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

https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/dinner-ancient-roman-style

 

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

From: Italy Magazine

Everything Italy. Authentically Italian.

https://www.italymagazine.com/recipe/homemade-ancient-grain-pizza

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.”

 

EATING, SOUTHERN ITALY STYLE

….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.

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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.
Stromboli_1893151942

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

”THE DURATION”

PLAN, PREP AND FREEZE MEALS FOR “The Duration”

We call the time I’ll be away on vacation, “the duration”, since my spoiled husband must fend for himself.

My solution is to prepare one-dish meals. I allocated the small freezer in the garage to him and shopped carefully to find a lot of healthy meals he can heat up. Soup is a savior. In addition to loading it up with vegetables, cooked meatballs can be added for protein, or pulled rotiserrie or canned chicken. Of course these helpful notes must also appear in type on the refrigerator. Label the meal containers and storage containers any way you like.  I put all the lunch ideas in the door, soup is on the bottom main shelf, the rest is all entrées. Breakfast containers reside in the kitchen freezer.

Freezer Door: Healthy, chemical free lunch selections

Containered Entreé selections
Soup below

Now for the recipes:

BREAKFAST   Find frittata recipes that make sense to you, prepare in large rectangular baking pan, and cut into squares as you would lasagna.  Freezer in your handy dandy square plastic clamshells. A dozen online  sites, just google it, or use glass storage in quart or larger sizes.

Frittata Breakfast

Frittata Breakfast

French toast breakfast sandwich

 

Glass containerized breakfast scramble

Hot cereal, dried and/or fresh fruit is not that complicated to prepare just have him watch/learn.

We don’t eat cold cereals, Danish, and skip the sugared breakfast pops. A one- package meal might consist of French toast, sandwiched between uncured Canadian bacon or nitrite free ham and cheese that just needs defrosting and heating.  Or, saute onion and/or mushrooms scramble in eggs and containerize/freeze.  Put “Egg Bites” (Cost Co) and two breakfast sausages in freezer bags in kitchen freezer drawer for variety.  Hard boiled eggs are at the ready along with cottage cheese and fresh or canned fruit.

Prepared homemade muffins fit in freezer containers to go with a blended protein drink.  Cottage cheese and fruit is always at the ready in the fridge. All of these ideas I use all year long so Bruce can fix his own breakfast and lunch and dinner if necessary.

LUNCH
Pick from the freezer door, the kitchen freezer containers, protein drinks, or make sandwiches from the nitrite and chemical free lunchmeat and cheese in the fridge.  Soup in the pantry is low sodium, and homemade is in the freezer.

DINNER
 The one-dish meals in the designated “Bruce freezer” were cooked, made and placed in containers: (Yes, of course these meals must be removed from any plastic container before heating.)

  • Roasted vegetables and roasted chicken pieces in containers.
  • Chili, made with beans, beef or chicken.
  • bean/chicken/greens meal;
  • salmon with baked potato and veggies;
  • pork tenderloin (cooked, sliced and placed in larger container with cooked baked potato and vegetables).
  • Same idea for pork or beef ribs or brisket.
  • For any entrée, Safeway simmer sauces are a godsend if more sauce is needed.
  • Soups: green pea is a fav, and loaded with protein.
  • Stews: made with beans, beef or chicken often with potatoes and vegetables.
  • Salads: greens washed, cut and in container at the ready. Fixings in the fridge drawer. Top with protein such as sardines, canned tuna/salmon/chicken, and you have a one dish meal.

DESSERTS

To prevent the entire quart of ice cream from vanishing, I put homemade gelato (sugar free with Xylitol) in the purported “serving size” of ½ cup containers (dollar store). Cookies are in the can or a smaller container, slightly out of reach. Otherwise, he’ll have to wait til I get home and have company for the Tiramisu´.

Cookies just out of reach from the TV tray.

serving size Gelato

 

WHY THE BLANK BLOG?

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  “italoamericano.org”.   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.

Secrets of Ca’Dario in Venice

Dubbed “the house that kills”, this 500 year old Venetian Gothic palace has claimed lives and repelled boatmen, boarders, renters, owners and potential owners like Woody Allen.   Built for the aristocrat Giovanni Dario in 1479, the house then passed on to a long list of owners who were stabbed to death, murdered, or died by suicide or assassin, suffered financial ruin, scandal, or heart attack. Violence, death by near-miss, lovers’ quarrels and ghosts further occupied its long history of tragedies and mayhem. As recently as 2002, The Who’s original bass player John Entwistle suffered a heart attack a week after renting the palace.

The house sits on an old Templar cemetery. Apparently, the settling of the foundation makes the building tilt visibly to the right. The house is directly opposite the S.Maria del Giglio boat stop on the canal.

Photo: Nino Barbieri/CCBY-SA2.5 https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/palazzo-dario

The Glorious Gondolieri

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It occurs to me that most of the culture in Italy is built in layers, upon layers, upon which its truths become known. We see it in art as the stiff figures of the 14th century transformed into more human forms in which beauty could be brought forth and appreciated in the natural landscape not just a gold background. We see it in the ever present layering of flavors and food. We see it in the teachings of the ancients and in the culture today.

In Venice, for example, one of its symbols is the gondola. A tradition of centuries and construction of layers.  The iron of the bow is structured to communicate the historic and cultural grandeur of the city. The upper part specifies the Doge’s hat, beneath it is the arch to represent the Rialto Bridge.  The double “S” that runs the length of the iron bow represents the Grand Canal. Each of the prongs jutting out below the Doge’s hat represent the six “sestieri” (districts): San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, Castello, Dosoduro and Cannaregio. More recent finishes on the back side of the prongs are meant to represent the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

GondolasReflec+_0320

The “ferro”representing the districts and islands of Venice.

Like the “slow food” known to be the tradition in the Italian kitchen, and signature of famous chefs, a gondola takes time to build, about a year. Comprised of 280 pieces, made from 8 different types of wood: oak, elm, lime, larch, fir, cherry, walnut and mahogany. The oar is made of beech and the “forcola” or oarlock (a work of art itself) is made of walnut. The only parts in metal are the “ferro” in front of the craft, and the “risso” at the back. The flat bottom allows for easy navigation in shallow waters. The gondola is asymmetrical, 24cm longer on the left to help counterbalance both the gondolier’s weight at the back and the tendency of the boat to sway left since the gondolier continually rows on the right.

Competing noblemen would weigh lavish decoration upon the gondolas during Serenissima’s splendor during the 15th and 16th centuries, including settees for lovers inside small cabins with doors, windows, draperies and heaters. The Senate ruled with a law that holds fast today that all gondolas now must be standardized and painted black.

It is not easy to become a professional gondolier. Traditionally, only men were allowed to be gondoliers, from a family of gondoliers. The “Ente Gondola” guild imposes strict requirements that include attending a special school, passing a public competition, and apprenticeship to a professional gondolier for 6-12 months.

Venice is one of Italy’s wealthiest provinces, the cost of living is high and so is the gondolier’s investment. A gondolier could earn more money for less work on the mainland, but his passion is in his highly competitive trade, where he must make a living a few months of the year. Gondolas cost upwards of 20,000 euros and take over 500 hours to build. A traghetto is a public gondola ferry and a great value at only 2 euros to cross the Grand Canal at different spots. The vaporettos are public water buses for which a city card grants you indefinite access on different lines serving different neighborhoods. Water taxis are more expensive private service transport about the canals and to the airport. From the airport, a transit bus may be the least expensive and quickest way to your hotel, compared to the Alilaguna blue line boat. With 400+ footbridges with multitudeness stairs, it’s best to pick a hotel that’s easy to reach, wheeled luggage notwithstanding. There are no taxis or rickshaws in Venice. Nor Uber.

The first female gondoliera was licensed in 2010. Giorgia Boscolo, the 24 year old daughter of a 40-year veteran gondolier, was the first to pass the requirements and obtain a license. Alex Hai, a transgender man, was granted an unofficial gondolier license (Italy is full of controversy) and operates private tours from one of the hotel sites in Venice.gondoliera.4568

The logo on the gondolier’s uniform features St. Mark as the winged lion holding an open book, a symbol of peace and strength, framed by two traditional iron gondola prow ornaments. I was surprised to find the very uniform shirts, sweaters, jackets and more for sale in two shops at the Rialto and one in Cannaregio. Although you can find look-alike items on Amazon, and with vendors in Venice, only the deemed-authentic uniform is found in Venice and on the emilioceccato.com site.

Buying them, I’m told, supports the gondolieri and their trade. The authentic emblem is sewn right into the clothing and represents the Venetian lion and Association of Gondolieri. Does every oarsman wear the authentic emblemed shirt or jacket? No.GondolierBlue_0243

Want a Ride? Practicalities and the Price

Some liken it to a hansom cab in New York’s Central Park. “Best to enjoy the ride and forget the price.” As negotiable as it is, however, be prepared.  A gondola carries up to six passengers, and the city of Venice sets the rates at about 80 euros for 40 minutes, tip not included. Additional 20-minute increments are 40 euros and up after 7p.m. Gondoliers are their own master, boosting the price with singing, or regarding the official rates as polite fiction. A concierge can negotiate for you, even seek out wheelchair accommodation, but may add further charges, and/or increasing the risk of miss-communication. Have in mind exactly what kind of ride you want, and where you want to go also well specified before you set foot in the boat.

Travel Prepared

Preparing for a trip to Italy is not for the faint of heart. Of course, you surmise: pack light, check passport, research your destination so you know what you are looking at when you get there, and confirm all reservations up one side and down the other. Are you fit? Travel requires that you handle stress and strenuous activity like walking and negotiating your routes on upturned cobblestones and around voluminous tourist crowds, especially children who are particularly noisy and never look where they are going. Taking age into account, I had physical therapy because of knee inflammation and then went to the gym for months before the trip. But I never, ever, took into account The Stairs.

There are truly magnificent staircases in the museums (elevators are few, hidden or non existent due to the age of buildings). Such as the age of my hotels’ buildings: 6 flights in the one I moved out of and two long and narrow flights in the one behind Santo Spirito church. The exit signs in the Ducale Palace were turned around and getting lost means many times crossing the Bridge of Sighs and climbing up and down the monumental staircases.

There are 448 bridges in Venice, all with stairs going up and going down the other side.

Bridge+Canal_0317bridgeEmpty:waterBest_0453canalBridge_0425

There are no wheeled transports in Venice, so you are on your feet all day. Going back to your room might mean climbing more stairs. Maybe that’s why the outdoor and indoor cafes are so crowded!

What About the Food, everyone asks

Have you ever heard anyone not rave about the food in Italy? Rare, indeed. My last trip had the bonus points plugged in. Norma’s hometown was in the Veneto, along with relatives and friends that coming out of every door. Then, too, because it was a Sister City visit to Crespano del Grappa near Mt. Grappa, the Military Corps of the Alps, “the Alpini”, saw to it our celebratory evening was filled with delectables of every sort.

But one of the most memorable dinners was in Lucca, with my cousin Roberto and family. He refused my invitation but did allow me to participate in a sumptuous meal featuring Branzini. The local supermarket had a never-ending case of this sea bass and other fish of every description. Seafood is so prevalent throughout Italy and its freshness makes for a delicious selection on any menu. Roberto stuffed the fish and baked it in the oven, deftly removing its skeleton. To accompany this prize entree, there was Betty’s pasta con pesto, Christina’s special green peas, a remarkable Insalata fresca and strawberries for dessert lovingly cut by Francesca. It was a wonderful family dinner memory.