Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Family fixes home in ghost-town & tells others to follow

This is an incredible inspiration for me. Exactly what I would love to do!

With 25,000 euros and 1000 hours of work, Maurizio Cesprini and his partner Paola Gardin rebuilt a ruined home in the medieval village of Ghesc, Italy. They hope other young families will consider their example with a plentiful supply of medieval ghost towns. They also feel drawn to save the rich architectural heritage of artisanal stonework dotting villages throughout the Alps, and beyond. Called “The Village Laboratory”, Ghesc is part-owned by the Canova Association and hosts workshops so college students worldwide can come learn historical stone construction techniques. The public half of the village includes a communal kitchen, pizza oven and concert spaces. Right now Ghesc (in local dialect; “Ghesio” in Italian) in the commune of Crevoladossola near the Swiss border has just 3 inhabitants (Maurizio, Paola and their son Emil), but the four homes that comprise the private side of town are at various stages of being rebuilt. Canova Association:

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Things that Italians Don't "Get"...

Things Italians Don't "Get" by Dan Keller

 Invoices. This is an unintended consequence of an aggressive tax code. To hasten collections of taxes, the code was recently changed so that businesses are taxed not on what they receive but on what they invoice. Thus, once they send a bill to a customer, they owe taxes regardless of whether the customer actually pays. The result is bizarre but predictable: now invoices are not sent until after they are paid. Request for payment is verbal, informal, or perhaps by means of a letter vaguely requesting payment... but not by an invoice that could be entered into a bookkeeping system. Thus, businesses have difficulty tracking (let alone collecting) receivables and knowing what they're owed. And the tax system is no more effective than before. Ridiculous.

 Refunds. It's neither in their culture (once you've yielded money it's gone forever) nor in their accounting systems. The word itself doesn't exist in Italian; the closest is "rimborso" (reimbursement) which is different. There is no such thing as a money-back guarantee. Sign up for a course at a local adult school, for example, and if it's not right for you, you can't have your money back but you can have a credit for a future course. As a result, nobody signs up (i.e. pays) for any course until after the first class, so they can see whether it's ok without risking their money. Thus, the instructors don't know whom nor how many to expect and the school doesn't know whether to cancel the course for low enrollment. Another example: no one ever risks overpaying for anything; they know they'd be screwed. So they underpay whenever possible. It's a bookkeeping nightmare.

 Reliable contact. E.g. the bank officer goes on vacation. His phone simply goes unanswered. No one covers for him. There's not even an answering machine. Another example: someone's cellphone is unreachable (perhaps it's turned off, out of range, or bill is unpaid) -- the cell company's message doesn't say there's a temporary problem, it says the number you've dialed is no good. You must learn (as with so many things in this unhelpful culture) to interpret the message loosely, that is, keep trying... The message is probably quite literally false.

 Flex time, i.e the concept of doing something at a different time than the majority, to avoid crowds, distribute resources better, etc. Primarily meals, but also vacations, etc. They just don't do it. In August, the beaches are solid flesh. In September, you've got them almost to yourself. Our favorite pizzeria downstairs from our apartment in Rome: get there at 7:59 for a table right away. A minute later and the queue is already forming. For a culture in which individuals pride themselves on non-conformism it's absurdly lockstep.

  • Formulaic and propagandistic "news".
  • Quasi-porn entertainment; misogynistic and pandering to the tawdriest of tastes, e.g. the famous Veline
  • Dubbing: Many programs are imported and dubbed, always employing the same tiny cast of voices and stylized, stereotyped deliveries.
  • Censorship e.g. Sabina Guzzanti whose political satire TV show was terminated after she ridiculed Berlusconi and his corrupt government. She was also sued by Berlusconi's TV empire Mediaset's lawyers. Censorship is alive and well in Italy.
Pop music. When it's well done it's derivative (Giorgia, Neri per Caso). When it's genuine/original the quality is low. The classic cantautore has rarely had music lessons or voice training and can't carry a pitch.

Air conditioning. It's expensive and must be consumed wisely. Yet Italians don't close doors and windows when AC is on. On the contrary, when they run the AC, they throw doors and windows wide. It's almost a superstition; somehow it would be unhealthy to seal the room when the AC is running. Wasteful and weird, this attitude appears universal in Italy.

"Get out of the way" -- instead they have "squeeze past" (which Americans would do well to learn).

Queueing. Even doing it sneakily and cleverly doesn't make cutting in line ok. It's one example of the belief that the rules, deep down, don't apply to them. They can get indignant when someone else uses this principle, but they do it with a humor that Anglos don't have because Italians understand that the same principle is at work for everybody else. So when someone cuts ahead of them in line, they complain but not with the self-righteousness of an Anglo.

Customer service. The crews that trim the hedges on the medians of the highways wisely block off the adjacent lane for safety but they do it during the hours when traffic is heaviest. After all, it would be unreasonable to expect them to work nights or weekends. So the terrible traffic grinds nearly to a halt. Another example: A tabacchi doesn't sell bolli... but you don't learn this without waiting in line... It wouldn't occur to them to post a sign and spare the hapless peon. A third example: Receipts, copies of documents, etc. When you fill out a gov't form, you don't get a copy. When you pay a bill, buy a bollo, or submit a fee, you don't get a receipt. Hey, it's the government! (Or a faceless company). They owe you no service -- quite the opposite! It's well-understood in Italian culture who works for whom.

Salaries. Workers in Italy are so poorly paid it's no wonder they're slow, grumpy, and utterly without initiative.

Banking. Opening an account is a lengthy process, with lots of discussion among bank employees about procedures and requirements. Standard procedures? In your dreams! But that's just the staff. The banks themselves are predators. Their goal is to deduct as many fees, charges, interest, etc. as they can from client accounts while delivering the least service possible. In the US, we expect courtesy and service from banks, and they compete for our business. In Italy, customers meekly put up with their banks because it's hard to live without a Bancomat (ATM) card. Nonetheless, they hate their banks... with good reason.

Obeisance before officialdom. In the agenzia Entrate (and other government offices) great attention has been paid to the waiting process that applicants endure. The waiting room is elegant and well-cleaned; even the take-a-number ticket system is refined and high-tech. Too bad equal attention was not paid to the effectiveness and efficiency of the services for which we supplicants -- I mean applicants -- wait.

Shower curtains. In Italy, there's no such thing. Evidently, a shower's primary purpose is to wash the floor surrounding the tub.

Diversity. Among the few things we're uniquely good at in the USA is inclusion and acceptance of foreigners. My Italian is nearly flawless and my accent is subtle yet in every conversation with someone new there comes a moment when they ask, "Ma non sei di qui, vero?" And I know that from that point forward what I say will be discounted. The absence of this instinctive, unthinking arrogance is one of the few aspects of American culture from which Italians can learn... Indeed, must learn.

Things They Get Brilliantly

Integrity about food. At a restaurant the other day, the maitre'd was setting up a table for a group of six. He pushed a table for two next to a table for four and stepped back to survey the result, making sure that their experience would be perfect. This is entirely normal and expected. At mealtimes perfection is the norm. The napkins and tablecloth shall have been ironed, certainly.

Garb, appearance. Pressed jeans and above all good shoes. You can be an idiot but you must look good.

Empathy toward friends. Sense and do whatever the friend needs, regardless of inconvenience. My Italian friends tell me that in adversity it's not to siblings they turn but to friends.

Coffee bars. As everyone knows, the coffee is splendid, in minute, silken doses. The barman (or lady) is a performer on a stage, emptying the old grinds, replenishing the new, and throwing the steam valve (or switch) with great economy of motion and pride. The protocol followed by we who belly up to the bar is precise. Our place is established by a saucer and teaspoon that mark the imminent landing zone of our coffee and briefly entitle us to 30 cm of gleaming stainless steel bar-front real estate. We earn this by presenting, as evidence of payment a scontrino from the cassa, often accompanied by a small coin to win special treatment -- a smile, perhaps, or even a grazie if he/she is not too busy. A charming theatrical ritual.

VPLs. Whereas for American girls revealing the outlines of their underwear is gauche, an embarrassment, for Italian girls it's part of the outfit. Underwear is not a dark secret that must be denied. After all, everyone wears it (mostly). What's shameful about that?

Rubber stamps. They adore them! Entire stores are devoted to Timbri e Targhe. No official or monetary function can proceed without them in joyous profusion. At the post office (of course), in any kind of office, even in an ordinary shop the clerk rubber stamps and signs the instruction manual of the hair dryer you bought. Rubber stamps reassure Italians that something real has taken place, that they are alive, that they exist!

Saying no. At a store, you ask for something and are told, we're closed, come back in two (or even four) hours. You do and then they tell you they're out of stock (which may or may not be true.) The point is that the customer is an annoyance. At the bank, a clerk tells you that the routine operation you request is impossible, never done, "Mi dispiace," those are the rules. Come back later, ask a different clerk, and your transaction is completed in minutes, no problem. Too bad this experience is not unusual.

Flowery language is how Italians convey seriousness, gravity. Severgnini: "Verbosity... is the hallmark of consequence. Simplicity risks passing for superficiality, and a light touch can be taken for lack of authority." Thus, statements made in American-style brevity are often dismissed by Italians who pay more attention to presentation than to content.

Rules are for other people. Supporting facts:
  1. My mother knows everything important and is never wrong.
  2. She says that I am special, extraordinary, brilliant. Flawed, perhaps, but only in ways that increase my charm.
  3. If you doubt #2, see #1. That's why rules don't apply to me. Oh yes, and girlfriends who are not like my mother won't last. In other words, all of them.
The misfit child/sibling/parent Esp. in movies. E.g. the angry, autistic brother in Lettere dalla Sahara, the schizophrenic sister in La Meglio Gioventu`. Italians love skeletons in the closets of others.

Old man, young woman. The Berlusconi TV channels pander to the lowest of the low. More than one parent has told me that those channels are off-limits to their kids. The offenses are many. Among them are those featuring fatuous old windbags who behave like pedophiles. But that's irrelevant. Your attention is instead riveted to the camera angle: up the dresses of the young lovelies they nearly molest. One can't help but wonder what goes on behind the scenes and how tiny are the sums for which these beauties yield their dignity. For Mr. Berlusconi it's a race to the bottom line... and the bottom. Shame on you, Italy!

The Power of Intangibles

In the culture of Italy (where I lived for the past year and which continues to be very present in my thoughts) intangible, legalistic, and conceptual things have unusual power. They possess reality in a way that is much stronger than in our own North American culture. I'll give three examples.
I joined a health club. One of its requirements was a medical certificate stating that my cardiac health was adequate for physical exercise. The weird part was that the little man at the desk refused to accept this information unless it was the original document created by the doctor. A photocopy was not acceptable. In other words, the purpose of the regulation -- protecting health, avoiding potential lawsuits -- was subsumed by an intangible characteristic of a piece of paper. The material fact (my good health) that motivated the regulation was irrelevant.
Example 2: A street was being re-paved so the curb lane of traffic was rerouted. A city bus was thus unable to make its customary stop at that curb. The temporary sign that covered the bus stop sign said, "Bus Stop Suppressed During Construction". In other words, the ordinary behavior of the bus -- a convention or activity, not a physical object, was not merely ceased but somehow vigorously subjugated -- "suppressed" -- just short of violence, though the subject of the announcement was merely a concept. It's somehow gone beyond just being a place where people would usually get on a bus and become almost force of nature, an entity with a will of its own.
Example 3: Many of Rome's narrow streets in the city center have restricted traffic flows that vary from day to day. Illuminated electronic signs proclaim whether or not traffic is permitted on a particular street on a particular day. The wording of these signs, too, imply a kind of physicality to the rule. When passage is forbidden, the signs say "Regulation is Active", in other words, the rule (again, a conceptual thing, not an object that possesses actual physical manifestation) has, to the Italian mind, power and physical-like properties. It's not just in their heads, it's somehow a real thing out there in the world.
This feature of Italian culture may at first seem subtle and little more than a curiosity but it has remarkable power in daily life. It contributes to a docility and acceptance of bureaucracy as normal. Italians put up with things that would be unacceptable here in the USA because somehow the underlying conceptual mechanisms have, to them, more force, more power, more reality. There is of course much to love in Italy. But this bureaucratic mindset is one of the things that makes me glad to be back home in The Land of the Free.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How to (properly) cook pasta...

If you want to live in Italy one day, then of course you’ll have to learn to cook. And nothing says "Italian food" quite like pasta. 

We can't envision an Italian table, restaurant, or family dinner without picturing a heaping dish of spaghetti with tomato sauce, right?  Fair enough. But let's examine our picture a little more closely.

Are you sure that the pasta has been cooked properly? Are those spaghetti as hot as they should be? And are they perfectly al dente?  Do they meet all the requirements of a dish of spaghetti, worthy of the name association? In countries outside of Italy, all too often, the answer is a resounding "no." I'm afraid that what we frequently see is an anemic, overcooked glob of sticky noodles served as a side dish to just about anything. Alas.

As expats (or would-be expats) let's try not to ruin our reputation by making some blasphemous mistake against this symbol of national pride. There are kitchen protocols that any native-born Italian totally takes for granted.  But for the rest of us, it might be useful to peek behind the curtain and see what the wizard is up to...

First, put the water to boil and use plenty of salt. Note that the salt should be generous, and coarse sea salt is preferred for this purpose. It has a better flavor than table salt and is easier to dose. We're going to use a big pot, with a lot of water, so do not assume that all the salt you add will be absorbed by the pasta. Most of it will just remain in the water and consequently discarded.  A tablespoon of sale grosso in 2.5 to 3 liters (about 3 quarts) of water is about right.

Add the pasta.  Stir at least every couple of minutes. You don't want the pasta to "attaccarsi," to stick together.  For certain shapes that have a tendency to do so (orecchiette, fusilli), you might want to stir more frequently. Do not abandon your pasta! Let it know you care. Stir with tender love and don't traumatize it in the process. If you stir properly, you won't need to add any oil to prevent sticking.

How long do we cook our pasta? You want to avoid overcooking at all costs! It is the worst and yet most common mistake. No Italian would ever eat overcooked pasta.  If you follow the instructions on the package, you'll want to reduce the cooking time by a couple of minutes. Not because they fib about the actual cooking time, but because you need those couple of minutes to make the pasta "jump."

When your pasta is ready (a minute or two under-cooked) you are going to drain it, but not the way you think, with a drainer (colander). No, that is only used for very large quantities or for some very particular kinds of sauces. If you're just cooking for yourself and your partner/family, all you'll need is a big kitchen spoon with holes, or in the case of spaghetti, a prendispaghetti (literally, spaghetti taker), which has some "fingers" to grab it with.

OK, your pasta is two minutes under-cooked and you're draining it with the proper tool. In fact, you're not draining too much, because a little water will be absorbed during the jumping. 

As you transfer your pasta to the saucepan, turn the fire on again. You are actually going to complete the cooking process, for a couple of minutes, by making the pasta jump (tossing it) with its sauce. If you're not an expert, you can just stir carefully. And adding a little of the salty water (the one where you cooked the pasta) if the sauce seems to thicken too much is a great tip.

In Italy, there is no such thing as cooking a plain dish of pasta then putting the sauce on top.  No. You stir, you jump. Every single rigatone must first flirt with, then embrace, and finally consummate the relationship with its portion of sauce.

Serve immediately, as you don't want to spoil it all by making another 10-minute conversation with your guests. Your table must be already set. Your kids' hands washed. When pasta is ready, everybody sits down and eats. No exceptions.

By the way, are your plates warm? Do you want to risk dropping the temperature of your perfectly cooked pasta by placing it on cold plates? No, of course not.  This is the little-known 4th law of thermodynamics, proposed by Galileo two centuries before Carnot, et al. (Joking)

Italians keep their plates warm. There are various techniques for this: put them in warm water while you're cooking, or else keep them around the stove. Whatever you do, just don't let them get cold.

Is that all we need to know about how to cook pasta?  Well, that's the basics, but of course there are subtle nuances in cooking pasta that are as mysterious as witchcraft and they can't be so easily explained. It requires practice.

One last bit of advice. I shouldn't have to say this, but experience has taught me that it's necessary to point it out: 

Don't EVER reheat pasta leftovers from the day before!

Wasting food is a sin, but eating day-old pasta is a mortal sin. If, in a moment of weakness, you commit this transgression, please seek the counsel of an ordained priest immediately, and he will prescribe an appropriate penance. The fate of your immortal soul is at stake.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Beef braciole al sugo (in tomato sauce)

Beef Braciole al sugo (in tomato sauce)

Preparation time: 30-35 min   Cooking time: 2 1/2 hours   Servings: about 4 – 6

Braciole with sauce is one of those traditional Italians meals reserved for special family gatherings. For many Italians, braciole are synonymous to their nonna’s cooking and memorable Sunday lunches. Thus, Braciole are part of the fond memories of most Italians who can recite who in their upbringing made the very best. Here’s our recipe.
  • 1 1/2 lb beef top round or flank steak – if meat is thick butterfly it or ask your butcher to do this. You’ll want thin slices of meat for rolling.
  • 1/2 c. Chopped Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley
  • 1/2 c. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese or Grated Aged Provolone Cheese
  • 2 tbsp. Garlic chopped finely
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 6 – 10 slices prosciutto or speck, halved widthways
  • Toothpicks or string (butcher’s twine) to secure the rolls
  • 3-4 Tbsp. Olive oil for browning
  • Tomato Sauce (see recipe for this to follow)
  • 500 g rigatoni

Using a meat mallet or a rolling pin, pound the steaks between sheets of baking paper to about 5mm thick. Cut steaks in 2 widthways. (You can ask your butcher to do this for you.) If making  smaller ones cut the meat into 5-6” slices.
Rub each slice with olive oil. Lay the prosciutto slices over each steak and scatter chopped parsley, cheese, garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
Roll up to enclose and secure with toothpicks. You can use 2 or 3 strings to secure the smaller ones. If making large ones, use more string or toothpicks.
In a large frypan, Brown the rolls in olive oil over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes. 
When finished – remove them and tranfer to tomato sauce.
Cover the pan or pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Stir gently occasionally to turn the braciole.
Uncover the pot for the last hour of cooking to thicken.
Remove braciole before serving and remove and discard toothpicks and strings. Slice the braciole thickly.
Serve with rigatoni, plenty of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a nice glass of red wine.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Flavors from the Sea-Calamari fritti or Fried Calamari

Note: I grew up loving these but the first time I made Calamari Fritti was in the summer at the end of my eleventh grade. A few of us had gotten together to rent an extremely rustic farmhouse ($20/month) on the very isolated west side of the island of Paros in the Cycladic chain of islands  in Greece. It was the night of the full moon and we decided to have a party, the Calamari were one of the main courses.
This is a perfect fry with all the taste of fresh squid

Ingredients: 800 g squid, semolina, olive oil, salt.

PREPARATION: Wash the squid, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cut into circles and turn them over in the flour until it no longer adheres well. Put the squid in hot oil and fry until golden turning with a slotted spoon. Drain them, put them on paper towels, season with salt and serve hot. The secret of a good fried food is the temperature of the oil. To find out if the temperature is right immerse the handle of a wooden spoon. If the oil bubbles around the spoon, it means that the oil is at the right temperature.

Friday, January 31, 2014

3 Reasons I Will Never Leave Italy

The title is probably an exaggeration. I most likely will live in the United States again. Statistically, very few expats live out their lives in a foreign country. Most, eventually, find their way back to the land of their birth.
So let me just say that these are the top three reasons that I can't imagine leaving Italy... today.
#1. Coffee. Coffee is not just a drink in is a work of art.
Starbucks may have 17,000 stores throughout the world, but Italy does not have a single one. A barista will make your espresso, simply called a caffe`, with the precision of a skilled craftsman. From the coffee beans, to the pre-heated machine, to the properly sized cup, to the exact strength and temperature of the caffe`, and milk, it will all be controlled by a professional. The "no foam, skinny latte, double shot of vanilla" order does not happen here. To drink an espresso, macchiato, or cappuccino in Italy, is to enjoy something just as it has been made for generations. The taste is exquisite....perfection. I cannot go back. And, it's the only place I have ever found that wants to drink coffee as I do, all day long.
#2. Emotion. There is just so much of it. 
My first week in Florence, I rounded a corner on a narrow side street and walked right into a melodrama. A man was crying out to a woman next to him that he was, "Frustrated. Heartbroken. Devastated." Arms raised, palms up, he wailed to her, (and the neighborhood), that he just "couldn't take it anymore." "Wow," I thought. What could she have possibly done that had him so distraught? It didn't take more than a couple of weeks of living in Italy to realize that was everyday, normal conversation. She'd probably forgotten to pick up his dry cleaning. Similar dramas can be heard from any open window, trattoria or sidewalk, on any given day. And while everything is of the utmost importance, nothing is private! Passionate, kissing couples are everywhere, while the rest of the traffic just walks around them. Life seems to be lived fully in the present, engaged and emotional. It's raw, real and refreshing. It makes me smile a little as I walk by. Good stuff here, happening just outside my door.
#3. La Bella Figura. There are rules here that simultaneously impress and frighten me. You may not know the rules exist the first time you visit Italy, but live here for a while and they become clear. This is an entire country of people who strive for "la bella figura", the art of making a good impression. These are the sometimes subtle, but always present, rituals of behavior that make this country unlike any other. As a foreigner, you may just notice how polished everyone seems to be. It's staggering. Constantly aware of aesthetic beauty, confident and manicured, they are a walking advertisement for the good life. But there are rules to be followed in creating the good impression that go beyond how one is dressed. And here's where it becomes a little tricky. You don't know the rules. You only begin to learn the rules after a certain number of withering looks. It might be from the server at the trattoria, fruttivendolo, or a full out scolding by an Italian Grandma in the market. Pretty soon, you catch on. (As a side note, these rules of behavior have been in place longer than the United States has been a country. So don't be asking why a certain rule exists. It just does.) As well mannered as you may be, no outsider is a match for those that were born and raised in the country of la bella figura. Many of the rules come from cleanliness and spreading germs. So please don't touch the produce at the market, unless you have placed on a disposable plastic glove, and if you do touch it, buy it. Don't share food, even pizza.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are rules on when to drink cappuccino, what sauce goes on which pasta, and what color to paint the shutters. I haven't even mentioned the language rules. There's an entirely separate vocabulary for those that must be spoken to in the formal, rather than informal, context. I am not complaining. Rather, I enjoy a society where everyone is making it a priority to be civil. But what about how they drive? And the dreadful condition of the sidewalks and public squares? Many neglect to pick up after their dogs or themselves. How is it that they continually butt in line or refuse to move over even an inch on the sidewalk? Therein lies the paradoxical life of la bella figura in Italy! I would miss the rules. I have worked so hard to learn them.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Do you know how to speak with your hands Italian Style?

Knowing some Italian makes any trip to Italy easier. But understanding Italian gestures might be even more important. Learn some with this cute video from La Repubblica... starring Dolce & Gabbana models.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

why do Italians love food so much?

Italian Food Traditions

Someone asked me yesterday, “why do Italians love food so much?”. Here is what I think. They love it because:

it is a matter of culture and identity…

In Italy “food” is more than just food. There are some people who say that in order to really appreciate an Italian recipe you should know everything about the region where the recipe comes from, meaning the landscape, the traditions, the way of life. If “culture” is the ensemble of the systems of meanings through which we make sense of what is around us, “food” here is one of the ways in which what is around us finds a way to express itself. In Italy, food is culture and you can find over 70.000 traditional recipes that are the perfect expression of a particular context. We could say that…
Italians love food so much because it is part of their roots, an essential companion of the beauty that surrounds them and one of the key elements that makes them… who they are.

 it is a matter of passion and pleasure…

I remember reading the results of a research once, a study that was carried out by an expert linguist. The researcher was trying to understand the difference between Americans and Italians when it comes to food. Looking at how typical Italian and American parents talk about food at dinner with their children, the scholar underlined that in the United States mothers and fathers tend to present dinner time to their kids saying things like “be a good girl/boy and you will have a reward… a wonderful dessert!” or “I know, you don’t like to eat, but be good and you’ll have some ice-cream later”. In Italy, however, parents talked about dinner with their children portraying it as a wonderful moment: “Guys, mummy cooked something delicious and special for us!” and “how delicious is dinner today, don’t you think?” were common expressions among the Italians. The conclusions of the piece, with which I perfectly agree, stated that…
 Italians think about food as something pleasurable, and therefore communicate their passion to their children. In Italy, people love food because it is definitively a matter of pleasure!

 it is a matter of simplicity and community…

Did you know that many of the Italian traditional recipes were born in the house of poor farmers who had to make the best of whatever they have in their kitchens? “You don’t waste nothing”, used to say my grandma. But because they didn’t have much, these pioneers had to keep their dishes simple. In doing so, more or less consciously, Italians have learned that the quality of the ingredients is way more important than the quantity. Cooking, for an Italian family, has always signaled the coming of the moment in which everyone can sit at the table and enjoy the simple pleasure of a warm meal. So..
For the Italians, then, food is always a reminder that life can be complicated and hard, sad and cold… but that happiness is just a matter of few, delicious ingredients.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013


Nowadays, the United States Bocce Federation (USBF) promotes it as a sport and has been sending the best American players to world championships since 1979. They are part of a movement that is trying to get Bocce into the Olympics.

Thanks to Italian immigrants, Bocce has come to flourish in the United States although we find signs of the game before the 1800s: one early playing field was Bowling Green at the southern tip of Manhattan and we know that George Washington built a Bocce court at Mount Vernon.

Nine thousand years ago people played games similar to Bocce. Polished round stone balls with evident signs of having been rolled on the ground were found in Çatalhöyük, modern Turkey, and in an Egyptian tomb dated 3500 b.C. The Greeks played Bocce andHippocrates, the father of western medicine, considered it a healthy activity for the young and old. But it was the Romans that made it famous throughout the Empire. They invented wooden Bocce, cheaper and easier to make and to carry around. Emperor Augustus had a personal set made out of fine olive tree roots.

In the Middle Ages Bocce was played by kids and adults, rich and poor, on roads, alleys and squares. Old Bowling Green, the first Bocce club, was founded in Southampton, an old Roman colony, in 1299.

All this happiness bothered some aristocrats who did their best to ban it. Among them, French kings Charles IV in 1319 and Charles V in 1369, followed by the English kings Richard II in 1388, Henry IV in 1401, and Henry VIII, the king who had six wives, divorced two and had two beheaded.

Strangely enough, more somber people like Martin Luther (1483–1546), the German monk credited with initiating the Protestant Reformation, and John Calvin (1509-1564), the founder of Calvinism, found Bocce a fantastic game. According to legend, Sir Francis Drake refused to set out to defend England against the Spanish Armada until he finished a Bocce game, and we find Bocce in Rabelais’ novels, in Shakespeare's Richard II, in Peter Bruegel the Elder's paintings.

You can find courts almost everywhere but you can also play it on lawns, on the beach, wherever you find a leveled field. All you need is 8 colored balls, in two different colors or four different colors, and a pallino (smaller ball). 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

COZZE CON POMODORI- Clams with Tomatoes

INGREDIENTI: 1 spicchio di aglio, 500 g di cozze, olio extravergine di oliva, pepe nero qb, prezzemolo tritato, vino vermentino di Gallura, 200 g pomodori

 PREPARAZIONE Pulite le cozze eliminando il bisso. Cuocetele in un tegame con il vino bianco e fatele aprire a fuoco vivo. Tritate l’aglio e rosolatelo nell’olio; aggiungete i pomodorini tagliati a cubetti, unite le cozze e il loro sughetto e fate saltare il tutto. Aggiungete per ultimo il prezzemolo e il pepe macinato al momento. Disponete il letto di pane carasau e aiutandovi con un cucchiaio versate le cozze con i pomodori.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Eternal Veggies

Il Geco Biondo ("The Blond Gecko") is an organic vegetarian eatery that specializes in pasta dishes.
By Eleonora Baldwin
Published: 2013-01-13
he average Italian is a carnivore, Romans in particular. Veal and beef are the norm as main courses and in pasta sauces. But the city also has plenty of vegetarian options, mainly because mainstream Italian cuisine, which hasn't changed much since the 19th century, leans heavily on vegetable, pasta and dairy products.
Driven more by poverty and availability than conscious choice, traditional regional recipes depended more on what the land produced than what animal pens had to offer. Meat and fish were costly items, usually reserved for nobility or higher social status, and often downright rare for non-hunters. Hence the birth of polenta, pizza, gnocchi, vegetable pies, the vivid selection of cheeses, hearty soups and affordable preparations that relied on leftover bread, beans and potatoes: basic sustenance that has trickled down in history into our every-day meals.
So vegetarians visiting Rome don't need to worry. Here's a shortlist of reliable vegetarian, vegan and ovo-lacto friendly havens I've dined in lately.
Arancia Blu, among Rome's pioneer vegetarian destinations, has moved from its original San Lorenzo location to a larger, more comfortable venue in the Prenestina suburbs. Equipped with a lovely outdoor patio that welcomes pets and kids, the nifty à la carte vegetarian menu is also very popular with meat people, helped by a 600-bottle wine list, homemade stuffed pasta dishes, soups, salads and a mile-long cheese menu.

Natural foods on The Beehive blackboard.
I pretend to be vegetarian for their leek and almond quiche, the mouthwatering tortelli with Parmigiano filling, dressed with watercress pesto and topinambur (Jerusalem artichoke) chips. Leave room for dessert. ¶ Arancia Blue. Open daily from 5 p.m. (high tea); aperitivo and cheese/champagne tastings at 7 p.m.; dinner at 8 p.m. On weekends open for lunch only. Via Prenestina, 396e. Tel. +
The Beehive Café is a dreamy corner of peace which makes you forget you're two blocks from zoo that is the Termini train station. It's part of the eco-conscious and welcoming Beehive Hotel, a sustainable mix of budget hotel and upscale hostel. Owned by a lovely American couple, the hotel's kitchen offers daily breakfast graced by organic coffee and homemade bread, pancakes, omelets and bagels; plus weekend brunches, and evening vegan buffets three nights a week, all with healthy, organic food. You can come for that, or simply choose to sit in the garden, sipping herbal tea and surf the web thanks to the free Wi-Fi. ¶ The Beehive. Open daily 7:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Via Marghera, 8. Tel. +39.06.4470.4553.
Bibliothé is a peaceful vegetarian hub that draws indophile yogis, artists, poets, and travelers wishing to find a quiet space for reading at teatime. It serves 100 percent organic Ayurvedic cuisine (a holistic Indian approach to dietary needs). Guests are treated to candied ginger and caffeine-free tisanes; and the menu showcases dishes made with all manner of cereals, legumes, and fresh seasonal produce. I come for the tasty spelt crepes, the wonderful chutneys, homemade yogurts, and vegan desserts. ¶ Bibliothé. Closed Sunday. Via Celsa, 4 (Pantheon). Tel. +39.06.678.1427.
Il Geco Biondo ("The Blond Gecko") is an organic vegetarian eatery not far from Ponte Marconi that specializes in pasta dishes, salads and vegan desserts. It offers a wide selection of handmade gnocchi, lasagna, strozzapretiand stuffed ravioli, dressed with original sauces and condiments. Between the opening salad and the main dish, there's always a surprise, whether a protein dish, a veggie pâté, a bowl of soup, a mini cereal salad, or a side dish sampler. ¶ Il Geco Biondo. Open for dinner only, closed Sunday. Via G. Cardano, 105 (Marconi/San Paolo). Tel. +39.06.557.1048.
Margutta RistorArte is a very posh vegetarian restaurant with outdoor seating a stone's throw from Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps. All is homemade here (including bread, desserts and pasta) and popular menu items include a veggie tart with smoked provola cheese and zucchini in mint marinade; risotto with strawberries and Gorgonzola; and springtime asparagus and hard-boiled egg cous cous salad. There's a four-course vegan menu, affordable buffet lunch and three brunch options, according to calendar. ¶ Margutta RistorArte. Open lunch and dinner, seven days a week, year-round (except Christmas Day). Via Margutta, 118. Tel. +39.06.3265.0577.

Ten Things NOT to Do in Italy

Ten Things NOT to Do in Italy

Posted by Fodor's Guest Blogger on January 07, 2013 at 12:55:32 PM EST
By Eva Sandoval
The more time you spend in Italy, the more you'll notice that Italians love telling you what to do...whether you ask them for advice or not. Try this wine. Try it again. Pass that semi truck—you can do it! Wear different shoes. Change your hair; you're not eighty. Loosen up. Mangia, mangia! For a change of pace, here's a list of things NOT to do in Italy—a country as beloved for its passionate people as its natural beauty and delicious cuisine.



Head to Vatican City in a tube top

We know the desire to charm the Italians with your spaghetti strap sundress might be overwhelming, but visitors in skimpy clothing are forbidden to enter holy sights. If you can't bring yourself to wear a top that covers your shoulders, tuck a scarf or cardigan into your bag, and use it to make yourself presentable when you're on holy ground.

Park inside the yellow lines

Or the pink ones, if you're eating for one. Or the blue ones, if you want to save a few euro. Few things are as gutting as heading back to the parking lot and finding a parking ticket on your rental car, or worse, a stark gap where your car used to be. In an Italian parking lot, the white-lined parking spaces are free, the blue-lined are paid, the yellow-lined spots are for disabled motorists, and the pink spots are for expectant mothers. As for potential parking spots that have no lines at all, be sure to look for Zona di Rimozione (Tow Zone) or Divieto di Sosta (No Parking) signs. Or just do as the Italians: cross your fingers and park on the sidewalk. Sideways.

Expect things to happen according to schedule

One of the first things any visitor to Italy will learn is that there's time...and then there's Italian time. Italian time is elastic (don't be surprised when your 4 p.m. Colosseum tour starts at 4:30) and so are business hours. Many businesses—even, bafflingly, restaurants—shut down for lunch and will also be closed two days a week, days which vary from business to business. Double-checking business hours is crucial unless you enjoy making empty treks. Public transportation is also often "out of order" or delayed, so give yourself ample padding between travel connections.

Get fleeced by a gondolier

Taking a gondola cruise in Venice might seem like the most romantic thing on earth until you get the bill. Surprise: a gondola ride can cost upwards of $65 per person (!), and even more if you have a shady gondolier. If a $65-$130 boat ride isn't in your budget, but you still have your heart set on floating along Venice's canals, consider hopping aboard a traghetto—one of the water taxis used by Venetian locals when they want to cross the Grand Canal. The ride will be much shorter, but the traghetto boats are exactly the same as the tourist gondolas and tickets will cost around $5.

Take that Google Maps shortcut

Should you be renting a car to explore the country, you'll probably be using a GPS or Google Maps. You might be tempted to save on autostrade tolls by taking one of the outlined shortcuts. But the farther south in Italy you go, the worse-kept the roads tend to be. Razor-narrow passages, huge potholes and an absence of streetlights can make navigation difficult for a traveler unfamiliar with Italian motorways; the SS7 (Via Appia)—a mostly-unlit winding coastside path running from Rome to Brindisi—is particularly perilous. You might have to pay a bit extra to take the autostrade, but at least they're well-kept.

Get yourself psyched for authentic spaghetti alla bolognese in Naples

In Italian restaurants outside of Italy, all of the boot's many regional cuisines are slapped with the giant umbrella title—ITALIAN FOOD—so you'd be forgiven for not knowing that pesto was invented in Genoa and Limoncello is from Sorrento. But you wouldn't head to Los Angeles hoping for the best barbecue of your life, would you? Do yourself a favor and stick to local foods on your Italian trip. A (very) quick cheat sheet: Genoa for pesto; Naples for pizza; Bologna for bolognese sauce and filled pastas like ravioli, tortellini and lasagne; Milan for risotto alla milanese and ossobucco alla milanese; Rome for spaghetti alla carbonara, spaghetti all'amatriciana and lamb. Gnocchi, bresaola, polenta dishes, and the ultra-popular Italian dessert tiramisù are found all over the country, but are native to the northern Italian regions like Lombardy and Veneto. Prosciutto—or Parma ham—is most commonly associated with central and northern Italy.

Tip everything that matter what they tell you

Tipping is not obligatory or common in Italy. However, tourist-savvy service people may have heard that Americans are genetically programmed to tip everything from waiters to performing rabbits, so the cheekier ones might try to work you for some spare change. Unless they gave you the best service in the history of the planet, resist. They're getting a living wage.

Ask your waiter for parmesan cheese to put on your seafood pasta

Unless you want to see a grown adult cry, that is. One of the holiest commandments of traditional Italian culinary etiquette is that cheese and seafood never, ever mix. Only very recently have certain cheese/seafood pairings cropped up—i.e., ricotta with sea bass, gorgonzola with clams—but this is considered very avant garde (the elder generation won't touch such dishes). Regardless of your age or level of sophistication, mixing parmesan cheese with seafood remains a cardinal sin, so don't even ask. And for the love of Saint Peter, don't let an Italian see you cutting your spaghetti with a fork and knife.

Kill yourself trying to fit Rome into a crowded itinerary

Twenty regions, so much to see! Most visitors enter Italy through Rome, but if you plan to enter via Sicily or Milan and can't bear the thought of missing out on Roman ruins during your trip, take heart: the Romans were a busy bunch. Spectacular Roman ruins can be found throughout the peninsula, namely Volterra in Tuscany, Villa Jovis on the Isle of Capri, Pompeii and Oplontis in Campania, Piazza Armerina in Sicily, Verona in Veneto, and Mediolanum in Milan. Use the money you'll have saved on extra flights to fill up on wine.

Plan on conducting your entire trip to Italy in English

Yes, the movies would have you believe that any time you travel, your host country will be chock-full of citizens who speak your language perfectly, albeit with a charming accent. But Italy consistently earns moderate to low proficiency rankings on English proficiency indexes—among the lowest-rated in Europe. You'll do all right at hotels, historical sites, and restaurants in heavily-touristed cities like Rome and Naples, but set foot outside of those perimeters and, well, in bocca al lupo.
P.S. That means "good luck" in Italian.