Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Marchesi - Pastries of Time Gone By

Marchesi is one of the oldest pastry shops in Milan where the art of bakers, the flavors, the colors and the smells meet and blend into the classic tradition menghina (of Milan also meaning a dessert or sweet). This shop began in the second half of the 1800's by Angelo Marchesi and is still situated today in one of the wonderful 1700's style palazzi.

Today the style
of the early 1900's has been maintained with decorated boxed ceilings, antique furniture, and lamps with the old bar in steel and brass. One can say, today in this shop one may literally breathe an atmosphere of the 1800's, almost a Renoir painting.

They are famous for their panettone, veneziana, praline and krantz as well as, not to miss, a daily appointment for breakfast with warm sweet rolls to tempt and, cocktail hour at the bar. If you want to see the real Milanesi, hang out during these two times and one could fill pages and pages for a book on old Milan. The origins of krantz go back to when the Milanese kicked Austria out of the city, this bread is not just about risen dough, it also contains puff pastry and takes up to 17 to 24 hours to create! Tasting this for the first time in all the years here in Italy, I confess, it is and was (devoured it) the most incredible marriage of butter and candied fruit! I hate to guess how much it cost the Piglet, I gather one needs a bank loan for these breads.

Panettone is a large Italian sweetbread, which is "the" dessert for the traditional Italian Christmas lunch as well as, being the favored dessert during the festivities of the season. There are two types of panettone, the one you find in the supermarkets produced commercially and, the ones you can find at some of the old Milanese pastry shops (taking up 2-3 days to produce). Real panettone is not dry but a soft, humble bread containing sultan raisins and top quality candied fruit. There are various legends as to the origin of this cake; one being that it was created by a kitchen helper of the court of the Sforza’s. This cake had to replace the chef’s cake, which had burnt in the oven. Another story runs along the lines of this, that the falconer of Ludwig the Moor, in love with the daughter of the baker, saved the bakery from bankruptcy by selling the falcons, and buying the ingredients for the panettone. The sweetbread then became a hit with the Milanese.

It is also said to have been a dessert created from the simple, leftover ingredients in the pantry, made by a nun who then drew a cross in the top of the dough to thank God for his providence.

During our travel to this shop, it was snowing with frigid temperatures as the whole world seemed to be in line cramming the store for their Christmas breads; soft lights on the inside with steamy windows; this seemed to be an image from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match-Seller, only the difference here was, the images were real and these delights are created as little works of art by the Marchesi family.

These specialties (panettone, krantz etc) used to be by reservation only and in person, not by phone, but today one can slip in un-announced and partake in this glorious old Milanese tradition; I wonder how the veneziana is...the traditional cake for New Years...thinking we may have to try to do another illegal park job to get there again.
The shop is open Tues - Saturday from 7:30 to 9pm, and Sunday f
rom 8am to 1pm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Milanese style...

Just got in from a snowy day in Milan...have SO much to tell! Christmas breads from the oldest bakeries in town, restaurants that I thought were closed, shopping the season with the "old milan" elbow to elbow...such an amazing treat! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Regional Tuscan Cooking at it's best!

During one of our lightening fast trips to Tuscany for work, we stopped in at a restaurant and locanda we had passed by in the car on numerous occasions but never had the time to stop in. This is a gem, one worth planning your trip around just to immerse yourself in an atmosphere of top notch Tuscan country living.

This is a small locale hosting rooms as well as, the restaurant and being the curious one that I am, we requested to see the rooms; such a nice surprise to find them done tastefullly and with all the amenties one might wish. Granted, it is over the autostrada and very close to the exit so if you plan on staying for a while, it might be noisy but then again, while soggiorning at Hotel Rosati, I never noticed the traffic noise and this hotel is just a few steps away. Great place for an encounter, dinner downstairs and just crawl or race to the room afterwards. Sex, languid, steamy kiss, cozy.

The decor of t
he dinning room is ultra classic rustic Tuscan tables, with tables out side for the hotter months. This is a wonderful place for a quick meal or for something completely sumptious, slow and satisfying. The waitresses are patient and friendly and the food is cooked to order; (grilled specialties). One of my favorites was the bruschetta done with freshly grilled/roasted tuscan bread (which as you all know is salt free not to detract from the food). If you are dinning with more than two people, order different appetizers and share, the salame, cinta senese products as well as the cinghiale are out of this world and NOT to be missed. Do not expect a wine list, when asked she trotted back with three bottles of red, all Tuscan of course, a Montepulciano Rosso, and two Brunellos and all three super reasonably priced. I just picked one, the Montepulciano red and we were super satisfied with it, a perfect marriage with the meal. Two other "not-to-miss" dishes are the fagioli al fiasco and the ceci both boiled and served piping hot in their own cooking juice and dressed with a splash of fresh pressed olive oil (yes it was November time of the olive harvests). Anything chosen from the grill is fabulous as are the pasta dishes and the deserts are all homemade (did not have room for even a glance at those).

So, next trip to Tuscany or first timers, plan a journey through Chiusi (Etruscan heaven), Sarteano (wonderful tombs to visit), Montepulciano, Perugia, Orvieto and Siena and make base camp here at the Chiusi Chianciano crossroad, (Loc. Querce al Pino) you will save a few pennies as well as find some of the best Tuscan meals to be had. Oh, and do not forget to make a stop off in Pienza at the cheese and salame shops, pick u
p a finocchiona and salame both made from the Cinta Senese pork...your taste buds will thank you.

La Locanda della Ribollita

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Le Strette Barolo Bergeisa 2004 - Divine!

With the cold weather it is definitely time for some of those warm, meditative, ethereal red wines and last night was the first of the season for us. I decided to open a bottle of Barolo purchased over a year and a half ago while touring the wine country of Le Langhe Roero and Monferrato. The repast was risotto con porcini and that was all we needed. The wine when we tasted it at the enoteca regionale di Barolo was beyond impressive at that time (2004 vintage, considered an excellent year) and we only "stole" two bottles of the garnet liquid; how sad because it is worth stocking the cellar with this beauty. We may just have to get in the buggy next week and head over there and partake in a little white truffle (season in Le Langhe is Oct.- Dec.) and buy up, if there is any left, more of this wonderful wine. So, with candles lit for tonight (did not have the heart to finish the bottle last night) we will finish the evening with wafts of cherries, wood and fennel.

If you would like a warm and fragrant Barolo, you must try Le Strette Barolo Bergeisa 2004 as one of these reviews notes, it is truly a Barolo with all the grace and complexity one would expect from the "historical Bergeisa cru of Novello."
le strette winery canaan wine merchants

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Canederli ai Finferli – Chanterelle Dumplings

Classic dumplings from the Veneto Alpine regions with rustic yellow chanterelle mushrooms gathered from the woods of these areas. Since we are in the fall season, it is a good time to make these soul-warming dumplings using ingredients gathered locally and produced in the region.

Canederli ai Finferli (Cantharellus cibarius Fr.) otherwise known in the states as, chanterelle mushrooms. Other names in Italy are gallinaccio, galletto, gialletto, finferlo o garitula. This mushroom is used in just about any way imaginable and is great preserved under vinegar or dried.

Prep time 25 min
Cook time 30 min

Difficulty: Medium

300 gr of day old or more, white bread (NOT Wonder Bread!)

80 gr of fresh mu
25 gr onion
15 gr fresh Italian parsley

1 clove garlic

3 eggs

50 gr flour

80 gr butter
80 gr Grana Padana or Parmigiano Reggiano
150 cc vegetable broth

olive oil extra virgin


Finely chop the onion and blond it a tiny bit of butter. Cut the bread into cubes and pour over these the boiling hot milk and let rest for half an hour.

Meanwhile, clean the mushrooms, cut them into medium pieces and sauté in a pan with oil and a small clove of garlic that has been lightly squished for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and salt to taste.

Add the chanterelle mushrooms to the bread, and then add the eggs, the f
lour, a portion of the grated cheese and the chopped parsley. Mix well and form medium sized balls (large meatballs). Cook them in the vegetable broth for 10-15 minutes, drain and arrange them on a plate and dress with a walnut size of butter and cheese.

Normally canederli are served in broth but with the mushrooms these are better eaten alone. Regular canederli are served in boiling hot broth and dressed with cheese, the preferred dish when shushing the slopes above Trento; Madonna di Campiglio and Cortina (hell all I need is cold weather to get me in the mood for homemade broth and dumplings).
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Real One-and- Only Spaghetti alle Vongole (bianco)

For those who wish to taste the authentic spaghetti with clams, this is the one folks; a never fail (unless the quality of the clams sucks), people pleaser and impression maker.
You may use spaghetti or spaghettini depending on one’s preference. Canned clams may be used but do not expect to have that fresh seafood flavor.

You will need:

350 gr spaghetti
1 kilo of clams or 200 gr of frozen or canned clams “al natural”
1 or 2 cloves of garlic depending on size
1 bunch of Italian parsley
dash of hot pepper (chili pepper)
Olive oil extra virgin preferably Tuscan
White wine

Soak the clams in fresh water for about 1 to 2 hours, changing the water at least 3 times during this period. Divide the amount of clams into half, half you will extract the meat out of and throw the shells away, the other half you will leave steamed open with the meat inside. After steaming, strain the clam water and set aside.
Take ¼ of the clam meat extracted and finely chop it as well as half the bunch of parsley and set aside with the other ¼ clam meat un-chopped.

Using 10 tablespoons of olive oil, sauté in a large wide low pan the finely chopped garlic with the dash or more (depending on tastes although this is not a dish meant to be spicy, just a hint) of chili pepper; as soon as the garlic begins to take on a little bit of color, add ¼ to 1/2 cup of good dry white wine (not vermouth) and let evaporate a bit. Add in a cup of the clam water and boil down until it is reduced a little more.

At this point over a lively flame, add the chopped and whole clam meat and parsley and boil quickly for 30 seconds then turn off the heat. Season to taste with salt. You should have at this point a reasonably liquid mixture.

Proceed with the cooking of the pasta, when al dente or just a tad before, drain and add the pasta to the clam mix, which you will have put back on the flame just before draining the pasta. Turn up the heat and sauté the pasta in the clam mix adding at this point, the clams in their shells; toss and mix for about 1 minute or more, the pasta should soak up some of the liquid. Serve in hot bowls with a garnish of chopped parsley and never ever add cheese to this; fish dishes are never garnished with grated cheese (major faux pas). ;-)

For those of you who like red clam sauce, that recipe will follow shortly.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Secrets from Pastry Chefs “What No One Ever Tells You."

About Chocolate and flour...

Two of the most important things pastry chefs must take into consideration when using chocolate is the amount of coco butter and the percentage. Usually, most chocolates found in supermarkets range from 30 to 40% coco butter and 50 to 75% cocoa mass. The more coco butter in the chocolate the better it is for glazing making it more fluid and more valuable. Clearly the higher the cocoa content (percentage) the bitterer the chocolate will be.

If you look carefully, you will find when the cocoa percentage is high the percentage of coco butter will be high as well because inside the cocoa mass is where a high quantity of coco butter resides. Beware of chocolate not containing coco butter but other ingredients used for the fat content; it is for this reason these other types of “chocolate” do not need mixing when melting.

Flour is another secret of professional pastry chefs. Flour is rated according to the amount of gluten, which is the measure of elasticity and resistance critical for bread making. Flour in Italy is classified into four types: Tipo 00 (7% gluten, used for pastry kitchens), Tipo 0 (9% gluten, best for bread making), Tipo 1 (10% gluten) and Tipo 2 (10% gluten). However this is not enough to understand flour and gluten, one must verify that the gluten quantity is coupled with it’s good qualities; the qualities given by the mills to the flour.
These three indices represent the characteristics of the various flours, these are: W, G and P.
W represents the energy absorbed in the deformation expressed in thousands of erg/g of kneaded flour. G indicates the capacity of the flour to swell thereby trapping air. P indicates the maximum resistance against the deformation and is an index of the tenacity of the dough.

The knowledge of these indices gives the flour its bread quality. For example, good bread flour would be as follows: W from 110 to 150 G from 16 to 18 P from 40 to 50
Pastry flour on the contrary, should be as follows: W from 200 a 250 best for cookies W above 400 is best for long fermentation pastries such as panettoni.

Flour should be stable and in equilibrium, meaning all three indices must fall within the average predicted values for the use of that particular flour. In the United States, when buying flour in the stores these values are not listed (although at times some percentages of protein are listed) and sometimes there is not a choice between flour and pastry flour. Over here in Italy, it certainly is fun when you have a friend in the pastry business willing to share some of the ingredients. ;-) Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Crisis of our Currency, the American Dollar.

The national debt has grown every single year since 1958. and it will equal the entire GDP some time in 2010. Call it a tipping point, call it decline, call it whatever one wants; it is a crisis of epic proportions.

Unfortunately, our nation's leaders are either oblivious, in which case they are fools, or they are powerless and cannot even save their own land, or they do not care, in which case they are not "leaders" at all. Instead, they are charlatans, pretending to embody the national interest but only driving the nation into a huge abyss.

Neither party has produced a plan to deal with this emergency, although the warning signs have been abundant for over a decade. And without a demonstrable will to boldly act, nations overseas will continue to make their own plans.

We now have global economies, not just the eastern block and the US and it is right to have these economies affecting us but the problem is, we are not evolving with our policies regarding spending and the inflation of the currency; America has just lost everything it has built, the stability and strength of it's monetary position. The dollar is involved with transactions the world over and when the Fed, Treasury, and Congress inflate the currency and expand our debt obligations the way they are, foreign nations know eventually their dollar holdings will be much less valuable. Combined, this includes trillions of dollars of reserves, treasuries, corporate bonds, and securities, and they will obviously want to dump them.

Who could blame them? We make bad decisions and then, in essence, ask foreign powers (who are often hostile) to pay for these decisions. So, what do we do? Do we steer the ship of state out of turbulent waters? No, we have continued to steer it toward the deep beyond, which means the run on the dollar is close at hand, perhaps even inevitable. Fear in our ability to pay back our debts will encourage that run where the capability and willingness by our nation's leaders could prevent it.

Since nothing has yet changed, (especially since the Wall St. & Bank crisis) the best Americans can do is stock up on gold and perhaps, canned goods and hold on tight because it is going to get worse.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Latte Portoghese with Farm Fresh Eggs (a must)!

Every time I see my favorite "gal," the Bruna Alpina I think of this recipe...

This is a time tested recipe handed down from my Tuscan family ties, a nice and simple variation on custard. I remember this one well because the eggs were always so fresh and the yolks ultra yellow; I can smell it cooking now! Make sure you use an organic orange, wash well.

1 Liter whole milk
5 eggs ultra fresh 10 Tablespoons sugar (baker's sugar or ultra fine sugar) Orange rind Gran Marnier
Boil gently for 20 minutes milk with 5 spoons of sugar and orange peel. Do not let boil over. Cool well.

While cooling, prepare the caramel coating in the molds by placing 4 or 5 tablespoons (depending on the size of the mold) in the bottom with a tablespoon of water. Heat over high heat until the mix melts and bubbles and then continue heating until it begins to color. Take the color (burning if you will) to the point you prefer, which means lighter in flavor or the darker it becomes the heavier the flavor.
Mix 5 tablespoons sugar (or less depending on how sweet you wish this to be) with yolks and Gran Marnier ("season to taste" with this), beat well then add the cooled milk. Lightly beat the whites to mix and add to yolks.
Bake in oven with a pan of water for about 40 – 50 minutes medium oven.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Discovered Fun Italian Travel and Food Blog

Found a fun and very informative blog for those of you hooked on Italy. She does a lot of hiking and has her posts organized by region, not to mention her recipes as well. This is one of the most thorough sites I have seen, go check it out.
Rubber Slippers in Italy
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The Real One and Only Tomato Sauce

After spending years in this crazy Italian land, having tasted a genuine home made tomato sauce for pasta, I realized someone needs to clue in those folks on the other side of the "pond" to the exquisite flavors of real tomato sauce. I have found it difficult to find a restaurant serving good "pasta al pomodoro" state-side. The main trick to good sauce is in the tomato so when you can find good Perini, use these!

Heat ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil and in it cook 2 medium onions, sliced, until they are soft and transparent. Add 1 small grated carrot, 1 minced clove of garlic, and 1 teaspoon of minced parsley.

Cook together slowly for 3 minutes, then add 2 pounds of fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped, salt and pepper, a few celery leaves chopped and several leaves of fresh basil, 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme and ½ cup of meat stock. Simmer the sauce, covered for about 1 and ¼ hours; stir it from time to time.

When it is fairly thick, force it through a fine strainer. This sauce may be used with any dish calling for tomato sauce although best when tossed over pasta. Serves 4-6

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Duck Ragu & Bigoli alla Vicentina (Bigoli con L’Arna)

Here is a classic meal and authentic recipe from Vicenza and surrounding towns. I was a die hard Tuscan fanatic until someone helped me see the light and opened up a whole new world of refined Italian fare and over these next months I will try to share the true Veneto region, one so undiscovered (thank God) and pristine; so get your favorite chair ready because this winter will be full of great secrets and recipes and history on this blog.

Time 25 min to prepare
80 min cooking time
Difficulty – medium

400 g of Bigoli (a very thick spaghetti-like pasta) (recipe below)

1 cleaned duck
1 onion
1 clove garlic
White wine (lots, at least half a bottle)
Fresh sage and rosemary
Tomato sauce
Extra virgin olive oil (try to find one from the Garda area)
Salt and pepper

Chop the onion and garlic and saute in a wide pot with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Place the duck on top of this mix, salt and pepper, add a few sage leaves and a branch of rosemary. With the heat high, add the white wine lower heat and cook on a low flame.

When the duck is almost done, remove from the pan and de-bone the little beast, cutting the meat into TINY pieces. Filter the pan juices then put them back into the pan together with the duck meat (do not separate these juices from the fat, this is what gives the pasta all it's flavor and texture). Add a tablespoon or two of tomato sauce that was previously diluted with water and hot broth (from 1/2 liter to a liter of broth) Add salt to taste and finish cooking until the duck is tender.

Meanwhile, cook the bigoli in lots of salted water, drain and place in the hot pan with the duck ragù and quickly sauté together for no more than 2 minutes.
Garnish with Grana Padano or Grana Trentino

Homemade Bigoli
500 g white flour
50 g butter
4 eggs
Pour flour on to working surface; make a crater in the center. Add the softened butter to the crater, the eggs and a pinch of salt. Work together adding a little bit of milk as needed to obtain solid dough. You will need a “bigolaro” to cut this pasta making the necessary form. If you cannot find one, use a fat spaghetti cut. Spread the bigoli out on a floured kitchen towel and let dry before cooking.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cinnamon Sugar Gnocchi

For a change of pace, try these classic gnocchi from the mountain regions of Veneto. Best wine to accompany these would be a Colle Berici Sauvignon.

This takes a while to make if you plan on making them true to nature from your own potato mix. The gnocchi recipe will be given below following the cinnamon recipe.

For 6
180 g (6 oz) butter
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar (baker’s sugar or caster sugar suggested)
Grana Padano or Parmigiano freshly grated, (not over aged you do not want the cheese to over power the condiments)


Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of salted water and when they float to the top, let them cook for a few more seconds then drain with a slotted spoon. Mix them piping hot with the softened butter sprinkling them with the premixed cinnamon, sugar and cheese. Serve in hot bowls.

Potato Gnocchi

1 kg of potatoes (boiling potatoes)
3 egg yolks

300 g flour
(10.5 oz)
50 g (2oz) Grana Padano or Parmigiano freshly grated

Salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes with their skins on in salted water. Peel and mash them with a masher by hand (Do not use a Cuisinart) or use a potato squeezer (schiacciapatate in Italy) while potatoes are STILL hot, let cool.

Place the cooled purée on a working surface. With your hands, work in to this the egg yolks, salt, pepper and nutmeg as well as the cheese. Work the dough until it is creamy and smooth, then add the flour all at once and quickly work it into the dough. This must happen quickly in order to prevent the potatoes from releasing more moisture into the dough. To form the gnocchi hand roll pieces of the mixture into fat bread sticks and cut them into half inch or smaller gnocchi. Always cook these in lots of boiling salted water (a large pot).
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Palladio Card…Stunning Veneto…again!!!

Damn, this summer has escaped her and in this heat and humidity, she is just pinning away to get back to Veneto and get her PalladioCard and see the Festa della Ceramica in Nove, near Marostica and Bassano del Grappa. If anyone is planning on being near Venice, Verona or Trieste, you must go get your PalladioCard and visit the villas in this area.

Having passed Palazzo Barbaran in early April or was that late March…anyway the bug was planted from that day on. Every time she traipses through Veneto, she has eyes only for those fabulous (not just the big villas) Palladian agricultural magnate’s homes…the working “farms” per se. The richness of those homes, landowners, working ranches; just the crumbled site of these places makes her go insane. She craves a fabulous Palladian home…the simplicity of the windows, the elegance on the exterior and balance.

Have you ever really “looked” at a window in the Veneto? The fact the storm doors or shutters are inset from the line of the house meaning, the window opening is at least a foot and a half in depth so the glass portion of the window is nearest the interior followed by the shutters but still within the frame of the window opening of the building (in the photo left, there is an example of inside the window opening and outside, the lower windows). Then on the outside of the opening is the decoration and thus, you have an ultra refined system of closing off the glass portion to keep out the elements out without destroying or detracting from the finesse of Palladian elements on the exterior. God, it is stupendous! She has got to find a house with these hinged (4 panels) shutters allowing one to open them in quarters and to fold them back so elegantly against the window opening without disturbing the “eye candy,” if you will.

Here are a few links just to whet your appetites and while looking and planning, you must find a way to catch a show at the Teatro Olimipico, what a sight!! VILLA_BADOER

Villa Contarini, Villa Emo, Villa Godi, Villa Poiana, , Villa di Maser, Villa Pisani, Teatro Olimpico

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Milan, Grand Milan – summer in the big city.

If you have never experienced Milan in August, it is one of the rare treats of this world! Parking is a “non problem” even though many stores are closed as well as, coffee houses nonetheless the thrill of driving smack-dab center city is insane! We parked the car in the square right in front of the stock exchange; imagine that (OK, yes it was Saturday)! Nonetheless, driving roads prohibited to normal traffic unless you have a special permit is always ultra cool in these European cities and Milano defies any other city to attempt this feeling. The latest noise polls have placed Milano over New York City and certainly, during the regular months of the year, this is true but what peace and tranquility there was this day.

From where the car was parked, we walked a short distance to the main intersection and violà; the cathedral in its superlative splendor greeted us at one end of the vista, crowing the opposite end was, the majestic Castello Sforzesco. Ah yes, “Milàn, lè un grand Milàn” is a truism this time of year as it occurs again during the winter vacation (after Christmas)…the two best times of the year to experience and relish the treasures the city hoards.

Off to Fnac one of the most well stocked book stores with music, video, electronics, café, food and wine…what more can anyone wish for? Yes, a stop at La Rinascente would be just one more little dab of whipped cream for the day. ;-)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Roma, Bellissima!

It has been way too long since going back to Roma, such an amazing city, so full of history and architecture. The Roman women are very unique in their style; American guys looking for a hot woman, you need to check these out, so different from the Milanese lady. Rome is not far from Napoli so it has quite a strong southern influence; the driving is insane but not quite as bad as Napoli (although not far from matching it if not surpassing Napoletan drivers). Taxi drivers are still arguing in the streets at the taxi stand at Roma Termini (the pirates vs the legal taxi drivers), and waiters and owners are still hawking business from the sidewalks in front of their activity or on the plaza square. Prices are horrendous in all the cafes and pizzerias (terrible food in the tourist zones...I mean how can you screw up a pizza???). There is trash alongside the curbs, not just cigarette butts, even though trash cans are frequent and visible; again I realize man is the only creature who shits where it eats and sleeps.

Nonetheless, Rome breathes a different air, the sidewalks are wide and easily walkable compared to Milano, the architectural eye candy is astonishing, the spirit of the Romans transports you to another time. They are packed with pride about their city as well as, packed with fire and personality (watch your pockets however) ready to talk, to argue, to actively engage in just about anything; Rome truly bustles with life. I can see why Alessia (swimmer representing Italy in the World's these last weeks, but from Rome) loves her city and why she is proud; and my love/hate affair with this crazy country continues. How can one not love this world of history and wonders?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The "Noise" of Summer

Have you ever been to a place in the hot, hot heat of the summer where the song of the cicadas is so loud, it drives you nuts? Tuscany is the place for those wicked hot days, the heat of the afternoon killing you and all you want to do is sleep but the noise is almost deafening and all it does is remind you how hot it really is. You pray for an afternoon thunderstorm to whisk away the heat even if only momentarily and to silence those critters...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Jesus and Mohammad one and the same?

I have been meaning to post this link to a blog discussing the differences between the Bible and the Koran, (scroll down to the post entitled Jesus and Mohammad, one and the same?) as well as read the post entitled Which Koran from another blog; very interesting facts.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America!

Reflections on Independence Day flooded my mind with the sights and feelings evoked while visiting Philadelphia a short time ago. This was the first time for me visiting any of America’s historical past and for a first timer, it was an experience never to be forgotten.

The trip lit a fire within, spurring me
on an interior quest of the emotions of those poignant days when a group of men literally sweated out the words of our Declaration of Independence. The heat was unbearable in the Hall, the flies even worse and yet these men were driven by the same vision, the same yearning to create a foundation for freedom, for a true democracy.

America is the on
ly true democracy although the Greeks and Romans did make an attempt but were defeated by complacency of their peoples. Because of this, I pray people will open their eyes and “see” and “hear” the lies and recognize how our media is masking the truth or not reporting it all, we must “hear” the hidden truths; man has no nobler function than to defend the truth. Americans have a duty to defend the truth, to fight for our freedoms again, to remind our corrupt government what our genetic framework is all about. The tea parties have been a wonderful way to peacefully state our dissent, but will that be enough?

I fear for my country (photo below) and, for anyone who has never been to the heart of our constitution, please take the time to go, to contemplate the Statue of Liberty as well during the days of visiting, to spend a few minutes thinking about what freedom means to you. The freedom to write what we want on a blog and not get thrown in jail, the freedom of the press (well not so free these days when you realize who controls it), the freedom to drive wherever we wish in our cars and to live in any state we choose, to strike up a new business and be an entrepreneur, invent, create…to breathe.

America is strong, her genetics will most likely save her from severe damage caused by corruption and socialistic moves of the current government however before she retaliates, I am convinced Obama is going to wreak a great amount of damage in a very short amount of time. Yes, he did inherit a mess but the mess started many administrations ago so we must not put the blame on just one previous president. While our flag waves, salute it, stand in awe of it and remember the many men who died for us, to give us the liberties we have today. Please do not stand with your hands over your crotch (Obama’s offence to America) during our anthem or pledge of allegiance. Think of Betsy Ross, think about those men in Philadelphia eons ago and light a fire within for your country. While you rush to see fireworks, to light the BBQ, stop, and remember.

Happy Birthday to all Americans.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Intensely Dark-Black (99% cacao) Brownies

This has been a work in progress, re-orchestrating this recipe to work with the chocolate available in Europe. The final result is a dense, succulent, intensely dark, transcendent brownie. If eaten while still warm, the flavors will be deep and rich, utterly delicious! Published in grams.  Today is Sept 30 2012 and I have finally fixed this recipe when using European ingredients and the 99% cocoa chocolate bar.

 Clairified butter = 150 gm
50gm  of 99% chocolate.  

 I use Lindt's 99% chocolate bars, they are expensive but the chocolate is ultra fresh. Do not use Baker's squares for this recipe, it has been redesigned to fit only 85-99% cacao chocolate bars not containing emulsifiers, or other fats instead of cocoa butter as filler.

2 eggs beaten with

220 gm sugar

Melt in double boiler, butter and chocolate.
Beat eggs and beat in sugar.

Mix melted butter and chocolate with beaten eggs and sugar.

add 1/2 tsp of salt
1 ½ tsp vanilla

115gms sifted and remeasured pastry flour

Use a square pan 8x8 inches or 20cm x 20cm pan
bake 20 -30 min @350 F or 190 C

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Cradle of Civilization, Italy "La Culla"

What is it about Italy that keeps us coming back for more?

The attraction of Italy for some of us is at times, something difficult to grasp. Italy is more than just a wealth of history; Italy vibrates on a wave all it’s own. The difficulties of everyday life equate to a constant struggle, which aids in a continual daily evolution be it personal or collective. Italians tend to be slobs, there is no denying but in this sloppiness, lies their unique art for living. Italians have style, they are creative by nature, upholders of tradition and religion and beneath this lies the foundation of who they are; by genetic design Italians boast a wealth of humanity for the “other guy.”

Italy is the world leader in so many venues. Italians have “pizzazz” in fashion, not even the French can take a notch off of Italy’s belt in this area. She is a world leader in beautiful cars (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, just to note a few), archite
cture is unparalleled and gastronomically, no one comes close to the variety and simplicity of her kitchen. In fact, the laws and controls posed on the food industry render Italy’s as one of the safest in the world.

Currently, Italian bubbles are consumed just in Italy to the tune of 153 million bottles and she is the number one wine exporter, exporting 10 times as much wine as Australia. Cheese is abundant in numerous varieties, not just goat cheese done twenty different ways. Unfortunately, Italy crashes when it comes to marketing their products; just look at the junk wines sold in the states such as, Fazi Battaglia (great bottle, crap inside). America associates pizza and the mandolin with Italy and this my friends is truly a crime. Italy is so profoundly rich and varied in so many products and areas of life.

Italians live well despite the insurmountable hurdles the government plops in front of each and every person, entity or free enterprise (well if free enterprise really exists in t
his country). The government makes life extremely difficult and to the tourist eye (a gaze lasting only 10 days for the average tourist) these difficulties are not conspicuous. Sadly politics are always tacked on to everything and this aids in the inability to market the riches of this country.

Here are some sad but interesting numbers; Italians are taxed approximately 54% of their income compared to 30% in many other countries and yet, they manage to not only survive but to do it with decorum and to actually live as well. Think of it this way; from September through December they work for themselves, the rest of the time it is for “lo stato.” This could be accepted if one saw all public services in tiptop form; this obviously is not the case here. The roads suck, the postal service in the post offices is an abomination, public transportation stinks and is overrun with strikes and the taxes paid by the regions in the north, go to pay for the maintenance and mafia of the south in fact, these regions only get 8% back from what they send to Rome. Most of the funds given to the south are used for private gain of a small portion of southerners leaving the rest of the south still as filthy and behind as ever; a ball and chain on the north.

Another huge problem with the lack of progression in this country lies in the job sector; I bet you did not know one cannot be fired from their job? Once you have your position you can just kick back and get your monthly paycheck and, job performance as a measure does not exist (obviously). Sadly this propagates stagnation, crappy customer service and zero incentive within businesses; why work hard to sell when your job does not depend on it? (Duh!)

On top of this, insanely enough, Italy is a police state. Imagine this; driving around to the supermarket, you see the police or Carabinieri car on the side, waving cars down. Why? To find some reason to give you a ticket, to check your “papers.” Can you imagine that happening in the states? Do Americans realize how lucky and free we truly are? Here you are really guilty until proven innocent. Sure the police can pull you over for speeding and such but it seems they never catch the asses speeding 160mph. Nope, just surprise road blocks to see if they can find a reason to give you high blood pressure.

Here is another one to ponder; bars, cafes or restaurants must pay a tax on the music they play in the locale. A disco must file a plan of the songs to be played and then dump a mound of royalty fees into the hands of the SIAE. As you might imagine, the money never goes to the artists. For example, if they play Michael Jackson they pay for that song and that money actually may get to him as royalties but if you are a nobody, you never see the money for the songs played. In fact, this entity has a huge staff with lots of huge offices (gee go figure). Guess all those taxes pay for those twits to man that office. Blank CD’s have a portion of the sale going to this fund as well…cute eh?

Despite all the negatives of which we are reminded daily thanks to the newspapers and TV programs, Italy and her people manage to live making their motto for life that of screwing the government any chance they can and for us outsiders, this can translate into behavior we dislike or do not understand. To skirt having to pay dump fees for small household electronics, you will find these items vicariously placed at auto stops, or behind supermarkets or along the autostrada and viola now you have a dirty, unkempt Italy. Deep down they do not wish to be this way but what choice have you when 54% of your sweat goes to services poorly provided for and on top of that you get to pay another tax when you use the service? Hello!

There is no tax relief for donations either so if I wanted to give new clothes, I buy them and pay the taxes on them as well as being taxed because it was part of my income. Unfortunately for this reason, so many of the old dilapidated villas of Palladian architecture in Veneto near Vicenza are in a state of crumble. Unless someone purchases the property and submits a restoration plan for approval, historical relics will continue to crumble in this amazing cradle of civilization. There is no feasible way to have historical societies because people have to pay taxes on the donations twice over. How sad, such a screwed up system.

In such a small amount of land, Italy has stashed away millions of art objects for no one to see, she cannot manage them because there is not enough money and monies, which could be donated to help enlarge and or support museums, cannot appear due to asinine laws. So here we are attracted to this vibrant, buzzing yet peaceful world and way of life despite the mess. Italians uphold the family and many traditions where as Americans have lost all of this. This frenetic people race through their days, crowding freeways and holidays believing in their time off with the family, the wife or girlfriend; they still believe in a future and sacrifice for these beliefs and this is what gives this place life.

Imagine, in every square kilometer, which would equate to square half mile roughly, the US has 3 people to Italy's 62 people per square kilometer. No wonder I feel claustrophobic here in these apartments and condos stacked upon each other with zero privacy from one's windows.
I can just imagine how our current layer of history might look 500 years from now as people excavate finding metros, masses of concrete, a concentration of life in certain areas, what might be the thoughts of these people regarding this layer of humanity…similar to ours as we uncover layers of walls from the Etruscans to Romans and così via?

But alas, I am here and despite days of complete and utter hair pulling, I cannot abandon this cradle of civilization; 3000 years of it, way before civilization came to Great Britain (with all their airs and such). So when you plan a trip to Italy, try to come and spend some time to really live it and savor the life vibrating within. This is what makes her so interesting; close your eyes to the trash, to the shouting matches, to the dirty streets. She has survived for all these years up to now and she will keep on surviving because Italy truly is the cradle of what it takes to live and endure.