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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!

To all my blog friends, I wish you all the Merriest Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year 2010!! Thanks for encouraging me along with this new hobby of mine...I thank every one of you from the bottom of my heart :) Your support means the world to me. I only wish I could meet each one of you in person to give you a big hug!! Please come back to visit in 2010!!!


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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Home Tour

This last Sunday, I was fortunate to be invited to be a vendor at a new event sponsored by St. Brendan's Mother's Club in San Francisco - The Holiday Home Tour. It consisted of 6 beautiful and majestic homes in and near the St. Francis Woods neighborhood that were decorated for Christmas. Ticket holders were able to tour the 6 homes, and were even able to shop for Christmas presents in each of the homes. That's where I came in. I brought Tesoro to one of the homes!!


The event was beautifully orchestrated and the homes were stunning. The home that I participated in was furnished with exclusive antiques, including beautiful Oriental rugs and Italian ceramics. The owner prepared her dining room table with beautiful china, crystal and silver all set over a brocade tablecloth and adormed with an exquisite flower centerpiece.


Her formal living room featured an extremely tall Christmas tree and decorations on the baby grand piano. The breakfast nook included a small tree decorated with Muffy bears and other animal-themed ornaments. She even had a child's bedroom decorated with Christmas quilts and Raggedy Ann in her rocking chair!! The other homes on the tour I'm sure were equally gorgeous.

This was the first event of this type put on by St. Brendan's, but I'm sure they will continue the tradition as long as there are willing homes to view!!

Events like these really help to get you into the Christmas spirit - I only wish I could have taken the tour!!! But I was honored to have been made a part of this Holiday event :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gratitude Friday - The Magic of Christmas


At this time of year, things can get sort of hectic and I get stressed out with all the things I have to do. It starts with making sure the house is all decorated to addressing all the Christmas cards. And then there is the worry that I have remembered everyone on my Christmas buying list (and also have those little extras for those that I may have accidentally forgotten). Every year I say that I want to get all these things done early so that I can enjoy the magic of Christmas. Well, this year, perhaps I have succeeded!!! The Christmas cards aren't yet written, but they have been ordered. And I have to say that I am finally relaxed. And it couldn't have come at a better time - we are hosting an office event at our home Saturday night and I'm hoping the atmosphere will be one of Christmas magic!! Now that all the other stresses are gone, I can concentrate on creating a beautiful evening (I hope!) and I can enjoy being with those special people that I have the joy of working side by side with every day. With some soft lighting and quiet music playing in the background, and the lighted Christmas tree shining in the corner, I'm hoping to bring the Magic of Christmas to my dinner table with an elegant evening celebrating the season. I really hope that reality will match my dreams :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gratitude - A Thanksgiving Post



I guess Thanksgiving is the king of the Gratitude posts!!! It is the one day of the year dedicated to giving thanks for everything we have in our lives. I, personally, love Thanksgiving. It is a day we spend with our loved ones, and we enjoy just being together. It doesn't have a lot of hype prior to it (other than grocery shopping and preparing some food items), and it is a simple holiday that can be enjoyed with calm. Our tradition involves barbequing the turkey and therefore we spend time outdoors enjoying the warm Autumn weather and chit chatting away with our guests. Every year our menu is the same, and I think that makes it special, too. These are foods that are made just at Thanksgiving, and so I'd consider them comfort food. Other than the barbequed turkey, we have sweet potatoes and a swiss chard stuffing whose recipe was handed down to me from my 90 year old aunt!! Both are delicious and our guests always look forward to them...



Even though the feast of Thanksgiving is over, the appreciation for all our blessings remains in our hearts. Happy Thanksgiving to All!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Little Italy Gala - A Success!!!


Last night's Little Italy Gala at the Peralta Building in Downtown San Jose was a huge success. Over 300 people attended the elegant event. Upon entering, the guests were greeted by a masked woman and a glass of prosecco! The interior was transformed into a piazza in Italy. Participating restaurants brought delicious food to sample, along with wonderful wines. But the highlight of the evening was Pasquale Esposito singing traditional, as well as newer, Italian songs and arias. The crowd was dancing and moving to his music.
And then for the comic relief of the evening - yours truly!!! Pasquale had been singing on the stage, but then came out into the audience and proceeded to the stairs where he sat down. Thinking that he was taking a break, I approached him to ask him for a picture. In my polite way, I said, "Possiamo fare una foto insieme?" (can we take a photo together), and he looked at me a bit puzzled and replied, "Certo" (certainly). I thought his response was a bit stunted...but didn't think twice about it. He then stood up, and with a microphone to his mouth, proceeded to continue singing while posing for a photograph with me!!! I had no idea that he was still performing, otherwise I would have never interrupted him. Needless to say, I was totally embarrassed!!! But at least I gave my husband a good laugh :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gratitude Friday and The Joy of Helping Each Other

Today I met with a new friend and we talked about our mutual dreams of building our own little companies. I have my Italian ceramic import business, and she is planning a travel tour to Italy during the 2010 olive harvest time (you can see my post last month about her trip). We both have dreams of succeeding in our endeavors but realize that we can't do it alone. We need others to help us promote our business, and also to encourage us to continue when things don't go as quickly or as well as we had planned. We both genuinely want the other to succeed, and it felt good to want to help each other. Networking really does work, if only for the support it provides!!

Little Italy Gala in San Jose, CA


This weekend I am attending the very special Little Italy Gala - a fundraiser for the Littly Italy project of San Jose. The article in this week's Metro highlights the event. It should be lots of fun filled with wonderful food, wine, and of course, Pasquale Esposito!!!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Italian Easy Rider


Yesterday, I was looking for a picture to put on a friend's birthday card, and came across this one that I had taken on our recent trip to Europe. I remembered how romantic the thought of this Vespa was, and how fun it would be to ride it through all those little towns up and down the Italian boot. Zipping through the Alps, meandering the small ancient roads, exploring tiny villages perched on the slopes of hillsides, and even daring the beautiful Amalfi coastline would all be a wonderful adventure to have.

Will I ever take this adventure? Chissa....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gratitude Friday for Sophie!

I didn't grow up with a dog. I never actually thought I would ever have a dog. The kids begged and begged for one, but I got them fish and birds instead. I thought that a dog would be way too messy...way too much work! But then, in a moment of weakness, at an Italian picnic, Sophie came into our lives! She was 7 weeks old and weighed only 14 oz! She could fit in the palm of my hand - and she was the most adorable thing I had ever seen! She looked like a little white lamb...soft curly fur, 2 big black eyes that watched your every move, and the sweetest face immaginable. I took one look at her and I was hooked. My husband and the girls couldn't believe it when I told them we could take her home. "Are you sure you're feeling OK?", wondered my husband.

Sophie has been with us now for 12 years and she has been the best pet we have ever had. She has so much personality...and is SO smart. I know that all pet owners think their animal is the smartest, cutest, etc...and I never thought I would be one of those!!! But here I am! And proud of it!

Sure, she can be a pest at times. She barks ALOT - at animals on TV and anywhere that she perceives to be HER territory. But she has a personality that all but makes up for her pestiness! She makes me laugh everyday. And for that, Sophie, thank you!!

This is the day she decided to make the centerpiece bowl (which I had removed from the table because we were eating) her bed!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Polpettone!!

Last night, we tried the first of the frozen creations I made last weekend - the Polpettone! It was absolutely delicious!! The flavors were so tasty and the consistency was firm but moist. And no ketchup needed on this meatloaf - it was great just the way it was. I was so excited because it was actually an Italian recipe I found online - and I was able to translate all the ingredients and amounts for use with my American kitchen!!! I made a substitution of pancetta for prosciutto cotto affumincato (smoked ham) because I'm not a smoked meat fan, but otherwise followed the recipe. Here it is...and by the way, it freezed just fine!!

Polpettone

150 g crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 T. parmigiano
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 boiled potato, mashed when cooked
2 sausages, chopped
300 g. ground pork
150 g. pancetta
1/2 c. white wine

Saute onion in olive oil. Add the carrot, celery and mushrooms and saute for a bit. Add the pancetta and brown slightly. Add the white wine and saute for about 10 min to absorb the liquid. In the meantime, mix in a cuisinart on pulse mode, the ground pork and sausages. Put into a bowl and add the mashed potato, the eggs, the parmesan cheese, and the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Mix all together and form into a loaf. At this point, if you would like to freeze it, wrap it tightly in foil to retain the shape, and place in a ziploc bag making sure to let all the air escape. Freeze flat on a rack. If you want to cook it, bake in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hr and 15 min or until done.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cooking with Pancetta

Today I was a total cooking fiend - I decided to make meals to freeze for future use on those work days when there is just no time to cook. I don't usually like to freeze things, but I am going to try it to see how good the meals are. Perhaps many of you have good luck with this...if so, please pass on your wisdom to me :) I made two meals: a Polpettone (meatloaf) and slow-cooked Stewed Ribs. Both of these recipes called for some chopped pancetta. I don't know about you, but if I can shortcut any of these chopping rituals without compromising on quality, I will take it! I have found just such the thing for pancetta - Trader Joe's carries chopped pancetta from Citterio and it is absolutely perfect for using when you need to flavor your meals with pancetta. I have used it for many dishes, and it is perfect for Carbonara Sauce!! Mmmm...mmmm...anything with pancetta is delicious :)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gratitude Friday - The Internet!!

I know that being thankful for the internet is kind of an odd thing to get excited about...but if you really think about it, you will see how many wonderful opportunities the internet has created. Speaking personally, I can say that without the internet I would have never met so many nice people! I have met people through blogging, through an online sight for speaking Italian, and through Etsy (the handmade forum where I have my photo notecards). Even though I have never met these people in person, I feel like I know them and can see their generous personalities shining through from the online discussions we have had.

The internet has also brought me closer to my loved ones in Italy. We have been able to stay in contact so much easier and the miles between us all but disappear! I "chat" with my cousins every week and keep current with all the daily activities! I feel like we are together for those precious moments!!

The internet's value for those quick "catch up" moments with family and friends not so far away is amazing as well. Keeping in touch has become all that much easier :)

Thank you to all those pioneers in the computer industry for allowing me to connect with so many wonderful people!! And I hope to one day be able to meet in person all my new online buddies!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Inner Italian

Today I read an entry on Simple Italy's blog about someone's inner Italian and it inspired me to write about it as well. Here are my musings...

Italy has always been in my heart, only I didn’t realize it until I had my own children. I was raised by Italian immigrant parents who came to the US in the late 50’s. Back then, it was important to assimilate into your new culture. But both my parents had the good sense to teach me to speak Italian (in fact, I learned Italian before I learned English) and to continue speaking it to me throughout my life. As my relatives in Italy tell me, I am lucky because I never had to learn to speak a language – it was always there for me!
In so many ways, I am a true combination of American and Italian – and not really totally one or the other. Sometimes this is a bit unsettling because I feel I don’t really fit in with any one culture. My actions and decisions are based on my intuition which results from being exposed to both cultures throughout my life. But I feel that I have been blessed with the best of both worlds. My inner Italian is evident in so many aspects of my life from cooking to interpersonal relationships. I almost always cook in an Italian tradition – using fresh ingredients and creating simple, yet tasty meals. I enjoy sitting around the dinner table, long after the meal is over, to talk to my family or guests and to catch up on the happenings of the day. Whenever I hear a traditional Italian song, I am instantly happy and want to start dancing and singing to it. I love Italian home decor with its brightly hand decorated ceramics. To my eyes, there is nothing more perfect than seeing an Italian landscape – every part of Italy is beautiful. And it’s funny, I also have an inner Italian that worries like every good Italian “mamma” does about their children – are they eating enough? Are they sleeping well? Did they arrive home safely?
I can honestly say that when I am in Italy, I am at home. Italy is in my core and in my heart.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When in the Mood for Pasta (and you don't want to cook)

Do you ever have those nights when you just want some great pasta, but you're not in the mood to cook it yourself? Well I have the place for you if you live in the San Jose area! In the middle of downtown Los Gatos is a tiny little place with some wonderful homemade pasta! There are only about 10 tables; the activity is bustling and the ambience is very nice with frescoes on the wall. It is simple and unpretentious (the napkins are in paper!), and the prices are reasonable. They have all the regulars (pasta alfredo, primavera, arrabiata) as well as lots of unique and, in my opinion, much more interesting pasta dishes. We had their special tortolloni filled with veal served with a light sauce of prosciutto, mushrooms and peas, and their Primadonna which was fettuccine tossed with spinach, pancetta and prawns in an olive oil and garlic sauce. Both were excellent! You can order a good bottle of imported Italian wine to go along with your dinner and you will leave with a happy tummy! We were there mid-week and it was packed, so it's best to make reservations in advance. The restaurant is called The Pastaria & Market. They even have a brisk take-out business! I was glad that I was finally able to experience their wonderful pasta - it's been in Los Gatos for 15 years but this was the first time that I was fortunate enough to eat there! I will definitely keep this place when I need to quench that occasional Pasta Fix!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Experience the Olive Harvest of 2010

A friend of mine is organizing this wonderful trip to Italy in November 2010...check it out!!

Spirit of Italy Tours Invites Guests to Experience the Splendors of Tuscany

During the Olive Harvest Season in November 2010

“Harvest Italia”, a seven night tour to Tuscany, Italy, November 1 – November 8, 2010, is designed to coincide with the annual olive harvest which occurs each year during this time period. The tour is offered by Spirit of Italy Tours, a boutique travel company offering small groups of travelers an intimate, one-of-a-kind journey to Tuscany. This family-friendly tour is centered in the Valdarno (Valley of the Arno River) region of Tuscany, an area rich with historical art and architecture and landscapes that appear to be straight out of a painted Renaissance masterpiece.

The cornerstone of Harvest Italia will be picking olives by hand at Casa Falcioni, a 10-acre property in the charming and central Tuscan town of Cavriglia that boasts an olive grove with nearly 600 olive trees belonging to the frantoio, leccino and moraiolo varieties. Situated atop a rolling hillside, Casa Falcioni is surrounded by cypress and chestnut trees and affords spectacular views of the Valdarno. Tour guests will learn how to pick olives and the traditional olive oil making process, as well as enjoy a guided tour by the Casa Falcioni proprietors to a local olive pressing facility to see self-picked olives turned into olive oil.

“Picking olives is a wonderful, relaxing and fun way to enjoy quality time with family and friends in a natural setting. It is easy, safe and a fun activity even for young children,” says Vicky Gray-Clark, Spirit of Italy Tours founder and operator. “Olive oil is a staple in the Italian diet and is growing more popular in the U.S. During previous visits to Casa Falcioni with our young son, we found the start-to-finish process of collecting olives followed by seeing them pressed into oil fascinating. Each Harvest Italia guest will be able to take home a bottle of olive oil made from their hand-picked olives which makes the experience even more rewarding.”

Leisurely paced, the Harvest Italia itinerary encourages guests to foster an intimate connection with the Tuscany landscape with time to savor the food and wine, and explore the sights, language, culture and indescribable beauty of the region during harvest season. In addition to olive picking, the carefully selected activities include visits to outdoor markets (mercati) that feature a variety of items from farm fresh local produce to cappuccino to Italian leather goods; a journey to the famous Fiera Antiquaria di Arezzo – considered one of Italy’s finest open-air antique markets; and venture deep into the cellars of a local winery known for producing outstanding Chianti. The itinerary also includes visits to Firenze, Siena and Cortona, an authentic Italian cooking demonstration featuring seasonal fare, and basic cooking techniques. Shoppers too will be pleased to know that in the immediate vicinity there are several luxury brand factory outlets, as well as discount leather warehouses where exceptional Italian handmade goods are available at reduced prices.

Additional information, including itinerary, pricing and registration is available on the Spirit of Italy Tours website: www.spiritofitalytours.com, or by contacting Vicky at vicky@spiritofitalytours.com.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Gratitude Friday

This is my first Gratitude Friday blog on the right day...yippee! Today I am thankful that my youngest daughter, who is 20, is home for the long weekend from her university! And the best thing is that we have her ALL to ourselves! All her local friends are away at school and so she will be spending time with her parents :) That means we will have lots of quality time together to catch up on the happenings of the last couple of months. Even though we talk on the phone and online, it's still not the same as seeing her lovely face in person. So, I'm off for some quality bonding time....until next time....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And We Eat the Agnolotti!!!

A few days ago, I posted a blog about making some agnolotti - but we didn't eat them that day. I spread them out on cookie sheets and froze them. When they were good and frozen, I collected them all and placed them in a freezer bag and stored them for future use! Well, last night we tried the creations! And they were just as good as imagined them to be. The pasta was tender and the filling was flavorful. They cooked fairly quickly and I scooped them up into a bowl. In the meantime, I browned some butter in a frying pan (very slowly, I may add, because butter burns really quickly!!) Once the butter was browned, I removed it from the heat and added some whole sage leaves. I let the sage impart its flavor to the butter for about 10 minutes. Then I poured the butter sauce over the agnolotti, added a bit of parmesan cheese (very little because I didn't want to spoil the taste of the sage), and a wonderful, simple meal was created! It was a big hit with the family. And the best thing is that I still have lots of frozen agnolotti to enjoy! I can't wait until the next time :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gratitude Friday (on Sunday)

I'm so excited that I have become part of the Gratitude Friday Club...thank you to those in charge! Unfortunately, I'm a bit late because I just realized that I was in the club :( But it's never too late to express gratitude!

For my first Gratitude Friday post, I couldn't pass the opportunity to express gratitude for what is most important in my life - my family! I am very fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life from my parents, to my husband, to my children, to my cousins in Italy, to my in-laws, and to my dear friends that I consider as part of my extended family. These people have all been there for every important event in my life and have offered their support and love. Even though I don't consider myself to have a wide group of friends, but those that I have are friends for life. For me, quality is more important than quantity!! I know that I can always count on them, and I hope they know they can always count on me to be there for them. That's what the most meaningful relationships are all about! When I'm feeling down, I try to think of all these wonderful people and it helps to make me feel better. Therefore, THANK YOU TO MY WONDERFUL FAMILY!!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Agnolotti

Sometimes out of boredom is born the desire to create!!! And that is exactly what happened today! While the boys were watching football, my daughter and I decided to use some girl time to putter in the kitchen. I had cut out a recipe a long time ago from a magazine on homemade agnolotti, a type of giant ravioli, which I wanted to try. And even though I didn't have the exact ingredients for the filling, the recipe gave me some good ideas of what type of filling was needed. So I raided my freezer and found the ingredients that turned out to be perfect for the filling. We used ground turkey and frozen spinach, along with pancetta and parmesan cheese and a couple of eggs to hold it all together...and voila!!! A delicious filling was created! After this we proceeded to make the fresh pasta sheets - as always, this was lots of fun. Once the sheets were made we placed generous round balls of filling in a neat row and added another pasta sheet on top. Using a bit of water to seal the edges, we used a special roller blade and cut out the agnolotti. They turned out beautifully - even though they aren't all even in size! Some bigger than others..but hey...that's the beauty of things homemade!

Unfortunately, nobody will be home tonight to enjoy these wonderful creations so I decided to freeze them for future dinners...once I try them, I will update this and let you know how they turned out :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fancy Cars Helping to Build Little Italy in San Jose

This last Monday, I participated (with Tesoro) in an event at Club Auto Sport in San Jose that helped to raise awareness and funds for the new Little Italy project in San Jose. This project plans to re-establish the once thriving Little Italy community with Italian shops, restaurants, and even a pre-school! The Italian roots, which were so important to the building of San Jose, are being replanted with the help of numerous volunteers and businesses that see the importance of keeping the Italian community alive in San Jose.
The event was held at the classy Club Auto Sport - a "condominium" complex built to house collector, sports, and race cars. The venue was first class and drew many people who were treated to world class wines, food, and entertainment while wandering by Lamborghini's, Maserati's, and Ferrari's!!! Wonderful vendors of Italian items and organizers of specialty tours to Italy were on hand to enhance the Italian theme of the event. Many of the guests came because of their love for Italy and all things Italian (including the fancy cars!)

Somehow I could see myself in this yellow beauty, with a scarf on my head, zipping along down the Amalfi Coast...would anyone like to join me???

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Reminiscing

Today's cool temperature is a reminder that Fall and Winter are quickly approaching. My thoughts today turned to the wonderful trip we made to Italy (and Paris) for New Year's of this year. I can't believe so much time has already gone by! I was reminiscing of the wonderful week we spent in Italy during the Holiday season - a season I had never experienced before in Italy. In a short week, we did and saw so much. We started in Milan where we saw the beautiful holiday lights that really reminded you of the special season. Next was the bringing in of 2009 with my cousins in Sesto Calende (near Lago Maggiore) at the "Braziliano". And then from there, we took several day trips around the area: Santa Caterina del Sasso on Lago Maggiore, Cervinia for a day of skiing pleasure, Lago d'Orta with is beautiful island of San Giuglio, and Lago di Como (where we searched in vain for George Clooney's villa!!!) The week was magical - and then the huge snow fall they had (the biggest one since 1986) - made it even more of a fairy tale. Our unexpected trip to Paris (because we missed our connection to SFO) was an added delight. It was the perfect ending to an already perfect trip! See for yourselves the magic we experienced!


video

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wouldn't It Be Nice????


My cousin just sent me this picture of a place he just visited in the Persian Gulf, and I was immediately transported there in my mind. I could just imagine myself sitting on one of the chaise lounges, sipping a nice cool fruity drink, and taking in the beauty of the sea before me. These desires always seem to come to me at the end of the summer when I have not had my fill of the ocean. I was born and raised in San Francisco, therefore while growing up, I have always had the ocean in my backyard (not literally, but it was less than a mile from my home and always in view). There was never a day when I didn't see some part of the blue Pacific! Now I don't live in sight of it every day, but I am only about an hour's drive from the beach. Unfortunately, with life's busy schedule, my trips to the coast are few and far between - and I MISS IT!! I didn't realize it until I saw this beautiful picture! I think it's time for a beach vacation...what do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Al Fresco Dining in California

We are definitely experiencing what is known as Indian Summer in California. Towards the end of the summer, when the weather heats up to almost 100 degrees, we experience the last moments of summer before Fall sets in. And even though it's very hot and miserable during the day, it's all worth it to have a beautiful and warm evening to be able to enjoy the outdoors. So we take advantage of eating al fresco whenever we get these opportunities. And tonight was one of those great evenings. We started off with Tijuana Taxis - a refreshing martini made with 2 parts each of orange juice and sweet and sour, mixed with one part tequila and cointreau. Our salad was made from home grown tomatoes from a friend's garden near Sacramento, basil from our backyard, a sprinkle of gongonzola cheese, and olive oil.



And then we grilled up some "vino and formaggio" sausages and served those on toasted french bread. But the prize dish tonight was Prosciutto Wrapped Figs and Blue Cheese!!! And what a treat it was!! We have a great harvest of mission figs this year and frankly, I'm getting a bit tired of eating them as is.



So I went online and found this great recipe from Michael Chiarello!! Even my husband, who is not a fig lover, couldn't get enough of this concoction!!! And it couldn't be any simpler to make. It consists of wrapping prosciutto around a half fig and some blue cheese, and then grilling it slightly until the prosciutto just begins to crisp. A little drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper finishes off the dish...yummy!!! The salty prosciutto complements the spicy gorgonzola cheese and sweet figs to perfection.


Tiramisu!!!!


Today, despite the great heat, I made a tiramisu dessert for my contribution to a mini college reunion we are attending tomorrow afternoon. I have to say it turned out very pretty!! I found a beautiful glass bowl to display it in, and I'm hoping that it will settle into a great consistency after being chilled overnight!! Sometimes tiramisu can be a bit temperamental - if you let the lady fingers pick up too much coffee when you soak them, then the result can be a runny dessert. Also if you don't whip up the egg whites all the way to stiff peaks, it can become runny as well. So...I'm hoping that I did all these things right and the result will be a firm tiramisu!!!

Here is the recipe that I use for my tiramisu:

2 c. strong coffee
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks
80 gms. sifted powdered sugar
30 cc (or 2 T) amaretto or rum
2 packages lady fingers
1 package mascarpone cheese
************************************
Mix egg yolks, sugar, and amaretto or rum until creamy and thick. Add mascarpone gradually and mix well after each addition. Fold in beaten egg whites. Dip lady fingers very quickly in cooled coffee. Place them side by side in a bowl to form one layer. Pour some of the egg mixture on top to cover the layer. Repeat layers ending with the egg mixture on the top. Chill overnight or for at least 2 hours. Sprinkle with cocoa powder before serving.

Dancing the Night Away

Last night, Da Mario's restaurant in Saratoga hosted their annual Italian Festa. This was the first time that I attended since my husband and I just discovered this gem of a restaurant about 8 months ago. My date for the evening was my new friend, Melissa. And we had a wonderful girl's night out. The atmosphere was electric with live Italian music played by Giuseppe and Dino (they do this when they are not being waiters at the restaurant!!) Sandro, the owner, was busy getting everyone out onto the dance floor. Both old and new Italian tunes were played and everyone was dancing. We even did a conga line which went through the kitchen and out into the back parking lot and then around the building to the front of the restaurant!! Saratoga hasn't been this lively for a long time!!! But not only did they have dancing - they had a great buffet with their amazing food, and unlimited wine!! The staff was attentive and always made sure your glass was full! All in all, I'd have to say it was a total success for the restaurant and all the guests! Can't wait for next year's event!!!!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Homemade Pasta

Today, my husband and I decided to make some homemade pasta. It's always a bit of a messy ordeal, but the results are always so good. After many years of having my mom's homemade pasta, I figured it was time I learned to make it myself. So for Mother's Day this year, I asked for a hand-crank Pasta machine. My family was thrilled that they finally knew what to get me as a gift that I really wanted. So they ran out and bought one immediately.


Since then, I have used it several times, and each time it has been a real joy to make the pasta. When I make it, I make a lot so that I can dry it and then save it in the refrigerator for use when I need it. There is nothing like fresh pasta - especially because you know exactly what is in it :) Evidently every region of Italy has its own way of making the pasta dough: some use more eggs, less eggs, water, no water, and on and on. I use a basic recipe which I think is very versatile: 2 1/2 cups flour, 4-5 eggs, a little oil, a little salt, and a little water. That's it!!! It's incredible how simple the ingredients are! And voila...delicious pasta that melts in your mouth when you eat it!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Great Website for Things to Do in Italy

I just found this website for things to do in Italy. I can't wait to try it out the next time we go!!

http://www.deliciousitaly.com/

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sure Fire Way to See Leonardo's Last Supper in Milan

After Dan Brown's novel The DaVinci Code, it seems like Leonardo's masterpiece, The Last Supper (or Il Cenacolo), has become even more popular than it already was. Due to this, it has become increasingly more difficult to get tickets to see it at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie where it is frescoed onto the refractory wall. Scientists are trying to preserve what is left of the fresco, and therefore have implemented means that limit the amount of visitors each day. Only 15 visitors at a time are allowed into the frescoed room, and the time allotted is 15 minutes. Consequently there are more visitors than spaces and people are turned away. But I have found a sure fire way to see it!!! I stumbled upon this during my first visit to Milan and have used this method every time since without fail!! I called the concierge at my hotel to ask about a city tour that included the Last Supper. For 50 Euros they booked me on a half day tour of the city. The tour consisted of the Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, the Teatro La Scala, and THE LAST SUPPER!! All transportation was included (even from my hotel) as well as a tour guide who spoke perfect English and who gave a great history of the places we visited. It was well worth the 50 Euros, but the best of it was that we got to get into The Last Supper while we saw all the people who were trying to get tickets at the door get turned away. This is a guaranteed way to view the masterpiece. The tour actually starts at the Duomo Plaza and we saw some people get tickets for it at the bus stop -so advance reservations don't seem to be required. But during peak tourist season, I would think it might be best to set it up a few days in advance through your hotel. Good luck!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Historical Fiction Novels and Real Life!!!

I love to read historical fiction novels, especially those that deal with the Renaissance. I have read many of these novels and at times, it's hard for me to keep the stories straight! But two of the novels I read stand out in my mind because the stories actually have come to life for me! The first one was Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex. I'm not going to do a summary here because you can look that up on amazon. But what caused excitement for me from this novel has to do with my trip to Milan in 2006. I had read the novel right before my trip and it gave me so much history into the city of Milan that I probably would never have found out on my own. I used it as a mini-guidebook, and it opened up new places for me. One of the settings involved the Castello Sforzesco. From the book, I learned that Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Sforza family to paint some frescoes at the Castello. In fact, one of the halls is adorned with his frescoes, The Sala delle Asse. This is a lesser known work by the great Master, and therefore not something of much interest when one visits Milan. The book also went into a description of the immense bronze horse that Leonardo designed. The horse was never built but has now been replicated and placed in front of San Siro racetrack. Other anecdotes described the painting of the Last Supper, as well as the other masterpiece, the Crucifixion, painted in the same hall by Giovanni Donato Montorfano. From the book, I learned that Ludovigo Sforza had himself painted into this painting by the artist. These tidbits of information are what make history come alive for me and without having read this "fictional" story, I would never have even thought about going to look for these wonderful art pieces.

The other novel which has brought history alive for me is The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger. This is the love story between Rafael and Margherita Luti, a baker's daughter of Rome's Trastevere district. This story has come alive because of a restaurant in Rome that is housed in the home where this love story took place!! The restaurant is called Romolo nel Giordino della Fornarina. I have just learned of this restaurant's existence so therefore have not had the opportunity to dine here, but you can be sure that the next time I find myself in Rome, I will definitely go!

Whenever I can experience something real from these so called fictional novels, I get very excited! The other book, though not historical fiction, that has made a place come alive is Dan Brown's Angels and Demons! This book is very popular, but it played a role as a guide book for us when visiting Rome. It was fun finding the obelisks, chapels, churches, etc described in the book. It made us feel like detectives and it made sightseeing all that much more exciting!

Monday, August 31, 2009

My First Italian Book!!!

Even though I have spoken Italian all my life, I have NEVER read a real Italian novel before!! I have read my share of magazines (OGGI was always in my home while growing up), children's picture books, and newspaper articles...but I never braved a novel. I always thought that it would be too difficult to sift through all those words that are used in the literary world but not part of everyday vernacular. But, to my surprise, I didn't have that problem when I read VANIGLIA E CIOCCOLATO by Sveva Casati Modignani! It is a light story about a couple's struggle with their marriage and all the impedences they encounter. The 400 or some pages flew by without me even noticing. The language flowed easily and I was reading it with the same fluency that I read English-speaking novels!! This totally thrilled me and made me want for more! So bring it on!!! Any and all suggestions would be appreciated :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Italian Festa in San Jose

Last night, we attended the Italian Family Festa in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose. It was a great event!!! There was so much activity on Lincoln Ave! From street vendors, to food booths, to wine stalls - all were bustling. But, by far, the best entertainment was the live music. We stood (yes, standing room only was left) to listen to Italica! They played traditional Italian music with an upbeat! The energy was electrifying and you couldn't help but move to the beat! Just watching the little kids out dancing, along with those who actually know some dance steps kicking up their heels, was so much fun. Of course, it helped that the evening was absolutely spectacular - warm with a slight breeze! And being with good friends - what more could we ask for :)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bolzano - The Val Gardena

Another day excursion from Bolzano is a drive through the picturesque Val Gardena, the valley between Bolzano and Cortina d'Ampezzo (site of the 1962 Winter Olympics). This drive is not for those afraid of driving mountain roads as the roads are narrow with sharp turns and HUGE tour busses travelling the route as well. But if you brave the drive, you will be rewarded with incredible scenery not to be surpassed by many places in the world. We took the drive in the summertime, therefore we did not have to contend with snow and the dangers of winter driving. We drove through lush green rolling hills which formed the foreground for huge granite peaks seeming to jut out of the earth! Around every turn there were more and more scenic views.


At one point, we parked behind a car of an Austrian chorale group that were serenading the beautiful mountains in 4 part harmony! Along the drive, we passed many small quaint mountain towns whose homes were constructed with an Alpine flair. The red tile roofs so typical of Italian towns are replaced by chalet-type roofs and many wooden features in this region of Italy. The town of Gardena was filled with artisan shops of wood carvings. These merit a stop along the way.


Our journey ended at the town of Corvarra. This quaint town is located at the base of yet another Dolomite peak and has many restaurants and shops to explore. The restaurants feature local cheeses, fondues, and other Alpine treats (apple strudel, for one!!) Our restaurant even came with a resident St. Bernard lounging on the outside patio.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bolzano - A Memorable River Walk and Dinner

Before heading out to dinner one evening, we decided to take a stroll alongside the banks of the Talber River. There are two tree-lined promenades which are wonderful to stroll on either in the evening or on a warm summer afternoon. There are wonderful views of several of the castles surrounding Bolzano, as well as views of sprawling vineyards and the Dolomites in the background. Our walk was along the western bank of the river, and we headed in a northernly direction. We passed playgrounds and tennis courts where the locals congregate. We headed up to the the castle for more views. It was great way to work up an appetite before our wonderful feast at the Schloss Korb.


The Schloss Korb is located in Appiano, a small town on the outskirts of Bolzano, along the Via del Vino (the wine road). It is nestled atop a hill surrounded by rolling hills filled with vineyards. We had asked our hotel for a recommendation for a romantic restaurant with a view. When he recommended this restaurant, we knew that it would be the perfect place to experience the tranquility and beauty of the region. Driving up to the Schloss did not disappoint. We passed acres of vineyards and saw castles and monasteries perched on every hilltop. Once at the Schloss, we took a walk around the premises before settling on the terrace overlooking the valley for dinner. The restaurant is a bit pricey, but the views make it well worth it. The food was very good and the service attentive. We ordered a Korb platter which was advertised as a complete dinner for two featuring grilled meats and vegetables. We knew we were in trouble when they had to bring an extra table to lay the platter of food on! There was enough food to feed at least 4 people. We felt bad having all the excellent food go to waste. So, if you go, do not order the Korb Platter unless you are REALLY hungry or they will let you share it between 4 people. The wines offered were local varieties and very good. Watching the sun set over those beautiful valleys was an incredible experience.

Bolzano - The Ritten Cablecar & Earth Pyramids

We just got back from a whirlwind trip to Bavaria, the Austrian Tyrol, the Sudtirol area of Italy, and Salzburg. I wanted to share some of the travel joys we experienced in case someone else is planning a trip and might enjoy our adventures. We like to experience some of the out of the way places that seem to make the trip so much more memorable. So here is a blog of our adventures in and near Bolzano, Italy (located in the Alto-Adige province of Italy and very near the Austrian border). Before I begin, I'd like to give a brief history of this part of Italy. Up until World War I, it belonged to Austria. Even to this day, the towns have two names: one Italian and the other German. For instance, Bolzano is also known as Bozen. Many people here still speak German, and in fact, some don't even speak Italian! There is a movement here to become independent. They would like to be called the Sudtirol and be independent from both Italy and Austria.

Our first excursion around Bolzano was via the Ritten cablecar (La Funivia del Renon) to Oberbozen. This cablecar rises high above the city of Bolzano, over beautiful valleys covered in vineyards and filled with beautiful Dolomite views. The trip only takes 10 minutes, but it takes you to an altitude of 1200 meters.




Once in Oberbozen, you can purchase a ride on an old cogwheel train to the town of Collalbo. This old train also offers culinary night journeys where visitors can enjoy a gourmet meal with local wines and music. Once in Collalbo (Klobenstein), we followed the old wooden signs towards the Ritten Earth Pyramids. It was about a 4 km walk (one way) along mostly paved roads via small towns. The walk does have lots of hills but it is easily walkable for most people. The last part is along a well-maintained dirt trail through the woods.



The views of the valley with it's tiny towns and churches all below beautiful Dolomite peaks is spectacular. The highlight is the famous Earth Pyramids. These are a phonomenon of erosion and very unique looking formations.