Saturday, February 28, 2015

From Me To You

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”  Pablo Picasso

Gift giving is something many of us associate with birthdays and Christmas, at least I know I do. But in reality we should not have to wait for a certain date to share a gift with those we love.  And I am really enjoying the trend of "paying it forward", when people do something nice for a complete stranger without expecting anything in return.  The world is so crazy right now, that those on the side of peace, love and tolerance, need to step up our game and give more of us to the world.

There are people who are natural givers, including my sister-in-law and my friends Rosi.  No matter how busy they are and how hard life is at a particular moment, they always find time for others and in my opinion, there is no better gift to give than your time and your presence.

But going back to my recurrent theme of all things Italian, I wanted to share with you how much I appreciate gift giving in Italy, as many people still give culinary presents to each other.  And I'm not talking about a box of chocolates they picked up at the store, I'm talking about jellies and preservers, garlic-flavored olive oil and spicy pepperoncino, all home made.  I can only imagine the amount of time and work it took the cook to peel, cut, process and bottle a preserve.  I don't care if I get onion jelly in a jar that used to hold tomatoes, I don't care if the presentation is not as fancy as the one from the store.  Home-made-with-love is the only label I really care about.  (PS. have you every tried onion jelly? yummo!!)  And all the jars used for these culinary presents are reused and recycled.

A couple of weeks ago, when the season for lemons was in full swing, we received a whole bunch of organic lemons from a friend of ours.  Son#2 made tons of lemonade and I baked my friend Laura's Lemon Cake, but my husband really wanted to try making home-made Limoncello.

So today, from me to you, here is my Hubby's Limoncello recipe:

Peel the lemons making sure you are only taking the yellow part of the peel (leave the white part behind, it will make your limoncello bitter).  Pour the alcohol in a big glass container and add the lemon peel.  Leave the concoction to macerate for 11 to 15 days.  Shake the container every day.  After your long wait, make a syrup with water and sugar (bring the water to a boil, pour the sugar and mix until it dissolves) let it cool completely.  Pour your alcohol mix through a strainer or cheese cloth to get rid of the lemon peel.  Add your alcohol mixture to your cool syrup.  Mix well. Pour your home made Limoncello into glass bottles and keep it in the freezer.  Enjoy a chilled shot glass after dinner.

Arrivederci, and pay it forward whenever you can!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Learning About Food

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” Julia Child

One of the joys of living in Italy has been learning more about food.  The way Italians prepare their food accepting nothing but the best ingredients is something we should all learn from them, as food can make you sick or it can be your best medicine.  I will certainly take with me the fact that the closer you are to the source of your produce, the better your food will taste.  And the cleaner your food is (less processed), the healthier you'll be.

I've had the pleasure to meet Rita, an Italian friend who runs a county-style restaurant where she also gives cooking lessons to those foreigners crazy about Italian food, like me.  I've learned lots of good cooking tips from Rita, but her passion for eating unprocessed foods when mother Earth gives them to you, is in my opinion the best lesson to take away.

In Italy they respect the cycles of the earth, and the produce you find available at the markets is what's in season in Italy at the moment.  If you are American, you've probably been spoiled by having every fruit or vegetable available to you whenever you want it.  You just have to come to accept that produce travels from far away places to end up at your table.  But, have you ever really considered when was your produce harvested and how long has its trip been before reaching your table?

"Farm to table" is not a trendy concept here in Italy,  it's a way of living, and my friend Rita, lives by this principle as she grows her own vegetables or finds sources as close to her as possible.  Needless to say, her cuisine is divine.  If you are in Rome and have enough time to escape the city for a countryside lunch or brunch, look her up: A Casa Di Rita.  You won't regret it.  And if you live in Rome, check out her cooking lessons, they are the best!

Arrivederci for now,

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Un Caffè? Coffee?

“To espresso or to latte, that is the question..." Jasper Fforde

I love discovering someone else's favorite Rome spots.  The other day I set out for one of my walks around Rome with a friend of mine who lives right in the middle of downtown Rome and has found her Rome in "centro" (the center of town).  Because we all have "versions" of our city, expanding our repertoires little by little around our homes and work places.

Our walk that day took us to Piazza Navona, as you know, one of my favorite squares in Rome.  After walking and talking for a while, the inevitable question came up: un caffè?  (I don't really drink coffee but) Sure, why not?!  I have learned to drink decaff since I got to Rome, because living in Italy without drinking coffee is just too painful.

When in drink coffee for breakfast, whether at home from a macchinetta or at the bar (coffee-bar that is).  You also must have a mid-morning coffee which other than giving you a shot of energy, is an excuse to get you out of the office/house to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. There is no way of finishing lunch without a shot of espresso; sometimes you won't even get the bill unless you are done with your coffee.  Mid-afternoon is the perfect time for coffee time (same reason as for the mid-morning coffee). Finally, after-dinner coffee is still a widely used costume.   Can you now see why it's hard to live here being a non-coffee-drinker?

My personal collection of "macchinette", italian coffee makers

Un caffè? is a question you'll hear often here in Italy.  Is an invitation, as most people love to treat you.  There is also a specific time for coffee, and if you hit the coffee bar at 10:00 am for example, it will be packed beyond belief.  The good news is that most Italians drink espresso shots, standing up and they are on their way promptly.  The fact that there are no lines in the coffee bar, just clouds of people around the counter can prove a bit intimidating, specially for a vertically-challenged foreigner, like me.  If you arrive at the bar (coffee-bar that is) and it's packed, just wait a few minutes and you'll have the chance to try your luck at ordering in peace.  Remember that here, an espresso is know as "un caffè".  Don't go asking for espressos here in Italy.  For a list of the different coffee options click here.

Un caffè?  Sure, why not.  We headed out to a famous downtown coffee bar called Sant'Eustachio.  If you happen to be nearby Piazza Navona, make sure you stop there, savor their already sweetened coffee and pick up a souvenir or two from their many coffee paraphernalia offerings.  This place is a true Roman coffee bar but given its location, it's used to having tourists among their usual clientele.

Arrivederci for now,

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Making the Effort of Staying Connected

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” Herman Melville

After having picked up my life and re-established myself in a different country enough times than I care to count, it almost feels I have lived several lives.  Every posting has had its good and not so good experiences, but they all have enriched my life.  The most rewarding experiences, however, have been the opportunities I've had to make friends along the way.

Which brings us to the topic of today's post: It's All About Connections.  I'm not talking about professional networking, which is extremely important in any field, but I'm more interested in the personal connections we've made with those whom we've crossed paths along this #expat #life.

Last week I read an interesting article on the cause of addiction, which suggested that the cure to substance abuse is far more attainable when working with addicts to help them find bonds with people instead of with drugs.  An interesting approach.  But if "bonding" with one another can affect us in such a way as to make us determine if our life is worth living -sober, what does this nomad life do to us?  Can leaving our friends every few years break the bonds we've created along the way?

All those who have relocated know the pain caused by leaving friends behind, but I want to believe that having lived my adult life moving around has forced me to make more connections throughout my life.  Some can argue these may be weaker connections than those made by a lifetime of being in one place, but I can honestly say I have friends spread out around the world.  No matter where life takes me next I can count on the fact that friends will put me in contact with their connections if it's not that I personally know someone already there. And if making bonds with people is so important, the more bonds you create the better off you'll be, right?

Staying connected today is a breeze compared to what it was in the pre-internet days.  But still, maintaining friendships with those who've entered your life takes time and effort.  We also have to take into consideration that it is our responsibility to help our children keep their connections, think about it as a duty you acquired when you signed them up for this lifestyle.  So make a point of visiting old friends when you go back home or when you travel. And what can be better than seeing someone again after a long hiatus and catching up?

Today I had lunch with an old friend, and let me tell you it has refreshed my spirits.  To all those who move around for a living, my humble advise is: make the effort, keep your connections.

Arrivederci for now,