Archive for the ‘Tuscany’ Category

Spring in Italy

March 25, 2010

Spring, Springing Over the Arno

Finally, Finally.

After an exceptionally long and cold winter spring has finally arrived in Tuscany.  The sun was shining nearly all day today, the sheets dried on the line in just a few hours and gloves and a scarf were wonderfully unnecessary during daylight hours.

Another American expat living in Tuscany, Judy Witts, posted a great artichoke recipe to take advantage of the abundance of artichokes at all of our local markets right now.  The strawberries are already tasting absolutely fantastic and I can not wait for the explosion of produce that is already beginning to reach its apex.

Despite the winter wonderland type weather we experienced this year, Florence being covered in snow just before Christmas is definitely NOT typical of the weather patterns here, I am quite glad that I will be seeing no more snow and hopefully no more sub-freezing nights.  Spring in Tuscany is beautiful and I promise to spend a day taking photos to share with everyone just how beautiful it is.

A Taste of Tuscany

March 3, 2010

Tuscan Food Festival at its Tastiest

For all lovers of real Tuscan food, Slow Food, artisanal food, essentially all things yummy and delicious, there is another event coming up that you will either completely enjoy or be completely jealous of me for attending.

The weekend of 13-15 March, Taste will be held in Stazione Leopolda.  This is more than just a simple walk around and nibble tasty examples of what local producers have to offer.  Instead, there are actually lectures and speakers whose love of food and intensity in speaking about it can inspire even the most staunch consumer of mediocre cuisine to aspire to culinary mastery.

There are, of course, a huge variety of incredible foods available for purchase.  For those who will, by chance, be in Florence that weekend, these make fabulous gifts to bring back with you…if you are able to hold off on eating them yourself.

Everything from olive oils to cured meats to wine to chocolate is available, as is a wealth of information on a bevy of products and production methods.

For those who must live vicariously through Florentine residents, I will be posting notes and photos after the event.  Maybe they will inspire you to either move to Italy or at least take a well-deserved trip to travel Tuscany next year.

Chocolate in Italy: Pure Heaven

February 6, 2010

I have just returned from the Fiera del Cioccolato in Florence’s Piazza Santa Croce.

Do you like chocolate?  Do you LOVE chocolate?  Then this event and similar events that occur in different regions of Italy are the place for you.

Nuggets of Joy

My hands down favorite of the festival was Chic & Shock .  Of everything they offered…and believe me, the selection was extensive…my favorites are pictured above.  For a business that is only 16 years old…a blip on the radar in Italian terms…the quality and beauty of their artisanal chocolate is amazing.  In addition to the bars of chocolate, which were phenomenal, I took home “frutto di bosco,” “cannella” “rosa” and “amarena.”  The process for these little gems takes three days because different components must set before the next can be added.  So, combine intense flavor with artistry that creates a miniature log of white and dark chocolate filled with berry infused fondente and topped with a little chocolate ladybug for 1€ and you can understand why I fell in love.

Truffles Galore

My second favorite was Di Maria, who unfortunately have email, but do not have a website yet. The truffles where classic example of what chocolate should be.  My favorite was actually the coconut and white chocolate, which is absolutely flabbergasting to me because I always prefer dark chocolate.  The milk chocolate filled with Grand Marnier was also outstanding and how they managed to create lighter chocolates that I fell in love with amazes me.

Chocolate Equipment

The final standout to me was Dolci Express.  The quality of the chocolate was high…and I loved the heart shaped chocolate suckers.  The thing that really made me fall in love was the “Chocolate Equipment.”  The photo does not do the pieces justice, but these would be an ideal gift for a man’s man chocolate lover for Valentine’s Day.  They have crafted all sorts of tools and objects from chocolate…little boys went crazy for these and I think grown up boys would too.

Any time you are in Italy there is likely a chocolate festival going on somewhere nearby.  They are not always easy to find online…so I will be compiling a list of all that I can find…stay tuned.

So, You Want to Live in Italy?

November 27, 2009

Ah, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.  Does the idea of chucking it all and moving to Italy intrigue you?  Many friends and acquaintances have expressed envy or horror in equal doses when discussing what I have done.  What is it really like to do it and how close is the reality to the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun?”

Um, well…no one ever seems to remember the pitfalls Diane Lane encountered in the film.  I was well versed enough (thanks to the input of a number of friends who had lived here previously) that I traveled here four times before and took a lot of time planning what I needed to do.  The romantic vision of Tuscany is accurate in the scenery and the food, wine and fashion.  But books such as “Too Much Tuscan Sun” and “The New Italians” give a realistic balance to the view that all is rosy and perfect in Tuscany.

What are some of the positives and negatives involved in relocating to a new country, learning a new language and embracing a new lifestyle?  It is definitely not something for someone who is not self-reliant and extremely patient.  Unfortunately, I have self-reliance in abundance but patience is a virtue I have never acquired.  Considering I have a “permanent partial disability” that has put some serious limits on my physical capabilities you would think I would have become more patient…but ADD overrides even ruptured spinal disks.  I want to live in Italy and I want to do it NOW.

So, positives:

* Tuscany really is that beautiful.  Those lush green hills of picture postcard fame are actually like that.  There is no great photographer needed.

* Food and wine are fantastic here.  The quality versus price of virtually all imbibable substances is astounding.

* Art in Florence is to bumper stickers in LA.

* Architecture is stunning here.  A hotel in Florence, a villa in the surrounding hills, a convent or a restaurant near the Mediterranean are all gorgeous.

* A more natural style and pace of life are the norm here.  Legislation caps the workweek at a 66 hour max, but typical is 35 to 40 unless you own your own business and six weeks of vacation is standard.

* The sense of history is stunning…especially to someone who was born and raised in areas where the only buildings more than 100 years old were the Spanish Missions.

Some negatives:

* Bureaucracy here is unbelievable.  Visas, banking, contracts, notarizations etc. are a nightmare and the chances of this changing=snowball in Dante’s Inferno.

* Expenses are high.  The almighty dollar is not.  The exchange rate, coupled with the terminally high expenses that are typical for Florence specifically and Italy in general, make for an unhappy face when looking at bank statements.

* The acceptance of American and other foreign women here is not universal by any means.  Many, but not all, Italian women view foreigners as competition and many men, but not all, have ulterior motives.

Things I love:

* No one looks askance at you when you have a glass of wine at lunch

* I can smoke a cigarette after dinner at my outdoor table and without being told that I am polluting myself and everyone around me.

* I can roll my Rs.

* The speaking with my hands that was so strange in California is normal here.

* I can and do walk virtually everywhere

So how close is the reality to the movie?  The residual superstitiousness was accurate.  The thunderstorm was accurate.  The ease of buying a house versus a vehicle was accurate.  Uncured/unbrined olives really will make your face do that.  What they didn’t show: visas, codice fiscale, permisso di soggiorno, transportation strikes and a six week wait for an internet connection.

But as Miss Carol Flores would say, “It had to be [great]…I mean heck…SHE’S IN ITALY FOR CHRIST SAKE!! 😛 😀 Heehee…

Verdant Vernal Equinox

March 28, 2009

Sorry about the title, I couldn’t resist because it was so apropos.  On the first day of spring I took the train across Tuscany.  I boarded in Florence, my adopted home and laid claim to my window seat to soak up the scenery.

I have taken the train across Tuscany many times, and it hasn’t gotten old yet and I hope it never does.  Many who grew up here take the tranquil beauty of the landscape in stride, but for someone who grew up where tract houses, smog and annual fires were the landscape it is difficult to imagine having this as a backdrop for daily life.  Where I grew up an “old” house was one built before WWII, and here almost everything was built before then.

The last vestiges of the winter snows were still clinging to the caps of the mountains in the background, and the famous Tuscan hills were carpeted in green.  The sky here honestly seems to be a different blue and sets off the clouds with a backdrop that is truly picture postcard perfect.  The Carrera mountains that yield the coveted marble came into view as the train neared the shore of the Mediterranean and at Viareggio the train came to a final stop.