarre experience. I thought I was being smart leaving my cell phone at the office, and then I left a USB memory stick in my bag.
    Arthi - glad you enjoyed
    Nicole - a good 'ole Tupperware...yes, not something to bring into a consulate
    Jesica - don't let yourself be intimidated. These soups are one of the easiest things you can make out there and they are so delicious.
    Kirsten - oh my, I had never thought of time change problems...and flying all the way to LA? Ok, I'm not complaining anymore! Hope you had a good week end.
    Asmita - hi! Thanks
    LL - cooking definitely helps destress. I hope you warm up to soup (excuse the pun), they are the perfect solution in so many ways.

  9. Kitchen as therapy! This soup sounds wonderful, need to try cooking celeriac soon!

  10. AAHHHHH I know what you mean... when my husband and I lived in Italy, he had a permesso di soggiorno and had to renew it twice... it was a NIGHTMARE. The worst experience of my life... closely followed by the visit from my in laws who had come from India for our wedding and had to spend 1 full DAY at Questura to "register their entry" and prove they had enough money for their stay, a ticket back home etc! And they stayed 2 weeks... not 2 years! I am so glad we all have a double citizenship now, so no more headaches (it was a problem even to come on holiday!). :-) I HATE BUREAUCRACY ! I am glad to hear you managed to solve the problem! <3

    The soup looks delicious! It's been a pretty cool summer down here, so I wouldn't mind of bowl of that for lunch! :-)

  11. Goodness me, you poor thing! I found living in Japan a challenge because of their rigid red tape. But it sounds like you experienced something much more extreme altogether! Wishing you good luck with it all! :D

  12. I hope everything goes well in the end too! I am lucky being an European citizen it's always been quite straightforward in Europe at least - and this is why I have a panic attack any time there are talks about the EU dissolving. I collected horror stories from overseas friends by the dozen in any European country, I don't think it is only Italy which is fussy with the bureocracy, unfortunately.

    Nothing like soup to recover, I agree :)

  13. ToB - you must!
    Manu - what a nightmare, how horrible for you in-laws. I think it is no longer necesary now when you are visiting for bried periods.
    Lorraine - I've heard Japan can be quite challenging.
    LaCR - "tutto il mondo è paese" as they say here. As you read above, US red tape can be quite intimidating too. The only thing that is pretty wild here is how often new laws and regulations change old ones.

  14. I am actually chuckling thinking back to my experiences with all of that - the Italian permesso di sojorno and the French residency permit... yeah, been there, done that although your experience does sound somewhat harrowing. And I'll bet there were people all along the way hinting to you that just a few euros would smooth the way, no? And, yes, coming home to a soothing bowl of creamy soup is wonderful. Gorgeous soup! And my husband loves celeriac...


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