Musings on America – my 4th of July Tradition

As a kid who had parents who’d shlep my brother and I all across the country every summer break, I have been lucky to celebrate the 4th of July in some pretty spectacular settings. I think the most memorable being a Civil War reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg, just a few miles away from where the battle took place. Fireworks and fake cannon fire really added to the drama and drove home the true meaning of this holiday and what this celebration is really all about.

That summer was our Revolutionary and Civil War-themed summer trip. We drove across the country from California to the East Coast to visit some of the most famous battlefields of each respective war. I was only 7 at the time but I still have very vivid memories of the places we visited; Manassas, Yorktown, Antietam, and the Appomattox Courthouse just to name the ones I can remember. But it was Gettysburg, where we spent the most time, that had the biggest effect on me at that summer and still does today.

I had an extremely active imagination as a child, so when we’d be walking or driving around the battlefield, my mom or dad reading from the National Park brochure, my brain was doing its best to conjure up the whole scene right in front of me. Trying to picture the armies of blue and grey marching across cornfields and fruit orchards, scrambling up hillsides and through creeks. My young brain trying to wrap itself around the fact that 23,049 people died here in three days. The significance of that battle, and the war itself and how it shaped the country I lived in. It’s not an easy task at that age, especially because I didn’t have a ton of background (I distinctly remember tackling American history the next school year as I was the annoying girl in class who would constantly call out ‘I’ve been there’ with all of my classmates rolling their eyes).

Out of all the places we saw at Gettysburg, there was one particular place that truly felt hallowed, and I can still recall the way I felt when we were there; Devil’s Den. Maybe it was hearing that the small stream that ran through it turned red for awhile during the fighting or maybe it was the eeriness of the rock outcrop that was a contrast to the gentle hills and forrest around it, but I still remember walking around in that space and feeling a sensation I’ve really only felt a few other places in my life. I believe there are places on this earth that are truly haunted by the events that took place in the past.


My brother and I at Gettysburg (yes, I am wearing a Confederate hat…had to get the opposite of my brother…I was 7 after all…).

Walking through old battlefields, touching wagon wheel ruts from settlers’ wagons (yea, we did an Oregon Trail-themed trip the next year), scampering though the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde as well as many other experiences all over the country cultivated a truer understanding my identity as an American and connected me even more to this land and the people who lived and explored here before me.


I recognize the beautiful and ugly facets of my country’s past and I always want to believe that, as a collective whole, we are continuously working together to strive to make this country the best it can be for all. I understand this sentiment is incredibly naive and probably the reason I don’t have the heart to keep up on the day-to-day news. I make sure I am informed and I vote always, but what is going on now, the extreme polarization and the ugliness towards one another because of our differences is honestly just hard for my heart to take on a daily basis. Not to mention the current issue with separating tiny children from their parents. This, plus the added perspective of having lived abroad for several years, I have had a pretty negative view on how I see ‘my country’ for awhile.

Thankfully, yesterday, I was able to remind myself that even though there are truly awful things going on, there is also a lot of beautiful things happening to.

We had friends visiting from Italy who happened to be in town for the Fourth. We met them in the Marina District in San Francisco and spent the day eating, talking and walking our way around the beautiful city. It is so fun to experience where you live through they eyes of people visiting for the first time. The wonderful things they said about norther California: its people, its scenery (even its food- an coming from Italians that is HUGE) really did make me proud be from here and call this place home. We still have a lot of work to do, but I appreciated the opportunity to be reminded of the fact that I am proud to be an American. I am so thankful of being able to have, along with my immigrant husband, started our lives over here, just 4 year ago and made a wonderful little life for our family. It was also my husband’s first Fourth as a U.S. Citizen so it was especially poignant to have this little love-fest with my corner of the country that day.


Enjoying the Fourth with our amici italiani

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Learning to breathe again

When life seems to be…dare I say…easy for the first time in about 8 years, it’s hard to know how to react.

The absence of anxiety, toxic stress or sadness that have been either consistent or reoccurring themes in my life for almost a decade has taken some getting used to. I was almost unsure of what to do with myself. My body was like, “where’s all the extra cortisol?!”  For all these years it felt like I had a very heavy load weighing on me and now it has finally lifted. I can stand up straight and fill my lungs and exhale in peace. It’s funny but I almost didn’t remember how that felt. I also didn’t know what to do with myself. Where to I channel my energy when it’s not focused on staying sane? What do I do when I don’t feel the need to pound a bottle of wine at the end of every workday?

In the last few months I’ve felt my head clear, my mind start to wander to thoughtful and creative spaces it used to often go what feels like a lifetime ago.

I realize putting this out into the universe is probably just asking for something to fall apart, but until that happens, I’m going to savor every second of this!


I’ve just spent time reading through old posts. I think it’s completely fitting that my last one was from the night before we left Italy.

In some ways it feels like that was just last week, in others it feels like much, much longer (a different life really). The last four years were challenging for many reasons. The obvious: hey, you’re 30, start your life over from absolutely zero, oh and the job you’ve been doing for the past 6 years doesn’t carry over here. While I was lucky to find a job right away and have been consistently employed since then, until a few months ago I found myself in environments where I would come home completely mentally drained most days. Then there is also emotional struggle of watching your partner deal with intense home-sickness, constantly questioning whether or not we’ve made the right decision, dealing with the feelings of guilt for all those we love who we left. Needless to say it all takes to toll on you.

Dall’ altro lato della montea (on the other side of the coin), this last chapter has also brought about the best thing that has ever happened to me: my son Matteo. I feel like I can just mic drop on life because of the fact that I (with the help of Fabio of course) made this kid. I know I am biased but he is truly the sweetest, most loving, intelligent and beautiful little human I’ve ever met. Life started making a turn for the better when we knew he would be joining us (we actually didn’t know it’d be him – waited until delivery for that one). Much to our delight his exposure to English, Italian and Spanish (via daycare) on a consistent bases hasn’t slowed down our little guy from expressing himself. Fabio and I are just can’t get enough of when he will say ‘car’ followed quickly by machina or dog quickly followed by cane. The first time I saw him practice answering the phone he said pronto! Life has provided me with many adventures, but being this guys’ mamma has been the best by far.


My Matty

That quote I mentioned in my last post; “nothing is permanent except change,” which I had on my bedroom wall as a kid (some teenage girls have posters of popstars, I had a poster of a volcano….) has kept resonating with me. After all of the heartache and sacrifice, life led me here: wife of a loving husband, mother of an amazing kid, working at a place I really enjoy and being lucky enough to have fantastic friends and family nearby to share it all with. Is my life perfect? Hell no. My kid, while amazing, can completely wear me out (that moment when you check your watch to see when bedtime is and it’s still 2 hours away). My husband, while wonderful, can drive me crazy. But that’s normal, right? I’ll take the day-to-day crazy. It’s the absence of those huge, lingering life challenges that has me feeling like I’m light as a feather and luckier than ever. It allows me to slough off the ‘hard’ days, when I am feeling quite outnumbered by my two Italians (Matteo definitely has his dad’s personality and energy) and actually embrace the chaos.

This is just what my head and my heart needed!

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Taking the Leap

For the last few weeks, I’ve been meaning to post several new entries but, seeing as I’m going through what is the most stressful/emotional change in my life so far, I’m cutting myself some slack.

Yes, moving here almost 6 years ago was incredibly difficult. But because I finished up my last quarter of college on December 17th and was on a plane to Italy on the 29th of January, it all seemed to happen pretty fast. Of course it was a very emotional/scary/sad time in my life, saying good-bye to friends and family. Some people thought I was nuts. Even though Fabio and I had been dating for over 3 years, accept for the first few months, we had never spent more than a few weeks at a time together. But I was pretty confident I was making the best decision of my life, and the last 6 years have come to prove that to be true, and I couldn’t be happier that I took that leap of faith and got on that plane.

To think that tomorrow I’ll be getting on a plane, taking another chance, moving back to the place I left those six (what feel like long) years ago is hard to fathom. Plus, this time I’ve got my Italian husband and dog in tow. Yes, it’s true, we’ve had this in the works for about 6 months now and we’ve been slowly preparing for this addio (good-bye) for the last month or so, still, the last few days have been incredibly difficult. The fact that my husband is pretty much the mascot for this little town we live makes this whole leap really hard, but it’s also a testament to who he is, not every one can easily fill a room of 50 people all of whom they can truly call friends. Plus, it’s very hard to leave his dad. Thankfully he’s been our number one cheerleader though all of this, offering unwavering support, without which it would be pretty much impossible to do what we’re doing. He’s a pretty special guy, that’s for sure.

People have assumed that I’m excited to return home, like I’ve been wanting this all along some how. What they don’t understand is that until a year ago I didn’t even consider it to be a possibility. I spent most of my time here assuming I was staying put. I knew, when I moved here and married my husband, that he never had real intentions of ever moving to the US. Therefore, I have come to call this place home. I have found amazing friends and completely fallen in love with this country and it’s people. The last few times I’ve come back to California to visit, I found myself ready to return to Italia by the end. I was ready to come home.

This is not to say I’m not looking forward to seeing my family and friends stateside. It’s now been 16+ months since I last came home for a visit. I have beautiful baby nephew that I’ve been dying to meet who’s sweet little face has been making me melt since the first picture. I’m also really lucky to have a wonderful network of people back home that  really love Fabio and are really excited to see us and help get us on our feet, especially my parents (they were always very supportive of me living in Italy, but, let’s face it, they’re also happy to have me back).


I’m sorry to leave what now become la mia italia, and the reason we’re leaving breaks my heart. This country is so full of beautiful things, places, and people that it doesn’t deserve to be in the situation it currently finds itself in. The hard-working Italians I know and love deserve so much more than what they’re facing (the fact that it’s becoming startlingly common not to get paid on time/consistently with no protection/repercussions for the employer is just once example). I know the US is not paradise (living abroad as an expat has a particular affect of how you view your country of birth), I’m very aware of it’s short comings but also what it can offer.

In the end, this move is coming from a desire, by my husband and I, to see if we can take charge of our future and not let our fate be dictated by a crippled labor/political system. We are coming back to work hard to build a more stable life, and being the one who is from the country of destination, I’ve naturally (it’s my personality) taken on the weight of having to find a good job and set up a decent life for us. I’m sure my husband will flourish and find his way easily (we wouldn’t have even considered this I didn’t truly believe that), but I am also not pretending it’s going to be a walk in the park. After countless conversations and sleepless nights, we’ve decided to give it a shot. We’re taking each other by the hand (with our cute little dog) and jumping together into the unknown. I’ve done it before and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Who knows, maybe it won’t be what we’re hoping. Maybe, we’ll flourish, or maybe after a while, we’ll realize that we liked our lives better here (in Italy). We’ve closed no doors in Tuscany, we’re renting our house and left all bank accounts open, so coming back is always a possibility.

All I know is I never imagined moving to Italy in the first place, and I never imagined I’d move back to California, so at this point I don’t have any assumptions of where we will end up! As it said on my Mt. St. Helens poster I had in my room as a kid, “nothing is permanent accept change” (little did I know HOW true that would be). So I’ve decided to let the fear and the ‘what ifs’ go and follow what my husband’s and my instincts tell us.

No matter what, I will always be connected to Italia (obviously, through my husband) but also just my personal connection to this place. Florence was the first place I lived outside of my parents’ house. It’s the city where I feel in love. Italy is the country that my post-college self has grown up in. I’ve learned the language and met the most amazing people here. It’s in my heart, forever, for good. I’m so grateful for all I’ve learned and all the experience it’s given me. I will always love this place, that is one thing, in these days of upheaval and uncertainty, that I am sure of. And I know I won’t be able to stay away for long.

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Ricette Italiane: Silvana’s Ragu

I’ve decided, it’s finally time to share my ragu recipe. For one, it’s getting cooler, fall is here and there’s nothing better than the smell of this stuff simmering away on the stove-top on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Secondly, it’s a great comfort food, and seeing as we are moving our whole lives across the world on November 13th, I’m in need of some. Thirdly, it’s my most cherished recipe and I’ve been meaning to share it for a long time.

Ragu says so much about Italy and Italians in general: each region has a different recipe and they all think theirs is the best.  Honestly, I’ve tried ragu recipes from Tuscany, Bologna (where, they say, the original comes from, called ragu alla bolognese) Lombardia, Le Marche and Puglia, and while I’ve enjoyed them all and appreciated their differences, nothing ever compared to mama’s.


I first ate Fabio’s mother’s ragu a few weeks into dating him, back in 2005. He brought some ragu to my apartment to cook for me, and it was love at first bite. I asked her for the recipe, which she happily shared with me, before I got on a plane back to America and I’ve been cooking it ever since. This was my staple in while studying at University of California Santa Cruz (go banana slugs)! As a broke college student (I spent all my extra cash on phone cards and plane tickets to keep my ‘crazy’ long-distance relationship going), this meal fed me though many a night. It’s been over 8 years since I started cooking it and while I have been complimented on it many times (it’s not me, it’s the recipe, I swear), it’s still not as good as she made it, but I’ll never stop aspiring to perfect this recipe that is very close to my heart for many reasons.

Because it needs to simmer for over three hours, and it’s quite inexpensive to make, I always suggest, like I did for college and still do now, making a ton and freezing the rest. It saves really well and it’s always a nice go-to on cold winter nights.

So now…with out further adieu…

Silvana’s Ragu recipe

Prep Time:    

        chopping/cooking – approx. 30-35 minutes (this is cut in half if you have a food processor)

simmer- at least 3 hours


this quantity serves 10-14  (depending how saucy you like your pasta!)

dairy-free, gluten-free



here are your ingredients! remember, if you add a little more/less of something (veggies, beef’s okay!)

1/2 pound /  1 kilo ground beef      *can be substituted by ground turkey meat

3 white onions

5 celery stalks

4 carrots

2000 grams of tomato sauce (about 5 15oz-cans)

4-6 cloves of garlic (most of the flavor get cooked out)

1 vegetable bullion cube *or gluten-free substitute

3-4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp red chili flakes/powder

3-4 tsp salt

Step one: chop the onions, celery and carrots into small cubes -how small is your preference, if you like chunky sauce, obviously leave them a little bigger    (you can also do this in a food processor to save time, I like to chop because it’s a stress reliever!)


aaand here’s your mirepoix all chopped up and ready for the pot!

Step two: pour the olive oil onto the bottom of a high-volume pot (it cooks down but you’ll need a substancial amount of room when you first put the sauce in) and turn the heat on medium. After a few seconds, add the cloves of garlic (no chopping necessary, just remove the skin by smashing). Let them simmer for about 60 seconds, this gives the oil a little hint of garlic.


let that garlic simmer a bit

Step Three: add the chopped celery, onion carrots and add a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions are transparent and the carrots start to become soft (about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently).


this is how the veggies should look before you add the meat

Step Four: once the veggies are cooked, you’re ready to add your ground beef, bullion cube (broken up), pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook until the beef in completely browned (about 5 minutes, stirring frequently).

Step Five: add your tomato sauce- just dump it all in there and stir well

Step Six: put a lid (with space for steam to escape) or screen on the top of the pot, move it to the smallest burner (otherwise, it may burn the bottom) and let simmer for at least 3 hours, stirring ever 10-15 minutes (I suggest cozying up on the couch with a good put/putting on a movie to pass the time, you won’t mind because by this time your kitchen will already smell amazing). The trick to know when it’s done is the fact that the olive oil will appear at the surface of the sauce. This is the time to add salt to taste, I usually add about 2 teaspoons.


and, after 3+ hours, the finished product (you can see the oil in small pools, but since I don’t add much, there’s not much to see)

boil your favorite pasta (mine is penne rigate- penne past with ridges since the sauce sticks to the sides and goes inside…yummy) and enjoy!

This post is in loving memory of my mama italiana, Silvana, who shared and always made this recipe with lots of love. I hope, by passing this recipe on, we can honor her and it can bring a little of mama’s love into your home.


in loving memory

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Naples, Approved

I apologize this post is so late, but the way things have been going, I’m thankful I have a moment even now to write about our successful trip to Naples.


Bella Napoli! This is the neighorhood, Chiaia, where we stayed, also where the US Consulate and is located (actually a block up on the left of the street coming towards us in the picture). Not too shabby!

As you may have read, the sole reason for this voyage south was to visit the American Consulate to proceed with the final step in hopes that Fabio could obtain a spousal green card. I had visited Naples briefly in 2005 during my study abroad session, but I used it more as a pit stop to go to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Fabio, on the other hand, had never been before, so we were excited to have opportunity to get to know the city a little more as a bonus during our ‘visa adventure.’

Naples gets a bad wrap up here in northern Italy. This is usually due to the fact that there are some major cultural differences in general between ‘the north’ and ‘the south’ (generally drawing the line laterally at Rome). There’s a great movie that addresses these differences perfectly: Benvenuti al Sud (a really great, fun flick I’d highly recommend to anyone interesting in ‘the boot!’)  Fabio lived this cultural divide first-hand while working for a company from Nocera (near Naples). To be honest he couldn’t really even understand his co-workers when they spoke between eachother for the first few months, the dialect changes that much! Another difference is the dominant presence of the mafia, with each area having a different ‘clan.’ The one in and around Naples is called the Cammora. There’s also a lot of ‘taking advantage of the system,’ i.e. they’ve busted many people who’ve claimed they were blind (in order to live off social assistance) driving cars or motorbikes around the city -just as an example.  As a visitor, I have been warned by many Italian friends to stai molto attenti (be very careful) when visiting this part of Italy. And while, yes there are some sketchy areas of Naples you should avoid, in general,  there many beautiful things about Naples and the South in general and it’d be a pity if it were avoided just based on it’s reputation alone. We met some of the friendliest, open and most helpful people I’ve ever met in all of Italy. The food and the sights are world-class and at the end of our visit we were both left wanting more.

We began our trip at Florence’s train station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, where I’ve started and concluded many a-journey. And while I loved Naples, I would never recommend driving there (at least in the city), so we took the train. Italy’s principal train company is TrenItalia, and while they offer the most complete train service, the prices, especially for their high-speed trains, have gotten quite pricey. A few years ago a new company, owned by Luca Montezemolo(chairman of Ferrari), offered a high-speed alternative called Italo. Seeing that, 3 weeks in advance, a one-way ticket to Naples on TreinItalia cost 68 euro, the same trip on Italo cost only 28, the choice wasn’t too hard. Thankfully lower cost did not equate to lower quality as we had a great trip. Not only was it 20 minutes faster in respect to it’s competitor, the train was brand-new and offered free wi-fi during the entire trip (2 hours and 40 minutes from station to station).


high speed travel via Italo


not a bad way to travel! The display above the doorway behind Fabio would give you the outside temp as well as the speed the train was traveling (we got to 300km/hour)!

Upon our arrival to Napoli Centrale, we hired a cab to get us to our B&B. I’m used to the driving style in Italy’s cities (I like to call it fluid madness), but Naples was on another level. Thankfully I know that these guys are at home, they know what their doing, so I was pretty relaxed while careening through the streets. Never mind that we narrowly avoided 5 collisions or almost side-swiped several cars, I knew to just kick back and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it was. It had rained the day before so the air was nice, fresh and clean. Vesuvius was looming in the foreground and the whole city was aglow in that special afternoon-mediterranean light that I love so much. We wound our way around the city, Fabio and the cab driver chatting in up along the way, and within 20 minutes we were in front of our place.

I chose B&B Mergellina because of it’s location to the Consulate (5 minutes on foot) as well as the cost. Where other hotels offered rooms from 70 euro and up, this place offered a studio/loft with kitchen for 60 euro a night. It was a great decision, as Ciro, the manager, was there to meet us at the door and couldn’t have been nicer. The apartments are located on the 4th floor (Italian, 5th floor US) so my glutes got a nice little work out during our stay. Ciro showed us around and stayed for a bit and chatted. By the time he had walked out the door he’d already told of a great place to eat close by and offered to drive us to our doctor’s appointment the next day.


walking to dinner, Chiaia, Napoli

Chiaia is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Naples, and it’s not hard to see why. Colorful houses and a long boardwalk extending all the way down to the center of the city offers sweeping views of the Bay of Naples which includes Vesuvius, Sorrento and the Island of Capri. People walk/run along it during all times of day and a large part is closed to traffic, making a stroll along the water completely relaxing. We headed up to Antonio e Antonio (as recommended by Ciro) for some traditional Napoletano food. We sat outside on the waterfront, enjoying the amazing atmosphere. Fabio ordered an antipasto of guazzetto di mare, an amazing plate of calamari, mussles, clams, octopus in a tomato sauce with crunchy bread underneath that soaks up all the goodness. IT. WAS. HEAVEN. I could have stopped there seeing as one portion (18 euro) was more than enough for the both of us. But, of course, we had to have some pizza (invented right here in Naples). I ordered one with frirelli, a broccoli rab dish particular in Naples. Honestly, we were both so full we couldn’t finish ours, but it was delicious none the less.


guazzetto di mare…buonissimo!!

We headed back to our place early, seeing as we had to be at the clinic for Fabio’s exam at 8am the next day.

Ciro was right on time and took us to the clinic where all green card applicants must undergo the day before their interview. Nothing crazy, just a check x-ray and a physical. The Varelli Clinic was an impressive place. Everyone was very professional and nice. The doctor who performs the physicals was late that day and a very nice woman came every 10 minutes to assure us that he was on his way.

In the afternoon we headed to the Consulate to get Fabio fingerprinted and were told to be there again at 7:30 the following morning for our interview. Seeing as it was 2:30 and I was not about to sit in our apartment all day with all the nervous energy we had going on, I proposed…let’s walk! And walk we did! We ended up walking from Consulate, along the waterfront, to the very impressive Port of Naples, into the center to the beautiful and ancient Piazza del Plebiscito and back again. All in all we moseyed about for 6 hours, enjoying every minute of it. It was a beautiful day and the view was spectacular. Plus, it was a great way to de-stress and insure we’d get a good night’s sleep the night before the interview!


walking towards the center of town after leaving the Consulate


can’t beat that view!


the iconic Castel Nuovo


Galleria Umberto I

We arrived at the Consulate at 7:15 the next morning and walked out with our confirmation at 9:30! Everything went very smoothly and Fabio did great. They asked him a few simple questions (in English). He was understandably nervous but did really well. The staff there were all very friendly and made the whole experience a pleasant one.

With all that hard work finally paying off, we decided to take advantage of our last day by heading to Pompeii. Even though I had visited previously, Fabio had never been and who can pass up a visit to one of the most spectacular sites the world has to offer?!


enjoying the wonders of Pompeii


remembered this from 8 years ago…and I’ll definitely never forget it



marveling at the mosaics still intact in the floor




vineyards of Pompeii with Vesuvius in the clouds

All-in-all it was a great trip that only left us wanting to spend more time exploring. We will be back to visit, who knows when, but I’m sure we will!


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It’s still a green light for our green card interview!

With all the stress we’ve been through getting everything in line for Fabio’s visa and moving etc., the last thing my nerves needed was to worry about the shutting down of the US government. It was bad enough that Italy narrowly escaped a total collapse of its own, but to think about being let down right when I really needed my government to come through and that everything could come to a screeching halt due to this new round of political stonewalling was very disheartening. We had come so far! Plus, we’ve already booked non-refundable train tickets and reserved a little flat in Naples, not to mention the fact that we’re moving out at the end of the month! We’ve timed everything perfectly, it was the last thing we needed.


Thankfully, because immigration services is a money-making entity (we’re going to be out over $700 just in fees, which is totally fine but definitely a nice little chunk of change), it’s not affected by this government shut down. I even got a nice little email confirmation sent to me from the office themselves, reassuring me that everything was still on track. Thank you America! Our politicians may be nuts but at least our bureaucratic system works!


My nerves have calmed a little in the past few weeks as things seem to be falling into place. Also, my husband is more determined than ever to get this adventure going. I think just the fact that, after over 3 years, we have something concrete in the future to work towards is a huge game-changer and really keeps him motivated. He finished up at his last place of work a few weeks ago, and normally my sweet, agitato (energetic) husband would be bouncing off the walls or beginning to feel down-in-the-dumps right about now, but this time he’s got his chin up and is really pumped for this new adventure.

I honestly think I’m have a harder go of it at the moment, as strange as that sounds. I’m very stressed with all of the things that we have to do before we go, and until we get the okay from Naples (which we’ll be looking to get this Wednesday) I feel like we can’t move forward. I’m sure things will move into a different gear once we know when we can leave and then we can finally book flights and make final arrangements. We also have to pack up our little apartment, the place that we designed together, our ‘newlywed nest,’ which is a bit emotional. Thankfully we are renting it out to a lovely couple, so I know it will still be ours and be very well taken care of (I mean, I keep a clean house, but it’s not Italian clean). But obviously it pulls a little on my heart-strings to think about handing the keys over to someone else.

The determination from Fabio and the positive, unyielding support form his father (without which would render this whole thing almost impossible) is what is lifting me up more than anything, and it really confirms we’re on the right tract. We’re not at the end of the road yet, but I don’t think we’ve got to wait much longer.


let’s hope we’ll get the news we’re wanting at this ancient city next week (and maybe we’ll take a trip over to Pompeii if we’re lucky)! -photo taken from the US Consulate in Naples, where we’re headed next week

Whoever happens to read this between now and next Wednesday, October 9th, if you could please send good thoughts our way: that our interview will go smoothly and we’ll return from Naples with what we were looking for, I’d appreciate it more than I can say!

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“The mountains are calling and I must go”

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

-John Muir

so thankful for the way I was raised...where scampering about all of the amazing, beautiful places in the West. (pictured: Valley of Fire, Nevada)

so thankful for my childhood…scampering about all of the amazing, beautiful places the West has to offer. (pictured: Valley of Fire, Nevada)

Raised as a hiker, I know exactly what that wise Scot was talking about. And while, ideally, I’d be scampering across the Sierra Nevada batholith, anywhere Navajo Sandstone is exposed or being in front of the Pacific watching the waves roll in (they are borad areas but those are my happy places), anytime I can retreat into nature, it’s a welcome relief from everything else that may be going on at that moment in my life. For me it’s like running into a church and declaring “saaaanturarrry!” It’s an automatic release, and my stress level usually drops off the chart. I never feel more spiritually connected or at peace than when I’ve got nothing but rocks and/or water surrounding me. Thankfully, my husband shares the same enthusiasm and the same pull from natura. Actually, that was always a requirement for me when choosing the person I’d spend the rest of my life with: he had to be outdoorsy.

Fabio, sitting on a glacial erratic,  looking out at Yosemite Valley near TIoga road

Fabio, sitting on a glacial erratic, looking out at Yosemite Valley near Tioga road

When we first met in February of 2005, I was living in Florence, and while we did do some road tripping up the coast to Liguria, we didn’t ever get the opportunity to go camping. So when he came to visit me that summer in California, I had to make sure this guy wasn’t afraid to sleep on the ground or get dirty (not that there is anything wrong with you if you are, but when we’re talking compatibility as a life partner, this is key for me). So I decided to take him camping, but not just any camping, dry camping (aka no running water/electricity available). I love dry camping because a) it usually scares off most people so normally you have most of the place to yourself b) it’s not so hard as long as you’ve got the right equipment c) nothing is more annoying than laying out at night an not being able to see the stars because the campground is lit up like a 80 year-old’s birthday cake (as seems to be the trend on this continent).  So this was his test, was this Italian boy going to be able to hang with hauling water and using a pit toilet?!  To my extreme joy, within no more than 5 minutes after pulling into Convict Flat campground, a beautiful spot in Kings Canyon National Park, he was shoeless and shirtless running around like a wild man picking up dried, felled wood for a fire. I was like “oookaaaay….this is gonna work!”

Convict Flat campground, the place where I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a crazy, wild, bare-foot Italian.

Convict Flat campground, the place where I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a crazy, wild, bare-footed Italian.

He didn’t put his shoes back on for 3 days! He even surpassed all expectations by actually swimming in Roaring River Falls, a healthy stream of glacial melt that cascades into a natural pool. It’s so cold that your body usually goes completely numb within a minute, and while I’m a girl who’d always have to swim in any body of water I happen to be by no matter what (the Pacific in winter, Mono Lake etc. I’m not picky) I know most people aren’t as weird as me. This was a match made in heaven.


Our little family, comprised of  my husband, myself and our 4 year old dog, have been/are going through a lot over the past few years, the most life-shattering being  the unexpected passing of his mother a little over a year ago. Anyone who’s lost a parent, especially someone as loving as his mother, knows it’s something you never really get over, and things actually get harder a year out. Combine that with leaving our home to start a life over on the other side of the world and it can all get a bit overwhelming, and a sanctuary is needed.

With all this going on, it wasn’t a surprise that one day last week we had to answer that call that is piu forte di noi (stronger than us), the mountains were calling.

our trail dog

our trail dog

the beauty of the Apennine mountains

the beauty of the Apennine mountains

We were hoping to come across some porcini mushrooms while we were up here, but it’s still a bit too early yet. But a day spent here is never wasted. We came back recharged.

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World-Class Cycling Just Outside My Door

It’s not everyday that you have some of the world’s best athletes passing literally RIGHT in front of your house.

UCI Road World Championships come to Tuscany

UCI Road World Championships come to Tuscany

It’s almost time for the first test race to start from Pistoia, and when they do they’ll be heading directly down via Statale, the road that connects Pistoia with Florence which happens to be the one I live on.

This is a huge even for Tuscany and preparations have been in the works for months, with one of the biggest benefits (albiet quite annoying in the few days they were doing road work) is our nice, pristine streets.

Via Statale is no stranger to cycling races. We usually get 5 or 6 a year running along it.

Via Statale is no stranger to cycling races. We usually get 5 or 6 a year running along

Of course, the thousands of yellow signs alerting of the road closures that will be in effect for the next week has a lot of people groaning. I’ve even heard that people are calling off work for  a week because it will be impossible for them to get there. But, while I’m not incredibly passionate for the sport, I’m really excited that such a huge event will be take place right here! I also like the fact that it’s bringing in some extra money for local businesses, which is more welcome than ever right now.

Just down the road there’s a little cycling village set up with tents from local vendors and a few restaurants to celebrate the event coming to Seano. And while the whole parking my car a long distance from the house and the road closures are a bit annoying, I’m just going to sit back, relax on my balcony and cheer on Italia and USA with a glass of wine in hand!

Here’s the promotional video for the event:

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What I’ve learned from Italy: Eating Local

One of the things I  admire most about Italians is how connected they are to their land. It’s a benefit of living in the same area for thousands of years. They’ve become intimately familiar with of the flora and fauna of their area and reap the benefits, which is what makes Italian food so special. Every area has its own signature piatti (dishes) and they’re very prudent about eating products that are connected to the area they find themselves (and the fact that my father-in-law has been preaching about this to me ever since I set foot here has had it’s impact). For example, in the mountains you’d expect to eat mushrooms and wild game while along the seaside it’s unthinkable to eat anything but seafood. I can still remember when, in Las Vegas, Fabio and two of his Italian friends  were honestly horrified by seeing a plate of seafood advertized on a poster for an Italian restaurant (to add insult to their injury, it was a Tuscan restaurant). Si manga pesce qui?! (They eat fish out here?!) Until that moment I had never even thought about the fact that eating seafood in the middle of the desert was kinda weird. I know, especially with Las Vegas, there are planes full of fresh products arriving in that arid land every day to feed the demand of the five-star restaurants etc, but it did make me pause and think.

I believe The United States has reached the maximum-limit on it’s convient/packaged/processed food culture, and the pendulum, even if ever-so-slightly, is slowly starting to swing the other way. I know I’ve been living over here for roughly the past 6 years, but just reading this article, titled Childhood Obesity Leveling Off? New Study Suggest Kids Engaging in Healthier Behavior, ” (link below) published yesterday,  gives me hope. Hearing about the crazy/obsessive foodies is actually encouraging. The way I see it, a food snob is the best kind of snob, because what better thing to be picky about than what goes into your body? (for a laugh…check out this Portlandia clip…

we all know it's 'as American as apple pie' but apples don't grow in all 50 states!

we all know it’s ‘as American as apple pie’ but apples don’t grow in all 50 states

When you think about it, it makes sense that as Americans, we’d be more apt to stray from what people in Italy would call ‘normal food’ (aka simple, local, fresh). We’re a nation that expanded so rapidly and moves around so often we often have little/no connection to the tradition and agriculture of the area we live. Obviously there are exceptions, the Creole cuisine of the south really stands out, and local bar-be-que recipes (including my hometown’s Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip) are always popular. But as a whole, we seem to be a bit homogenized in terms of our diet.

This is a stark contrast to Italy, where the recipe for ragu changes every 50 miles and often eating in another region is like eating in another country. You rarely find the same things on the menu in Tuscany that you would in, say, Lazio (the region of Rome).  Italy also has a huge advantage on the US: Italy, is about the size of California (although a little smaller) and is blessed with a climate that allows for a bounty of fruits and vegetables to be grown all year. It’s also pretty much completely surrounded by the Mediterranean, so a beach, in general, is never more than 2 hours away which means a lot of fresh fish. And there’s the one, shining star of the Mediterranean diet that we’re slowly catching on to but don’t have a lot of people producing locally: olive oil. In Italy this stuff is liquid gold. It’s life! It’s the most important element in their diet. In fact, since I’ve step up shop here, I’ve only used butter for baked goods and I haven’t missed it a bit. It’s a direct substitution here, and the benefits of consuming raw olive oil are endless.

taken during a visit to our local 'frantoio' (olive press) yes, fresh oil oil is green and you can't get much fresher than this!

taken during a visit to our local ‘frantoio’ (olive press) yes, fresh oil oil is green and you can’t get much fresher than this!

The reason I’ve been so taken by this culinary practice is, along with the health of our citizens, it also has a link to the health of our planet. The carbon impact of shipping food from one part of the country (or world) to the other is astounding. And while there is generally more carbon output associated with the production of the produce, I think, with awareness and correct labeling, the US can easily help reduce this impact and help take that carbon impact down. When we’re in a moment in time where every bit helps, and no act is too small.

I do realize that, growing up in California, this is much easier than, say, growing up in Wisconsin, when in the winter, there aren’t may fresh-food options. Obviously there are acceptions to be made. But investing and promoting local products helps your community and gives everyone a sense of pride to where they come from. When I was a kid I always went to the local Strawberry festivals, both in Arroyo Grande and Santa Maria. These are similar in style to the Italian sagra (food festival) that highlight local specialities. Events in both countries rely and are made up of community participation and pride, which you can never have enough of.

In Italy, there’s also the rule of mangiare con le stagioni (eating with the seasons) that is strictly adhered to, as I mention in my Ricette Italiane: Panzanella post. The idea of eating fresh tomatoes in January is considered absurd for most, because tomatoes don’t grow here in January, so they’re exported and therefore not acceptable  (to be honest Italians think their tomatoes are the best, so it’s also a pride thing). Of course, in these days, there is always food available out of season, but where everything comes from is clearly labeled so, as a consumer, you can make an informed choice.

a photo of the apples on display at my local store, Nuova Zealandia = New Zealand = no bueno for me

a photo of the apples on display at my local store, Nuova Zealandia = New Zealand = no bueno for me

For me it’s all connected. When you eat something grown locally, you not only get the benefit of knowing where it came from, you also feel more connected to where you live, and you’re also doing mother nature a solid. It’s a win-win-win!

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What I love about Italy: wild mushroom hunting

Just around the beginning of September (or more specifically, after the first soaking rain at the end of the summer) there’s a tangible excitement in the air. Old men poke their heads out to observe the sky and note the wind, they  gather in bars and talk amongst each other in hushed voices. They know the fungi (fhun-gee, mushrooms) are on their way. My Fabio is one of them.

love (or should I say spores) are in the air! It's fungi season!

love (or should I say spores) are in the air! It’s fungi season!

My husband’s family have always been big mushroom lovers. It’s a tradition passed down from generation to generation (his grandmother was especially adept at finding them), as are the closely-held, secret locations where they go to forage.  These locations are so highly protected that, say, you brought a friend along one year to your ‘spot’ to go foraging together: if you learn that said friend returned to your spot without bringing you along, it’s considered the ultimate betrayal and the friendship might be over. This is especially true with the coveted porcini mushroom, where, as my father-in-law once put it “going back to someone else’s spot without him is like sleeping with his wife.” So yea, you get the idea!

Along with the location, the knowledge of where and when to find different varieties is also passed down carefully from father to son (or in my case, to the American daughter-in-law). I don’t pretend to know a lot. Honestly, in the beginning I was a bit scared about the whole ordeal. One of the first books I remember reading over and over again was Babar the Elephant. Remember him? The cute little elephant whose dad died eating wild mushrooms?!

you can see why I'd be a bit weary about the whole thing...

you can see why I’d be a bit weary about the whole thing…

But, thankfully, close attention is always paid when identifying mushrooms, and a skilled hunter knows all varieties, the edible and the poisonous.

When harvesting, there are some rules to be followed. You must gather your mushrooms in a wicker basket, that way the spaces in the bottom allow spores to fall out, thus ‘spreading their seed’ around so you’ll have more to hunt next year. Second, you must cut the mushroom towards the base of the stem with a pairing knife, leaving the root the mushroom intact allowing it to produce more in the future. These old secrets are beautiful in that they are made so there is a harmony with nature. Man takes, but he also makes sure to leave a little for next year. This approach to food, as well as the symbiotic way of thinking in relation to nature is so incredibly important but, unfortunately, for most of us in the U.S. is completely foreign.

Fabio and his dad, my mushroom guys

Fabio and his dad, my mushroom guys

This last weekend, we went in search of pinaroli. These are orange-ish mushrooms with a thin stem and a wide-brownish-orange cap that tend to grow under pine trees. It’s a bit too early for porcini, which grow under the prized chestnut tree, but give us a few more days of rain followed by a few sunny days and we may be in business.

We headed up to the Appennine mountains, above Pistoia, to our traditional hunting grounds. Along the way we passed many a-car on the side of the road, a tell-tale sign of the season. Also, you see many man (usually aged 60+ wearing camouflage hanging outside of mountain bars). Fabio, being the crafty one that he is, sometimes goes into those bars and orders a coffee just to eavesdrop of their conversation to find out what kinds of mushrooms they’re finding. He’s resorted to espionage he’s so crazy about it!

not a bad place to spend a Saturday morning

not a bad place to be on a Saturday morning

I usually don’t participate in the actual picking, I kinda like tromping around looking for them and then letting Fabio know where they are. We always take our dog with us so she can get to romp in the fresh, mountain air and we all have a pretty great time. Since we generally start in the early morning, by lunch we’re readying to come back down the mountain and enjoy the fruits of our labour.

We typically eat them as a sauce for pasta or grilled with olive oil, garlic and parsley. There are many different types of sauces you can prepare, but my favorite is with rosemary, garlic, and some white wine (I’ll post the recipe the next time we make it, preferably with porcini).

I have to say, because these guys are wild, the effect on the digestive system can be…shall we say… explosive. Especially the first taste of the season, so I usually have to kinda go easy on them.

Obviously, I can’t recommend anyone going out there and trying this themselves without any experience because that can be really dangerous. As I mentioned before, careful attention must be paid, as some poisonous varieties are very similar in appearance to those that are edible. I remember seeing a story on the local news last year about a family who had somehow come across some bad batch and everyone but the youngest boy, who didn’t like mushrooms, tragically died.

This highlights the importance of the wisdom passed down from the old-timers. They know the land more intimately than anyone, and if the information they have dies with them, then this culture that we know and love will slowly fade as well. And I have to say, I didn’t see anyone out last Saturday, with the acception of Fabio and myself, who were under 50 (and I was definitely the only girl).

Word on the street is that there are porcini varieties to be found in California, and while I’m sure their locations are as secretly guarded as they are here in Italy, I’m determined to give my mushroom-crazy husband the opportunity to do what he loves in his new home.

not too shabby for the first trip of the season (mostly pinaroli with a few pratolini, the white ones, picked near our house)

not too shabby for the first trip of the season (mostly pinaroli with a few pratolini, the white ones, picked near our house)

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