Saturday, November 19, 2011

Basic Factors That Keep Italy Sweet!

Although life in Italy may be difficult these days because of the economic situation, there are still some very basic factors that keep this sunny country sweet.

In Italy.....

1. You can still get the best espresso coffee and croissant for total Euro 1.80 or $ 2.45. No Starbucks or Peets or Coffee Bean can compare to those offered by my neighborhood caffè bar and at that price!!

2. In my small town, parking is never a problem.

3. Total strangers still greet you.

4. You don't honk at anyone. It could be your neighbor and anyhow, chances are you know the person.

5. Italian food in Italy is still and always will be the best.

6. Italian wine!

7. What is left of Made in Italy by Italian craftsmen  is  top in quality and design.

8. Italian language is sweet.

9. Italians know how to argue especially through body language.

10. Italian landscape is unbelievably beautiful.

11. Italian weather is lovely.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How Italians Feel About the Economic & Political Crises 2011

I am often amazed on how resilient Italians are. While I am glued to the Internet, TV and to every new story on the current economic and political crises in Italy, the average Italian person relates to everything as business as usual. I have asked many people how they feel about what is going on, and their answer is always the same. They say that they are accustomed to changing leadership, to economic problems, to a high unemployment rate, to a system that is broken. They are also very skeptical about changes. In their hearts, of course, they would like things to be better but they are very wary of how changes are going to be implemented. Change has to begin from the very core.

When word was out last week of the stepping down of Berlusconi, I imagined that people would be on corners talking, listening to the radio, glued to their television screens. Instead what I found was quite the opposite. It was business as usual. People were at the bars talking but not about the crises. Italians were dropping off children at schools, picking olives for the olive harvest, delivering  products, manufacturing, shopping, dining out, etc etc. A huge historical event I thought. Wrong.

Italians are accustomed to leaders that come and go. One Italian told me, "Really how is this going to affect my life and the life of my family tomorrow? I will still be in the same weak financial situation tomorrow as I am today."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ahh L'Olio Nuovo - New Olive Oil Harvest Tuscany

This is one of the perks of living in Tuscany. You not only get to try new olive oil almost immediately after olives are picked but you get a chance to see olive oil made...from Harvest to Hand.

This morning I was extremely fortunate enough to visit my friend's olive mill in Cetona Siena. The Frantoio Fattoria del Biancheto is one of the only olive mills that uses the latest technology to produce the highest quality olive oil. From start to finish I was able to see and SMELL this glorious emerald green olive oil being made.

The farmers present and the owner, Fanny Nigi, explained to me why this olive oil is so good. Olives are picked early and are immediately processed on site. The olive oil I was looking at this morning was from olives picked the evening prior. This is rare but makes for an extremely high quality olive oil with the highest amount of polyphenols (antioxidants). Olive oil is pure and nothing is added to it.

Here are the steps.  Olives are hand picked night prior to making oil and placed in bins.

Next the olives are cleaned of leaves and any external substance and washed.

The now clean olives are sent into a machine where the grinding takes place and the nuts are expelled along with any other residual material. At this stage, the olives become an olive paste and resemble olive patè.

After this step, finally the paste is further worked and the outcome is the fabulous emerald green extra virgin olive oil we all know and love.

Oil is then stored in special stainless steel vats which are temperature controlled and oxygen controlled. The oil is bottled directly from the stainless steel containers.

The taste? This year's Harvest is robust and flavorful.  The color is bright green.  I was advised today to try it on rice, potatoes and of course on bruschetta. I just did and it was wonderful. Amazing and wonderful:  I just tasted olive oil from olives picked yesterday. Ahhh grazie!!!

Note:pictures courtesy of Frantoio Fattoria del Biancheto - Cetona -Siena

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Visiting Bagno San Filippo, Bagno Vignoni, Monte Amiata

If you have limited time and can only go to Valdorcia, please take the time for a full day trip to see Bagno San Filippo, Bagno Vignoni, and Monte Amiata.

Sorry, this time no pictures. I will make sure to get some next time. However you can (we did) go to Monte Amiata in the morning, climb by foot all the way to the top called "La Vetta" to the gigantic black iron cross and then make your way down to the grassy area where you can take in some sun and eat at a fantastic trattoria called "Vetta".  There are three restaurants but I highly recommend this one.  It is the one at the bottom of the hill. Make sure you order the pici pasta (home made), vitello and porcini mushrooms. Top it off with homemade crostata pie and an espresso. Ah don't forget the house wine. All for a delicious very affordable price.

Next drive down to Bagni San Filippo, natural sulfur thermal pools. You will need a bathing suit, towels, and beach shoes. You can only bathe in the first or last pools (the first is cold but the last is the warmest). This is worth the trip.

After San Filippo, you must go to Bagno Vignoni. This is such a cute town and has original Roman baths (you cannot bathe here but can dip your feet in!). The town is full of small, quaint boutiques and to-die-for trattorias. The center is the original Roman pool and definitely worth the visit.

Have fun and yes, next time pictures!!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Living Italy: Some of Many Differences Between Los Angeles & Tus...

Living Italy: Some of Many Differences Between Los Angeles & Tus...: "I try to go 'home' to the USA every Summer and every time I do I notice things that I never noticed while actually living in Los Angeles. Th..."

Some of Many Differences Between Los Angeles & Tuscany!

I try to go "home" to the USA every Summer and every time I do I notice things that I never noticed while actually living in Los Angeles. There really are so many differences in cultures (Italian & American). Here are some things that are so different and that I now notice:

-people in LA are very private and it is really rare to see people at all in the neighborhood. Sometimes I think where are the people? You hardly ever see people talking to their neighbors or just hanging out in their front lawns. People are really to themselves and like it that way it seems. I only knew a handful of my neighbors in LA even though I had been living in the same house for 20 years. The others come and go and you smile and say hi if you see someone but that is about it. If you are lucky, they will smile back.  I notice now signs in front lawns like "keep away", "no door solicitors", "dog on duty", "keep away".  I even see darkened fabric covering gates to be more private and tall hedge between houses, all for the sake of privacy. In small Tuscan towns in Italy, neighbors are neighbors. You know your neighbors' names, their childrens' names, their activities and whether you like it or not, they know pretty much everything about you too!

-people in LA have become more stressed and easily irritated. If you remain half a second more at a red light, you are quickly honked at or given the finger. If your children raise their voices, you are stared down at. If you take extra time to ask a question at a store, the people behind you make it obvious they don't want to wait. Everything is just more laid back in Italy and especially so in the smaller towns. In fact you would not even think of honking at someone unless there was the threat of some real danger.

-people in LA eat in their cars! You would never see anyone in Italy eating in their cars. Food and meals are just too sacred.

-people in LA love to walk around with their cups of coffee. This may seem totally normal to an American but it is considered very strange to an Italian. An Italian would ask, "why can't he just finish his coffee before getting into his car?" You would never see an Italian walking away from an Italian caffe' with his coffee. Goodness sakes an Italian's espresso has to be served in ceramic or glass espresso cups and slowly enjoyed at the bar.

-parking in LA has become so complicated. If you don't have a credit card or buckets of quarters readily available, be prepared to keep roaming. In Italy, I have learned the art of parking!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


With so much talk about olive oil these days and the discovery that what is being sold in the stores as quality olive oil, is not really at all.

In the past, I used olive oil as just another ingredient, a way of adding flavor to my meals. I had no idea the beneficial properties extra virgin olive oil can have.  Since the majority of us use olive oil daily, why then should we miss the opportunity to do something that is going to make us healthier? Quality extra virgin olive oil has antioxidants.

An extra virgin olive oil is "quality" if it has been produced in a certain way, has been stored in a certain way, and bottled in a certain way and if it has not been exposed to light or heat.  The more exposure it has, the more it loses its beneficial qualities and flavor. The more robust the flavor, the greater the antioxidant properties.

If an EVOO is using olives from different areas in Italy for instance, chances are the processing time is longer. The best EVOO is milled the same day as olives are picked. Timing is everything.

I most recently saw a very famous gourmet retailer selling an EVOO that is not high quality. I know this because I saw the small print on the bottle, that although the name of the oil is called a name of a famous Tuscan region, in small print it says the olives do not come from that region!

Quality EVOO is expensive. Quality EVOO is from the latest harvest (in this case from Harvest 2010). Any old Harvest is not quality. The newer the oil, the better it is.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cesenatico Beach - Where the Italians Go

I would definitely recommend Cesenatico Beach to anyone who wants to enjoy a very quaint little Italian town on the seaside. Cesenatico is in the region of Emilia Romagna and province of Forli' Cesena.

Why Cesenatico? Because it has two very different parts to it. One is the beachside which is modern and very accomodating to visitors. They have gone to great lengths to make sure visitors have everything they need and beyond. It has all the comforts. The beach is mostly private in the sense you have to pay to rent chairs, umbrella etc but we found it to be very affordable considering the vip treatment. It is lively but not chaotic. Very nice. The sea is not the cleanest in Italy and there are definitely beaches that have more pristine waters.

The second part of Cesenatico is the old colorful town near the port called port canale where all the beautiful restored boats are on display. Although Cesenatico is small and rustic, it still offers so many wonderful trattorias, boutiques, cafe's, gelatteria's.  The old town which has been completely restored and boasts avenues of pastel colored buildings and a museum port with old restored boats is fantastic. In fact, we stayed at a boutique hotel right alongside the port called  "Casa12" ( A very charming b&b that makes you feel like you are sleeping in an art deco museum.


Monday, May 23, 2011


Even after all these years of living in Italy, I still am awestruck when I think of the relationship Italians have with food. We spent the weekend at the beach in Cesenatico, a lovely place that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to spend some time at the beach in the Romagna area. Italians love to eat. It is their birthright to not only eat, but to eat well.

I am always amazed how everything comes to a standstill between 1 and 3 pm. I noticed that all the people and children who were in the water were suddenly gone. The beach chairs empty.  Basically what was alive and jumping suddenly turned into a seaside ghost town. I asked my husband if the people came out of the water because the water is too cold. He said "no, they left but now are over there" as he pointed towards the bar / restaurant. What I saw was crowds of people pushing their way to order no, not a sandwich but a full on sit down seafood meal with all the works: wine, bread, olive oil, etc. I was amazed. "You mean they are going to eat all that food and then go back to the beach??" I asked. And sure enough they did right after their espresso.

So what did we do? Well when in Rome..... We helped ourselves to an amazing sit down lunch and washed it down with the owners own homemade wine he offered us to welcome "i nuovi toscani" to their beachside. Then an espresso and back to the beach. Not bad, not bad at all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


My neighbors make have their own olive groves and make their own olive oil. I realized quickly why some olive oils are so expensive. It takes days and days to hand pick each olive, making sure it never touches the ground. There are large nets used to catch the olives. The weather has to be just right and the olive has to be ready for picking. Not too early and not too late. Here are some fotos I snapped from my kitchen window. Next year I will be lending a hand....

Friday, May 6, 2011

How To Select The Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil

With a plethora of extra virgin olive oils available nowadays both at your local grocery store and online, there is no wonder that there is a lot of confusion when choosing the best olive oil to purchase. Surely price is one factor in deciding which olive oil to purchase. But  there are many many more factors that should lead you to making the right purchase.

Let me take a step back to explain what I have learned about the health benefits of using quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). According to the Olive Oil Source, " Well-documented by numerous studies around the world, the many health benefits of olive oil make it one of the most indispensable ingredients of a healthy diet. Naturally packed with monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants, not only can a good extra virgin olive oil lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, research has shown that it also provides a wide range of anti-inflammatory benefits that can positively impact illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and asthma. Even the FDA suggests that replacing just two tablespoons of saturated fat with extra virgin olive oil in your daily diet can have measurable positive effects."

Quality EVOO is good for you because it reduces bad cholesterol levels and raises good cholesterol levels.  Quality EVOO "provides a high content of antioxidants, like polyphenols, vitamins E & K, chlorophyll and carotenoids. Antioxidants are key to strengthening the immune system and protecting the body from the damaging effects of free-radical molecules."  Furthermore it contains anti inflammatory agents.

EVOO is the purest of all the olive oils, is made without the use of chemicals or excessive heat and meets some organoleptic standards. It offers a minimum guarantee of quality. But not all EVOO are equal.  The less processing is involved in making olive oil, the greater the health benefits and the better the EVOO. The health benefits depend on how the oil was made, when olives were picked, how the oil was stored and many many more factors.

"The chemical characteristics of extra virgin olive oil (as with all vegetable oils) give an indication of the care with which it was made and stored: how the fruit was grown, transported and harvested, how it was milled into oil, and how the oil was packaged and bottled."  There are also many different flavors of olive oil but typically the more robust (pungent) the flavor, the greater number of antioxidants.

There are many olive oils available. The best being of Extra Virgin Olive Oil meaning it is of the purest form. Of these however there are the winners and the losers and many many in between. Extra virgin olive oils nowadays come from Italy, France, Spain, United States, Turkey, Greece.  Of the oils available not all of the producers have high standards and follow regulations to make the highest quality oils. In fact, many in order to offer the lowest priced oil sell old olive oil which has been sitting either in their warehouse or a distributors warehouse for months and even years on end. Others to cut corners may use a mixture of olives from different areas or regions that offer a cheaper harvest.  Some olive mills may pick their olives and then have them sitting on their mill floor for days or weeks before processing, collecting all sorts of mildew. The best oil is processed the same day of picking. Oil should be bottled right before delivery. Processing times should be very short.

With so much junk on the shelves, the best advice I can give someone who is purchasing olive oil is to read all the labels. Remember that just because an oil has an Italian name does not mean it is made in Italy. Even if the label reads Produced in Italy does not mean the olives are Italian. Also there is a great difference between oils produced in different regions in Italy for instance. Some olive  trees render a larger quantity of oil because the olive itself has more water content. This larger quantity available drives down the price for particular regions of Italy. Tuscan and Umbrian olives typically render less oil and therefore are more premium priced.

If the price is surprisingly low compared to the assortment, you are probably not getting a good deal but getting a lower quality product. Olive oil is expensive to produce and if it is being produced correctly, abiding to the highest standards, chances are you will have to pay for that.

What you can do when purchasing olive oil:
-make sure you read the labels and know what you are getting. Just because the oil is called "Tuscan Reserve" does not mean it is from Tuscany. Also even though it says Made in Italy does not always mean the olives are Italian. It may mean it was bottled in Italy but the olives are from Turkey.

-Is Italian olive oil the best? I  cannot say that it is or it is not. I know that the olive oil I use is the best because I know where it comes from and I know how it is made. I know the health qualities it has.

-Read the label to know when the oil was harvested. The best oil is the newest. There should also be an expiration date on the bottle.  You should not be paying a premium price for last year's harvest.

-When you can, purchase smaller bottles because the more times the bottle is opened, the more the oil is contaminated by air and loses its qualities both in flavor and health benefits.

-Never purchase plastic bottles;plastic kills the oil.

-The darker the glass bottle, the better, try not to purchase clear bottles. Olive oil needs to avoid heat or heat sources and clear bottles allow heat to enter.

-Where in the store are the bottles kept? Make sure they are not on top shelves near the lights.
-Unfiltered is not bad for you, instead it means that less processing was used and therefore it is of the purest form.

I am fortunate I know because I can pinpoint exactly where the olive oil I use comes from. My olive oil is an artisan olive oil and comes directly from the manufacturer I personally know.  I know what high standards the manufacture has. I have taken part in the harvest of the oil. I have visited the mill. I know even where the actual olive groves are that my oil came from. I know we cannot all be so fortunate. Afterall I live in what is known as "la patria dell'olio" or home of the olive oil.  I cringe however at seeing so many EVOO that are available and that are not of quality.

For information on how you can purchase the quality Tuscan extra virgin olive oil I use, please contact me or send me a comment via my blog.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Simple Slow Food in Umbria Italy

Local food artisans provide simple meals to attendees of "Coloriamo i Cieli" Kite Festival in Castiglione del Lago, Umbria. Here "Fagiolini di Trasimeno," Pecorino Toscano, Bruschetta, Fava beans and local homemade wine.

 Porchetta anyone?
 Local cheeses, jams, oil and wine.

Selling locally made chocolate in Umbria.

Tips On Using & Preserving Olive Oil

My new found best friend is Italian extra virgin olive oil. Once you have tasted the best, it is really difficult to accept the rest. I am serious. I am becoming a connoisseur of olive oil and had no idea that bottle of oil that I had been using everyday contains such important qualitites.  Not all extra virgin olive oils however have these qualities. Only the higest quality extra virgin olive oil contains the largest number of polyphenols or antioxidants.   And even if you have the highest quality extra virgin olive oil, you can literally destroy its good properties with the wrong use or preservation. 

The enemy of olive oil is heat and light. That is why it is a good idea to purchase olive oil that is in either tins or dark glass bottles. Never never purchase or store olive oil in plastic. Plastic will kill it and destroy those antioxidants not to mention what it does to the flavor in general. The absolute best place for storing olive oil is in stainless steel containers but not many of us have the space or access to these, so the second best is in tins or dark glass bottles.

Keep your olive oil away from sunlight, heat from stove top range, any source of heat or light. Store in cool, dark area.

The best olive oil is the newest or "olio nuovo". It is the opposite of wine. If you can, it is best to purchase the newest or latest harvest of olive oil. This is because it contains the best qualities for flavor and health benefits. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Visiting Buonconvento (Siena)

This weekend we decided to take the scenic and longer route to Siena from Chiusi. Actually it is all scenic but this is via the old Cassia instead of the Highway. Along the way we stopped at a wonderful little town called Buonconvento and took a glimpse at the handcrafts on sale as well as the antique open air market. This past weekend was the "Cose del Passato" or Things of the Past market with everything from wooden products, wrought iron, linens, embroideries. There are many little trattorias along the main road in the center of the town and you cannot wrong as they all offer the usual favorites, pastas, meats, antipasti, bruschetta, etc.

If you are going to Siena, stop in Buonconvento along the way.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Television in Italy- The Ugly

One of my greatest disappointments after moving to Italy was television in Italy. I was never an avid television watcher and now I can pretty much say I don't watch any television at all in Italy.  Normal television in Italy is a disgrace. The few channels that are available do not offer anything of quality for anyone and you have to pay a state yearly tax for it. Unbelievable since the government should be paying the viewers for putting up with such trash. There are very few quality programs. Commercials or advertisements are even worse and an embarassment.

Pay tv or SKY is a little better but not much. There are some English speaking channels and some cartoon channels if you have children but I still prefer no tv.

The only thing I miss are the news channels but those too are not in anyway objective so I wonder what news I am actually getting. My best bet is going to the newstand which still sells English language papers and the usual Italian papers.

I don't miss watching television. Reading is so much better!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Enjoying Casa Fabbrini

We were greeted Friday evening by Giorgio and Paola, the owners of Casa Fabbrini who welcomed us into their home as if we had known them for years. It was literally like being "at home" only this home was an amazing Tuscan villa that opens its doors to guests year round and lavishes them with every detailed comfort.

Giorgio and Paola are not only the best cooks, make their own jams, cookies, olive oil, everything but they are also two very respected physicians in Rome. They invited us to an incredible dinner with homemade pasta (made by Giorgio), amazing radicchio, rabbit with the secret sauce, and a semi freddo of persimmon. To top it off biscotti made by Paola herself , chocolates, and after dinner drinks. Oh I forgot about the suppli' direct from Rome and the most amazing mozzarella! Non ho parole...

We sat at a large table in a beautiful dining area with all the guests who stayed in the Villa the entire weekend. It was nice, refreshing talking and chatting with people I had never met before that evening. We had one thing in common, an appreciation for good food and very nice company.

If you ever plan to visit the Valdichiana area, check out
You will be glad you did.