My Advent Calendar: Christmas ITALIAN Style!

Yesterday, my Advent Calendar was interrupted by .. a wicked bout of stomach flu blech.. but today we resume our regularly scheduled programming: Christmas ITALIAN Style!

Here’s Lulu and the Italian Santa – aka Babbo Natale – from yesterday when Daddy took her out to see him her in Arezzo at Piazza Guido Monaco.  I was sick in bed.

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And yes, that is a GIANT jar of Nutella in the background.

How does Santa look compared to what your area has? What do you think?

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Lulu enjoyed her time and asked him for a “family of cats.” Yow!

Buone Festa, tutti!

As for me, as it is a law that mommies can only be sick for 36 hours, I am back now and no longer in bed…however, not feeling 100 percent.. .. ah, well, hope the rest of the family doesn’t catch the bug!

Baci, Gina

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Advent Calendar – Christmas ITALIAN Style!

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Italy.  One of those places in the world where a 600-year-old church can get new life as a holiday-festooned shoe store – and still retain its charm and ancient frescoes.

This is “Bacque” on the via Madonna del Prato in our adopted hometown of Arezzo, Italy. Bello.

Buone feste, tutti!!

Baci, Gina

P.S. Any repurposed old buildings in your neighborhood!?  Let me know!

 

Gratitude: A Good or Goofy thing?

One Thanksgiving Day, I asked everyone gathered around the table covered with turkey, wild rice stuffing, green bean casserole and both mashed and sweet potatoes, to say one thing they were thankful for.

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“Awww, No.  C’mon.”

“This is cheesy.”

“Let’s just eat.”

Although I was met with immediate resistance, finally, reluctantly, my request was fulfilled and each person seated at the heaping table named one thing for which he or she was grateful.

But I wondered.

Why was giving thanks considered “cheesy?”

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Was it the call for public declaration? Is it perceived as too soft or weak?  Is it embarrassing to utter thankfulness? What?

I don’t know. Maybe it was a combination of those things.

But, don’t worry.  You won’t have to interrupt your Thanksgiving meal – or if you’re not American, you won’t have to interrupt any meal, because I won’t be making this table-side request again.

Gratitude is personal and something you can only freely give.

I am in no way a perfect person, and admit there are times when I am grouchy and not at all grateful.  But right now, during November – when the US sets aside a day to give thanks – I would like to list just a few of the things for which I am thankful.

  1. Family – My daughter Lulu and my husband Scotty are here with me and I get to enjoy them  every day.  The rest of my family I see only occasionally through visits, Skype or their words on cards and letters. They all mean so much to me.??????????
  2. Italy – This wonderful country has welcomed us with open arms and given us a seemingly unending stream of enriching experiences including food, culture, music, language, and red wine!???????????????????????????????
  3. Friends – Italian, expat American, British, Romanian or Czech. You know who you are and I love each and every one of you!

    My friends are not limited to the "squadra" but I love these girls a lot!
    My friends are not limited to the “squadra” but I love these girls a lot!
  4. Clients – A job I love and clients who grow and become friends is truly a rich reward.post-it
  5. Health –  If you have your health, you have everything.

    healthy and happy!
    healthy and happy!

That’s only my top five. The list goes on and on.  Every ancient door I see in Arezzo‘s medieval town center.

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Basilica San Francesco

A smile from a dog each time I pass by.

Before the smile..
Before the smile..

The sun on the duomo as I walk home in the afternoon.

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In short: I am grateful for life!

And this month especially, I am not too shy or eager to dig in to the turkey (which is a few weeks away anyway), to let you all know!

With gratitude,

Gina

P.S. If it’s not too much trouble, tell me, what are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season?

Baci!

A warm embrace from Mario

One of our favorite restaurants in Arezzo is underground.  Directly across from the Basilica San Francesco in the piazza of the same name, you’ll need to carefully step down four wide grey stone steps and duck your head to enter Ristorante Buca di San Francesco.

As your eyes adjust to the soft amber glow, you’ll be warmly welcomed by Mario de Filippis, who has been its gracious host for more than 40 years.   Now, look around you.  You’re seated in the cellar of a 14th century palazzo, surrounded by a frescoes on the walls and a resounding assortment of Italian artworks, artifacts, and tchotchkes.   It’s a delightful Tuscan curiosity shop.

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Mario says the stones that make up the floor beneath your chairs are remnants of an ancient Etruscan road. Who knows if that’s true, but it’s all part of the restaurant’s – and Mario’s – immense charm.   Mario is like an indulgent nonno, grandpa.  He tells me to look the other way and “sneaks” little chocolates over to Lulu while my head is turned.  He sets before Lulu a plate of the softest, creamiest fresh Mozzarella I have ever tasted (because I did taste it).

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“Mario! Yey!” cries Lulu.

He urges me to try the Panzanella  -a popular Tuscan summer salad with olive oil crisped bread chunks mixed in. He also encourages me to a have a glass of wine, “on the house!”

“Mario! Yey!” I cry too.

Later, he surprises us both with free desserts.  A small slice of apple bread torta for me and gelato for Lulu, chocolate – ma certo¸ of course.

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To me, the flavor of the place and its host almost exceeds that of the food.  At Buca di San Francesco, you’re in good hands.  Mario’s.

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For more on Buca di San Francesco, visit their/his website at www.bucadisanfrancesco.com – Tell him Gina and Lulu sent you.

Baci,

Gina

Agretti! It’s what’s for dinner…in Tuscany!

Agretti.  Also known as “Monk’s Beard.” It’s not well-known outside of Tuscany.  But, today, I’m sharing a spring-time secret that Lulu and I enjoy here in Arezzo – with you – wherever you are!

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Don’t imagine that if you’re in Tuscany during the spring you’ll readily come across Agretti. In fact, some quite smart American expat friends of mine who have lived here for many years and are fluent in the language and most of the customs, had never heard of it before.  But, I was fortunate enough to be taught about this springtime delicacy from the terrific sorelle, or sisters, who run the small bottega known as “Frutta a Go-Go.”  Love that name.

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Marianna and Gioanna encouraged me to buy Agretti for the first time last spring.  The Mediterranean plant looks like a blend of chives and Kentucky bluegrass to me. You can buy it fresh, loose and in handfuls from the market or pre-packaged in grocery stores like I did yesterday.

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It’s easy to prepare.  Here are all the ingredients I used from my kitchen as le sorelle told me to simply boil it in salted water just like pasta, then drain and drizzle with olive oil – extra virgin, ma certo!

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In just about three or four minutes, drain it, place it on a platter, sprinkle it with a little extra sale grosso and olio oliva and ecco!  You have a fresh-spring tasting accompaniment to any April or May meal.

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Look around in Italian or specialty grocers near you.  Agretti is worth the search.

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Buon appetito! (…piatto pulito as Lulu would add!)

Ciao!

Gina

 P.S. Have you ever cooked Agretti?  Ever heard of it? What recipe did you use? Would love to hear from you!

 And, of course, for more stories of the wonderful food of Tuscany, you’re invited to buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – adventures between me and Lulu here in Arezzo!  A must for any one who loves traveling and children – but not necessarily traveling with children. 😉

Primavera Fever!

Spring! The calendar may officially announce it in March, but only you know when it truly arrives where you live.  Here in Arezzo, I’m marking this week as our official reawakening – of grass, flowers, trees and most important of all, our spirits!

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Mr. Dreary Rainy Winter has finally relinquished the seasonal scepter to Sunny Miss Primavera.

Buds arrive on the trees and groups of tourists arrive on the steps of our famous churches.

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St. Domenico
Our Duomo - St. Peter's and St. Donato's.
Our Duomo – St. Peter’s and St. Donato’s.

But it’s the warmer weather that is spring’s true royal herald.

Lulu and I walk to school every morning  through this very portal in the ancient medieval wall that surrounds the town.   And weather is always part of our conversation.

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While I’m encouraging her to appreciate life-giving rain, mysterious fog and chilling wind, the warmth of a bright morning sun really gets us talking – and in Lulu’s case, singing.

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“I love the sun. The sunny sun. The sunny, sunny, sunny, sun. Ooooh. Sun,” Lulu sang this week, “La-la-la-la,” she added.  As she scootered to school.

Not the most poetic lyrics ever, but the sentiment rings true.

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When our Tuscan hills begin turning green – and the sun casts long shadows –

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And a new crop of flowers from our neighbor Senora Dora’s giardino stretches upwards – 

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– I may not crawl on a small side-street to try and imitate a cat – but I do join Lulu, in lifting a song of thanks to the promised return of spring.

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My song, however, is internal.  Nobody wants to hear me sing!

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To all of you, wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying or anticipating with relish – the hope that springs – with spring!

Love to you all,

Gina

P.S.  Where are you?  How’s the weather?  How’s your heart?

For more joyful and vivid descriptions of our beloved Tuscan town, please buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” available WORLDWIDE on Amazon.com, .UK .IT etc etc! Baci! 

 

 

 

The Long Way Home

This marks the last full week of living in the Tuscan countryside.

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It’s been more than a year since we first called this house home.  We’ve enjoyed its large yard and pool, and getting to know our wonderful vicini or neighbors, but now it’s time to go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs many of you may already know, it’s not because we’re leaving Italy, but because we’re moving a centro or into the historic center of our medieval town, Arezzo.

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And the reason for our move, primarily, is because it’s a looong walk for us each day into town.

So, in honor of our soon-to-be-over daily sojourn, I’d like to take you all on a tour of our “long way home” (or into town, depending on the direction). 😉

It goes something like this.  Every morning, you’ll find me pushing Lulu in her passeggino (stroller), to school, the grocery store, the farmacia, pharmacy , –  anywhere that a person needs to go in their daily life- we do it too – just without a car.

Away from our house on via della Cella 62 on the gravel strada privata.

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Along our small country road lined with vineyards, cypress trees and our neighbors’ sprawling compound houses.

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Past the Count’s large yellow villa. (Yes, we really do live near an honest-to-God Count)

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Then we turn onto the narrow shoulder for a dangerous stretch on busy Buone Conte Montefeltro street.  See the cars speeding toward us yesterday morning in the nebbia or fog?!

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Fortunately, we’ve never had a close-call with any of the zooming vehicles. And I have to acknowledge that the arduous walk is definitely good exercise for me in-between my bowls of steaming hot Italian pasta.

Best of all have been the neighbors along our path –  who have evolved from first staring at us curiously from their windows, to greeting us by name from their gates – to  handing  us fresh eggs from their chicken coops or wonderful honey from their own personal bee skeps.

In gratitude, Lulu and I delivered boxes of sugar cookies to them yesterday afternoon – baked by me and decorated, of course, by you-know-who.

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While we won’t miss the long walk home, we will miss our neighbors (and their pets – like Lucy, below, who we pet every time we see her!) who have also become friends.

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Now, next week: our new home and next Tuscan adventure!

Ciao, tutti!

Love, Gina

P.S. Is there a place you’ve moved from – or are about to leave, with mixed feelings?  Tell me about it!