Vernazza Updates:

Vernazza is well on its way to normalcy and while I no longer write updates on their status, you can learn about the devastating floods of 2011 by clicking the label "Vernazza Updates". For the latest information from the organizations in Vernazza and Monterosso, visit SaveVernazza and Rebuild Monterosso.

19 April 2014

Getting Validated

We all need to get validated in life, but this post is about getting a different kind of validation--train ticket validation!

When you travel in Italy, you will inevitably take a train, ESPECIALLY if you plan to visit Liguria. Purchasing your ticket can be done in many ways, whether online on Trenitalia's website, at the service window in any train station or at the many convenient Biglietto Veloce ticket machines. Please note, these machines only sell tickets, they do not validate them.
Unfortunately, buying your ticket is not the only step required in a stress-free and fine-free train ride.

09 February 2014

Kiwi Clementine Tart

Sometimes a little free time in the kitchen and a bunch of fruit can yield spectacular results! It all started with a bag a kiwis that a friend gave us. There are only so many super tart kiwis that one can eat before one starts to think: "what in the world am I going to do with the rest of these things??"

When I entered the kitchen that afternoon, I certainly didn't expect to wind up with this gorgeous fruit tart. But for me, inspiration comes when I least expect it. Now, I wish I could tell you that I'm an organized, methodical person of clear mind and I set out to make a grand fruit tart. But no such luck--I am an artist at heart and my accomplishments in life are made in a much more Bohemian sort of way--I need to feel inspired.

30 December 2013

Leftover Panettone-Part 4

This is the fourth installment in what I call: "Leftover Panettone". In Italy, panettone is sold during the Christmas season and is the classic gift you bring to someone's home when visiting during the holidays. If you have a lot of friends and family, that can add up to some serious numbers! So it isn't unusual to have more panettone than you know what to do with. If you find yourself in this particular Italian predicament, please also see part 1part 2  and part 3 for the other ideas.

This is a very special dessert often made during the holidays, so not technically a left-over panettone dish, but I'm classifying it as such anyway. Here, as in part 3, I use Pan d'oro, or golden bread, from Verona, which is a sweet, vanilla scented, and star-shaped 'bread'. Unlike traditional panettone, it doesn't have any raisins or candied fruit. Also unlike the the traditional, round panettone, Pan d'oro is star-shaped, so when sliced cross-wise, it makes star-shaped slices! Here, these slices are topped with filling and staggered so that it looks like a tree (a super sweet, chocolate drizzled tree).

This is a very flexible dessert, in that it can be made with any type of filling or decoration. But for this, I used a lemon curd filling and topped it with whip cream, drizzled chocolate and festive goose berries. 

Albero di pan d'oro
1 Pan d'oro
1 cup lemon curd
2 cups heavy whiping cream
150g chocolate, melted or prepared ganache
2-3 bunches of gooseberries

Open the Pan d'oro, carefully slice a thin layer off the top to remove the brown crust and slice the entire loaf into 2cm slices.

Whip the cream until firm and stir in the lemon curd.
Spread the filling in the center of each slice, layering the slices from the largest to the smallest and turning each slice so the star corners alternate.

When all layers are placed together, pipe the remaining filling onto the exposed star tips.
Place single gooseberries on top.

Melt the chocolate and pour over the top of the 'tree', allowing it to flow over the sides and drizzle all over.

When the chocolate cools, top with the bunches of gooseberries.

This is a simple dessert to make, but will WOW everyone at the table!
Serve in carefully cut slices, followed by a nice espresso.

Buon appetito!

12 September 2013



What is beauty?

Beauty is, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder--but it's so much more than that. I am always seeing the beauty in everything I see, whether it be something really beautiful or something that most people don't even notice. And it's the noticing that we need to do more of. Nature is the most awe inspiring motivation for me. Since I was little, my walks down the street were always interrupted by the beauty of a flower, a caterpillar hidden behind a leaf, the way a weed can grow in the tiniest crack in the cement, or the big solid feeling a tree gives below it's burly branches. Still to this day, I notice these little things and I notice the absolute beauty that surrounds me where I live. 

02 June 2013

Brugnato in Fiore

Each year, the small Ligurian town of Brugnato [pronounced 'broon-yato'], transforms its streets into floral fan-fare. Many towns and villages across Italy will have such festivals and if you get the chance to see one, it is truly remarkable.

26 May 2013

Elderflower Delights

Late May to Early June brings the bounty of elderflower blossoms. Here in Liguria, edler trees abound and a drive through the countryside will leave you with a landscape of these cream colored bursts of flowers.
Their aroma is nearly intoxicating and the mere sight of these delicate, adorable white blossoms, bunched together to create a perfumed umbrella is one of the loveliest sights of Spring.

23 February 2013

The Italian Spring?

It’s no surprise why the Italian economy is in trouble. Like many of it’s European counterparts, Italy has been subject to credit rating downgrades, hyperinflation with the switch to the euro, excessively high unemployment rates, soaring public debt and a slew of austerity laws in the works to really put the squeeze on the people. Where Italy differs from the others, however, is the gross economic inequality between the working class and the ruling class.

Italians have the lowest salaries of Europe. The average salary for an Italian is 1,000 euros a month (if they’re lucky enough to have a job), from which they pay 22% percent sales tax; rent or mortgage and property tax; annual trash tax; Italian television tax (RAI); the highest rates on electricity, gas and petrol than any other European state and to top it all off, about 36-42% income tax. Could you pay all that and live on 12,000 euros a year?

“I’m tired of seeing people lose their jobs…lose their homes!”
-Beppe Grillo

In sharp contrast, the Italian parliament members make some of the highest salaries in Europe, ranging from 6,000-16,000 euros a month. With the addition of allowances and credits, their pay scheme is an enigma that a specially formed committee couldn't even figure out. Not to mention the end of term pay-outs they receive which can range from 30,000-83,000 euros in one fat check (this gets repeated with each term they complete). This is compounded by the fact that parliament is made of 315 senators and 630 deputy ministers. Let’s do a little math: 945 members of parliament x (I’ll just average) 11,000 euros salary = 10,395,000 euros drained each month from the pockets of the people (for more information on parliamentary salaries, click here). A funny side-note: I multiplied this by 13 for the annual cost, but my calculator gave me an error message that the amount was too large to display! But they contend that they work hard and deserve every penny...

25 January 2013

Dinosaur Kale

If you frequent Pinterest or any healthy/Paleo food blogs, you are aware of the recent Kale Chip craze. Picture after picture of crunchy, curly kale looked so good to me and I wanted to try it. But that lush, curly kale just doesn't exist in Italy. I certainly haven't seen it, even after searching far and wide. What I did find, however, was a very dark veggie with long flat spears that look just like, well, spears. I discovered that this "cavolo nero" or black cabbage, is called Dinosaur kale in English. The flavor is very similar to curly kale, but it is a bit stronger and mostly stalk with very little tender leaf. I'm not sure how it compares to the curly variety nutrition wise, but eating it makes me feel very strong and healthy! I even suspect this is what was in Popeye's spinach cans!!

18 October 2012

Bruschetta Party

This summer, a trip to Simon Boca Negra, an amazing foccaceria in Sarzana, inspired us to make an aperitivo of varied bruschette. This is a fun and easy dinner to throw together for yourself or for a party and the possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

28 September 2012

Book Review: "Inter Rail"

Traveling by train in Europe is an incredibly unique experience. Inside these comfortable steel tubes speeding through the countryside, the outside world becomes vague and blurred as it rushes past the windows. Whether lost in a book, or in good conversation, time takes on a different form while on a train and journeys of several hours and hundreds of miles can pass by in matter of moments. Most often however, this small bubble in the time-space continuum is shared with a complete stranger. This forced intimacy can easily be ignored with the help of ipods, books, computers, etc. or it can be embraced as an opportunity to get to know a random stranger.

But what kind of relationships can be formed from the crossing paths of random strangers? Francesco, the main protagonist in the book “Inter Rail”, by Alessandro Gallenzi, discovers just this when he boldly buys himself a rail pass to travel Europe.

24 September 2012

Ricotta & Red Onion Pasta

Today was our first day of storms and rain and it made me think of this warm, autumn pasta. It is a recipe from my mother-in-law and it quickly became one of my favorite pastas. After several continuous days of heavy red sauce, this light creamy pasta is a welcome change. It has a very delicate flavor and I like to add fresh thyme to round it out. If you like the sweet flavor of red onions, you will be sure to like this pasta.

10 August 2012

Do You Spritz?

Aperitivo is an Italian tradition, a favorite past-time and a cultural necessity. There are many ways to enjoy this early evening social snack (it is the original Happy Hour, actually), whether it be wine or cocktails, but during the summertime, when the air is hot and your skin is tight from a day at the sea, the most popular drink is the Aperol Spritz. It is a very simple concoction, yet it is so refreshing, and the gorgeous, cheery orange color is enough to lift your spirits and put you in the mood to celebrate.

It's sunshine in a glass, really. "Un Spritz" is so easy to order anywhere in Italy that one can get quite accustomed to the consistency of always getting a good Spritz. Unfortunately, when you leave Italy, a Spritz seems to be a foreign concept and the mere mention can bring a confused look to even an experienced bartender. My friends that leave Italy experience a period of Spritz withdrawals when they realize that it is nearly impossible to have a fix outside the Italian border (which is similar to my experience of ordering a Monaco outside of France, but that's another story).

19 July 2012

Spaghetti agli Scampi

Italian food is very seasonal and in the summertime, pasta with scampi is not to be missed. While my first memories of this dish were made in Vernazza's piazza Marconi so many years ago, I have discovered that this dish is surprisingly easy and much cheaper to make at home! There are a few versions of this pasta, the most common being made with a thick tomato sauce, but I find that a simple, simmered garlic and pomodorini, or grape tomatoes, is the best.

15 June 2012

The Best in Vernazza

It's a known thing that to get good food, you go where the locals go. Trattoria da Sandro is no exception. Just down from the train station, the very first restaurant you come upon is Trattoria da Sandro and after being one of the hardest hit businesses in the raging landslide of October 25th, they are back in business and better than ever! (Look at that beautiful deck, my husband built that deck!)

14 May 2012

Vernazza: Six Months Later

As many may know, the Cinque Terre has been working double time to get Vernazza and Monterosso back to normality. It has now been six months since the fateful flood that took lives and destroyed these two villages. But in this brief period of time, people have come together from all over to accomplish what we all expected would take years. Today, a walk down the main roads in old town Monterosso and a stroll through the piazza in Vernazza give the feeling of near normalcy, almost as if nothing had ever happened. Kate Little, who writes LittleParadiso blog, says that seeing pictures of the flood compared to Monterosso today “almost seems like waking up from bad dream”.

25 April 2012

Italian Liberation Day

April 25 is a national holiday in Italy. 

In my day-to-day business, all I have heard this week is "Mercoledì è festa" (Wednesday is a holiday) and who is going where on vacation. But does anyone ever think of what this date means to their lives? Probably not.

25 April 1945, was the day the people of Italy were liberated from their Nazi occupation and it forever changed the course of their lives. In La Spezia, there is a very rich history of WWII stories, as it was the main naval base for northern Italy. L'Aresenale was not only a large Mediterranean port, it also housed the Italian ammunition bunkers, a large ship repair port and it was the seat of the German occupation for the area.

18 April 2012

The Best Whipped Cream Ever!

Sometimes the best discoveries are made when you have to use something up before it expires. This was the case with a tub of masrcapone cheese the other day. It was the beginning of yet another long Sunday lunch with the family and my mother-in-law didn't know what she should do with the huge tub of cheese. 

If you are not familiar with mascarpone cheese, here is a little info:
It is mild, creamy and has a buttery taste. It's consistency is closer to butter cream frosting than it is to cheese. Mascarpone is the main ingredient in Tiramisù, so if you are familiar with that, you already know the consistency. It is thoroughly versatile in the kitchen as it can be used to make sauces thicker and creamier, it can be used for dips, frosting (I make an orange frosting for spice cake with it), scones and numerous other desserts. It's possibilities are endless.

09 April 2012

Wild Asparagus!

I am a huge fan/supporter of harvesting wild food. You can see my Wild Caper and Chestnut posts as proof. Food just tastes better when it grows wild and going for a hike or hunt to find it makes it an fun adventure. Last year, when reading about Kate Little's adventures in the woods above Levanto to find wild asparagus, I was delighted at the idea of finding asparagus and determined to discover these skinny, hidden jewels myself.

Come March, during a celebration of our friends' bar opening (see Bar dell'Amore) in the Cinque Terre, a friend from Riomaggiore told me that he was making asparagus risotto from a bunch of wild asparagus he gathered that morning. I got excited and asked him where I could find some, to which he told me that it grows all over the hills of the Cinque Terre and I could even find it above the bar.  Fortunately, another friend from Vernazza pointed out that all of the Cinque Terre is a protected reserve and I could get a huge fine for taking any kind of plant. After much discussion about what could be said to the cops and how I could pretend to be a tourist that didn't know any better, I decided it was best to just look for it elsewhere!

03 April 2012

Fun Easter Treats

Easter is just around the corner and I thought I would post the super fun Krispy treats I made last year. I was instantly inspired when I saw the quick flashes of Rice Krispy treats shaped like eggs while my sister was forwarding past commercials on her DVR. "Oh my God!" I gasped, "GO BACK! It's Rice Krispy treats shaped into eggs and filled with M&Ms!" I am still amazed at how quickly my brain grabbed the whizzing images that flashed before my eyes and put them together to understand what it was. Why can't my brain work that well under normal circumstances, like when I walk into a room and forget why...but I digress.

Anyway, sugary sweets are not something I normally eat, but when inspiration hits, I must surrender to its power. Plus, I had never actually made Rice Krispy treats myself, and I always love new experiences. Turns out, they are super easy--a little time consuming with stuffing the eggs, but super easy. Making these 'treats' are fun for the whole family and I highly recommend these surprise 'eggs' as a creative way to make (and eat) them. So here is what you need:

25 March 2012

An Extra Special Birthday

This year is the first year in my entire life that I celebrated my birthday in Italy. For some reason or other, I have always been outside of Italy for my birthday. So this year, I had high expectations of how to pass my special day. I had considered many options, many places, but in the end I decided that what I wanted most was to spend a lovely day in the Cinque Terre, visiting friends and enjoying the views.

It started with a morning train ride to Manarola to have breakfast at my new favorite place, the Bar dell'Amore. Our friends recently took over this jewel of place located right on the path called Via dell'Amore, or Walkway of Love, between Manarola and Riomaggiore. Make sure to read all about this great new bar here.

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