Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At the Grocery

Italian grocery stores are pretty different from stores in America.  Almost everything in the store is from Italy so that means no ingredients to cook internation food (Mexican, Asian, etc).  There are not aisles and aisles of processed food like in the States.  No doritos, no flavored potato chips, no soups in cans, no bottled salad dressings.  Hydrogenated oils are banned in much of Europe.  So margarine is actually illegal.

Now I am used to the new way of shopping and actually prefer it.  However, this time of year, I am making many of my traditional recipes and am once again missing American ingredients.

Here's my top ten list of things I wish I could buy here:

1.  Brown sugar
2.  Sour cream
3.  Plastic bags (like ziplock)
4.  Cheddar cheese
5.  Goldfish crackers
6.  Italian sausage (they sell sausage here but honestly it is not the same and not as good as the "Italian" sausage from stores in America)
7.  Ranch dressing
8.  Self rising cornmeal (I could probably use polenta but I haven't gone to the trouble to figure out how.)
9.  Cilantro
10. Corn on the cob (They only sell corn in cans.  Never fresh, not even frozen.  Only in cans.)
11.  I know I said 10 things but I have one more.  I miss breakfast food like English muffins, bagels, bacon, etc.

I could go on but really, I don't miss the things I used to eat.  We can do without the frozen burritos.  My husband lost 10 pounds within the first couple months of living in Italy.  Even though he probably eats more food here, the quality of the food is better.  Turns out the packaged food he ate for lunch on the go was packing on the pounds, but a three course lunch with fresh ingredients doesn't.  Hmmm.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Libri

Addesso e inverno, now it is winter, and time to be cozy and read a good book.  Here's a list of books about Italy that I have enjoyed.  All are set within 30 or 40 miles of where we live.

Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks
Written by a British guy who lived in Italy for 10 years.  Almost everything in this book has happened to me or someone I know.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
Cute, easy read set in Parma about an American pro football player who ends up playing in Italy.  I was in the middle of reading this when I met our doctor and friend for the first time.   He is an American who has lived in Italy over 25 years and guess what, used to be the quarterback of an Italian football team here.  This is American football, not soccer.

 The Broker by John Grisham
Another fast read set in Bologna.  Great descriptions of Italian life, architecture, and food.

Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex
Historical fiction about the Este family who ruled Ferrara for centuries. Da Vinci painted two of the Este princesses and this book centers around them.  Set in Milan and Ferrara.

Now I am in the middle of reading Ciao America.  It is the exact opposite of what I am living now.  It is written by an Italian who moves to America for a year.  The first thing he does in his American house is try to close the shutters but of course American shutters don't move.  He is completely confused by American air conditioners and why anyone would want it to be 70 degrees inside when the outside temp is over 100.  The book is a bit outdated (it was written in the late '90s) but still interesting to read that Italians are as confused in America as we often are in Italy.

Happy reading!

images from

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Not to Say

Today instead of writing about pretty things, I'm going to give a little Italian lesson about what not to say.  First, let me tell you where I went wrong.

It was last January at 9:00 in the morning.  I had my two year old in the stroller and was going to the Friday market with my friend.  (Friday market is a lovely outdoor market that fills the city center with vendors that sell everything from scarves to apples) We were short on time but as we walked past our regular cafe it just didn't feel right to not stop for cappuccino.  We didn't have the time so we just decided to stop in, say ciao, and get a bottle of water to take with us to the market.  We were feeling pretty good about our Italian at this point and this is what we said:

Us: Ciao Bea!

Bea: Ciao! Come stai? (Hi How are you?)

Us: Bene. Per oggi, vorrei solo un aqua naturali da asporta (Good. For today we would like only water to go)
Us: Perche addiamo a marketa (Because we are going to a prostitute)

Bea:  Nothing.  She just stared at us.

Luckily then her husband stepped out of the back laughing and said no, "addiamo a mercato"

Got that?  Mercato not Marketo.  Easy mistake for an English speaker to make don't you think?  Marketa (actually spelled marchetta in Italian) sounds just like market.

It happened again this summer (but not to me thankfully).  I was in the city center with my boys and these cute little American college students who were studying abroad were standing in the street saying "Marketo?  Marketo?"  Poor things didn't speak any Italian and were looking for a grocery store.  Of course no one would speak to them because in Italian they were asking for a prostitute. 

Okay so remember, Mercato not Marketo.

Allora, addesso vado a un mercato.  Ciao ciao.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Spent a lovely weekend with friends in Rome. Such a gorgeous city. Everywhere you look, there is something beautiful, ancient, and full of history. Truly unbelievable.  If only the walls could talk. . .

I don't even remember what this is but it is gorgeous!

Trevi fountain
Forum.  This is over 2,000 years old

Piazza Navono

Just another day standing around on 2,000 year old columns.  Whatever.

St. Peter's Basilica

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sono Francese?

For over a year I have been trying to blend into this culture that I love so much and not seem like an American tourist.  Only the latter has been successful. 

Now they think I'm French.

I'm not sure what went wrong.  My spoken Italian is strongly affected by my southern accent and as soon as I utter a simple "ciao", they know I'm not local. (My pronunciation is really quite horrendous.)  Now though, instead of switching to English, people have started speaking to me in French.

Oh well, could be worse.  Au Revoir.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let's Get Dressed

Fall's big trend of ladylike, polished clothes has really taken off in Italy.  I'm seeing more skirts, tights, pants and leggings than jeans this season.  Don't get me wrong, we're still dressing up skinny jeans. I'm just seeing less jeans.  (It is a common myth that you don't wear jeans in Europe. Everyone wears jeans-- just wear your nice jeans.) 

The funkiness of last year is still around too so the look isn't stuffy, just more polished.  Isn't it fun to get dressed when anything goes?

top image via
bottom two images from La Dolce Vita

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Autumn in Italy. . .
Loving the falling leaves outside our window

the coziness of everyone bundled in scarves and coats

and comfort food like Ferrara's famous cappelacci di zucca (pasta stuffed with pumpkin).  Delizioso.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gli Italiani

I love this quote by E.M. Forester. . .

"Drop that awful tourist idea that Italy is only a museum of antiquities
and art. Love and
understand the people
for the people
are more marvelous
than the land."
-E.M. Forester

Words to live by for anyone visiting Italy. There is as much to be said for experiencing Italy by living the Italian way as there is for checking the museums off your list. Spend an hour sipping wine in a sidewalk cafe and watch the people walking by, linger over a three course lunch, chat with the locals, the waiters, the baristas, the fruit vendors... you may choose to never return home.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


A perfect lazy morning sipping cappuccino at a sidewalk cafe.  Sono felice.

Hope your Sunday is peaceful and happy.  Ci vediamo.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Con Mio Amore

I am taking full advantage of having kids in school.  It is nice to have tempo libero (free time) for the first time in six years.

Had a wonderful lunch date with my husband last week.  He asked me way in advance (completely not like him) and I forgot (completely not like me).  He reminded me the night before so I quickly changed my plans.  Actually, he was happy I forgot.  He says now the score of forgetting things in our marriage is now 147 (Matt) to 1 (me).  I guess I can forget 146 more times.  I wore a short skirt and high heels to make up for it.  Whatever.

So I drove out through the vineyards and orchards to the small town where he works and we went to one of his favorite restaurants out there. This is a regular place for the people Matt works with and it is quite normal to have a three course lunch with wine in the middle of the workday. Don't you love the European way?

first course

 second course
 third course
 Yes.  I actually ate all that

We're thinking next on the list is a day trip to Bologna senza bambini

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How was your Halloween?

With only a few Americans in this city, we tend to overcompensate on American holidays like Halloween.  We always have a big Halloween party and this year we got talked into having it at our house because all our friends think our house is the scariest.

It is 500 years old and used to be a palace. I really have no idea what they are talking about, do you?

doesn't everyone have iron spikes on their front door?

and is anything strange about walking through this 300 year old doorway to get to the garden?

ancient marble stairs leading to a original fresco

and doesn't everyone pick up their mail in a place that looks like this?

and when you lie in bed at night, who doesn't love looking at faces painted on the ceiling in the 1700's

Oh I joke.  I absolutely love everything about this house.  The history the architecture and especially the frescoes.  I was only scared one time.  It was before our furniture arrived so the house was empty and I was alone.  I had all the windows open and it started storming outside with huge gusts of wind.  The wind of course blew through the house and started opening and closing all the french doors. 

We have seven sets of french doors so that is 14 doors opening and closing by themselves.  I knew it was the wind.  I could feel the wind but still I ran around and closed all the windows so the doors would stop moving.  That's the only time.  Now, this is truly home and we would stay forever if we could.  The mouldings, the ceiling height, and the frescoes actually make it easy to decorate.  Somehow all of our things even look better here than they did in our house in the States.  (Oh, and I might have taken these pictures at angles that make it look extra spooky.)

So for Halloween, we moved most of the furniture out and covered what was left with sheets and cobwebs to make it look like an spooky old house where no one lived.  The art on the walls was crooked and I covered fresh flowers with spiders.  It was lit only with candlelight and I think it was spooky enough.  I would post a picture but the pictures really didn't capture the atmosphere because everyone used a flash and that made it look like broad daylight. 

On another note, I am stuck at home this week while we are having a new heater installed.  That's why I'm able to post something new everyday.  I think they are finishing today then I'll be back enjoying Italy and posting occasionally.  Ciao ciao!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

E Mio!

"E mio!" I hear this almost everyday when I drop my 3 year old off at school.  It means "it is mine!"

I have this really important rule that I think my friend Emily taught me over 15 years ago:  If you think about something after you've left a store, that means you should have bought it.  So, remember waaaay back in the spring when I bought the chandelier, the antique dealer had a pair of Louis XV chairs that I loved?  Well, I've been thinking about those chairs for seven months now.  Totally should have bought them when I first saw them.  Since then, I not only lost the chairs, but I also lost the antique dealer.

Guess what I found the last week.  I found the antique guy.  He closed his shop and only kept a workshop open.  And in the way back room, covered with dust was one of the Louis XV chairs.  I was thrilled and perfectly happy to have one, rather than a matching pair and then from even further back and covered with more dust, he pulled out the other one.

E mio!

So I went back a few days later to pay and on my way out of the store, I thought I saw a mirror that has been on my wish list.  It is one of those huge, really ornate vertical mirrors.  It is as tall or maybe taller than me.  And 4 or 5 feet wide.  Huge.  It looked almost exacly like this except it is black.

He pulled it out and started telling me about it, in Italian of course.  It is from the 1800's and he kept saying the word "gold" in Italian.  I was looking at the mirror and it was clearly not gold.  It was black.  So I said, "ma, questo e nero" but this is black.  And he goes on and on about gold and then starts talking about the war.  I finally caught on when my friend saw gold peeking out from underneath the nics in the black.  The mirror is covered in gold leaf. During the war whoever owned this mirror had to paint it black so the Germans wouldn't take it. 

THAT, to me is history.  Not dates and rulers but how ordinary people were affected.  I can even imagine having that converstation with my husband.  "what are we going to do?"  "they are coming and they are going to take it".  And then can you imagine them covering their precious gold mirror in thick black paint while they waited for the arrival of the German soldiers?  Gave me chills.

Ma questo e non mio.  But this is not mine.  He asked if he should deliver it with the chairs.  I must have given him a look because he smiled and said "tuo marito piange"  He is right, my husband would cry.


A day trip to Milan.  Sushi for lunch, a stop in the duomo, a long walk around centro, then back on the train home. . .

 The Duomo. . . Gothic architecture is my absolute favorite.  It is too much for some people but I love how ornate and detailed it is.  You could stare at this for an hour and never see all the details.  The Milan cathedral took 5 centuries to complete and is the largest gothic cathedral in the world.

One of the giant marble column inside.  I can only imagine the work that went into these

The famous shopping street of Milan.  This is outside but the street is covered in glass with a mosiac floor.  It is anchored by Prada and Louis Vuitton and lined with restaurants and cafes filled with well-dressed Milanese.  I could have spent three days here but my children had other ideas.

Milano Centrale.  The most gorgeous train station I've ever seen.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Through the eyes of a child

We spent yesterday in Milan.  When we went in the magnificent gothic cathedral, my six year old was awestruck by a particular piece.  He asked for a pen and paper then sat and sketched it for THIRTY MINUTES.  He would have stayed longer but they closed and asked us to leave.  He was completely captivated, like he was watching tv or a movie, and yet this was art.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Just when I thought I had it all together. . .

I needed tarragon.  Any guesses?

Here's a hint.  Alloro is crushed bay leaves.  Cumino semi are cumin seeds.  BUT I could barely read the shelves of spices much less calculate by process of elimination method with a three year old running loose in the store so I left. 

No tarragon oggi.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ta Da!

I did it.  Yesterday I rode a bike while holding an umbrella (through traffic with groceries, a big purse and wearing heels).  Might have been a bit wobbly but I made it home almost dry.

(I took this photo in summer.  It is not me yesterday.  There is no way I could have stopped for a photo.  Also they look a lot  more together than I'm sure I looked!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Un Bellisimo Spreco di Tempo (A beautiful waste of time)

Ah, Sunday cappuccino in centro (the city center) on a cozy cold autumn morning. I love the buzz of centro with everyone bundled up and out and about, meeting friends, drinking caffe, walking dogs, and just enjoying life.

A morning with amazing views...
buonissimo cappuccino e brioche...
and (okay I admit it) really fun people watching...