Friday, March 30, 2012


Today I am traveling back to the US.

Due to visa related issues I am no longer able to live and work in Italy.

I am not sure what the future will hold - a feeling that is both exciting and scary.

Thank you for reading and following along with me on my adventures. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The View from Above

San Petronio church in Piazza Maggiore is currently under restoration which means that the whole front of it is covered in scaffolding. A bummer for people who come into the square expecting to see the majestic facade of the church only to be met with scaffolding and an ad for the newest VW car. The silver lining though is that the church has opened the scaffolding up to the public and for a mere 3 euros you can climb to the top and see tremendous, roof-top views of the city center!

Sunday was a clear, beautiful day and so we went up and the views are truly unique, I do no think there is another publicly accessible place in the city where such views are available, and fantastic. This is looking East across the city with the two towers on the left.

Palazzo del Podestà and people sitting out at the cafes enjoying the sun.

It was great to be able to clearly see some of the other towers around the city as well. At ground level it is easy to miss them as they blend in with the rest of the city.

Palazzo Comunale

We could even see San Luca on the hills just outside of the city.
One of my favorite parts about being able to see the city from that vantage point was being able to check out all of the roof top terraces and balconies. You cannot see too many in this picture but there were really some fantastic spots. It was fun to day dream about which one I would choose.

a panoramic view with Piazza Nettuno and the Fontana del Nettuno to the far left, the Palazzo del Podestà in the middle and the two towers to the far right 

Monday, March 5, 2012

In My Kitchen - Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

I love cooking and the kitchen is definitely my happy place. There is a certain rhythm to cooking that soothes me and provides comfort. There are the tasks that become rote not in a boring way but in a way that signals comfort and a reassuring predictability. This part of cooking is meditative and for a person like me, with a mind that feels as though it is almost always on overdrive, it is a welcome retreat. The other side of cooking is the creative. New recipes, new ingredients, new techniques. It is challenging and stretches my abilities and ideas. I love this artistic side. Most of the time I feel like a creative person without an outlet, I cannot paint or sing, but cooking provides me that space. In honor of my love of cooking, I would like to start a series on the blog called In My Kitchen where I can share recipes and cooking related experiences with you.

Today, I would like to share a recipe I have made twice now, which says a lot in itself as I do not tend to repeat recipes, and which has become an instantaneous favorite in our house.

Lemon Poppy Seed Bread!

This bread is really delicious! The yogurt in the recipes ensures that the bread turns out moist and remains so even in the days after baking. My favorite part of the recipe is the genius, lemon syrup which you pour over the bread after it is done cooking. This infuses the bread with a bright, tangy lemon flavor.

Usually, on the weekends we head out to our favorite pasticcerie (bakeries) for breakfast so it says a lot that we happily stayed in and enjoyed this bread on both Saturday and Sunday.

Lemon Poppy Seed Bread 
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 extra-large eggs
Zest of 2 lemons
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup of poppy seeds
Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Slowly stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix in the poppy seeds. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 (+) minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
When the bread is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the bread is still warm, make a series of holes in the top of the bread with a toothpick - this will give the liquid a place to go and it will help ensure the bread is evenly and completely saturated. Then pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the bread and allow it to soak in. Cool.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Making Gnocchi

The other weekend when pondering what to make for dinner, I looked around our kitchen and saw we had a bag of potatoes and really not much else so I decided to make gnocchi. I looked at the recipe and it seemed doable until I got to the step where I had to add the flour to the mashed potatoes...for the quantity of flour the recipe said q.b. which stands for quanto basta and basically translates to "enough". This is a common notation for measurements in Italian recipes. It is as if the recipes assume that we all grew up in the kitchen helping our nonne (grandmas) and mamme (moms) make pasta and sauces and such. As I did not have any such exposure growing up, I just winged it and as a result my first batch of gnocchi had a much too high potato to flour ratio. They barely survived being cooked in the boiling water and were a mushy mess. Into the compost bin they went. I added more flour to the dough and it transformed into something much more malleable. Rolling the dough into a long, snake like shape and cutting it into small pieces reminded me of so many times during my childhood when I did very much the same thing with playdoh (so maybe I did have a little childhood gnocchi training after all).

My gnocchi - waiting to be cooked.

The cuoco (chef) and her gnocchi with a much deserved glass of vino.

Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the finished product. As soon as the gnocchi were done cooking (which is remarkably fast - it takes only 2-3 minutes after being dropped in the boiling water for the gnocchi to rise to the surface signalling they are done) I mixed them with the sauce and served them. Andrea ate his with a tomato sauce and I had mine with gorgonzola (if you are a fan of gorgonzola, the easiest sauce ever for pasta is to heat up a little milk and a hunk of gorgonzola cheese in a small sauce pan until the cheese melts and then pour it over your pasta. Yum!) much to Andrea's olfactory dismay.

This recipe made a ton of gnocchi and I found the leftovers to be even better the next day - it seems the gnocchi firmed up a little more being left overnight in the refrigerator. I also sauteed the gnocchi a little after cooking them in the boiling water. This gave them a nice, slightly crispy edge and immensely improved the overall texture and flavor.

I am excited to try these again. Next time, I would like to do spinach and ricotta gnocchi for a lighter take or gnocchi made with squash instead of potato like we tried last year at a restaurant up in the Dolomites.

I highly recommend trying your hand at this dish. It is an economical dish to make and it gives you an excuse to get your hands dirty and reconnect with childhood pleasures.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lunch in Florence

The other day I had to go to the US Consulate in Florence to renew my passport so Andrea and I decided to make a day of it.

We strolled around the city and finally ended up at the Trattoria Sostanza. This restaurants second name or nickname is Il Troia which is quite funny as it means the whore. The restaurant is one long, narrow room and as soon as you enter you can see all the way back to the open kitchen where quite often the chef, who also serves as the butcher, is wielding a cleaver and butchering the famous Fiorentina steak.

The Fiorentina, a Tuscan specialty, is the Cadillac of steaks. It is huge and it is normally served nearly raw and often quite bloody.

We ordered a quarter of a kilo - the smallest portion it was possible to order and which is normally intended for only one person.

This is my half of the steak along with the cime di rapa (broccoli rabe) and of course, vino rosso.
 As you can see they leave the steak quite rare in the middle - essentially they just char it on either side and call it good. Although I must say that this was probably the most well done Fiorentina I have ever seen. The taste was incredible! When they cook the meat they only add olive oil, salt and pepper and as a result the taste of the meat is showcased.

After lunch we went to Piazzale Michelangelo above the city to admire the panorama of Florence. The view never fails to take my breath away.

Ponte Vecchio is to the left and the Duomo in the center.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Carnevale in Venice

When I first arrived in Italy it was during Carnevale. I remember walking around the main piazza in Bologna and seeing children in costumes and wondering what was going on. I had heard of Carnevale but solely in the context of the celebrations in Brazil and I did not realize, at that point, that it was also celebrated in other places including Italy.

By year two I had figured it all out and I wanted to visit Venice to witness one of the largest Carnevale celebrations in all of Italy. I had heard there would be many people and that some people wore masks and I was excited to check it out but I was not prepared for the reality.

It was spectacular! The people who dressed up put tremendous amounts of time, energy and passion into their costumes and their characters. They were very serious about the roles they were playing and and they did not break character...even when stopping for a coffee and snack.

We met the couple below when we stopped for coffee at the beautiful Caffè Florian. They informed us that they had travelled from Spain to be a part of the festivities.

There were many couples elaborately dressed in different kinds of costumes. I loved the details and the colors!

There were also some larger groups of presumably friends or family all dressed in matching costumes.

There were even some families with children in full costume as well!

This little guy made my heart melt. He reminded me of a very young Benjamin Franklin. 

It was such a wonderful experience and I highly recommend visiting Venice for Carnevale if you get the chance. Yes, it is crowded (there were times when we could not move because the small streets were overflowing with people) but it is worth it. It was like being transported to another time and place for a day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Three Years

Monday was my three year anniversary of living in Italy!

It is bizarre to write that because it does not feel like it has been that long. I remember deciding to come here and how nonchalant I was about it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and how this experience would change my life. At first, I was to stay here for six months but that turned into a year and then another year and all of a sudden I have lived here for three years. In the end I guess in large part it comes down to expectations. When I came here I had certain expectations (I would quickly become fluent in Italian, I would easily make the transition into the Italian culture and lifestyle) and of course, as it usually happens, the reality was very different. I guess I am still trying to bridge that gap. There are still so many things to learn and challenges to face that it feels impossible that I have been here for three years - aren't I suppose to be an expat, Italian expert by now?

To commemorate this anniversary, I thought it would be fun to share some excerpts from a journal I was keeping when I first arrived. These are some of the things that surprised me about life in Italy during my first few days here:

"People dress fancier here than in the US (i.e. no flip flops, hoodies, regular jeans)."

"Coffee always equals espresso and people drink it like shots of liquor. Nobody gets it to go. You stand at the bar, drink it quickly and leave."
"The keys to the front door look like they are for a castle."

"Eggs are not refrigerated at the grocery store."

"There are no dryers. You see people's laundry hanging out of their apartments everywhere."

 The funny thing about writing this post is how normal all of these things seem now.

So maybe in the end I have learned more and integrated more deeply into the lifestyle than I notice or give myself credit for.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


It snowed in Bologna!

This was the scene from our back patio this morning.

This morning, I was dutifully hitting the snooze button and avoiding getting out of bed when Andrea walked in and said, "I have a problem...I don't know if I am going to be able to go to work because there is so much SNOW!". I literally flew out of bed and ran to the window to check it out. Then I threw on my coat, hat and a pair of shoes to go out on the patio to take pictures.

For this California girl, who has never really lived anywhere where it snows, it was a pretty exciting way to start the day!

scooters buried in the snow

The streets around our house were empty this morning as most people opted to stay home.

It continued to snow all morning and into the afternoon. After lunch, Andrea and I went for a walk in the city center. It is amazing how the snow made me look at the city in a whole new light and with a renewed appreciation and excitement.

trees heavy with snow

bikes in the snow

People flocked to Piazza Maggiore to marvel at and play in the snow.
There were snowmen being built, snow ball fights in progress and people making snow angels.

a snowman standing proud in front of San Petronio

Neptune covered in snow

Piazza Santo Stefano

It was a magical day! The snow has stopped now after dumping a record 45 cm (1.47 feet). I hope that we get at least a little more in the coming days. Bologna truly was transformed into a winter wonderland and it was fun to enjoy the city in a new way and to tromp through the snow without a care and to feel reconnected with simpler pleasures.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

La Cova Fumada

La Cova Fumada, in Barcelona, is one of my favorite restaurants in the world which I think is saying a lot seeing as I have lived in Italy for the past three years! We discovered the restaurant last year after reading about it on Food and Wine's website (FYI their website is a great place to find awesome restaurant recommendations). I have to say that if we had not read that recommendation we probably would not have gone in because the outside doesn't look like much...

Waiting out front of the Cova Fumada for a table. The wait isn't so bad when they have already served  you your first round of beer.

The inside doesn't look like much either, the whole restaurant including the kitchen is contained in one big, open room, but we knew it would be good by the crazy amount of people inside. Every seat in the place was occupied and there was a crowd of people standing around the small bar sipping Estrella Damm beer and eating and another crowd of people occupying any space they could while they waited for a coveted spot at one of the few tables.

This is the entire inside of the restaurant. The kitchen (pictured below) is just to the right and is completely open to the room.


The kitchen - I love the grandma looking lady in the apron.

The beer fridge - packed full with Estrella Damm.

When you order a beer here you don't say what kind you want you just say big or small.

Our meal was delicious. Like in many places in Barcelona, here they serve small plates of food so you can order and try a lot of different things. I think we must of ordered almost everything on the menu but some of our favorites included the small artichokes cooked alla plancia (the flat grill) and doused in butter (the butter dribbled down my hands and wrists while I ate), calamari also cooked alla plancia and mussels on the half shell served with a dollop of creamy, smooth garlic aioli atop each one. This place is also credited as being the creator of the Bomba - a mashed potato and ham mixture which is made into a ball and fried and served with the aforementioned garlic aioli and a fiery red sauce.

To finish off the meal and revive us from our food induced coma we always have a Pirata. It is a hot coffee drink created by the crew at the Cova Fumada which consists of a slice of lemon, an espresso shot and I think at least two different kinds of liquor (it was a little difficult to keep track at that point of exactly what was going into our drink).

The two gentlemen on the outside are both part of the family that runs the restaurant. The man who is second in on the right is named Peni. We met him last year during our first visit to La Cova Fumada and we were able to reconnect with him this year thanks to the man in the blue shirt and some great pantomiming from Andrea :)

Of course, we had to get a photo with the grandma.
We absolutely love this place. To us it feels like real Barcelona and a place we could easily imagine ourselves visiting with strict regularity if we lived in Barcelona. We love it so much that during the last year, after our first visit to La Cova Fumada, we often found ourselves saying that if we could find a cheap enough flight we would go to Barcelona just to have lunch at La Cova Fumada. In fact, it was at the top of our list of things to do when we returned to Barcelona and on our first full day of our vacation we found ourselves there enjoying a nice, leisurely and delicious four hour lunch.

If you find yourself in Barcelona, please pay these guys a visit and ENJOY!

Saturday, January 14, 2012


We took a bus from the airport in Girona into Barcelona. As the city came into view I started to look around excitedly and pick out the sights I remembered from last time. There was the Sagrada Familia and the Torre Agbar but then I saw a sign that read, "Benvinguts a Barcelona". Now, I do not remember much from my high school Spanish classes but that did not seem right and in fact it is not Spanish but Catalan. In Barcelona they speak two languages Spanish and Catalan and in our travels we heard a lot more of the latter than the former.

The people in Barcelona have a strong pride in their Catalan history and consider themselves first and foremost to be Catalonian and then Spanish. In fact, a man we met was quick to point out that Catalan has existed for one thousand years whereas Spain has only existed for five hundred. 

We learned a few phrases and words in Catalan during our trip. Good morning in Catalan is bon dia and it was amazing to watch the way people's faces lit up with warmth and surprise when we entered a shop and said, "bon dia". Next time we go to Barcelona, I will definitely study and learn a few more phrases in Catalan as I felt like it really opened the door into the true Barcelona.   

The feeling of respect and reverence for Catalonia is also evident in the presence of the Catalonian flag. It can be found flying alongside the Spanish and Barcelonian flags in front of every public building.

The Catalonian, Spanish and Barcelonian flag

The extreme pride and respect for their history and where they have come from is yet another reason why I love Barcelona and its people and why I look forward to returning.

All of the photos on the blog are taken by me unless otherwise noted. This is one of those times so the following are the sources for the above images: Photo 1, Photo 2

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Last night for my birthday dinner we went to Serghei.

It is a tiny, there are only seven tables in the whole place, family run restaurant. There was only one man running the front of the house and a few ladies in the kitchen - two of which appeared as though they could be the nonne (grandmas) of the family.

We had heard that the restaurant served home-style (think like your Italian grandma made it), traditional Bolognese food. Andrea had even heard from a local reporter that the tagliatelle con ragù was the best in Bologna. We went hungry and were excited to try this new to us restaurant.

The inside is decorated with knick knacks ranging from on old radio to a guitar propped in the corner and an old advertisement for a Singer sewing machine and many, many bottles of wine some which appear to be quite old. If the Italian grandma was suppose to be in the kitchen then the dining room felt like grandpa's den.

The decor was warm and welcoming. It immediately made us feel relaxed and at home.

This is one of those types of restaurants that do not have a printed menu, always a good sign that the food will be fresh. Before the waiter even had a chance to tell us any of the options for the first course, we ordered the tagliatelle con ragù (if you are not familiar, tagliatelle are long, flat noodles and the ragù is a meat sauce which outside of Bologna is referred to as Bolognese sauce). We had to try it to see if it lived up to the hype. Apparently, its reputation proceeds it because when we walked in each of the five people at the table next to us had a plate of tagliatelle in front of them. We also ordered the tortelloni di zucca (pumpkin) with a butter and sage sauce (always one of my favorites). And of course a bottle of red wine - a Barbera d'Alba (also a favorite of mine).  

The waiter was very nice and split the two pastas for us (tagliatelle is on the left and the tortelloni di zucca is on the right).

The tortelloni were delicate and refined. The texture of the pumpkin filling was silky as was the butter coating each piece of pasta. The sweetness of the filling contrasted perfectly with the saltiness of the parmiggiano.

The tagliatelle were perfectly cooked with a bit of a bite remaining. The slight variation in the width of the noodles revealed that they were most likely made by hand by the ladies in the kitchen (fatta a mano). The flavor of the ragù was full and round and it coated the noodles nicely without being oily.    

For the second course, Andrea ordered the roasted chicken and I ordered the stinco di maiale (which is the lower part of the pig's leg).

My stinco was so huge it absolutely dwarfed Andrea's chicken.

Andrea's chicken was good but not anything incredible. My stinco, however, was excellent. It had been braised in Barbera wine and as soon as I plunged my fork into it the meat fell off the bone. The meat was tender and juicy and full of flavor. The Bolognese know how to do pork!

I was very satisfied with my caveman portion of meat.

A little pause was definitely needed between the second course and dessert.

For dessert we ordered creme caramel and mascarpone with chocolate sauce, crumbles of almond cookie and Amaretto. 

The creme caramel was okay but could not hold a candle to the mascarpone (which actually had a candle in it when it arrived to the table due to Andrea's request). The mascarpone was amazing - perfectly smooth with little bursts of crunch due to the pieces of cookie. The chocolate sauce was rich and a little bitter providing a nice contrast to the buttery, rich flavor of the mascarpone. And then I found the pool of Amaretto, which I guess I had missed the waiter mentioning in the description of the dessert because it came as a very happy surprise to me, at the bottom of the cup and I had to refrain myself from loudly exclaiming "OH YUM"!

We were very happy with our dinner and we would gladly return again to celebrate another special occasion.