Love at First Bite

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Nothing satisfies my ‘inner Italian‘ like a good sweet (dolce).  My earliest recollection was when my mother and father would bring home that familiar white square box tied up with red and white twine from the bakery.

There was always that excitement as my sisters and I gathered to untie the string and devour all the sticky sweet treats contained inside.  At that time my tastes ran more to the creamy sweet goodness of cannoli; but over time I have more than responded to the crispy crunchy biscotti. In Italian the word ‘biscotto’ means biscuit or cookie.  The root word ‘bis’ literally means twice and cotto means baked‘.  Twice baked cookies, but biscotti sounds much nicer.  Biscotti were first created in Tuscany many centuries ago, but now they are available all over Italy and beyond.

I have tried many recipes over the years, but the one I have settled on is a combination of several; and one I feel produces a great biscotti.  When you read the recipes you are always instructed to bake the biscotti a second time, but what no one, and I mean no one, ever tells you is that you must leave the biscotti in the oven to ‘dry‘ for a few hours when you turn off the oven. As my friend, Jeanine has demonstrated, even overnight works.  When you awake the next morning and have brewed your cup of espresso, you can just reach into your now cool oven for the crispest biscotti you have ever tasted. And don’t forget, not only is dunking allowed it is encouraged.  Here is the recetta (recipe)!

1 cup sugar

6 TBL unsweetened butter at room temperature

3 eggs

1/3 cup anise liquor

zest of one lemon

3 cups unbleached flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup almonds chopped

2 TBL. anise seeds

Mix sugar and butter.  Beat in eggs one at a time till light.

Stir in liquor and zest.  In another bowl mix flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt.  Add flour mixture to egg mixture and blend.  Add almonds to all and mix.  Mixture will be wet.  Wet hands and shape into two logs. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.  Cool in refrigerator for 2 hours.  Then bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Allow to cool and cut with serated knife into slices.  Bake again cut side down at 275 for 30 minutes.

Turn oven OFF and allow to dry in OVEN for a few hours or OVERNIGHT.

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Cycling in Firenze

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On our very first trip to Italy our children were 14 and 16 years old.  We were not yet bold enough to rent our own place (as we have subsequently done over the years) and so we stayed in various small hotels.  Our hotel in Firenze happened to be across the street from a bicycle shop.  Each day our son would beg to have a break from what he felt was the never ending trekking around museums looking at pictures and to have a physical activity.   We finally succumbed and agreed to rent bicycles and pedal our way from Firenze to Fiesole.   WHAT WAS I THINKING.…..In those early days I carried around a tatered copy of Rick Steves Europe through the Back Door. Rick had said it was a 20 minute drive to Fiesole and I naively thought, ‘how hard could a bicycle ride be?’. We took our lives in our hands weaving our way through all the buses, vespas and pedestrians.  It was a miracle that we were not killed or did not kill someone else. Once we made it outside the city the roads widened out, but the subsequent ride was uphill all the way.

A lovely lunch atop the small town of Fiesole and a peek into their A amphitheatre revived and steadied us for the return. Fortunata  the ride home was ‘all down hill’, but that did not alter our need to dodge pedestrians, buses and cars along the way.

Another, kindler, gentler cycling event will take place in Coral Gables on Sunday, March 18th when The Coral Gables Museum and Bike/Walk Coral Gables present a fun, educational bicycle tour through the city.  Riders will receive a tour of the Museum exhibit Bringing Beauty Into Our Lives:  Art and Architecture in Coral Gables During the New Deal and wll embark on a 7.5 mile bike tour of the city at 11 a.m.

Hav you ever taken a bike tour at home or abroad?  What was yours like?

Plastic, Paper or Prada

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Buone notizie (good news)  In a nation known for its food as well as fashion, where most purchases are enshrouded in the ubiquitous plastic bag, Italy has the distinction of becoming the first nation to ban the production of plastic bags. In Italy, existing stocks of plastic bags are being phased out and plastic bags will no longer be produced or available. Choices will be confined to recycled paper or bioplastic material that’s made from renewable, biodegradable sources such as corn starch.  It is a long way from fashion giant to green guru, but we are also seeing more and more resuable bags in our stores, canvas or otherwise. With luck,  Prada, Pucci and other designers may take their turn at producing an environmentally friendly reusable designer shopping bag.

 

Concerns that lead Italy to enact this law were threefold: over one trillion plastic bags are produced annually in the world that can remain in the environment for up to 1000 years; countless animals including whales, tortoises and marine birds suffer needless deaths, some to the point of extinction and third, the toxic danger to humans from carcinogenic dyes, metals and other chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

On our latest visit to Italy I was amazed and heartened by their recycling efforts.  Even the most remote and difficult to access location benefits from recycling efforts.  At the home in the hills of Lucca where we stayed, there was a most detailed system of recycling.   Here is the description by my amica Rosemaria.

We put out bottles and plastic (blue bag) on Monday and Friday.  Organic waste, food and food leftovers, (brown box) on Tuesday and Saturday. Wednesday is a gray bag with non recyclables, Thursday is paper and cardboard boxes which we have to flatten before we put them out! There is no collection on Sundays but during the week, even if it is a public holiday, things are picked up.”

At home, Donna Reno, one of the directors of Edible Community Gardens Project has launched an initiative called the REUSE CAMPAIGN. The campaign is part of a green movment to remove plastic from our farmers markets.  The biodegradable bag that is made from corn has already been introduced into the Pinecrest Farmers Market with great success. Can the Coral Gables Farmers Market be far behind?  Hmmmm….. next stop Publix Market?  Chissa (who knows).

What recycling or green efforts are being made in your community?

Window Dressing

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I love to peer into all the lovely store windows in Italy, especially the pasticceria. Seems they (gli Italiani) just have a flair for composing a still life that makes the mouth water.

 Almost gave up hope of finding such an attractive establishment on this side of the Atlantic, but then I found Chocolate Fashion.  The bakery and restaurant is housed in the former location of Andalusia Bakery.  Perhaps it is the legacy of lingering aroma that adds to this artisanal bakery, restaurant and gourmet food company located in the heart of Coral Gables.

Save yourself the airfare.  Chocolate Fashion serves up the best croissants this side of the Atlantic, and the visual displays are a treat for the eyes.

Do you have a favorite spot in your home town?

Cineforum Italian Film Festival

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Italians love film and like most things Italian it has a colorful history.  A 20th century addition to the magic of Rome is the film studio of Cinecittà. The Cinecittà studios have been making films for 70 years, including many of the classic epics like La Dolce Vita and Death in Venice. Cinecittà was opened by Mussolini in April 1937, with the intention of promoting Italy and the current fascist ideals through cinema. The complex, in south-east Rome, was designed as a complete centre of production, with facilities covering everything from training, through the production of films, to post-production. Within six years, almost 300 films had been made at the new studios. Although, the luster of the lights have somewhat dimmed at Cinecitta’ there are still many wonderful films being produced and exported from Italy.

In it’s infancy at the University of Miami is Cineforum, a film series promoting the artistic efforts made by those in modern Italian cinema.  The festival is the brain child of Manny Garcia-Rossi,  Professor of Italian and Spanish, and is supported in part by funds from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in support of Italian language and culture.  All films are presented in Italian with English subtitles every other Wednesday through April 18th on campus at the Learning Center 110 at 7:30.  Please checkhttp://www.as.miami.edu/mll/events/ for exact schedule.

(Sorry, the following trailer is only in Italian.)

Next up is “Una Vita Tranqilla” on February 29th.   A story of a man dedicated to leaving his past behind.  Is it possible to reinvent yourself?

Oh, and did I mention, all screenings are FREE.

 Siete benvenuti!

La Dolce Villa Coral Gables Style

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I have been greeted by the wonderful South Florida (specifically Coral Gables) weather that makes living here, especially in the winter, such a pleasure.  I believe it’s time to give you some background as to what makes up La Dolce Villa here in Coral Gables.   Aside from being the location where our children grew up, it is visually what speaks to my inner Italian.  The city was founded in 1925 by George Merrick and modeled on various cities in Europe.  For Merrick, Majorca, Sevilla, Cartagena, and Malaga were not just cities in Spain, they were symbols of his American dream to develop his vast land holdings while building on Florida’s rich Spanish history.  Curiously, Merrick never even went to Europe, but was aided in his vision by Denham Fink, artist/illustrator and visionary nephew.

Framed with elaborate gateways and streets embellished with plazas and fountains, much of today’s Coral Gables conveys the same Old World aura it evoked ninety years ago.

Merrick’s plan was to create a new city called “Coral Gables” named after the native rock home where he spent his childhood. He would do it in a cohesive, aesthetic style that would incorporate the visions of artists and poets, like himself, who were rapt in the fever of the Florida land boom and inspired by the simplest of beauties.

Together with a team of extraordinary designers, which included artist Denman Fink, architects H. George Fink, Phineas Paist, and landscape architect Frank Button, Merrick set out to create a unique suburb of the city of Miami. A project that would be an unrivaled beauty, constructed in the Mediterranean Revival style, featuring all the elements of the City Beautiful Movement.

So here I am, a transplanted New Yorker, with my DNA rooted in Italy,  living and enjoying life at  La Dolce Villa in Coral Gables.  Non male (not bad)!

La Dolce Villa

Coffee Talk

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In addition to knowing ‘how‘ to order coffee at a bar in Italy (you place your order, obtain a scontrino (receipt) and then pick up your order when ready), it is also necessary to know ‘what‘ coffee to order.  If you make the all too common mistake of ordering a latte you will receive a glass of warm milk that is not at all representative of the aromatic brew served at  Starbucks as well as a very quizzical look from the barista.

The national coffee of Italy is an espresso.  It is usually served in a small glass cup (no styrofoam) and filled to less than half.  The crema on top lets you know its the real deal. And contrary to what you might think, espresso has less caffeine than regular coffee.

Caffe’ Corto is a smaller coffee (corto meaning short) that is a potent brew which concentrates the flavor of the coffee and packs the same punch as an espresso.  It is sometimes referred to as a Caffe’ Ristretto.  To up the ampage on any of these coffees, just ask for a Doppio (double).

Caffe’ Lungo (long) is closing in on the American version of coffee as there is more of it, although it is served in the same small size cup.  If none of these Italian style coffee suits you can always request a Caffe’ Americano.

To jazz things up or for an even bigger punch you can request a Caffe’ Corretto.  You guessed it, ‘correct coffee’.  However this coffee is served with a liquor.  As if the caffeine rush was not emough……

Caffe’ Macchiato is also served in a small cup but with a ‘stain‘ (macchiato) of frothy milk.

And let’s not forget the ubiquitous Cappucino that is served primarily at breakfast but not after 11 in the morning.  Order one of these frothy, milky drinks in the afternoon and you will assure your reputation as a ‘tourista’.

What has been your experience ordering a coffee in Italy?  Here’s a short video of a caffe’ challenged Dustin Hoffman.  Divertirsi!


Ciao Italia!

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The days are now hung with mist that blot out the hills behind the small towns.

It is decidedly colder than when we arrived in Italy what seems a long time ago

Our days and nights have been filled with rich experiences and joys to treasure

Fortunately,  La Dolce Villa is a state of mind, so I actually never have to leave Italy or Coral Gables.  I am always there (at least in my mind) and can stay connected through the memories of unhurried meals with friends, good wine, enchanting scenery and the slow rhythm of every day life that makes living or being there so unique

 I take with me the memory of new friends, tastes, sounds and sights that fill me with joy  So andiamo avanti (let’s go forward) and explore all things dolce

Next month an antiquing trip to Mt. Dora to bring you treasures and new experiences


A Night at the Opera

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What better place to hear opera than in Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini.  Mid afternoon we all piled into the car for the drive down the mountain. (It seems we are always in the process of driving up or down the mountain).  Some drives are what I call 1/2 dramamine drives, others require the whole tablet. I was encouraged that this was a matinee and that we would make it back home before the sun set and not to have to traverse the winding roads after dark.  Not so.  The Italians are passionate about their music and so instead of seeing one opera, we saw two.   The opere took place at Teatro del Giglio, an important theater in Lucca, that has hosted amazing artists throughout its 300 year history; the most notable artist being Giacomo Puccini.

This afternoon’s concert featured  Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.

Allora, stirring as the performances were, it was still not enough to lessen the knot in my stomach as we drove the road back up the mountain without even  benefit of the moonlight.

Have you ever seen an opera in Italy?  What was your experience

Italian vocabulary

opera – work

opere – works

stagione lirica – opera season

allora – therefore, in that case

Outdoor Markets (Mercati all’aperto)

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There is something so picturesque about an open air food market.  I find this to be true in Italy as well as France.  All manner of produce, flowers and dried fruit is attractively displayed in a maze of stalls and stands.   They are all so appealingly presented you find yourself  in danger of carrying some of these beauties home even though you are not clearly sure of their use.

But then that is part of the experience, to see and taste different things.

Porcini

Frutta secca

Frutta secca

Have you ever roasted chestnuts?  It is very important to cut an ‘X’ with a sharp knife in the round side of the shell.  If you skip this step, the chestnuts will literally explode.

Trust me, I know….

Here is a suggestion for roasting chestnuts on an open fire, just as the song says, but in Italian.

Fare alle castagne una incisione a croce nella parte bombata e metterle a cuocere in una padella in ferro forata sul fuoco, scuotendole spesso, finche’ non risulteranno arrostite 

Buon appetito!