Are Artisan Pastas Worth the Price?

Francine Segan’s article in Italy Magazine answers the question as she scours Italy, attends a major event in Umbria and gives us the step by step test you can do to tell so-so pasta from artisan.  Check out this site

It Started Ten Months Ago

After my return from the Positano Italy trip during October 2019, moving from Placerville became the priority, as planned. We need a more manageable home and yard. Luckily our realtor, Scott Derkson, projected our path quickly to find a 55+ community and lovely home in El Dorado Hills.  There followed a month or more of trips to and from home for realty matters, discard of household goods, packing and repacking and searching for suppliers to help with the move and storage of goods before the move.  It was March 25 before we set foot in what was now our property and more months would be taken up settling in, unpacking, organizing and downsizing to our 1712 square feet vs. 2300.  Thanks to many helping hands who got us there.  We added cabinets to the kitchen and found a place for almost every accessory and furniture item kept before turning our attention to the backyard, which was now our responsibility to construct.  We will leave comments about the front yard which the Home Owners Assoc. (HOA) maintains for another story.
Click on pix to enlarge, and view as gallery.

Months evaporated again while laboriously researching and selecting plants, finalizing the design, and waiting for the HOA to approve our yard design.  It was also some doing to convince the landscaper we hired to address the rock that appeared to be submerged like an iceberg in the middle of the yard.  They had to bring in the big gun, and hammer out a mountain of boulders which had to be removed.  I insisted they be replaced with 35 yards of good planting soil, which I further enhanced with gypsum, peat, alfalfa meal, and soil conditioner.  The crew (Edgar, Juan, Pedro and Gabriel)  was anxious to please and so happy in their work it was a pleasure to watch their efforts.  Continue reading

A big decision

Bagni di Lucca and Beyond

After much thought I have decided not to fly back to Australia soon. My original flight home was to be on 20th June. That flight was cancelled by the airline and there was confusion over subsequent bookings. If I go home now I will have to isolate in a hotel room for 2 weeks, which holds no appeal at all.

My appointment at the Questura to renew my Permesso di Soggiorno is in mid August and I need to do that. There is also the possibility I might not be able to return to Italy in autumn as I planned to do. I am happy with my decision to stay in Italy, especially now that restrictions have loosened a bit.

We have guests arriving at Casa Debbio shortly and I will be moving down to our apartment in Bagni di Lucca. I am going to miss my garden. It has…

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Villa Rufolo

Small towns like Sorrento, Ravello, and Amalfi are built into the craggy cliffs all around Positano, each with its own set of legends, myths, churches, villas and complex history going back centuries in time. With transportation having its own set of complexity, Pam and I opted for a driver to further us down the Amalfi Drive.

Pro drivers like Alessandro are essential!

Every turn is a tight squeeze.

The gardens at Villa Rufolo are legendary and together with the views, it was a glorious day.

A 13th-century Moorish Tower marks your entrance to Villa Rufolo in Ravello. The cloister with its colonnade of pointed arches is a perfect example of the Arabic-Sicillian style of the period. Some believe it to be a smaller version of Spain’s famed Alhambra.   The renaissance author, Boccaccio, wrote the story of the villa and published Decameron in 1353 and hints of hidden treasure and royal banquets were


Imposing interior has not been restored.

The famous German composer, Richard Wagner, wrote his second act of Parsifal at the villa. The town has become knows as a “city of music” and center for the  annual summer concert series that brings visitors from all over the world from March thru October to the grand orchestral performance stage on the villa’s piazza below.

Floral patterns blend with never ending views.

It is the gardens to which visitors flock and whose breathtakingly lush floral patterns beam proudly all year.

Six Months Later …. Episode 2 The Lemons

The Vigliano family welcomes us to their Lemon Farm.

Valentina, Ida, son Luigi, Papa Vigliano. Valentina runs the hotel affairs and makes ceramics, Mama Ida cooks, makes mozzarella each morning, Papa supervises everyone, including the 2 pigs, and 2 cows that make this an authentic agritourismo farm stay. This, like so many Italian families in business, members glean continued perseverance and success from ancestorial efforts, requisitioning only the natural products of the earth and their own hard work.   Guests find their way to this relaxing hideaway from all over the world.

Luigi describes grafting process to farm guests.

Recon with the dangers of the wild orange tree.

The canopy is on purpose to protect the trees from the north wind.

We learned that the famous lemons are born from the wild orange and lemon long after a complicated grafting process described by our host Luigi, who also tutored us at lunch one day on the making of limoncello.  

The farm is a replica of grandma Vigliano’s love of flowers.

Lunch on the terrace provides a fine view of Naples under the shadow of Vesuvius.

Mama Ida makes mozzarella each morning.












Six Months Later…..Episode 1

Six months ago, after my return from the Positano trip in Italy, I was faced with the task of finding another home, smaller, more manageable and affordable. Between the finding, the organizing and downsizing, searching out the location and moving, we are glad to be settled despite the corona virus shutdown. I’ve been unable to write or do much of anything else besides “the move”.  We’ve survived the stress and disruption with hopes our vulnerability will also exclude the virus so we can get on with what lives we have left.

As the plan for our brand new back yard is taking shape, I’m reminded of the glorious grounds surrounding the villas we saw. Perhaps starting with the one in which we were lucky enough to have won a stay, Villa Magia, I want to share the views, terrace and surrounds. If you can survive the 180 stairs to and from the town below, there is a street scene to visit.

Shops and Ceramics abound.

Breathtaking views from the Villa

A boutique hotel with every luxury.

Breakfast on the terrace with views.

Dawn view of cliff dwellers.

One of many ancient saracen outpost lookout towers.

Breakfast served on the terrace.

Nativity Scenes that take a Village

It began with Saint Francis, who reenacted the birth of Christ with live animals in 1223. Actors were added and later, “presepi” (means ‘crib’) were set up throughout Italy, but with pomp and circumstance. In the 1470’s sculptor Alamanno was commissioned to create 42 painted and gilded sculptures for a private Neapolitan chapel. The nativity scenes grew into small cities, with landscapes, grottos, caves, a specialized art with intricate lighting and even mechanical movement and sound.








Nativity creches can be found in many nooks and crannies throughout Italy, especially in the Campagnia Region. Our driver actually parked on Amalfi Drive so we could photograph is ancient “Presepe” built into the side of the rock wall.


The art of Neapolitan nativity of S. Gregorio Armeno, S. Gregorio Armeno is a small street in the old town of Naples, Italy.

Today, Naples has a whole street in the San Gregorio Armeno neighborhood with 40 active workshops producing a third of the 200,000 terracotta figures made annually devoted to the nativity trade. Quality of workmanship, construction materials range  from plastic to hand-blown glass, custom costumes and elaborate papier-mache creations with prices that match the “get what you pay for” advice. Find shopping criteria on Italy Magazine’s excellent article:


Food of the Etruscans?


Italy Magazine’s article about the multi grain pizza led me to their recipe for fig and honey focaccia. I’m a focaccia foodie and have made it every which way in past years to sell locally as a caterer. Now I hear it was invented by the Etruscans??!  My other haunting research topic!? Here is my recipe for fig and rosemary multi grain focaccia. I adapted Bob’s Red Mill recipe using his quality multi grain bread mix. You can up the oven temp if you wish

Use their fantastic on-line website for gluten free recipes, product info and so much more.


for Bread Machine or by Hand

Makes one 17×11” or two 10” loaves

1 c + 1 T warm water
3 T+2 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh (rosemary) herbs, chopped, or 3/4 tsp. dried–divided
1 Pkg. Bob’s Red Mill 10-Grain Bread Mix.
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cane sugar
2 tsp. active dry yeast
½ c ch. walnuts
10-12 dark figs sliced or 1 thinly sliced apple.
Coarse salt, for sprinkling

Put minced garlic, water, 1 T fresh herbs or 2 tsp dry herbs and 3 T oil into bread machine.  Add package of 10-grain bread mix and salt to bread machine.  Make well in center and pour in sugar and yeast.  Turn machine onto the dough cycle.  If dough is too dry in the machine, add water 1 T at a time.  Dough should begin to clump without remaining dough on sides of pan. Add ½ c chopped walnuts to recipe after dough is first mixed, and mixing.

When complete, remove dough that has already risen once.  Shape and roll, using remaining ¼ c flour, into desired round or rectangle bread sizes, move to prepared baking pans. Before rising again, press fig or apple rounds and additional ¼ c chopped nuts into dough, dimple and allow to rest, covered, for an additional hour.

Preheat oven to 425º with baking stone, if desired.

Dimple the dough with your fingertips.

Combine the remaining oil with the remaining herbs and brush over the top of the dough.  Sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp and golden.  Cook on wire rack 15 minutes.

Can be frozen; allow to defrost, reheat wrapped in foil in 250ºF oven.


When does dinner require no table?

a quick peek at

………..a meal in ancient Rome……………

Did early Romans  and those party-loving Etruscans ever wonder if they would run out of pasta, fish or wine?  ( We are still in B.C. mode here.)  Plutarch was a Greek-born writer, later a citizen of Rome who spoke and wrote freely about Italy’s food-centric exploits. He seemed mostly worried that too many guests would interfere with sociability and conversation since that was key to their get togethers.  Today, we can have a room crowded with silent folks all looking at their cell phones.

The ancients argued about where to place whom, with careful consideration to the “contentious, abusive and quick-tempered………..”  Conversation was a main element at the meal. They debated trivia, politics, social status, ideas, and mixed it all up with enough gossip to keep things lively. They ate with their fingers, spilled food on the floor, reclined on couches in rooms lavishly decorated. Frescos, mosaics, wall tapestries and art objects filled the room, and flower petals littered the floor.  Up popped my remembrance of the food-littered floor in a MacDonald’s in Venice.  Tourists are just rude, gods not in the picture.

Food and material accumulations were both very important, especially to the Etruscans, who carved sarcophagi statuary holding plates laden with foods from their last feast for the afterlife and their meeting with the gods. Personal goods and even chariots were buried with their remains. The gods were kept in mind constantly by verbal and physical reminders and  ubiquitous superstitions. That’s where salt over the shoulder came from, except they would throw a bunch on the floor for good measure. ……can’t you just visualize the rapid-fire verbal banter, gestures, ascending pitch, and personality mix …..not unlike my last dinner party come to think of it.


Find this article: and learn more about recipes that have their roots in ancient Rome


Pizza, Pizza, and more Pizza…even multi-grain

From: Italy Magazine

Everything Italy. Authentically Italian.

go and get this great recipe from a great magazine!

I was in a quandary since we are headed for Naples, the birthplace of the “magic Italian Pie”. Where is the best one going to be located for us to try?  Italy Magazine synchronistically came up with an answer or two, along with a recipe you might want to try.

“Overall, Campania is still at the top with 19 award-winning pizzerie, and we shouldn’t be too surprised since the region is considered the birthplace of pizza (Napoli).

Pizza of the year is ‘Oceano’ by the Salvo brothers of Naples, made with fiordilatte, buffalo ricotta flavored with algae, smoked amberjack, pink pepper, lemon zest, Muraglia smoked oil.

“On restaurant menus you’ll often find thin crust pizzas or Neapolitan style pizzas (which are smaller and thicker) baked in wood fire brick ovens where the temperatures arrive up to 800°F. Home ovens don’t arrive at these high temperatures and will therefore be softer and fluffier unless using a pizza stone where you can easily obtain a thin and crispy pizza.

“Highly refined white flours and brewer’s yeast are traditionally used for pizzas, but currently there is a new trend in Italy towards pizzas made with ancient grains like Kamut© and spelt and lievito madre—sourdough starter.”