Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Tastes: Verdure Fresche

Oh my goodness I just spent 7 Euros on asparagus.

That works out to about $1 per stalk.
I kind of wish I didn't do that math. . . again.

Shocking but I probably would have paid 20 Euros because this is the first time I've seen it for sale since we've lived here (June). In the States asparagus was my go-to side dish. Always easy and elegant and I've really missed it.

Here only the freshest fruits and vegetables are sold. . . only things that are in season and they take such pride in all of it. At the fruit stores, you are not allowed to touch anything. You tell them what you want and they carefully select each piece. At the grocery stores you must wear a glove to select your own fruit.
Fresh fruit and veggies must be purchased almost daily because everything is sold at its peak and only keeps for a day or so. No stocking up at Wal-mart for the week. But it is gorgeous (I can't believe I just called food gorgeous but really it is. None of this not-quite-ripe stuff you see in the States) and tastes just as fabulous.
I am so glad to finally find asparagus because I had decided they just must not eat it here. Not too far fetched because Italians don't eat fresh corn. Can you imagine a summer without fresh corn on the cob? I had one. They sell in it cans but that's it. Actually, they also sell a frozen pizza called "The Big Americans" and guess what it has on it. . . corn.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lunedi Lovelies: Palazzo dei Diamanti

The Diamond Palace. . . another gem of Ferrara (pun intended, hee hee) The palace was commissioned by the Estes and is one of the most famous Renaissance buildings in the world. The exterior is made of 8,500 diamonds carved out of marble.

To me the design is very contemporary but it was built in 1492. The same year Columbus sailed the ocean blue and way before power tools. Can you imagine carving each of those pieces of marble? Amazing. Legend has it that a very valuable diamond is hidden behind one of the marble diamonds.

It is now owned by the city and the interior is an art museum that also hosts many important traveling exhibits. They had an amazing Boldini exhibit (my favorite artist) and currently have an exhibition on Kandisky.

interior courtyard


I need shoe advice. As the season is beginning to change I am planning my spring shoe purchases. This is rather important as I walk at least 2 km a day. . . on cobblestones. . . often running after a two year old. . . but must be fashionable. This is Italy and here you only wear running shoes if you are actually running.

These crazy sandals were all over Italy at the end of last summer and now I'm seeing them for sale on US websites. So it must be a trend that is going to stick. My husband thinks they are ridiculous. I kind of think so too but I said the same thing about skinny jeans and thigh high boots and now I wear those daily. What do you think? Will you be buying a pair this spring?

My big problem is closed toe flats. I always think they are comfortable in the store then after wearing them a while they are miserable. Anyone have a brand that fits great and looks great? My husband tells me to just wear heels (of course he does) but a great pair of flats is a must for day trips to Venice, etc. or wandering museums. You get the point. Pleeease send me your suggestions!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Prada, Fendi, Armani. . .

Oh how I wish I could have been there. . . Italian fashion week was a few weeks ago. I would have loved to be in Milan during that time.

This year the week was cut short and I just read an article (thanks Dot) explaining why. It seems Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, decided to only be Italy 3 days. The Italians panicked and rearranged the whole schedule at the last minute. Huge fashion houses like Dolce and Gabbana changed scrambled to change days to accommodate her.

Seem a bit much? Actually it is not. If Ms. Wintour is not at a show, the stores won't buy that designer. She has been called the most powerful woman in America and I might agree. It is pretty impressive that an entire industry depends on her very presence.

I just watched The September Issue, a documentary about Anna Wintour, and I absolutely loved it. I highly recomend it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9-bAwz9uWk She is not as demanding as she was portrayed in The Devil Wears Prada but it is amazing to watch how this one woman infuences a whole industry.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Al Brindisi

Again, it amazes me that our city is not touristy.

At all.

I've heard Rick Steves doesn't even mention it in his Italy book.

One of our favorite restaurants in town is Brindisi. It is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world. It has been a restaurant/ wine bar since 1435. Yes, you read that right. . . 1435. That's amost six hundred years. It is a teeny tiny restaurant on a small alley but they serve good food and have walls lined with very old bottles of wine covered in dust.

When Copernicus lived here (sometime in the early 1500's) he lived in an apartment right above Brindisi and so this was his regular wine bar. Amazing that we drink wine at the same place as someone I learned about in 6th grade science class. All seems quite normal now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Fashion Police

You know you are in a fashionable country when even the police look fabulous. In Italy we have Polizia who are the regular police and we have the Carbinieri who I refer to as the super duper police. I think they are actually a branch of the military but they act as police. Rumor has it that their uniforms were designed by Valentino. Don't know if it is true, but they look so great it is certainly believable.

I see them almost daily in town but I was too afraid to take a picture so I pulled these from the Internet-- thanks wikipedia.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Tastes: Herbs de Provence

This is not Italian but it is something I first discovered in Europe. I learned about herbs de Provence while on a culinary tour in the south of France and have been using them regularly ever since. They are good in everything. . . chicken, pork, potatoes, veggies. It is a combination of tyme, sage, marjoram, basil and rosemary. . . and is absolutely fabulous (and smells like France).

I can't find the herbs here (Italians are not really big on importing food) and I have used all I bought in France. Luckily my Belgian friend who lives here has a huge canister of herbs of Provence from home and shared with me. She gave me so much it will last until our next trip to France. So nice. In Texas, I know you can buy them at Central Market. They may have them at other groceries too or you can just ask your Belgian friend :-)

One of my favorite simple dishes using herbs de Provence is with chicken or pork chops. Here's what you need. . . slice up a couple onions and several potatoes. Layer those in the bottom of a casserole dish. Cover with lots of grated parmesean (fresh grated of course) and sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs de Provence. Then over that, add bone in chicken or bone in pork chops. Season the meat with salt, pepper and herbs of Provence, add some more parmesean, cover with foil and bake an hour at around 200 (400 F) or until done. Serve with a salad and bread and dinner is finished!

I made this recipe when my parents were here and my dad went with me to the butcher to get the meat. The butcher didn't have any pork chops that day so my dad convinced me to buy a whole chicken. I say convinced because he really did have to talk me into it. . . the chickens are truly whole here as in feet and everything. Ick. Luckily the butcher cut it up for us. Still, I don't need to see the feet of something I'm going to eat. Gross. So who's hungry for chicken now?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lunedi Lovelies: It's the Little Things

The architecture is so inspiring here. Right down to the door hardware. With such gorgeous detail the door knockers and handles are almost art themselves. The aged pieces are the most beautiful. They are everywhere, on almost every door. Just to regular offices, banks and apartments.

It is one of my favorite things as I walk through the streets. Every one is different and the beauty in each is extraordinary. I know I will have to bring some back when we finally return to the States. Hmmm. . . how do you think the first photo will look on the door to a home in the suburbs? Perhaps I'll use them inside as art.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Snow day Wednesday. Lots of snow. Like half a meter of snow.

Even though it snows as often as in Dallas (except for this year), life continues as normal. Nothing closes and no one rushes out to stock up on groceries.

walking to school

Our garden was gorgeous but I'm ready for spring.
I just love the snow "hat" on this bust in our garden.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday Tastes: Aceto Balsamico

Balsalmic vinegar. . . another regional specialty. The best is produced in Modena right down the road from us. The most common (and what we usually buy) is not aged but the aged vinegar is fabulous. . . and expensive. It is thick and syrupy and so good you can eat it with just crackers.

There is no such thing as a bottle of salad dressing here. No Ranch, no Ceasar, and certainly no Italian dressing. The only thing available is oil and vinegar but when it is this good, what more do you need?

My favorite recipe using balsalmic is a fabulous bruschetta from my friend Jen Flood. It is completely simple and completely addicting. Enjoy!

4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 4 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and chill. Serve with crostini.

Lunedi Lovlies: Il Castello

We have had a fabulous weekend with good friends in town. I love showing guests around and acting like a tourist in our own city. It is a mystery to me how Ferrara is not more of a tourist destination. It is popular with Europeans who are really into art but is virtually undiscovered by North Americans. I mean, we have a 14th century castle with a real moat, real drawbridges, and a courtyard filled with the original catapult balls. Hard to beat that.

So on Sunday we toured the castle and just about had the whole place to ourselves. No lines, no crowds like in Roma and Florence. Just the four of us and the kids. Amazing to wander through the rooms as if we owned it. Except for the dungeons. . . I don't love being alone down there.

This is the Este castle. If you took European history classes you know the Estes. They ruled Ferrara for hundreds of years and did amazing things for the city. They were huge patrons of the arts and Ferrara has some very important art because of them. Da Vinci painted two of the Este princesses. They built libraries and palaces that were way ahead of their time and were pioneers in city planning. More on that in another post.

Anyway, I love the castle. From the frescoed ballrooms to the dungeons with the original graffiti done by the prisoners. Seriously, this is the kind of thing people wait in endless lines to see in more popular cities. Perhaps we should keep it a secret. . . Y'all don't tell anyone.

prison wall

view of city and moat from castle

Monday, March 1, 2010


Barcelona, Spain. . . a nice trip. A bit more work than we had expected but still a lovely time. We saw the amazing Gaudi architecture. I've never seen anything to compare. Much like Alice in Wonderland meets Dr. Suess. Truly crazy but truly amazing.

Gaudi's Park Guell
Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia

We wandered tiny alleys through the gothic center. I found my favorite cathedral in all of Europe. Amazing gothic architecture with a center open air courtyard filled with beautiful live white geese and lush greenery.

We walked the Ramblas to the harbor where Columbus landed when he sailed back from America. Facinating to be in such a place of history. Loved the harbor but I prefer the gothic alleys to the crazy busy Ramblas.

We ate paella and tapas and sipped wine at sidewalk cafes.

Now, that was the lovely part, here is why it was hard. . .

I always think we live in a big city because it is always busy, there are people everywhere and we have a Max Mara and at least five Benneton stores. I realize now that in comparison, our city is quite small and quaint. Little did I know, Barcellona is the 6th largest city in the EU. And so of course with that comes lots of gypsies, and lots of litter, etc. Just wasn't expecting that. Also wasn't expecting it to be so hard to get around. . . Our hotel was not convenient. I was not able to find a hotel in the historic center that would accomodate the four of us so we stayed in the neighborhood next to the center called Eiample. Did not love Eixample. It is the area with the Gaudi archecture but I didn't think it was a lovely area. Perhaps I am spoiled by where I live.

Anyway, we also learned (too late) that the M on the Barcellona map stands for museum, not metro. This resulted in a 10 mile walk through Eiample to get to park Guell. . .all uphill. Okay, my husband says it was not 10 miles but it did take an hour and was all uphill. Serious hills. By the time we got the park, we were tired, but the views were amazing!

So, was it worth all the trouble? Definitely.