Fear of Yeast

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On Monday’s in Italy, most stores in the smaller cities are closed in the morning so there is no need to rush out.  In the afternoon a second hand store near Lucca yielded a few finds although I have yet to hit the ‘mother lode’.  Later, as the day transformed itself into a rainy and chilly autumn afternoon,  we decided to bake bread.  I had brought my apron and a collection of recipes along in anticipation of just such an occasion.  I am one of those cooks who cannot function in a kitchen without an apron and so make it a policy to purchase or bring one on my trips.  It is not enough for me to ‘eat’ well, I also want to ‘cook’ well.  My friend, Ann, and I joke that we have a fear of yeast, as I have never met a yeast bread that I could master.  However, some months ago I found a recipe that has proven that theory wrong.  And so I offer you this Video so that you can see, ‘all things are possible’ and so that you will be spared my ‘fear of yeast’.

Below is ‘proof’ of what Rosemaria and I achieved on that chilly, rainy afternoon.

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La Dolce Villa

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Cucina Tipica

Today we drove down from our hilltop and up another to have Sunday lunch at Il Botteghino.  Even though this restaurant is only 7 kilometers north of Lucca, the winding drive seemed much longer. Our friends had booked a table at this tiny restaurant.  As they explained it, ‘When you book a table for Sunday lunch in Italy, it is yours for the entire afternoon’. They further explained that ‘the time allocated for pranzo is ‘sacro sant’ and that no one would dare telephone between the hours of 1 and 3 in the afternoon.’ It was a beautiful drive through the hills that were dotted with the many historic villas that are open for viewing. The restaurant was peopled with locals from the area enjoying the wonderful food. I ordered a local pasta that was typical of the area followed by the rarest and thinnest slices of roast beef accompanied by roasted potatoes. My husband had a Tuscan steak. Be aware that the Italians serve their steaks very rare.

The afternoon progressed with animated conversation and much local wine, of which they are very proud.  A request to enter the kitchen was met with ‘si, si, venga’  from the cuoco.

Italian Vocabulary

pranzo – lunch 

cuoco – cook

venga – come

How I long for this type of establishment at home.  Perhaps it already exists. Do you know?

Wash and Dry

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In Italy the cost of having a dryer in your home is often prohibitive.  Most people do not have the benefit of this much taken for granted modern convenience and opt for line drying to save on expenses.  Even though it is essentially a cost saving measure, the sight of clothes drying on a line brings me back to my childhood.  We did not have a dryer in our house and so clothes were hung on the line when it was hot or cold,  sunny or cloudy.  I remember many times in New York taking the clothes off the line with icicles still stuck to them.  At any rate, when I see all the clothes a flutter in Italy it is like flags flying or someone flying their colors.  It does make for  a lovely still life.  Doubtless those without a dryer might not think so.

Here at home we have taken a leaf from their page and purchased a drying rack.  If you were to peek into my yard on a sunny South Florida afternoon you might get a glimpse of my laundry floating in the breeze.  However, no unmentionables wafting on the wind.

Have you ever rented a home in Italy that had a dryer and tried to use it?  That in itself is a real challenge.  Let me know your experiences.

A Savory Obsession

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After pasta, my second favorite food is pizza.  I like it thin when the oil drips down my arm and each slice so delicate that the tip folds under when I pick it up.  I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I am originally from New York and that we are almost religious about the state of our pizza.  Now I know, some like theirs thick Chicago style and some even take theirs with pineapple.  As for myself, I am a purist and always opt for mozzarella and tomato sauce.  Of course, we did experience some wonderful pizza in Italy and even produced some ourselves from a pizza oven at the home of our friends.  This my husband pronounced,

‘the best pizza he had ever had’

The oven can get up to 700 degrees and cooks a pizza in only seven minutes.

How many times have you seen a pizza box home emblazened with

‘you’ve tried the rest, now try the best’ 

Only this time it is true, close to home, and it’s called Mario the Baker.

You are greeted by Stephano, your amicable host who actually speaks Italian.  How authentic is that.  And when you ask for a pizza cooked to your specifications you actually get it.  Red and white check table cloths, the sound of people enjoying themselves, and good prices make this a great choice when you want that most oohey gooey cheesey goodness in Coral Gables.  Che buono!

Grateful

Coming down the stairs each morning I am anxious to turn on my computer.  Should I pour myself a cup of coffee first so that anything I write has a fair chance of making sense?  Should I resist the urge to just ‘peek’ to see what interesting emails I have received?  Its funny, I have worked all my life since I was 16, and this is the first time I have had this feeling about anything remotely called ‘work’.  My son has said,  ‘My mom has always had jobs, never a career’.

That is entirely true and a partial result of my upbringing and lack of direction in choosing a career.  Yes, but I now feel that the fact that I have so many and varied interests makes it difficult and has made it difficult for me to settle on one path.  Only one?  That is too few for a life well lived and a bit miserly when I think of all the exciting choices, career paths and interesting hobbies that are out there.  I prefer to view myself as a producer.  A person who takes an idea, develops it and puts it into action.  Now, not all of them have been successful, but I have certainly benefited  along the way from all my various choices.  But blogging seems to speak to me and in turn I hope it speaks to you through my voice.   I am grateful that you have chosen to follow my escapades in Europe, my stream of consciousness ramblings and my hopes and dreams.

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s passing.  She passed away just prior to the millenium from alzheimer’s and parkinson’s disease.  One of the last things she was able to enjoy was the sight and sound of the birds.  This brought her pleasure till near the end. This morning I was awakened by the sounds of the birds.  Ti amo mamma.

Dolce Indulgence

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Even though the weather was turning cooler in Tuscany, I couldn’t resist ordering a gelato.  On our first trip with my husband and children to Florence in the sweltering summer heat of June we could consume up to three gelati a day (each).  We ate them piled high in a crisp cone or chased the melting orbs around a dish with our spoons devouring them before they wilted from the summer heat.

Choose your favorite.

Sometimes ice cream comes with sprinkles, sometimes it comes with a sprinkling of graffiti.

Gelato with a view of the Ponte Vecchio

and sometimes it is just best shared!

As good as the gelato is in Italy, I have made a discovery of equally good gelato that is considerably closer to home.  A little over a year ago the Liberty Caffe opened its doors at the site of The Coral Gables Country Club.  Standing in the midst of lush green landscape in the heart of the Coral Gables community, the country club has an impressive heritage. This crown jewel was originally part of the 1921 city plan by George Merrick and landscape architect, Frank Button and proudly became Coral Gables’ first public building. In addition to its prestigious lineage, the Liberty Caffe boasts the best ice cream this side of Italy.  Do you have a favorite place for this sweet indulgence?

In the Garden (Nel orto)

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 One of the most wonderful things about Italian life, and part of my original premise for this blog, is the way Europeans seem to live closer to nature.  It is not only about growing your own olives, but each home or apartment, no matter how big or small has its own orto (garden).

In addition to my penchant for collecting objects while traveling, I also like to collect seeds, leaves and rocks.  Many travelers are satisfied to bring home a key chain depicting the Leaning Tower of Pisa or an ash tray of the Colosseum to commemorate their trip, while I delight in going to the local nursery and foraging for seeds.  Even when walking I cast my eyes downward to search for interesting leaves and rocks.  Each Thanksgiving I bring out my collection of Aix-en-Provence leaves that I collected and dried from the plane trees lining the Cours Mirabeaux.  In the 19th century, plane trees were imported to Southern France. Napoleon was actually responsible for extensive planting of plane trees for the purpose of keeping his marching army cool, under their great green canopies.  How considerate.

At home in beautiful Coral Gables, I have happened upon an interesting group of women with a plan for a community garden.  The garden is at The Merrick House, boyhood  home of George Merrick,  founder of our city.  The garden is a joint effort of the Coral Gables Garden Club, the Merrick House Board, the City of Coral Gables and Slow Food Miami. It is spearheaded by gardening devotees and local foodies, Donna Reno and Susan Rodriguez.  “Our mission is to educate people on the values of growing their own organic food and helping interested residents in setting up their own home gardens,” explains organizer Reno.  So far the sprouts are sprouting, the buds are budding, and the shoots are shooting.  The garden encourages participation from all ‘would-be’ gardeners. No green thumb required.  The philosophy is simple.  You reap what you sow.  Those who plant and prune are entitled to the fruits of their labor.  So get out those gardening gloves and meet us at The Merrick Community Garden.

The Olive Harvest – La Raccolta

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My husband had always been intriqued with the romance of harvesting olives in Italy.  So when Rosemary’s neighbor said his olives were ready for the picking, we jumped at the chance.  Michele and his wife Pia are 88 and 84, respectively, and have been picking olives for the major part of their lives.  Each year they say, ‘this is the last year we will harvest’, but as another year rolls around there they are, ladders poised against the trees harvesting with the aid of family members, or anyone else (like ourselves) who steps up to volunteer.

 I was so green (no pun intended) that I did not even know the olive that you pick off the tree is not suitable eating.  It is so bitter that you instinctively spit it out, ‘oh, those charming Americans’.

Michele, and two of his willing helpers, my husband Arturo and Rosamaria.

La raccolta (the harvest)

After the olives are harvested an appointment is made with the mill and the olives are transported to the frantoio to be pressed.  From 50 young trees, 25 or so liters can be had to supply a family with the greenest, freshest organic olive oil one has ever tasted.

If you are not fortunate enough to be able to harvest your own olives in Italy you can visit Fattoria Fubbiano in San Gennaro to buy their products at their farm shop or to enjoy a complete wine and oil tour from the ancient villa of the XVII century.  Pass by their vineyard, learn about the oil and wine making process, visit the cellar and end with a pleasant wine and oil tasting.

They will be happy to introduce you to their farm life, showing you the care and passion that goes into their daily work to achieve the best results with extra virgin olive oil.

Jet lagged in Lucca

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Delightfully my friend, Rosemary, had arranged for an Italian lesson class on my first morning.  I was a bit concerned how my jet lagged mind would react to such a quick and total immersion into the language.  Allora, we bundled off in the early morning hour, driving the winding roads to the neighboring town of  San Gennaro.  Before I could say buon giorno, I was seated at the large table in the home of Professoressa Anna conversing with a handful of expat’s who had fallen in love with la bella lingua and the Italian life style.  This was indeed a great beginning.

Next, down to what it was all about, the antiques market in Lucca.  Every third weekend within the historic walls of Lucca hundreds of exhibitors from Italy gather to display and sell their wares.  The mercatino takes place amidst an old world of squares, alleys and piazzas punctuated by crowds of  strolling pedestrians hoping to discover a treasure or two.  And yes, on this bright, sunny autumn afternoon, I found myself among them.  This was part of my plan, to unearth and bring home bits and pieces of cultural history  to repurpose.  Allora, it was not as easy as I had thought.

A turn down a small street led us to discover the Carta d’Epoca.  Housed in the Piazza dei Servi, this exhibition in its fourth year  gives visitors an occasion to admire antique books and papers rarely seen outside museums.  There couldn’t be a better place to hold an exhibition dedicated to antique printing than in the city of paper. The Lucca Paper District today houses 140 paper mills and employs over 6,000 people, providing the bulk of the country’s tissue paper and a large proportion of its cardboard, yet the city also has a long and illustrious history of paper-making, stretching back to at least 1400.

So a lucky accident brought me to my first find, a windfall of  correspondence written in Italian with the most beautiful cursive handwriting.  It dates between 1918 and 1919 and follows the lives of  members of the Goti family who were located in Livorno.  Lovely post marks, interesting sizes and clues to the history of the Goti family.

Anyone have relatives  from that period in Italia?  Hmmm….wonder what I can fabricate from these treasured papers……

Carta d'Epoca, Lucca

Un Sogno (A Dream)

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One of my dreams (sogni) has always been to speak Italian.  I lay awake at night as bits and pieces of Italian words and phrases flutter though my mind. Why is it so important for me to speak? Is it because I have announced to the world (friends and family) that I will achieve this and will be considered a failure if I do not?  Maybe that has something to do with it.  Allora.  In preparation for our trip I registered at the Osher Life Long Learning Center with the University of Miami.   The center is designed to spark your curiosity and encourage participation in life long learning as an integral part of healthy aging.  No tests.  Yeah.  Just a relaxed learning style that encourages social and cultural learning opportunities.  Il mio professore is Manny, a young man with a Latin babbo and an Italian mamma.  A multicultural alliance at its best.

Do you have an adult learning center in your hometown?