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 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.

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.”


The Big Cheese

(in humble tribute to the 6 million sheep of Sardinia and the rest of Italy, rarely attributed their due)

sheep of Sardinia

Pecorino Romano, referenced in many Italian recipes, but equally hard to find around my town, is that miracle of ewe’s milk that in Roman times reputedly surpassed cow’s milk because it was thought to “help the stomach”. Like so many Italian Regional topics of myriad variety, this is one of the most confusing.


It is an over-simplification to say that all Pecorino is not the same, and that cheese cultures

in Italy vary from region to region.  It is revered similarly in comparison to perhaps a patron saint when Di Bruno Bros. importers calls it “A tincture containing the essence of a Mediterranean isle.” It is ceremoniously served in Italy’s finest hotels and restaurants with all the pomp and circumstance one might award a dish of extinct eels.

The “fully stagionato” are “aged” for as long as 36 months. Some are “matured under ashes”, some bear a stamp, or brand; one from the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany recognizable by its black rind is the pecorino di Pienza, reputedly loved by Lorenzo de Medici. The brine gets a bit muddy when it appears that the Pecorino Romano Locatello® brand, sold in the premium price category exclusively in the U.S. market, also has a black rind.  The brand originated in 1860 in Lombardy and is imported from Sardinia and the Lazio Region. Pecorino “sardo” of Sardinia is used in the deep fried “seadas”, a sweet and savory dessert of Sardinia (shown below), or with peaches and pears or a glass of the local red cannonau wine.


Pecorino Romano, one of Italy’s oldest and most famous cheeses,  loses much of its acidity when cooked into a sauces such as carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe.  Different than Tuscan pecorino, the Sicilian Pecorino siciliano stands head and shoulders high in flavor, often eaten only on its own reserve wrapped in a vine leaf, a rival in taste to none other and pompously served, of course.

Who is to know that when it comes to pecorino, the complexities of this artisan recipe addition can mean so much to the success of a dish and occupy one’s research so laboriously long.

I think it is the sheep that make the countryside so dear.




….uh-oh, a brand new blog may be necessary!

With the trip to Southern Italy dawning closer as a “first adventure”, I thought to consult Fred Plotkin’s “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler”, a voluminous knowledge base.   Mine resides more to the north.  Thankfully, my traveling companion likes to eat good food and wine and even asked me to be sure and get it together in that area.  So far, the research has yielded many deep fried recipes to look forward to, and pizza, neither one my first choice, and many strange and exotic fruits from the sea, not even a second choice.  The south of Italy apparently has an even sweeter tooth than my Tuscan relations, which will have to be on the reluctant choice menu (except for anything lemon, my fav). Red flag! This region is all about lemons everywhere and lemon everything delicious!

I heard about this book on a podcast interview Rick Steeves had with Plotkin and was impressed enough to buy the over 700-page encyclopedia. What a treasure of information on every major and un-major city and/or region, with notes on what it is famous for, where, why, and how…….dining, wines, ice cream, coffee, menu terms and definitions, even detailed walking guides through a town, recipes, folklore, calendar events, maps, personal notes and historical data for example …..”as you walk around Venezia, there are two  other things I would like you to bear in mind……..”  Instead of an index, all the cities and recipes mentioned are listed, and the 27-page Glossary of Food and Wine Terms is a literary piece of its own merit. The book is a treasure-trove of total entertainment to read.  I crossed myself in case  ancestors were watching and skipped to the Campagnia Region where we will be headed.

Although not the most populated city, Naples and the Campania region has the highest population density of any region in Italy. Plotkin’s descriptions are robust, colorful, inviting and, by nature,  contradictory. For example, Campania, like California, has been subjected to severe earthquakes and Mount Vesuvius and Mt. Etna loom over millions of people. Napoli may be wild and chaotic, the people understandably a bit jumpy, but Plotkin goes on to say “the volcanic soil is unusually fertile, so the fruits and vegetables that grow here are sublime…….once you dine at even the most humble trattoria here, it will be hard for you to swallow so-called Italian food back home.”

The Roman emperor Tiberius made Napoli and Capri his playgrounds. Since then,  there is a long tradition of elaborate cooking and baking for the royal families and nobles. Pizza, born in Naples, is the favorite nighttime meal that wraps around the local street life conviviality today.  The finest “mozzarella di bufala” cheese, Plotkin says, comes from Campania in the province of Salerno.

Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk cheese comes from Sardinia, home to millions of sheep. It holds no candle to American imitations and must be imported, Plotkin advises.   It dances on every table, especially those laden with festival foods created for every saint’s day and for whatever reason you might imagine.

You may think of pasta when Italian food is mentioned. Did you know it did not originate in Italy?  Arabs introduced noodles in the 8th century, Marco Polo brought them from China in 1295 and they were the food of aristocrats until the 1600’s when mechanical pasta began and Naples’ pasta shops blossomed in the 1700’s.  The first documented recipe, however, is said to have been born in 1839. The glorious growing conditions of southern Italy took the credit.

Despite dozens of versions of pasta with lemon in this region, there is much, much more:

Plotkin offers a Penne con Ricotta e Noci Sardinian recipe, that is, pasta with Ricotta and nuts.

I am anxious to try a local version of  Colatura dei Alici, or spaghetti with anchovy sauce.

Every province, every region has their own pasta, individually named, and their own recipe

for the best dish you ever ate. Of course, those from Campania are the ultimate best, you know.  uh-uh.

We will see.





FIRE IN THE HOLE… Italian Style

Take a look at these earthly treasures soon to be glimpsed:

Vesuvius_from_Naples_at_sunsetAs seen from Naples at Sunset, Mount Vesuvius is an imposing sight.  At 4203’ it is the only active volcano on the European mainland, close to Naples, with over 3 million people close by, and considered one of the most dangerous in the world. It is a good 400,000 years old, with the most catastrophic eruption in 79 AD which wiped out Roman settlements including the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum whose total population was between 16,000 and 20,000. The remains of over 1500 people have been found, but the death toll is unclear.  It’s calculated that 21 miles of ash, molten rock and pumice was released, a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. vesuvius_806ef36f-b618-420c-b25e-ce827d2a2515-1
Mt.Vesuvius from the air

This Unesco World Heritage Site is called today Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata. It is one of the many Unesco World Heritage sites that make the region of Campania, Italy, unique worldwide. In addition to its source of important geological and tectonic knowledge, Vesuvius is constantly monitored and studied for past present and future activity within the confines of its mainland scientific laboratory, according to a 2018 NOVA documentary. It last erupted in March, 1944. Another eruption in April 7, 1906 killed over 100 people and ejected the most lava ever recorded from a Vesuvian eruption, and even today, there is a constant state of danger surrounding the volcano. It is constantly monitored.

Volcanoes are formed by the upward forcing of rocks formed in the earth’s tectonic boundaries.  There are at least 11 dormant volcanoes in the Italian territory.   The only country with active volcanoes, Italy’s three major concerns are still erupting today.


10,912’ Mount Etna World Heritage Site on the island of Sicily is a stratovolcano or conical volcano, with activity traced back 500,000 years, has mythological beginnings, and in an almost continuous state of activity with summit and flank eruptions, as recent as December 2018. It is the highest volcano in Europe and one of the most active.

Conical shaped Mount Stromboli, north of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the island by the same name, is 3040’ high and in a constant state of eruption.  It’s eruption on July 4, 2019,  is the largest since at least 2007, according to Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.*   Molten lava flowed, causing tree and grass fires. In addition to  panic, a male hiker was killed by a falling stone, apparently the only casualty.

July 4, 2019 eruption of Mount Stromboli.

Approximately 1,000 people live in Stromboli’s shadow. The enormous influx of tourists in July is also a pressing concern. The volcano’s spectacular geological feature is the “Stream of Fire” (Sciara del Fuoco), a U-shaped depression on one side of the cone created by 13,000 years of eruptions and collapses. Like the other Aeolian islands, Stromboli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the 2002 eruption, a network of high-tech monitoring of volcanic activity was set up, making it one of the most monitored volcanoes in the world. Excursions to the craters are only allowed with a volcanological guide.

There are at least 11 other volcanoes on Italian territory with dormant and/or “uncertain” status dating from 600,000 years ago through to the 1900’s.

*INGV is funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research and monitors seismic and volcanic phenomena, employing approximately 1000 people between headquarters in Rome and other locations in Milan, Bologna, Pisa, Naples, Catania and Palermo.








Me? Cook Sicilian?

Anyone who knows my passion to cook, especially Italian dishes, knows also of my heritage from Tuscany. You can’t get more Italian than having had a mother from Elba and a father from Lucca who became a noted restaurant chef during California’s heyday in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s one of the good things in my genes. But these Italians avoid Southern Italy, their famous limoncello notwithstanding. Nothing Sicilian would have ever found its way onto one of our family dinner tables. Now, with a trip to Naples soon ahead, my curiosity prevails.

One of my favorite TV personalty chefs is Mary Ann Esposito on Ciao Italia. When she went to the East Coast to interview Morgan Morano making her Sicilian artisan gelato, I bought her book and went to work, starting small, hoping for no ancestral observation from “above”.

Pasta is better in this province, than that one. It even is named differently. Ever notice how one region promotes their specialties over another. Why is Sicilian gelato better?  Moreno learned from a Sicilian gelato artisan before opening her shop in New England. Much gelato is premade, she tells us, often with chemicals and coloring and warns that artisan standards do not exist where you see carnival gaudiness and mile high piles. At Morano Gelato, base ingredients are made to individually tailor each recipe. It differs from American ice cream because:

  • it is lower in butterfat (4-9% vs. 14-25%), intensifying the flavor
  • it is dense, far less air than the 50% more air churned into American ice cream
  • served at a warmer temp, the flavor and creamy texture is reinforced

I learned to make the easy recipes with an inexpensive scale than includes grams and replaced the sugar content with no taste difference with Xilytol (4lb. canister available through Swanson Amazon has  “The Art of Making Gelato” by Morgan Morano for a cooking experience par artisanale!



Blank so Long…….

Over the past several months, I have yet to post in my blog any relevant words. The reason for this is that I have been embroiled in preparation for what might become my last trip to my fatherland. First I had to celebrate a birthday that so clearly defined me a senior citizen that it put me in a state of melancholy for weeks. Then came household property matters about new fire safety regulations so stringent they financially almost ruled out any travel of any kind.

Insurance companies across California have swathed home owners’ landscapes into an ugly depiction of its former self in hopes of reducing fire hazards when any fire within a mile radius would evaporate the property anyway. But I digress trying to explain these powerful excuses.


The good news about winning a trip to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy came on the heels of my return from the Veneto trip last April. I could not include Amalfi in that trip and came home with regret and wishful thinking, only to find the opportunity on line in a raffle on  “”.   The contest  ran for months, reminding me to buy tickets. I bought two. And eventually, it was announced. I had won first place!  Six nights at one of Positano’s most luxurious hotels, Villa Magia, at the high point on the cliffs of Positano.  It bowled me over, but I knew it was meant for me, thank the Lord, to go, means notwithstanding. I chose October from the two calendar dates offered, and that meant months of anticipation, but time for travel planning.

Pam (travel partner) and I would be in the heart of artisan ceramics, leather sandals, linens, inlaid wood, limoncello and everything else lemon, not to mention the architectural remnants and majolica duomos of centuries past civilizations and occupations by every imaginable kingdom.

Vietri Sul Mare – Salerno Province, Campania Region, Italy, Europe

As a student at heart, I’m a questioning, curious personality who loves to examine, research, find out, and express it in photographs and writing.  My new task was an ominous one. Northern Italians raised by the fierce pride of Tuscan ancestors, don’t usually have enthusiasm for  the South of Italy. But the reputed unbelievable beauty of the coast was a powerful draw for me as it is for other travelers.  So is the culture, history, food and museum wealth to be found there. Little did I know it would be so overwhelming a research project. To me, travel has become so much more rewarding with the research beforehand, so that instead of simply sightseeing and finding I cannot skip the line or being confused about what was abbreviatedly explained (often in Italian), I wanted to learn what I was going to be looking at ahead of time.

I wanted to start my research with the Etruscans…..the ancient people who contributed so much to the Roman civilization. I’ve had a fascination with their civilization since we saw and learned so much about them in our Umbrian/Tuscany adventures (“Lost in Italy and Loving It!”, a memoir adventure book by Betty Albert on Amazon e-books).  But despite their efforts, there is little of their history where we will be going. Read on to learn my discoveries before the travel adventure even begins.