Tag Archives: italy

Canvas: Roma Cafe

Okay, I did do a painting before last Christmas. A co-worker gave me a photo of her favorite spot in Rome and asked me to turn it into an ink-and-watercolor piece. I’d never done this type of mixed media, and I was relatively happy with the result. This project rekindled my interest in drawing and forced me to become familiar with watercolor, a medium that has always intimidated me.

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Cooking: Foccacia

This was one of my favorite things to snack on while living in Italy. This bread is rustic, hearty, and flavorful. If it seems labor intensive, be assured it is not nearly as labor intensive as most homemade breads.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 C warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1 tsp granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

3 3/4 C all-purpose flour

5 TB extra-virgin olive oil

Desired toppings: Kosher or sea salt, dried oregano, dried rosemary, red pepper flakes, drained olives (chopped), drained sun-dried tomatoes (chopped), etc.

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 C warm water, yeast and sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1 C warm water, 2 TB oil, salt, and flour, then stir to combine. Turn dough onto floured surface & knead about 7 minutes (kneading feels like it takes forever, but this step is so important and does make a difference in your foccacia’s texture!). Dough should be soft; do not add more flour. Shape dough into a ball; place in a greased, large bowl, turning dough once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap (I also through a dish towel over that) and let stand in warm place for 1 hour.

Dough should be doubled in volume! Then, and this is my favorite part, punch that dough right in the center. Lightly oil a 15.5″ by 10.5″ (inches) jelly roll pan. Pat dough into the pan, then cover again and let the dough rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

With fingertips, make deep indentations about 1 inch apart over the entire surface of the dough, almost to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle with remaining 3 TB olive oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let it rise in warm place for 45 minutes. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then, add your desired toppings! I always do salt, dried rosemary, and sometimes dried oregano, because that method is extremely popular with my guinea pigs, it’s how I ate foccacia in Italy, and why mess with a great thing?

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Bake foccacia on lowest oven rack until the bottom is crusty and top is lightly browned, about 18 minutes. Transfer foccacia to a wire rack to cool, but not completely. Then grab a glass of wine and enjoy this bit of comforting fabulousness.

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Canvas: “The Hermitage of Mt. Subasio”

Oil & acrylic on canvas board. Based on a photograph I took of the hermitage of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy; it was one of my favorite places in the country.

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Pasquetta

My favorite day in Italy was Pasquetta.  In Italian culture, this is the Monday after Easter, in which families picnic in the countryside.  Friends of our program, Kay & Chubba, live in a villa in the hills across from Orvieto.  They invited all of us students to join them at their home for Pasquetta.  The day after Easter, we all hiked up to their villa, carrying food and books and journals and cameras.  The weather was glorious, food was in abundance, and Kay & Chubba opened the wine made from their vineyard.  We ate and talked and ate and laughed and ate and took naps and ate and explored.  I just remember how incredible the weather was, how breathtaking the view of the city from Kay & Chubba’s villa, and how happy everyone was.  It’s a shame we don’t have such a tradition in the States: a day to simply do nothing but be together, enjoying good food and the beautiful world around us.

Buona Pasquetta!!!

Seriously, this is the view of gorgeous Orvieto from where all of us are sitting in the picture above.  See why we stayed there all day?!

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Wine Time

The production of wine goes back thousands of years, and many believe it actually originated in the Middle East.  Evidence of the earliest European wine production has been uncovered at archaeological sites in Macedonia, dated to 6,500 years ago, which is an incredibly exciting fact for a member of the Macedonian ethnicity who just loves her wine.  However, wine production improved considerably during the Roman Empire, and today, much of the world associates classically great wine with Italy.

I experienced some truly wonderful Italian wines while living in Orvieto.  I had only consumed light white wines before Italy, but my roommate over there came from a family of red wine drinkers, and she got me hooked on the full-bodied Chiantis of Tuscany.  I will now drink a dry red wine at room temperature over anything else I am offered.  Thanks a lot, Amy.  You’ve ruined me.

My time in Italy inspired me with the desire to try wines from other parts of the world, including Argentina, Chile, Hungary, and Australia.  If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner once in a while, or a glass while you are cooking, I encourage you to try something imported, something new, and not just the cheap table wine that tastes like weird juice.  My favorite sparkling wine, far more than champagne, is Italian Prosecco, or the delightfully crisp Moscato D’Asti.  You get the bubbles and the feeling of something expensive and special, but without the bitter aftertaste champagne often leaves.

My parents and I have sort of adopted a “house red”.  We love the wines from the Kalbarri vineyard in Australia:

We don’t drink too much white wine anymore, but when we do, it’s usually the Orvieto Classico I introduced to my family upon my return to the states.  I haven’t found a vineyard that has reproduced the divine Classico that the Bigi vineyard does, but they don’t export their wine, so I’ve had to settle for another:

Chianti, however, will always have a special place in my heart because it reminds me of all of the meals I ate, the friends I made, the personal growing I did, and the memories I made throughout Italy.  Wine is a huge part of life over there, not a beverage on which one becomes drunk, but one that is enjoyed in company and to celebrate every wonderful thing about life.  When I purchase a Chianti, (which I do only every once in a while because I’m a snob about it actually coming from the vineyards in Tuscany) I splurge a little, because some things in life, as in relationships, are about quality, not quantity.

Here is where I will sound like a huge wine snob:  do not buy boxed wine.  It’s never as good as bottled, and it tells anyone who looks in your refrigerator that either you are incredibly cheap or you drink so much that you need a giant straw to go into your liquored up juice box.  In conclusion, enjoying wine and being a wine snob does not make you an alcoholic or a bad person.  It’s always about moderation, friends, just like with junk food, children, and romantic comedies.

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Gelato in Bolsena

Before exploring the catacombs below the town, we stopped for gelato.  We enjoyed the smooth ice cream out in the sunshine, but one customer was dissatisfied.

“I’m not really feeling this flavor,” said Rachel, studying the top scoop on her cone.

“At least it’s the top scoop.  Just push it off or something.”

“I suppose I could flick it off,” Rachel replied, as the rest of us focused on our treats.  It was quiet for a few moments, all of us enjoying the gelato in the radiant sunlight.

“You guys, you guys:  watch this.”  As she spoke the words, Rachel, holding onto the bottom tip of her cone, made a flicking motion with her wrist.  I believe her theory was that the top scoop of gelato would fly off the cone.  Instead, the entire massive cone broke off and smashed into the cobblestones, leaving poor Rachel with a cone tip oozing melted gelato.

“Wow, Rachel!”

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Wednesday of Ashes

First entrance into ancient duomo

of breath-taking enormity

Black and white pillars reach to heaven

Fog settles

from familiar incense

Massive crowd of sinners and saints

steeped in tradition

Priests chant

a sermon in lyrical tongue

Repentance, forgiveness

long line for Lent

Kneeling before a priest

receiving my blessing

and a dusting of ashes

In this new place,

this medieval town,

I am part of something greater

A new life

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Carnevale

Today marks a day in which communities all over the world celebrate Fat Tuesday, a day of self-indulgence, before the holy season of Lent.  The city in the U.S. most famous for its Mardi Gras celebration is, of course, New Orleans.  Theirs is a raunchy celebration of insanity, and definitely not a family oriented party.  Keep your children away if you do not desire for them to see parts of the human anatomy usually kept under wraps.  And the crowds!  Just look at Bourbon Street, courtesy of www.zimbio.com:

Rio de Janeiro is home to another famous Carnevale celebration, reminiscent of a Las Vegas show, but with a more ethnic flavor and a slightly terrifying parade:

And look, Colombia has fire breathers!

Perhaps the most famous, and my personal choice, of Fat Tuesday and Carnevale celebrations comes from Venezia, or Venice, a “floating” city of wonder and romance.  Carnevale is celebrated with elaborate parties, stunning costumes, exotic masks, gondolas, fireworks, and food.

*courtesy i.telegraph.co.uk

*courtesy www.destination360.com

The following photos are from www.italyguides.it, a gorgeous website with great information on my favorite country.

Enjoy Martedi Grasso!!!

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Martedi Grasso

Known as Mardi Gras to most Americans, Fat Tuesday was the first holiday I experienced upon my arrival in Italy.  We had barely settled in when the entire country, some places more than others, celebrated Carnivale with great zeal.  I remember early that Tuesday morning, visiting a local bakery, tucked away on a side street.  I purchased a paper cone filled with delectable zeppole, the Italian equivalent of donut holes, and roamed the quiet streets, watching the shops and cafes open and the small grocers and florists receive their early morning shipments.

The night was a different experience.  Little children ran all over the place dressed in costumes.  Confetti and glitter of violets, reds, and golds filtered through the air and fell into the cracks between the cobblestones.  Silly string was sprayed all over buildings and unsuspecting walkers.  There were people everywhere until quite late; it was the only night I remember returning to my humble abode before the rest of the town had closed its shutters.

This piece, oils and acrylic on masonite, was inspired by my memories of Martedi Grasso in Orvieto, and the taste of Carnivale I received in Venice.  I’m not sure what else to do with it, or if I should do anything else.

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In an olive grove

I was born into one of those ethnic groups which hold sacred such things as olives.  The value of this little fruit became more clear when I studied art in Italy.  Olives don’t merely garnish cocktails or perk up a vegetable platter.  The oil of olives isn’t used simply to sauté food and dress salads.  Writer Marlena de Blasi best describes the ancient gift of the olive in her beautiful memoir, A Thousand Days in Tuscany.  It takes great effort to squeeze the oil from an olive, but the lifeblood of each plays a major role in Mediterranean cultures from blessing a child at birth to anointing a body upon death.  I find it quite beautiful that olives, though simple and slightly ugly, are an important piece of the history of many ancient societies.

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