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 mascarpone 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, it is has the consistency of cream cheese but a mild,  a buttery taste. Mascarpone is the main ingredient in Tiramisù, which gives it the delightfully creamy texture. It is thoroughly versatile in the kitchen as it can be used to make sauces thicker and creamier, it can be used for savoury dips, dessert frosting (I make an orange frosting for spice cake with it), scone recipes and numerous other desserts. It can even be served plain with fruit. 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.

15 March 2012

Clear Skies A-Head

Today I needed to clear my head and get a little fresh air. So off I went, into the hills surrounding the city. I headed down the busy road, past buses and trucks, until slowly, bit by bit, the traffic lessened and the incline increased. Within no time, I was peering over the rooftops, onto the Gulfo dei Poeti, or Golf of Poets.

Ah, I was already thinking more clearly...
But still not satisfied, I continued up and around the winding mountain road, each step leaving my worries further behind until all that was left was my curiosity to see what I would discover.

12 March 2012

Grapefruit and Fennel Salad

The weather has finally turned warm again and taking advantage of the sunny day and the flat of fennel bulbs in the pantry, I decided to make a lovely and refreshing salad: Grapefruit and fennel, topped with crispy, crunchy prosciutto crisps. Now, this is just as delicious (but not as salty) without the prosciutto, so to make it vegetarian/vegan, just omit it.

By broiling thin slices of prosciutto crudo for about ten minutes, they become like salty, savoury crisps that you can eat as is, or break up into pieces. It’s sooooo good! Plus, a salad based on fennel needs something nice and salty, so it is a great combination.

Crunchy Grapefruit & Fennel Salad: 

09 March 2012

A Skeptic's Rebuttal

Just a few short months ago, I wrote about the uprising in Sicily that was not getting any news coverage--internationally or even here in Italy. And once again, real current events were left to us bloggers to spread the word. In the buzz that spread across the web, my humble little post, A Sicilian Revolt, was linked to by Joanne Nova, who wrote an excellent piece on the revolt and the current state of Italian journalism and media coverage (I highly recommend reading it). I was very flattered to be linked to by such a well known and popular person with a website of well over 200,000 viewers.
Of course, I researched a bit about this scientist/journalist/author/public speaker that linked to my little post in her in article. I discovered that Joanne Nova is the author "The Skeptic's Handbook" (you can download it from her website), which denounces the theory of global warming being caused by CO2 emissions and 'greenhouse gases'. Her firm stance on global warming has made her widely famous and certainly a favorite among American conservatives in their constant battle against environmental protection laws. With this discovery, however, I feel compelled to speak my mind on this subject, lest anyone assumes that my admiration of her afore mentioned article signifies my complete agreement of her environmental stance. I still admire Ms. Nova because I am a big supporter of intelligent discourse (something I feel this world lacks more and more each day) and I am in no position to argue over scientific findings. However, I disagree with the overall argument which, on a surface level, raises doubt about man's damaging effects on the environment and fuels the fire between environmental protection and corporate placation to "big oil" and power companies.

20 February 2012

Travelers: The Cinque Terre is Open

As we head towards the spring season, many are wondering if the Cinque Terre is open, if the hikes are hikeable and if it's even worth keeping the Cinque Terre in their travel plans. The answer is an overwhelming YES!!!

Before going into details, here is an overview: The trains are running on normal, regular schedules with stops to all five villages without interruption or access controls. Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia had little to no damage from the floods and all shops, restaurants and hotels/rooms are open for business.

08 February 2012

There's Snow Everywhere!

The Siberian winds have been blowing and all of Europe has been suffering under frigid temperatures and blankets of snow. But while the northern countries are equipped to handle meters of snow and below zero temperatures, Italy is not. It started last week and here in Liguria, we all awoke on February 1st to brisk air and white roads! It is certainly a surprise and a novelty to see snow where you rarely get it. By lunchtime, the sun came out and people were excited to go out and play in the snow, make some snowballs and be fascinated by the crunching sound beneath their feet.

Even the Cinque Terre awoke to white mountains 

29 January 2012

Vernazza Still Needs Your Help

Donations, small or large, are an incredibly important part of the rebuilding effort in Vernazza. If you still have not had a chance to donate, or would like to give more, there are several options and programs available. There are two Non-profits funding the rebuilding projects, one directly through the Commune di Vernazza and the other, set up by three American expats in Vernazza, called Save Vernazza. Both accept payments through PayPal.
Started by American expats in Vernazza, they keep their website, entirely in English, updated with the latest information, pictures, videos and the current rebuilding projects. Check out their site because it is a wealth of information! They can also help you organize a fundraising event in your area. They also accept your information if you would like to come to volunteer during the rebuilding. For their donation information, click here.

Their website, all in Italian, keeps a running total of the amount aquired and gives updates on the rebuilding projects. All the donation information can be found here.

28 January 2012

Vernazza: January Update

January has been a busy month in Vernazza. It welcomed the new year, new projects, new donations and even welcomed back many of it’s residents. But it also said goodbye to a tragic year, painful memories and the seemingly permanent and comforting presence of the cooks from the Marina Militare
With their portable trailer, the big tent and some powerful generators, Piazza Marconi was the "epicenter" of activity and comforting hot meals. These guys, lovingly nicknamed "The Navy Cooks", have been there from the very beginning, cooking meals for the residents, the volunteers, the military and the emergency crews. Here they were cooking Christmas dinner. On January 5, their work was finally over and with big hugs and big tears, they were bid an emotional farewell with a goodbye party thrown by the grateful residents of Vernazza.

25 January 2012

A Sicilian Revolt

It’s called the Movimento dei Forconi, or the Pitchfork Movement. It started as an uprising by the farmers because the cost of transporting food in and out of Sicily surpassed the actual price of the food. In complete disgust and a general consensus of being fed up with the multiple tax increases and lack of pay, people took to the roads and freeways to block any further transport. It was then fully supported by truck drivers. It started as a protest, turned into a demonstration and quickly spread across the island into a full revolt. Now, more than two weeks into the complete blockage of transport, most grocery stores, from the neighborhood market to the huge supermarket have baren shelves and all the gas stations on the entire island are dried up.

The beginnings of this “revolution” was kept rather hush hush. The national news refused to cover the story, either because they didn’t think it was serious, or more likely, they didn’t want the idea to spread. But thanks to the internet and again, Facebook, pictures, reports and videos spread like wildfire and most of the country knew about the revolt before the news said one word about it. Now of course, they keep constant updates on the ‘situation’ in Sicily, but what they feared the most was inevitable--the idea caught on. Now, truck drivers are parking their rigs from Trentino to Ventimiglia, blocking the borders and preventing transport. Here in my city, there are already lines at the gas stations and there have been warnings to fill up our cars in case we don’t have gas for a while.

24 January 2012

The Liebster Blog Award

The Liebster Blog Award is for smaller blogs with fewer than 200 followers. Together, we can help each other network for greater visibility. So here are the 'rules' of accepting the Liebster Blog Award:
  1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award.
  2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  3. Copy and paste the Liebster Blog Award on your blog.
  4. Reveal your top five blog picks for the award.
  5. Let them know you selected them by leaving a comment on their blog.
I am happy to have received the Liebster Blog award from Sam of Two Black Doggies, a fun blog filled with tales of European travels (especially Italy) and of course, her adorable two black doggies. She has also helped spread the news of the floods in the Cinque Terre and this has helped immensely. Thank you so much Sam!

Here are some really great blogs that I think everyone should know about (some were impossible to see the number of followers, so hopefully they fit the qualification):

15 January 2012

Sunday Lunch...A Modo Mio

The typical fare at our Sunday family lunch starts with my mother-in-law's pasta al forno, or baked pasta; then we move on to the main course of carne impanata, or breaded pan-fried beef or chicken cutlets, a green salad accompanied by slices of more bread and some kind of dessert that usually involves ricotta cheese and even more flour (ricotta cake or cannoli). It's a lunch that lasts the entire day, from around 1pm, with the first course, passing to the main course, then the fruit course, then dessert and then caffè, lasting well until 6 pm or so. It is all delicious and it's nice to spend time together, but we always wind up going home uncomfortably stuffed and we don't want to even see more food again. Thankfully I have no problem with wheat, but my poor husband does not do so well with this Italian diet based on refined wheat. At home, we are not gluten-free, but I make sure to use a minimum amount of wheat--we almost never eat bread and we only eat pasta occasionally--something that worries my mother-in-law because, after all, pasta is the cornerstone of a proper diet. But nevertheless, my husband does well during the week and gets all out of whack after our wheat-ridden Sunday lunches (which he loves--nothin' better than mamma's cooking). This Sunday, though, we opted out of this weekly ritual for a simple Sunday together. But lunch still had to be had...

05 January 2012

Leave Your Mark In The 5 Terre

I just learned about a fantastic initiative put together by the town of Monterosso, local artists and residents to create sponsored tiles in a 'dry wall' project. With a donation of just 150 euros, you can have your name, your affiliation or a small phrase carved into a stone-like tile that will make up a future wall in the gorgeous Cinque Terre town. Larger donations will provide larger "stones".

For more information, visit the website Rebuild Monterosso and if you would like to participate, email them at info@rebuildmonterosso.com.

04 January 2012

Clementine Elderberry Scones

I was in a creative baking mood and I came up with the most delicious scones I have ever made! I am very excited to share these with you because it also utilizes the elderberry syrup that I showed you how to make this summer. They have a lovely purple hue to them, plus the drizzle of elderberry frosting makes them just as good to look at. I try to limit my use of white flour as much as possible, so I split the amount with almond flour. Most of the flour in your baking recipes can usually be split with half almond flour, but for baked goods, you do need some of the flour to hold its consistency. If you don't have almond flour, just use 2 cups of plain flour. I think the combination of elderberry and Clementine is a fantastic pairing. Here is my recipe:

03 January 2012

Cancer Strikes Again

Death is inevitable. It is the only thing you can count on in life—it will happen to me, it will happen to you, it will happen to everyone. The only thing we don’t know about death is when it will happen. The other night, this world lost yet another great physician. Last night I learned that my former boss, a talented acupuncturist, passed away on New Year’s eve after a two year battle with cancer. Knowing him was a pleasure and an honor. He was a great boss--fun and laid-back, interesting, brilliant and a very unique person. He was one of those geniuses that functions at a different level than everybody else. While that made him an exceptional healer, it also rendered him a difficult business owner. If it wasn’t for his incredibly competent and capable business partner and wife, the clinic would not have lasted very long. He was at times absent-minded and completely lacked an awareness of time. This caused many headaches and frustrations for his wife, his patients and the office manager (myself for a few years). Part of my job was to stay on top of him and constantly try to keep him on track—something that was pretty much futile. He meant well—we got him to set alarms on his watch, then on his iphone, but inevitably he would have patients or his kids waiting 30 minutes, 40 minutes.... His reasons for this were always due to his complete fascination for an ailing patient and what the key underlying factors could be. Like a compassionate Dr. House, he would ponder all the organs, all the factors at play and then write and rewrite herbal formulas. And, like Dr. House, he had his adolescent ways, a crass and at times inappropriate sense of humor. But behind the goofy, 6’5’’ bear, was a warm, caring, sensitive, intelligent and talented doctor. He loved to spend time with his patients, working on them, massaging them or just chatting with them. Just as Dr. House has his flaws, he is incredibly endearing and my boss was as well, plus he had a warm heart, was a big teddy bear and was someone fun to giggle with during down time.

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.

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