Thursday, February 25, 2010

North vs. South

As I am packing a suitcase, I am thinking of our last trip which was to Rome. I am always amazed at how regional Italy is. The language changes a bit from region to region and even the food changes drastically just 30 kilometers away. More about that later because what I noticed the most was the change in fashion (of course I did).

It is almost like the difference between New York and LA. In northern Italy, people are super chic wearing mostly blacks and grays. As I walk down the street here, I see some of the most fashionable people I've seen in my life. They look like an "after" of a before and after make-over or perhaps like someone who stepped off a fashion shoot, but it is a toned down almost hard-edged look. I have actually always prefered this look so it worked out perfectly that we ended up here. Not sure if I would blend as well in Rome because southern Italy is a totally different story. Even in January, this was obvious. The southern Italians are just as fashionable but it is a completely different type of fashion. Colors are everywhere, combined with tans, big jewelry and lots of glitz.

We are packing for Barcellona. . . stay tuned for what they are wearing in Spain!

Monday, February 22, 2010

92 Years

My wonderful grandfather just turned 92. Buon Compleano!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why I Don't Drive (much)

This insanity is just 4 blocks away from my house.
I'll walk, thank you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The cost of living here is rather high, especially with the current exchange rate. Take milk for instance: it is only sold in liters and each liter is 1.60. So about 4 liters make a gallon so that is about 6.50 Euros a gallon. Convert that to dollars and it is almost $10 for a gallon of milk. Just regular milk. Not organic, or soy, or magic. Ugh. I kind of wish I did not do that math.

So when I do find a bargain, I get pretty excited. The best deal I've found so far is in the town of Nove about an hour and a half drive from our house. It is the town that manufactures ceramics for all the big names in America.

I bought this beautiful platter for 17 Euros. The cake stand was less than 25. The platter is almost as big as my arm. You couldn't find any platter of this size for this price even at TJ Maxx.

Are you swooning yet?

Look where it is from.

You might want to sit down.

did you get that?

These are not discontinued items. The platter is currently selling at for $115. Tiffany pieces are not the only great deal. There are entire stores full of Williams Somona, Lenox and many more. Don't you love a bargain?

Check out a Nove store at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Tastes: Vin Brule

If you are ever traveling Europe and see a vendor selling Vin Brule, buy a glass. Never, never pass up an opportunity for vin brule. It is a lovely hot mulled wine that is so cozy on a cold day. I've even had it as early as 10:00 in the morning. You will usually find it for sale at outdoor markets so you can sip while you shop. Perfecto!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lunedi Lovelies: Il Fresco

Our home was built in the 1500's as a palace. After the war, it was broken up into 4 apartments. The home has been in the family of our landlord for over 300 years and they live in one half of the building. Luckily for us, there are still many remnants of the palace splendor. (There are also outdated bathrooms and ugly kitchen tiles but we won't talk about that.) The ceilings are almost 20 feet high, the rooms are spacious, there is gorgeous wood moulding throughout and my favorite-- the frescoes.

The ceiling in our bedroom was painted in the 1700's and to me it is like living in a museum. I love that this is the last thing I see before I go to sleep and the first thing I see in the morning. It is painted in trompe l'oeil, a technique perfected during the Renaissance. It is a french term that means "to trick the eye" and is painted to achieve a 3D effect on a flat space. On our ceiling, it looks like the sun is always shining in the window because of the way the shadows are painted.

To be more specific, it is also painted in a 17th century a tenique called quadratura that became popular when artists began to understand perspective theory. It is a technique that uses trompe l'oeil but also truly opens up a space. Andrea Mantegna is famous for Illusionistic ceiling painting such as this. Wikipedia defines it as this "The artist would paint a feigned architecture in perspective on a flat or barrel-vaulted ceiling in such a way that it seems to continue the existing architecture. The perspective of this illusion is centered towards one focal point. The steep foreshortening of the figures, the painted walls and pillars, creates an illusion of deep recession, heavenly sphere or even an open sky. Paintings on ceilings could, for example, simulate statues in niches or openings revealing the sky."

Here are links for you art history buffs. . .

Fresco in our entryway. It is a totally different style and I think it must be older than the bedroom. It is more similar to 16th and 17th century frescoes I have seen but I don't know for sure.

We still can't believe we get to live here for a few years.
(Pictures really don't do it justice. It is hard to capture it on a camera.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Here in the fashion capital of the world, there seem to be no rules. In the States, we stop wearing white pants after Labor Day. I've always thought this rule was ridiculous, especially when it is 95 degrees in September in Texas.

However, the Italians (both men and women) are wearing their white jeans through the winter with boots and sweaters. I am glad to see the rule does not apply here and I finally worked up the courage to try my white jeans in January. No one even gave me a second look. Totally normal.

In June, I saw a girl wearing knee high boots and a leather jacket. I think it is brilliant to dress for the weather (and for what looks cute) rather than following a rule.

Night and Day

After several days in Aviano eating Burger King, Taco Bell (twice, not the best choice), Chinese Super Buffet, and even Popeye's chicken, we may have over done it. We got home last night and this morning we walked a couple blocks to the city center and found a fresh food market. (That is the great thing about our city, there is always something going on when we want to get out of the house.) As we walked along the lovely market, sipping vin brule (hot mulled wine) and buying organic veggies, salami and cheeses, my husband started laughing, then said "big difference from Burger King." Good to be home.
I can't believe I've become someone who takes picture of my food. My lunch-- a nice change from a Number 1 with a diet coke.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I'll have a number 1 with a diet coke please. . .

Matt had to be in Aviano for work so we joined him in "little America" for a few days. Here there is a large Air Force base and as much as we love Italy and all things Italian, it is quite refreshing to be somewhere so American for a few days. It is nice to be able to make small talk with the cashiers. (At home, I can ask how they are in Italian but if they anser anything except "bene" (good) then I'm lost.) It is also nice to eat good ol' American fast food that I probably wouldn't eat in the States. Even Taco Bell tastes good after 8 months of pasta.

The area around the base has also been Americanized. The other night we ate at an American style Chinese buffet. The concept of "all you can eat" is definitely not an Italian one. My little multicultural 5 year old had a lot of questions about where we were eating. . ."are we still in Italy?", "But this is a Chinese restaurant?", "Is the waiter Chinese?" We couldn't figure out why he was so concerned but when he was satisfied with our answers, he began speaking to the waiter in Chinese. Evidently, they are learning about China at school this week.

So now I've had my little bit of America, I'm stocked up on things from the American grocery store that I can't get in Italy (cheddar cheese, sour cream, goldfish crackers) and I am more than ready to get back "home".

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Today I attended my third funeral in three weeks. This one was my sweet, elderly Italian neighbor who died Sunday. He was kind, gracious, loved to share his homemade wine with us, but did not speak a word of English. He would still always stop to talk and we would get by on hand gestures, smiles and my poor Italian. He was just like an Italian man out of a movie, wearing a coat and tie every time he left the house, usually on a bicycle. Yes, 86 years old, running errands in a coat and tie on a bicycle. I never saw him without a huge smile on his face. Even the children adored him and would talk and talk to him in English, never knowing he did not understand. He just smiled so big they would go on and on. We will really miss him.

A funny thing about funerals here. . . you know when the family walks in the church after everyone is seated and you just want to get up and hug them? Well, the Italians do. There is this huge outpouring of sympathy before the funeral begins. Also, they don't dress up for funerals. They dress because it is Tuesday, but not for a funeral. All the young people wear jeans, the older women never took off their fur hats and coats but they wear those every day. Does anyone know why? Is it a sign of respect that they don't think about what they are wearing? Is it only in the States that we dress for church and funerals?

(This is an old picture. Of course I did not take pictures at a funeral)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday Tastes: Parmigiano-Reggiano

Living a short drive away from Parma, the people here are pretty serious about their parmesan cheese. We have quickly acclimated and I find myself using it almost every time I cook. The big secret to the most fabulous tasting parmesan is this: It must be freshly grated. Buy a wedge and grate just what you need. You wouldn't think it makes that much difference, but trust me, it does.

My American friend's Italian neighbor came to her house one day, saw pre-grated Parmesan in her fridge and immediately threw it in the trash. My American friend now grates it fresh.

I often make a very simple version of chicken parmesan. I'm almost embarrassed to share how I make it because it is soooo easy. I get lots of compliments every time I make and people go back for second and even third servings but you must use freshly grated parmesan. That is the trick.

Lots of people have asked for the recipe so here you go. . .

-take a chicken breast and slice it very thinly horizontally, then pound the very thin pieces. (It is kind of a pain to slice the chicken like this. Use a very sharp knife or have the butcher do it. Here, I buy it already sliced.)

-salt and pepper the chicken

-dip the chicken in something (beaten eggs, olive oil, whatever)

-then dredge the chicken pieces in a mixture of 2 parts freshly grated parmesan and 1 part bread crumbs. I add a bit of garlic salt to this mixture.

-I skip the frying step because it is such a pain and just put the chicken straight in the oven. Bake at 200 (that's around 400 F) for 10-12 minutes (yes, that is long enough. The chicken should be very, very thin)

-That's it. Super simple. Finito!

I like to serve it with pasta and pesto, salad and bread.

Real Parmesan only comes from Parma. If you want a lower priced alternative, try Grana. It is almost the same.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lunedi Lovelies

On my way from school to my favorite bar (cafe) for cappuccino I walk through this piazza. The statue in the middle is Ludovico Ariosto, an important Italian poet. It is several hundred years old, made of marble and really beautiful. Although in the States something like this would be in a museum, here it is just out in the open and children climb all over it.

One weekend in May, the piazza is home to The Palio of Ferrara, a horse and donkey race that was made official in 1279. Twelve hundred and seventy-nine! It is considered the oldest prize in the world.

Still amazing to me that I take my kids to play and ride bikes in a piazza that is hundreds of years old and full of history.


Check this out to follow up my post "One Man's Trash" from a couple weeks ago.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Il Ingresso (The Entry)

Our city is a very safe city. The biggest crime is bicycle theft and even then people say they were just borrowing them. It is common for people to walk in the city until 1 or 2 in the morning.

Yet the Italians still love their security. To get into our house it takes a minimum of three keys and up to nine keys. I'm not kidding. Nine keys. Our keychains are gigantic and we don't even have car keys on them. We have to pass through three locked doors before we are inside and each door locks automatically behind us.

It is, however, a gorgeous entry. With the exception of adding elecricity to the chandeliers, I don't think it has changed much in 500 years.

So I really don't mind pausing to use my nine keys.

Door One

Door Two

Door Three

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Simple Sabato

A cozy rainy Saturday morning at home. The rain doesn't seem to stop the Italians, but since we walk everywhere I certainly think twice about venturing out with two kids. I'm sure the sweet coziness won't last long with a 2 year old and a 5 year old and we'll be out walking with our umbrellas soon.

My favorite quote is especially perfect on a quiet day like today. I found it on a blog I love, La Dolce Vita, and even have it on our computer screen so I read it every day.

Friday, February 5, 2010

To Market, To Market

So what if it is raining. So what that my two year old is acting like a two year old. These things can't ruin wandering our Friday market and meeting a friend for cappuccino next to a 12th century cathedral. They just can't.

Our market is not as quaint as the French markets but I still love the busy streets of market day. Just a few blocks from my house, the city center is filled with merchants. There are a couple flower stalls, a couple fruit stands but most of it is clothes and even underwear. (It took me a while to get used to seeing the Italian women trying bras on over their clothes right there in the square.)

There are some greats finds though. Today I bought a perfect Italian black scarf that will work now and into spring. Also found a gorgeous wrap belt in the softest butter leather. This one is a gift. I already have one and wear it all the time. Are people wearing these in the States? They are about 9 feet long and wrap around and around then tie in the front. Super cute even with just a black turtleneck.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Look of the Week

Perfect casual look for a freezing cold day. Love the aviators. Love the hat. Love the taupe bag, boots and scarf with the navy coat. Navy is in all the store windows right now. A nice break from black. Could it be the next big trend?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fiori Freschi (Fresh Flowers)

So we are hosting a get together at our house tonight for all the Americans and a General and his staff who are visiting from Turkey. We are looking forward to spending time with him and his staff but other than that I really haven't thought much about the General being here. I love hosting things and I'm not one to serve frozen pizza pockets anyway so I was just going about planning our event as if it were any other.

I wanted flowers for the table and couldn't find my guy that sells flowers out of his truck anywhere in town. Will and I walked and walked looking for him but ended up at the florist. My flower guy sells 10 stems of lilies for 10 Euros. You can't beat that price. Of course the florist was more expensive so I decided against a centerpiece and settled on just three stems of lilies because I can be rather, um, frugal. The florist spoke no English but I did just fine. (Except when I attemped to ask her if she was married to the guy who owns the bicycle shop and I ended up asking saying "sposata to una bicicletta?" "Are you married to a bicycle?")

I walked out of the shop with my three flowers and immediately saw a huge commotion across the street at the 5 star hotel. At first I thought a swat team was there. There were a bunch of carbineri (the super duper Italian police), unmarked cars, a big van and all these official people in uniform. Honestly, I have never seen anything like this in my life. It was like something out of a movie. After a few moments, I saw him. It was not a swat team. It was the arrival of the General who will be at my house tonight. You would have thought it was the president.

As I realized this, I thought three bad words and promptly turned the stroller around and headed back to the florist to buy that centerpiece. Of course, I didn't have the words in Italian to say "excuse me, I've changed my mind and need more." I just had to ask for the flowers like I wasn't there 3 minutes before. The florist looked at me like I had three heads but she did give me a 10 Euro discount.

My original 3 stems. I love to put them in wine bottles and set them on these oddly placed shelves in one of our halls.

And the "on second thought. . ." centerpiece. I love the simple elegant look of just lilies.

Tuesday Tastes: Il Cioccolato

Oh my goodness, you might need to buy a plane ticket just to come to this fabulous chocolate shop. A modern, beautiful shop that is family owned and creates the most heavenly chocolate you've ever tasted. Their work is too gorgeous to eat (my picture does not do it justice) -- they make these fabulous replicas of the Este castle (the castle in the center of our town) in solid chocolate and sell them for only 7 Euros. Their hot chocolate is so thick and ooey gooey that it has to be eaten with a spoon.

When I was there last night I ended up talking to another customer for a long time. Clearly, he was as enamored with the little shop as I am. In broken English mixed with Italian, he talked about Italy and how the Italian's truly enjoy things. Quality over quantity really. He showed me his favorite thing in the store which was a jar of chocoate mixed with pumpkin (yes pumpkin) that you spoon into these tiny little cups made of dark chocolate that were even smaller than a minuture Reeses peanutbutter cup. He explained that after a meal you just enjoy one of two and savor each tiny bite.

Hmmm. . . this sounds much better than polishing off half a bag of Oreos in one sitting (which I may or may not have done before)

While we are talking about yummy things, check out these fabulous cupcakes my friend made. They taste as good as they look (They are for a party tonight but I might have secretly eaten one this morning.) She makes THE most A-mazing cakes EVER. She is completely self-taught-- has never taken a cake class. Check out the pics on her website for some entertainment. She's done cakes in the shape of everything from a bra to a wine bottle.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lunedi Lovelies

For almost two weeks our lives have been completely consumed by a friend's tragedy so please excuse my moment of reflection. This morning it is sunny-- a rare thing in winter here-- and I am loving the way the sun is shining on the 600 year old church out my kitchen window.