La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part II, Cooking)

Ciao Readers!  And Happy Passover and Easter!

So, today we’re going to cook in Italy – specifically my language classmate, Terri, and I are cooking with Chef Giuseppe from “Extra Virgin” cooking school.  As you may recall, I have taken a variety of cooking courses in many countries, ranging from the super casual paella cooking with a fun bunch of well-lubricated Australians in Barcelona to the more “professional” kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (ooh la la).

While honestly, I already knew much of what we learned (cooking in Italy, unlike France, is “simple” in the best way – a few excellent ingredients combined to perfection), the class with Chef Giuseppe was a wonderful way to end my stay in Lucca (and yes, of course, a DELICIOUS one!).  (As a side note – Chef Giuseppe was featured on House Hunters International with his American love interest, Liz – Liz and I e-chatted about our respective experience with house hunters before I arrived.)  We met up with Giuseppe in the morning and went to a few small shops to get ingredients for the day, where he would fill us in on the products and their “back stories” (and have long leisurely chats with the proprietors).  Once we arrived at the “palazzo” (their apartment, which is Artchitectural-digest-worthy gorgeous!) we were offered drinks (including, of course, prosecco) and enjoyed olive oil and cheese tastings with mini-lessons before we got to cooking. There was obviously great attention to detail paid before we even arrived as there was a beautifully printed menu and place cards with our names on them (more “ooh la la”s).

As I was feeling tired and lazy on my last day in Lucca, and Terri was interested in mastering technique (though she is actually a “professional” herself – she sells her artisinal homemade gelato in her native Seattle!), I mostly nibbled and drank prosecco while Guiseppe and Terri cooked (and Giuseppe somewhat obsesively cleaned-up behind us throughout the day). Don’t let the photo of me laying out the maccheroni to dry fool you (yes, that’s what Lucca’s local specialty pasta is called, and yes, it’s pronounced “macaroni”), Terri did the hard part – all of the kneading of the dough.  The cooking ended with a drool-worthy multi-course meal (artichoke frittatta and salad, risotto with asparagus and truffle butter, maccheroni with ragu, all topped off with a dessert of buccellato (Lucchesi specialty sweet bread with anise), strawberries and lemon custard), served at a beautiful table with well-paired wine.  We left with little gifts, the aprons you see us wearing, and a little cheesiness for good measure (“official” certificates).  Buon Appetito!

A Call from “House Hunters International”

Ciao Readers!

So, an interesting thing happened this past week…

As I may have mentioned in a much earlier post, Steve and I both love the show “House Hunters International.”  We used to watch it all the time – especially when the folks were moving to Europe and had a modest budget – we were curious to see what we could afford to rent if we actually moved here.  So, when Steve got the job here in Florence he suggested we apply for the show.  I sent an e-mail of interest the end of January.   We never heard a word.  Until last week…

It started with a series of e-mail exchanges.  The first one, from the Producer, asking if we’d be interested in talking with her (and could I answer a few questions).  I immediately replied something to the effect of “darn, we already found our place and have been living here for over 2 months….”  I should have listened to the little voice in my gut when she responded with neither surprise nor a drop in interest level, but even I got caught up in the excitement of possibly “starring” in a tv episode (gasp!).

To make the rest of the story short, the following day the Producer called and we talked for quite a while.  From this conversation I began to understand that House Hunters International is actually just a “reenactment” of the house-hunting process, with many details being “massaged.”  In any case, we thought we were still interested and planned to film the short video she wanted to make sure we were both t.v.-presentable.  I made the mistake of asking our realtor if she would be interested and if she thought the owners would let us film (both things I needed to find out).  She seems enthused about the prospect and I feel badly (can someone reading this break the news to her please).  However, we started thinking and talking…

AND….I started google-ing.  Instead of re-hashing what I found, you can check out the blog post here and follow the links to the stories in the newspapers, etc.  In a nutshell (and I have no idea why we believed otherwise) the show purposely picks folks who have already chosen their new homes for production sake and then films another 2 options which may or may not have been real options to begin with (and in at least one case were friends’ houses not even for sale).  Now we don’t think that anyone believes reality t.v. is REALITY, but I guess I thought that that shows like HHI are more real than they appear (now I feel really stupid, but I guess if a semi-intelligent person like me even fell for it…).  We had a long talk about the pros (possible exposure for me to potential employers/opportunities here), and the cons (being disingenuous on national t.v.) and we just could not get over the con (though others feel differently).  Even if no one else believes HHI is “true,” we just wouldn’t feel right going along with the ruse.   So, I am planning on e-mailing the producer back and am trying to come up with the right thing to say to our realtor (who is lovely and would be perfect for t.v.).

In the meantime, we decided to have some fun “reenacting” a smart-aleky version of an audition video for the show (still photo of it):

*Update – the Producer was very nice about our decision and she IS interested in our realtor and e-mailed her about possibly working together, so “YAY” all around!

Photo Albums and other Forbidden Mail

Answer: Shoes, playing cards and photo albums

Question: What are just a few of the things you CANNOT mail to Italy!?

I would like to avoid any additional complications (and costs) with customs than I already learned to expect from my earlier box-mailing incident.  As I was informed by a very wealthy passenger on my  flight to here (who has a couple of homes in Italy), it is very difficult to get your stuff into Italy (I confess, I used my air miles to fly business class).  At the time I didn’t pay too much attention, because she was talking about the kind of “stuff” we really needn’t worry about – jewelery, expensive art, and other rich people things.  But after I had such trouble with my little box filled with books and green chile, I realized I needed to pay attention.   I have been carefully going through the list of things you are not allowed to send into Italy.  It is truly mind-boggling.  And while you may (as we did) laugh out loud,  this is not a joke….

This is a (partial) list from the United States Post Office’s website:

  • Albums of any kind (of photographs, postcards, postage stamps, etc.).
  • Articles of platinum or gold; jewelry; and other valuable articles unless sent as insured Priority Mail International parcels.
  • Artificial flowers and fruits and accessories for them.
  • Bells and other musical instruments and parts thereof.
  • Clocks and supplies for clocks.
  • Compound medicaments and medicines.
  • Coral mounted in any way.
  • Footwear of any kind.
  • Haberdashery and sewn articles of any kind, including trimmings and lace; handkerchiefs; scarves; shawls, needlework including stockings and gloves; bonnets, caps, and hats of any kind.
  • Hair and articles made of hair.
  • Leather goods.
  • Nutmeg, vanilla; sea salt, rock salt; saffron.
  • Perfumery goods of all kinds (except soap).
  • Playing cards of any kind.
  • Ribbons for typewriters.
  • Saccharin or products containing saccharin.
  • Toys not made wholly of wood.

SERIOUSLY!!!!!    As you can see, this technically means we can’t bring our photo albums (clearly restricted), our South Park characters (“toys” not made entirely of wood), our jackets (leather), our iHome (clock)… and our hair?!?!?   What I did learn from the woman on my flight is that you can bring many of these things as personal items  (think spare ibuprofen and my running shoes) in your luggage (she was right, they don’t check luggage), just don’t mail them.   While this list seems downright comical, there is (sort-of) an explanation…  Some of these things are just restricted products (saccharin?  [I can’t confirm this]), others are taxed (playing cards), and the majority are things that are or were traditionally manufactured in Italy and they basically use these restrictions to protect their economic interests in these manufactured goods (if you know more about these restrictions, PLEASE post a comment!).  From what I have learned, if you send over your own, personal, used items (pair of shoes), and clearly label every form, box, etc. as “effetti personali” (personal effects), you may be okay.  Then again, there are entire websites lamenting the loss of items (both restricted and not) somewhere in the Italian postal system… (They make this whole process look so much easier on “House Hunters International”).  Will let you know what we roll the dice and send, then what does or does not make it after we arrive!

Cucinare Con Ale (Cooking show)

Today I take a break from the profound to take a diversion and write about my favorite cooking show here – “Cucinare Con Ale.”

As you may know (or have figured out from the focus of much of my writing), I consider myself a foodie.  The Food Network and Cooking Channel are two of my favorite guilty pleasures (oh, and Bravo’s “Top Chef”).  The other is “House Hunter’s International” (big surprise).  I have found the equivalent of Italy’s combined HGN and Food Network – “Real Time.”  They play dubbed re-runs of Top Chef, lots of Gordon Ramsey and Cake Boss-based shows, and some of their own cooking (and cooking competition) shows.  (On a culturally embarrassing side-note, there is also a station that plays “Jersey Shore” reruns nearly round the clock).  My favorite cooking show is “Cucinare Con Ale” – I would say it’s like the first, more mellow, cooking show Guy Fieri did. Ale has a great personality, has fun cooking and is easy to follow.  I have actually learned a lot (of Italian cooking tips) and can follow most of the Italian – I think watching things I have a natural proclivity towards (food), or familiarity with (such as “Friends” dubbed), helps me with the language.  Here is a little taste of the show…some photos and a link to a clip making bruschetta…


Our New Home!

I have been writing Part II of my “assimilation” series, but am still sorting out my thoughts.  So…

Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for…  Some information about and pictures of our new Italian home (and perhaps your guest bedroom/bath…?).

Okay, now remember I have already told you this place is a bit old-fashioned looking (and that “furnished” in Italy is an understatement). Just picture this with a few less of the owner’s chotchkies and with some of my photos and our art collected from our travels (and of course a well-placed Muppet or South Park figure for good measure).

Aside from the 4 flights of stairs (which we see as the replacement of our current gym memberships), it really is pretty sweet.  It is very light and bright, and the funky layout makes it hip.  The owner agreed to install some ac units (a rare commodity in Italy), so we got everything we were hoping for.  You can’t tell from these few photos, but there is a weird office space with a loft – not quite sure what we’re going to do with it other than store the owner’s stuff, but if kids ever come to visit they will think it is THE coolest secret hide-out/”tree” house.  The guest bedroom (also not pictured) is the top of the building (we have 2 stories – top floor and attic/roof), so it’s got a pitched ceiling with beams (picture every other old European place you’ve seen on “House Hunters International”).  The window in that room looks out onto the bottom of the roof deck; the roof deck has 360 degree views – this is my Italian dream place for morning cappuccinos and evening glasses of wine.  The big bathroom pictured is on the floor with the guest bedroom (lucky guests); the other is on the main floor.

You may notice that there is an entire wall of bookshelves – with books!  I am guessing these will still be there when we arrive and am curious to see what our new library looks like – reminds me of the scene I love from Beauty and the Beast.  Finally, the kitchen is nice and well-equipped – just waiting for my Italian culinary skills (or more likely, trying to simulate New Mexican and other hard-to-find cuisines).

For those of you familiar with Florence (or on mapquest), the apartment is in the Piazza Beccaria neighborhood – 2.5km’s from Steve’s school, and just a few blocks away from the most authentic food market in Florence – Sant’ Ambrogio (some info about it here:, see short clip here:

If the photos don’t do it justice (and they don’t), you will just need to come see for yourself!

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