Tag Archives: Italy

Food: Italian Style

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First of all, thank you all SO much for your incredible feedback. I really appreciate you sharing what subject matter you like (and don’t), and honestly, I was so touched that many of you said you liked my voice regardless of the subject matter. Feedback received: and I will continue my Faces of ALI project for sure.

So, onto another random tangent then? 😉 This time, FOOD. Specifically, the food of Italy. Why is it SO GOOD there? Is it possible to replicate it here?

I am very lucky because Darcy has some rock star foodie friends. I’m not allowed to tell you who they are (Chinese walls and all that) but I AM allowed to share their fantastic recommendations for your next trip to Rome. Or, your virtual trip.

We got a lot of advice on Roman food before we left. The necessities to try (antipasti, spaghetti carbonara, gelato, cream puffs and the unique pizza made with potatoes) and most hilariously from one of Darcy’s contacts: tourist trap places to AVOID. When I was napping off jet lag, Darcy got some gelato and it was subpar. I said: “Did you go to that place x told us not to go, Blue Ice?” Sure enough, he had.

Our first meal was near the Trevi Fountain (tourist trap central) at Ristorante La Tavernetta 48, but it was off the beaten track: we followed pretty oil lamps down a tiny lane to find it. I ordered homemade gnocchi, a favorite of mine, but the best part of the meal was the appetizers. Zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and delicately pan fried:

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And anchovies. These tasted NOTHING like anchovies I’ve ever had before. They didn’t taste fishy or salty or smell bad: they were light and flavorful, almost like small rainbow trouts. They were served with greens and fresh herbs and olive oil, and were delish.

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There was a local bakery near our hotel (Hotel Eden) and we ate there every morning. I don’t remember the name of the place, but we began to befriend the locals we saw there: the same people were there every day. I don’t drink coffee so instead indulged in hot chocolate which tasted different: lighter, frothier, more delicate. LOVED. And we ate different pastries each day. Roman pastries were not particularly sweet. (Which I liked: I don’t like my sweets TOO sweet, YMMV). My favorite was the cream puff: light crunchy puff pastry encased a light, lemony cream made of ricotta. YUM.

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For my birthday lunch we went to Pipero Al Rex, a restaurant that had just that week received a Michelin star. Oh, it was heavenly. I ordered their famous Pasta Carbonara and it was the best dish, hands down, I had in Italy. Pasta Carbonara is one of those deceptively simple things: spaghetti, egg, bacon, lemon and pepper: but again, the quality and preparation of those simple ingredients was such that a sublime meal was created. The pasta in particular was al dente and just tasted different (and better) than any other spaghetti I’ve ever had.

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For my birthday dinner, we ate at the exquisite restaurant on the top of our hotel, which was called La Terrazza dell’Eden. It was FANCY and the view overlooked the Vatican and other beautiful sites. We ordered Lobster and pasta and it was delicious and sophisticated. We drank champagne and felt rather fabulous.

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After touring the Forum and doing a ton of walking the next day, we went to a cheap take-out place (almost a bakery) famous for its potato pizza (yes, really!) called Forno Campo de Fiori. The potato pizza was delicious and we ate siting on a fountain in the middle of the flower market. We dashed in and out of Forno a few times to get “just one more slice”…

We left Rome for Naples the following day. Naples is a tough town: as we were taking a cab to our hotel, in the middle of the day, I noticed a young couple arguing intensely on the street. Suddenly, the woman hauled off and SLAPPED the guy across the face! In front of tons of strangers! He walked away but soon returned, gesticulating madly, trying to apologize, it seemed. He must have really done something to piss her off.

Naples is pretty much acknowledged to be the best place in the world for pizza, and Darcy’s food connections all agreed: the best pizza in Naples was served at Pizzeria Starita. We had to take a cab up winding, narrow, medieval streets: the steepest I’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived in San Francisco. Finally we arrived at a tiny restaurant that was very crowded. We were lucky enough to score a table, and readers: the pizza was perfection. The best I’ve ever had: simultaneously liquidy and crispy. I kept it simple and ordered the Margharita.

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Amazing.

After touring Pompeii, we moved on to Positano, possibly the most beautiful town I’ve ever visited. Perched on a stark cliff, the hotels and homes are architechtural feats of engineering and also charming and picturesque.

Sometimes when you travel you wander into a cliche: such was the scene when we went to the restaurant Mediteraneo. Darcy captured the cinematic moment perfectly in this short clip. That music is NOT ADDED IN: it was actually PLAYING at the time! It was like some romantic comedy come to life.

Cliched or not, the pasta was delicious here: Darcy ordered this homemade seafood pasta dish after seeing it be delivered to two locals and I ate spaghetti with tomatoes and eggplant.

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And so…I am now very hungry and wish there was a way to recreate that spaghetti! Do you have any Italian dishes that are your favorites? What are they? And please direct me to any good recipes you know of for authentic delicious meals 🙂

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Lessons From Pompeii

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As I mentioned, Darcy’s pursuit of pleasure on our trip was learning more about the history of Italy. History is everywhere there, unavoidable: the trappings of the Etruscans, the Roman empire, the Papacy, even the Egyptians pepper the capital and cities large and small throughout the country.

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Neither of us had been to Pompeii before, but we were intrigued by the archeological site, which is living history set apart from modern civilization, a step back in time and the largest source of what we know now about how Romans lived. We hired an excellent guide, Guiseppe Galano, who spends most days in the doomed area, loving it more each day, he said. His knowledge astounded me. He could have spent 10 hours at least teaching us about the city.

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The biggest question I had about Pompeii was why was recovery not attempted by the Romans. Why had they abandoned it? Giuseppe explained that Pompeii was a like a cursed place to them, a warning, a punishment. One theory was that some Romans believed the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was a response to the Roman subjugation of Israel by Nero and the subsequent destruction of the main Jewish temple in Jerusalem nine years before.

Mt. Vesuvius is less than 1/2 of its former, pre-eruption size, but it still looms threateningly over the ruins of the city it already claimed.

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So, how did citizens live in this city? Very well, it seems. (Provided you weren’t a slave.) Many of the facilities had running water. Commerce was pursued and money mattered quite a bit, but the baths were luxurious and open to the public, a main method for people to show their wealth was to feed and help the poorest, exercise was encouraged, the arts were elevated (especially theater) and most of all, the city planners were masterful. Everything, from the smallest details like pieces of white marble (called cats eyes) placed throughout the streets to brighten the road at night, was designed to make living pleasant, balanced and enjoyable.

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Touring Pompeii made me think about the frenetic pace of American life, and now that I’m back in my “routine” of work, work, work and the overwhelming expectations of me (and everyone else), I’m sort of annoyed. The traffic, the exhaustion, the overweening ambition that surrounds us, the fast culture and the stress on being the perfect mother: none of it is much fun, is it? (Sorry to sound like a jerk: I know I have it much easier than most and I’m thrilled and lucky to be a parent, as always.) On a trip like this one, where everything is enjoyable, it reminds me that I don’t LIKE having to find the joy in the everyday. I LIKED learning, eating, walking, napping and living life well every day.

I do look forward to taking the twins on a trip to Europe soon. I think they will be ready to learn, eat and travel soon, and I anticipate that being a wonderful time.

Do you enjoy life often or is it difficult to find the joy in everyday living for you?

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Italian Fashion: The Reality

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“There are so many manifestations of pleasure in Italy, and I didn’t have time to sample them all. You have to kind of declare a pleasure major here, or you’ll get overwhelmed.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

Rome was a lovely break from the stoic life of an overwhelmed SAHM of twins. I chose Italy as the place to spend my birthday and our 10th anniversary because I thought we needed an indulgent, slow, languorous place to nurture ourselves and fill our souls with joy and pleasure. Italy was the right choice for all of those things.

Gilbert is right. There are so many beautiful things Italians excel at and you can easily become a sightseeing machine, which would override the whole point of enjoying Italy’s charms. I chose to major in fashion and food. Darcy: history.

I have to say that the weather forecasts were pretty off. It was colder than predicted, and I didn’t pack enough warm clothes. I layered a lot adding unfortunate bulk in photos. Or maybe that was from all the spaghetti.

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On my birthday, I dragged Darcy to the chic shops near the Spanish Steps. First up was Prada. Going inside the Prada boutique was like entering a rarified museum of couture: the pristine white walls, glossy racks and intricate shoes, coats and dresses were somewhat awe-inspiring. (As were the prices.) I saw a gorgeous full-length ivory silk dress and remarked to Darcy that here was a gown that could be worn at the Oscars. “I’m sure it will be,” he responded.

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We stuck to the Italian shops, going to Gucci, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Tods, Ferragamo and Valentino. To see items in person that I have seen in magazines or on fashion bloggers was a kick. I saw these shoes in person and they looked absolutely lethal.

I loved Dolce & Gabbana, where the prices were even more fearsome than Prada, but the overall atmosphere was so Italian: full of lace, corset dresses and chic sunglasses. I seriously considered buying a leopard print bag, but sticker shock put me off.

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I do consider handbags (and shoes to a lesser extent) good buys. I don’t love jewelry (most doesn’t look good on me, even if I think the above Bulgari necklace is pretty fantastic) but an excellent classic handbag is something I can pass down to my daughter and would consider an investment. So I looked at the bags seriously.

After checking out the HIGH fashion, we went to a more realistically priced shopping area where I picked up a cheap faux fur turban. I thought it was rather fabulous, but mostly it kept me warm.

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EVERYONE was wearing a coat like this, by the way. It was quite possibly the definitive fashion item of Italy. Honestly, I wish I had brought one. It would have cut the chill significantly!

Do you “major” in one area when you visit a place? If so, what is it?

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