Thursday, December 31, 2009

Buon Anno!

Can you believe it's the end of 2009 already?  As you ring in the new year, I wish you a very happy 2010.  May it be a daily adventure of simple pleasures, new discoveries, and joy. 

I'm taking snippets of the lyrics of a song by Jovanotti, Buon Anno as my new year's wishes:

Ti auguro pace risate e fatica
Trovare dei fiori nei campi d'ortica
Ti auguro viaggi in paesi lontani
Lavori da compiere con le tue mani
Frutta e panini ai tuoi sogni affamati
Semafori verdi e prudenza e coraggio

(I wish you peace, laughs, and toil)
(To find flowers in thorny fields)
(I wish you travels in far-away lands)
(Work to do with your hands)
(Fruit and bread for your starved dreams)
(Green lights and prudence and courage)

I have an annual tradition of selecting a song that will be the soundtrack for my year.  For 2010 I've chosen the beautiful strains of a song by Ascoli Piceno native (and famous composer) Giovanni Allevi, Go With The Flow - an important reminder when things don't go as planned!

Buon Anno! 

What is the soundtrack for your year?

Monday, December 28, 2009

An Ode to Autogrill

We are back in Virginia after spending several days cooking, feasting, gabbing, laughing, and enjoying the merriment of the holidays with family.  We had more food than we knew what to do with on Christmas, and shared Giorgio's polenta feast tradition on Santo Stefano.  We had a great time, but we're tuckered out! 

Interminable hours on the turnpikes and interstates sap it out of you, and we got back late after lengthy traffic jams, with headaches and sore bums.  We learned a few things about modern American highway travel.  First, we discovered that rest areas are very sporadically spaced and there is never one nearby when you really need it.  A "small" coffee is now a full 16 ounces of liquid diuretic, not a good idea when you consider Point 1. We also learned to pack our own lunches, because when we did finally find a rest area there would be only junk food and fast food available.  We were really pining for Autogrill, the famous roadside aree servizio along Italy's autostradas

How great is Autogrill?  Well, I wrote a little ode...

Autogrill, how do I miss thee?  Let me count the ways:

Caffe.  Your coffee bar serves real, actual, drinkable caffe and cappuccino made by a trained barista.  Maybe the caffe corretto isn't such a good idea for drivers, but it is comforting to know that a well-made cup of tasty caffeine is readily available.  And inexpensive.

Juice.  Your fresh, squeezed-to-order spremuta (orange juice) is delightfully refreshing.

Food.  You provide edible panini, fresh-baked pizza, fruit salads, and other options for non-fatty or deep-fried food.  Some Autogrills have cafeterias with a range of regional pasta dishes and roasted meats or fish, salad bars, and...(gasp!) vegetables, even!

Gas.  You have human people working on site, with gas station attendants who will check the oil, pump the gas, or clean the windshields.  Such service!

Shopping.  Your fun array of candies, regional food products, toys, CDs, and vacuum packed salamis and cheeses makes it fun to spend ten minutes out of the car perusing the shelves on the way to the loo.  Who can resist the terracotta bowl filled with orecchiette for 4 euro, or the spunky little Smart car model?  I personally appreciate that you always have Perugina Baci for chocolate-hazelnut emergencies.

Restrooms.  You have clean bathrooms, often with spring-action toilet seats, ensuring a dry and dribble-free seat.  'Nuff said.

Showers.  Some of your area servizio have sparkling showers available to use, which are so welcome after six hours in a stifling car in July when the air conditioning decides to go on the blink and the seats are saturated with sweat. 

Availablility.  You are conveniently placed at regular intervals along the autostrada, ensuring you are there when I need you.  None of this 90 or more miles between rest areas nonsense with you.  You could sing the Friends' theme song, "I'll Be There For You".

I miss your bright swishy "A", such a welcome sight when traveling the byways in need of servizio and refreshment.  I will never take you for granted again!

Related Links:

Pour On The Polenta!

Autogrill Homepage

Sarni - The "Other" Autogrills

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Buon Natale

We are leaving today to drive to Ohio, where we will spend our first Christmas in many years, wrapped in the warm embrace and crazy traditions of our family.  Before I go I wanted to wish you, my blog family, a hearty Buon Natale.  May it be joyous and fun, however you choose to celebrate.  See you when I get back!

This image is a detail of the Beffi Triptych, a three-panel painting from the National Museum of Abruzzo, currently on display in the rotunda of the National Gallery of Art.  It had been housed in the Castello Spagnolo in L'Aquila, which suffered extensive damage during the region's devasting earthquake.  Amazingly, the painting was only scratched; it was restored and loaned to the National Gallery in thanks for American assistance following that tragic event.  It will be on display through January 6, 2010.  If you make annual charitable donations, please consider giving to the Abruzzo relief fund.  Money and assistance are still very much needed. 

Related Posts:

The Eagle is Slowly Rising

Random Christmas Thoughts

The Three Ps of Natale

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Who Ordered the White Christmas?

We've got trouble...right here in River City.  With a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'Precipitation'.  In the form of snow.  Lots of it.  And we're not even in northern Ohio!  There seems to be some kind of mix up.  I am *not* the one who was dreaming of white Christmas.  Not.  Me.

The back deck; another few inches have fallen since this was taken.

It started last night, a light fluttery snowfall, and continued while we slumbered.  We awoke to a world gone white, the likes of which neither of us has seen since our Ohio childhoods.  Back then we had one-piece zip-up snowsuits that bundled us in puffy warmth.  Many years in the desert and Italy have left us without boots or snow gear.  I dug around in a box to retrieve my thick wool socks.  I located my mittens.  Not that I'll need them today; I'm parked in my recliner and will not be leaving the house.  Opening the door welcomes in a tumbling of wet white stuff.

Bryan laced up his hiking boots to go outside and shovel the sidewalk, a losing battle if ever I saw one.  Powdery snow cascaded down into his boots and accumulated around his jeans.  He came into the house looking like the abominable snowman with a stocking cap crowned with a steeple of snow.  Within thirty minutes the path he shoveled was covered anew.

It is still falling unabated, steadily, heavily.  My poor car is buried.  Poor Arnold!  He's a snow virgin.  He has never been exposed to the elements, especially winter elements like this, before. 

 That buried lump is Arnold. It's covered even more now.

I have Christmas music playing and will be firing up the oven to do some baking.  After all, there is nowhere to go.  But I'm skipping over I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas.  That dream - even though it wasn't mine - has already come true.

Cardinals - in the tree and on the window

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Italian Reading List, Part IV - Cookbooks

I am wrapping up my series of Italy-related reading with cookbooks.  I admit that while I have quite a few of them, I also rely much more heavily on the scrawled and stained scraps of paper that have sketchy recipes written on them, given to me by Giorgio or other friends, or devised while dining in Italy.  I also bought a few regional cookbooks in Italian which are wonderful, even if they are a little vague.  "Add water...however much is enough" is a typical instruction.

These are the books that I rely on most heavily when researching ingredients or looking for something new to try.  Everyone has their favorites, their go-to cookbooks, and these are mine.  Some are sadly out of print, but available through online markets like Biblio or Bookfinder.

Cucina del Sole: A Celebration of Southern Italian Cooking by Nancy Harmons Jenkins
This is a lovely book covering southern Italy, an area near and dear to me.  It is adapted to American ingredients and cooking style while maintaining the region's authenticity. Jenkins debunks the notion that southern Italian cooking is all red sauce and meatballs.

In Nonna’s Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions by Italy's Grandmothers by Carol Field (out of print)
Wonderful authentic recipes from Italian grandmothers, and interesting stories about them to make it a good read as well as a good resource.

Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi.
You already know that I’m devoted to Artusi. Buy; read; cook. Seriously.

The Talisman Cookbook by Ada Boni
Il Talismano is very popular in Italy, the basic go-to cookbook for ordinary days. It collects well known regional recipes together. Translated from Italian; currently out of print in the English version.

Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by Giada deLaurentiis
I know, not all her recipes are 100% authentic, but I find Giada very likeable anyway. This latest cookbook has some enticing new flavor combinations as well as stand-bys that never get old.

Food and Memories of Abruzzo: Italy's Pastoral Land by Anna Teresa Callen
A wonderful collection of simple and hearty recipes of Abruzzo, it highlights provincial dishes from all over the region. Interspersed are stories of the author’s childhood in Abruzzo.

The Silver Spoon (Il Cucciaio d’Argento)
Translated from Italian, this behemoth is a whopping 1264 pages featuring more than 2000 recipes. It runs the gamut of all the courses and food groups with some fusion recipes thrown into the mix.

Now there's no excuse...get cooking!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Italian Reading List - Part III

In my continuing series of reading material for Italophiles, this week I am highlighting fiction.  I have read a healthy number of novels set in or breezing through Italy; unfortunately many of them left me shaking my head at the errors, stereotypes, or poorly-conceived plots.  This is in no way an exhaustive list, just a few that I enjoyed more than others. 


A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
Classic novel that set many an English speaker scrambling to Florence to find that famous view.

Very Valentine by Adrianna Trigiani
Great novel that combines two of my passions – shoes and Italy! An Italian-American shoemaker strives to keep the family business afloat, and travels to the Old Country for supplies and inspiration.

The Commissario Brunetti mysteries. Death at La Fenice is the first in the series by Donna Leon
Loveable Venetian detective and his polished wife invite us into the various aspects of life and culture in the surreal city of Venice.

The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker
Sweeping historical novel transports us into the workshops of Venetian mask makers as an entré into the Most Serene Republic, in all her intrigue, deception and glory.

The Fortuny Gown by Rosalind Laker (out of print)
Another of Laker’s sumptuous historical novels, this one starts off in Lucca and takes us to Venice through the glorious gowns created by Mariano Fortuny. (His workshop is now a museum.)

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland
Vreeland paints a beautiful portrait of 17th century Italy with lavish descriptions of food and scenes to take us into the life and artwork of Artemisia Gentileschi.

The Raphael Affair (Art History Mysteries) series by Iain Pears (Raphael Affair is the first one.)
A series of quick-read novels that follow the crime investigation expertise of Rome’s Art Theft Squad and art dealer Jonathan Argyll to unravel the mysteries while showing various aspects of the art world, such as forgery, smuggling and acquisitions. I picture the somewhat bumbling Jonathan as a Hugh Grant character.

Renato's Luck: A Novel by Jeff Shapiro
Rich in character sketches of Tuscan personalities, habits and quirks, Renato’s Luck follows a disheartened guy suffering from midlife crisis who sets out to change his luck, and that of his friends, as well.

Playing For Pizza by John Grisham
A humiliated football player flees the rabid Browns fans and seeks refuge in the little-known Italian football league. Breezy but fun.

The Broker by John Grisham
A high-profile attorney and power broker gets in over his head and winds up as a political pawn. Full of the intrigue and political plays that Grisham is famous for, it reads like the screenplay it will no doubt become.

Related Posts:

Italian Reading List, Part I - Memoirs

Italian Reading List, Part II - Guides and Nonfiction

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Italian Reading List - Part II

Today I'm continuing my Italian reading list with the second part of my series of books about Italy. Last time I listed the memoirs; this time around I'm highlighting nonfiction and guidebooks.

Guidebooks are difficult to quantify as they are very subjective depending on the reader's taste as well as the destination. One guidebook publisher might offer an excellent book about Rome but fall short on another region. I've also found that most guides focus on the well-known destinations, creating a glut of overused information. They end up echoing each other, covering all the same sights and restaurants (while ignoring the wonderful places that are lesser known, for which people really need a guide!)

I've not found a single guidebook publisher that I can say I recommend across the depends on the locale. I rarely purchase guides online; I want to look it over thoroughly before buying.


La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales
A fun and informative romp through the history, culture, art and sensuality of the beautiful Italian language.

Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World by Peter D’Epiro
Character sketches and historical background on famous and not-so-famous Italians who contributed to society, culture, art and technology.

Christ Stopped At Eboli by Carlo Levi
An Italian classic written by an anti-fascist doctor and artist exiled to Basilicata for his opposition to Mussolini. His chronicle of the poverty and neglect he found helped forge change in post-war southern Italy.

Under the Southern Sun: Stories of the Real Italy and the Americans It Created by Paul Paolicelli
A wonderful, researched and well-written look at the little known history and culture of southern Italy, and how they impacted those who immigrated to America.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
A vivid and colorful story of the discovery of a masterpiece by Caravaggio that was forgotten about and hidden in plain sight. Interspersed with background on Caravaggio, this book reads like a novel.

Eating & Drinking in Italy: Italian Menu Translator and Restaurant Guide by Andy Herbach
Called a ‘menu translator’ it is an indispensable guide to the different dishes around the varied regions of Italy. Small and packable with lots of information packed into it.

Eyewitness Travel Guide
They won’t get you very far off the beaten path, but as far as general guides go, these are good. They have good neighborhood maps, basic background, and a nice visual layout. They Eyewitness Guide to Rome is particularly good.

Blue Guide The Marche
The only English language guide devoted solely to this wonderful region. Much of the restaurant information is outdated, but it covers the sights and towns of Le Marche in detail.

TCI – The Touring Club Italiano books
If you read Italian, these are the best guides to grab. Good historical sketches, detailed descriptions and fairly extensive coverage. I rely heavily on the TCI guide gialle (yellow guides) and guide verdi (green guides). The yellow guides have more attractive and logical layouts, but the green guides are more indepth.

One Hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns of Italy
Lovely coffee table book that I was drawn to merely because Ascoli Piceno is featured on the cover (ciao amici!) It contains some predictable entries and some nice, lesser-known spots, as well.

In Love in Italy: A Traveler's Guide to the Most Romantic Destinations in the Country of Amore by Monica Larner
If you’re planning a honeymoon or romantic trip to the land of amore then this is the book for you! Included are destinations, hotels and restaurants, along with regional stories and recipes.

Guidebooks I Hated: Cadogan Guide - Southern Italy (insulting); Baedecker guides (ultra-dry).

Related Posts:

Italian Reading List, Part I - Memoirs

Italian Reading List, Part III - Fiction

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Italian Reading List - Part I

I've been dabbling on Facebook the last couple of months.  I was reluctant, being the techno curmudgeon that I am, but I admit that it is kind of fun to zap one-liners and zingers on friends' pages, and post little notes that wouldn't constitute a blog post.  When I wrote about a novel that I was reading that made some Italian errors, several people responded that they would like an Italy-related reading list. 

I have read a great number of them, some better than others (and some really dismal!)  I gave it a lot of thought and shuffled through my memory bank to compile a list of the memoirs, guides, cookbooks and novels that focus on the theme of Italy that I enjoyed (along with a mention of those that I didn't like, too.)

First up - Memoirs.

Memoirs and Narratives Set in Italy

Dances with Luigi: A Grandson's Search for His Italian Roots by Paul Paolicelli
Interesting, insightful and touching memoir of an Italian-American in search of his family heritage.  I could relate just a tad.

Seasons in Basilicata: A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village by David Yeadon
Finally a book focusing on my Motherland!  Based primarily on the premise of seeing the region through Carlo Levi's book, Yeadon fades out the copious quotes of that writer and turns to his own voice to show the unique landscape and complex characters who live in the ancient town of Aliano.

Love & War in the Apennines (Travel Literature) by Eric Newby
Get past the first two somewhat dry "background" chapters and you’ll enjoy this wonderful memoir about Newby’s experiences as an escaped prisoner in Italy during WWII, and the wonderful people who risked their lives to help him avoid capture, including his future wife.

A Small Place in Italy (Travel Literature) by Eric Newby
A couple decades after WWII, Eric Newby and his wife return to buy a ramshackle little house in a village. This should be the first book you read if you’re contemplating the pretty vision of buying property in Italy.

The Hills of Tuscany by Ferenc Mate
Nicely written narrative of a rather nomadic couple who settle down in Tuscany. They are very likeable, and draw us in to their new way of life.

Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera by Annie Hawes
A pair of British sisters find themselves in a traditional village where they buy a rustico in the hills of Liguria and learn about olive growing. Engaging and witty, with a nice progression as the author comes to understand, adapt to, and then embrace the culture. (Her follow-up, Ripe For The Picking, is enjoyable, as well, though a little less focused.)

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena di Blasi
Could have been cliché and hokey, but di Blasi’s sumptuous writing and honesty made me really enjoy this book.

The Reluctant Tuscan: How I Discovered My Inner Italian by Phil Doran
Funny memoir about a Hollywood writer who moves to Tuscany unwillingly when his wife buys a run-down property there. I enjoyed it even though it read too much like a Hollywood script and I questioned the truth of some of the occurrences.

A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover's Dream by Ferenc Mate
If you’ve ever been tempted to start a vineyard, this is the book for you. Mate’s fun tone comes through as he details the making of a new vineyard from the ground up.

Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks
A witty and honest look at the quirks and incongruities of everyday life in Verona. Not your average “bought a house in Tuscany” memoir.

Too Much Tuscan Sun by Dario Castagno
Funny account of a Tuscan tour guide about some of the quirky and strange people he encountered through the years.  Irreverent with a somewhat disjointed layout, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and even laughed out loud a couple of times.

Memoirs I Found Annoying: Under The Tuscan Sun, Pasquale’s Nose, Journey to the South, Botticelli Blue Skies, and Four Seasons in Rome.

Next time around...Nonfiction.  Happy Reading!

Related Posts:

Italian Reading List, Part II - Guides and Nonfiction

Italian Reading List, Part III - Fiction