Another Heartbreak for Italy!

June 30, 2009 at 15:06 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces | Leave a comment
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Based on reports from Corriere della Sera Italy has one more horror to deal with – does the old adage/superstition of bad news in threes hold true. I pray this time it does – twice for Abruzzi and now one for Viareggio make three. This lovely town has been rocked with a train accident resulting in a horrendous fire and at least 15 dead and untold damage. We have often traveled through this area – it is a beautiful area with warm friendly people! We pray for their recovery – and for those burned in the resulting explosions and fires. Please visit the links for my postings on Abruzzi to again offer donations to the Italian Red Cross to help the folks here. They are needing help as well as prayers — and they deserve both from us!

More Tears for L’Aquila

June 23, 2009 at 15:10 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, Italy | 1 Comment
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Today I ran across this article while surfing through news resports overseas: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/5610522/Aftershock-rattles-LAquila-ahead-of-G8-summit.html It seems beautoful L’Aquila has again been hit by an earthquake. It does not seem to be only an aftershock but was a 4.6 register on the Richter scale. We  need to all remember these folks in our prayers and if possible continue to contribute to the funds financially to help them.

Please check back to other of my posts to follow links for helping and for those news reports:

http://valentinoswife.wordpress.com/2009/05/30/l’aquila…-stan…moving-forward/

and also at:

http://valentinoswife.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/heartbreak/

Safe charity to send donations: CROCE ROSSA

 Originally I linked us to Bleeding Espresso  http://bleedingespresso.com/2009/04/niafabruzzo-relief-fund-for-victims-of-abruzzo-earthquake.html  where you can find links to information also.

 

Lessons from the Brick Ovens of Italy

June 10, 2009 at 18:13 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, Italian Cooking, Spiritual Walk | 2 Comments
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Brick Ovens of Tollo
Brick Ovens of Tollo

Many homes in Italy boast brick ovens out back. Or they may have been community ovens shared by several homes within the town. For instance my mother in law always baked her bread midweek on her day for the neighborhood oven. The oven is no longer standing, long ago fallen and then demolished. Valentino remembers well with his siblings how there was one person who guarded the locks and the wood, and another who held the yeast for everyone to use!

The flavor and shape of the bread varies from region to region. My sister in law describes the bread from Tollo as being dry and lifeless. She and I offer that perhaps it is lacking the addition of love when baked! The bread in Abruzzi is made without salt. Talk about hard to get used to! Most of my other sister in law’s life, she baked her own bread because she could not get used to bread without salt. Now that she is older, she buys her bread but often apologizes for the lack of flavor. Most Italians baked the bread in wood ovens for a couple of basic reasons we Americans have never given much thought to. Europeans in general are much more cautious with the earth’s limited resources and therefore take greater care not to abuse them. The brick ovens are heated with wood, the fires banked and stoked to conserve the heat in the bricks while the bread bakes slowly. The bread bakes slower and longer resulting in a thicker harder crust with a softer and moister inside. Yet this softer inside is not the mushy consistency of most American white bread. None of the bread is wasted even as it goes stale. Stale bread is another excuse for bread soup – if anyone is so fortunate to have bread left over long enough to go stale! Most folks will sop up the sauce after eating their pastas and also dip in the oil and balsamic vinegar dressings from the salads. Occasionally though some bread will remain and be made into bread soup on the last day. Bread soup is made by simmering a vegetable broth with onions and pouring it over the stale bread pieces, and then topped with lots of parmesan cheese. Talk about leftovers tasting like an extravagant meal! Nothing fancy but nothing wasted! It is the waste not, want not philosophy that Italians live by. Bread is now also sold in bakeries but never in the plastic one use bags we Americans seem to favor too much. Shoppers use large canvas bags, cotton breathable bags, or even large baskets carries on their arms.

San Croce Old Oven

San Croce Brick Oven

San Croce Brick Oven

 

Cavesso New Oven

Cavesso New Oven

All of this brings to mind our walk as Christians and as citizens of this world. We Christians should be taking our time to be slow baked in the fires of the Holy Spirit, slowly developing that thick skin to avoid the slings and the temptations of the world. But we also need the softer inside – not mushy – but soft enough to maintain the heart of the Lord for others without phony sentimental mushiness. We should also be concerned about the earth’s resources. Isn’t that also part of caring for widows and orphans and others less fortunate than ourselves? If we spend less on wastefulness and more on charity, maybe we would also be witnessing more to others? I guess those differing bread recipes are so much like us. It takes many denominations and many ways of looking at the needs of others to really share the Word. We all love Him but we often go about worshipping in different ways. Not wrong. Just different. Going back to the idea of community ovens: aren’t they remindful of churches? What better way to reach people than to be there at the community hearth to mingle, to share, to be instead of hiding at home alone? There are the keepers of the flame and the leavening to help each of us! Hmmm. Sounds familiar too? Gee. I thought we Americans were supposed to be the leaders? Maybe we still have some learning by example too?

L’Aquila… standing still, hopefully moving forward

May 30, 2009 at 16:54 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, Italy | Leave a comment
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L’Aquila.. standing still, hopefully moving forward – a shameless attempt to remind us all not to forget — please, please do not forget! We here stateside need to be reminded because our news agencies are shamelessly busy plugging Hope Change yada yada for Obama and ignoring those who do not fit into those neat little boxes needing help – you know the types: if you do not qualify for stimulus payment bailouts, you are not newsworthy! Well – in my jaded eyes, people who are true victims – not those who made themselves into victims – are more deserving of our remembering them. And true victims are the ones who could not stop what happened to them. The good people of L’Aquila fit that category completely! They had no advance warning – and no way to avoid what happened to them. Maybe the only issue to find fault is that according to news reports (such as found at http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0529/p06s05-woeu.html) state less than 5% of the people had insurance against earthquake damage. I personally blame that on the government failing to educate people about homeowners and business insurance. The mentality of many Europeans is that their government will handle it – except after a catastrophe many admit they don’t expect more from their government! At the rate we are all now learning to decide if governments should be socialist or fascist or total democracy/capitalistic or libertarian, we need to step up and help these victims rebuild their lives. Or at least we need to help them on the path to recovery. There are many needs and I hope you all consider doing what you can.

You can check out my previous post: http://valentinoswife.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/heartbreak to read about the initial attempts in aid for the victims where I suggest you visit: http://bleedingespresso.com/2009/04/niafabruzzo-relief-fund-for-victims-of-abruzzo-earthquake .  In the United States we can send help via NIAF and overseas use CROCE ROSSA . Another interesting mention is found in the UK news at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article6153912.ece detailing Berlusconi’s plan to move the G8 Summit to L’Aquila. I am sure there are many problems others are happy to list and carry on over – but I see some upsides to this if handled properly. It will force public attention worldwide on L’Aquila and perhaps force both the Italian government and aid groups to acknowledge work needed to help these folks! Winter in tents is not fun camping – even though Berlusconi is often misunderstood when he attempts wry humor, he was letting us know in his usual sarcastic Italian manner that these folks are not going to be having fun camping forever! A day or two, a week or two, one can jolly each other along and then it is time to get solid plans in motion. That takes money and we need to remember these folks are out of work and running out of money fast! Please please remember them, pray for them, and help them! Thanks!

Handy Site for Household Tips

May 30, 2009 at 13:35 | Posted in Amore di Italia | 1 Comment
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Ran into a few stupid household needs today so did a little Internet search and found this great blog guaranteed to help and save money at the same time!  Has a great name too — Family Hack!  They’re found at  http://www.familyhack.com/2007/10/02/european-car-lease/#comment-2502. They are a husband wife team who manage easy, funny, and wise tips on a variety of subjects from easy packing, great car rentals, and fast fixer-upper ideas. The particular article many of us would appreciate deals with European car rentals – dangerous and usually expensive territory for non-savvy travelers. Try some of the suggestions you find here and then check out the rest of the site. Your wallet, time, and sanity will thank you!

Open Doors…Closed Windows

May 26, 2009 at 09:08 | Posted in Amore di Italia, ancestry, Bits and Pieces, Itri, Italy | 2 Comments
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Most of us have heard the expression “God never closes a door that He doesn’t open a window…”. I personally believe that myself …but… doors and windows seem to evoke other feelings and thoughts for me.

052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl1.jpg

When I look at a door, a closed door, I want it opened. I want to see in that door. I walk past a closed door or window shuttered and I want to throw them all wide open – to peer into every corner. Not that I want to be the local peeping Tomasina or anything like that. Well, maybe I do??? Hmmm. Guess I might need to think about that…. Nah. I don’t. But I do want to see in all those closed doors and shuttered windows. I want to know who is behind Door # 1 and 2 and 3 and …


 052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl2.jpgI think about the people who live there, what their lives are like, what they wanted it to be like. Were they disappointed, happy, weary? I try to imagine myself inside those doors.. would I be happy there? Was life there what I wanted life to be or would I be disappointed, looking for something more? This is never more true than when I gaze on doors and windows in Italy. I have 052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl3.jpgdreamed for so many years of living in Italy that I wonder if I would find what I dream about or not.

052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl4.jpg

 But what about those doors and windows that are opened and can never be closed again? Those doors fascinate me even more, if that is possible. I wonder so about the people who lived behind them at one time. Were they there when tragedy struck? Were they a happy group or were they simply getting by emotionally and physically? Did they have the same dreams and prayers that I do or were they too busy to think about a future? Or were they dreaming of emigrating to somewhere else…were they looking for a new life? Why is it I see those 052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl5.jpgpeople as someone with feelings and emotions and dreams and hopes for the future? I can almost hear their laughter around the table as fathers and mothers sit with their families. The sounds seem to still drift from those windows. 052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl7.jpg
 052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl6.jpgIt bothers me more that in today’s crazy world, others can look at the ruins and see joy that an enemy is destroyed. Do they not hear the cries of the children? Do they not think of the pain of the mothers who weep for their children? Do they not see the people as people? For me I wonder if those families heard the bombs, knew the last seconds of terror that they would die? When I see the bombed ruins of Italy I wonder so about those precious souls. My own mother in law heard the planes coming. She ran out from her house to see the plane aiming low and she sought refuge in the arched door of a church. She survived but hundreds died that day and 65% of the town was destroyed. These people who were farmers for the most part – and certainly no one the soldiers needed to fear. But the enemies were hiding in barns and alleys and other buildings and needed to be routed out. Those buildings sit still as silent reminders to the horrors of war but I listen instead for the laughter of the children, the joy of the parents. I chose to remember the families who lived there and see them like myself dreaming of a better future for the children. Throw open those closed doors and windows… maybe sunlight will allow others to see and hear them too. 052609_1307_OpenDoorsCl8.jpg

Springtime in Italy – Or Why It’s Easy to Love Italy

May 21, 2009 at 10:08 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, Fun Reminders of Italy, genealogy, Italy, Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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gerber daisies

gerber daisies

cana lilies
cana lilies
grapeleaf

grapeleaf

Fields

Fields

There are too many reasons to even begin an attempted list of why it is easy to love Italy – but this post is one sure reason it is hard to not love Italy in the spring. There are no words that can state it better than these photos will show it.

 

It doesn’t matter if it is someone’s backyard, or the wildflowers of the fields, or a balcony.

windowsill

windowsill

strawberries

strawberries

pinks100_1873

The colors and smells carry one away, overtaking one’s senses, in brilliant displays of beauty amidst the ruins of bombed or crumbling buildings.

white wisteria

white wisteria

 

 

 

 

Trees in San Cristoforo

Trees in San Cristoforo

It is no wonder that flowers and romance go hand in hand because in this land of romance, Italians make use of every spot possible to include flowers. They are unashamed of their love affair with flowers!
apple blossoms with tractor

apple blossoms with tractor

Olives Olives Olives

May 19, 2009 at 20:51 | Posted in Italian Cooking, Itri, Italy | 2 Comments
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Itri Views of Olive Groves  The olives of Itri are some of the finest grown in the world. Most know them as the olives of Gaeta due to an arrangement made years ago as the port of Gaeta was more recognized than the smaller town of Itri. But the olives themselves are grown up and down all the beautifully terraced mountain groves of Itri. There they benefit from both the mountain air and the sea breezes that blow inland across the mountains. Standing at the top of the Castello di Itri one can look out in all directions and see row upon row of neatly terraced olive groves spreading up and down all of the mountains and hills.

Family Grove

Family Grove

Fires

Fires

              During the month of April one can see and smell the fires as the olive growers trim back the trees and ground scrubs to encourage more fruit growth. This also helps protect the trees during the dangerous fire seasons when lightning strikes can start the wild fires so difficult to fight in the mountains.

       Most experienced farmers will trim the trees back to the two or three main branches and then smaller ones off of those. Keeping those branches trimmed means more of the energy of the tree goes to establish roots and then olive growth instead of small branches and many leaves. The trees are kept small enough that they can use a small ladder to access all of the olives to be harvested.

100_1375100_1376

 

 

 

        By April most of the olives have been harvested except for those being left to fully blacken on the trees. These are considered the sweetest ones because they so ripen. The farmers take great care at this stage to not bruise the olives by rough handling but because the olives are ripening quickly now, they hang nets beneath the trees overlapping each other so as to not lose any to the ground to spoil or be walked on. 

Save Those Oilives!

Save Those Oilives!

Olives - Saved!

Olives - Saved!

 

 

Nets

Nets

 

    

 

 

     Slow growing by nature, these trees have been tended by the same family for generation upon generation. With care, they live well over one hundred years. They carefully store the olives for the family to eat as well as take some to refineries to be made into deep pungent oil. It is important for un-bruised fruit to be refined in order to monitor the acid content in order to have the sweetest oils. The cold pressed or first pressed is the deepest green known as extra virgin. Then the olives are pressed again and even again a third time to extract the most oils possible. Each pressing results in a lighter colored oil. Nothing is left to waste – after oil is pressed, the waste of the pits is often mashed to become heating fuel as well as mulch for back around the trees. Now that refineries use so much water in the pressing process, they are dealing with the issues of the waste water being toxic. This was not a problem before the larger refineries came into being as the farmers seldom used quantities of water in their smaller local refineries. Now waste water is collected to be disposed of safely and many of the commercial refineries are developing methods of cleaning this water to not foul the water supplies or ground.
       Each stage of the harvest yields a different olive. Nothing beats the flavors of these olives. The strong green new olives, the cracked olives with their more pungent flavor, the tender black olives, and the sweetness of the sundried black olives!

Olives Olives Olives

Olives Olives Olives

Food! Mangi! Solamente Verdure!

May 9, 2009 at 09:15 | Posted in Italian Cooking, Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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Only greens!

Only greens!

 One of the things we hear constantly over and over is “Mangi! È solamente verdure!!” It’s only greens! Yeah! Let me assure you that this is the understatement of the ages! There is not, never has been, and I guarantee never will be anything approximating only greens never ever in Italy!!!! Now I am perfectly willing to admit I have several pounds to lose. And I know in my head that vegetables are good for you. A nice healthy dish not top heavy in calories, bad carbs, or fat content. I can even accept that Italians tend not to over-salt or drown in heavy creamed or buttery sauces laden with grease. But nothing that tastes as wonderful as their fresh picked salads and vegetables will convince me that is impossible not to overeat myself to 500 lbs.

    We foolish Americans look at huge artichokes in the supermarket and willingly pay $2.99 each to take them home and peel apart and discard half before we find the edible parts. Then we stuff the remainder full of breadcrumbs, butter, salt, spices, and even meats. And then we proceed to drown it in some form of greasy gravy or hollandaise sauce. But Italians will tell you that is the worst possible artichoke – one that they would toss as garbage and use to feed the animals! How can one be sure it is an artichoke anyway?  

Tender Artichokes

Tender Artichokes

Artichokes in Italy cost somewhere in the vicinity of $3.00 for eight to ten small to medium sized artichokes. I will grant the size is smaller but that is because they were picked sooner before they spread out empty and dried out. Instead one eats almost all of the smaller tender artichoke. No heavy sauces or greasy goo for these artichokes! They are stewed lightly on top of the stove or baked in the oven with a small amount of olive oil and an easy hand on any of the seasonings. Occasionally they are dipped in light flour and fried in a skillet. That means one appreciates the wondrous flavor of the artichoke itself. Yes. An artichoke actually has a flavor all its own!!!  

Fresh Fava Beans

Fresh Fava Beans

  And so it is with most greens in Italy. Great care is taken to allow the diner to taste whatever it is they are eating – not the sauces or gravies or seasonings but the main food item itself. Even the wine is chosen to complement, not over power the food. Even in the poorest homes, dishes are changed between courses so that one flavor does not remain in a dish to over-power the next course. “Mangi! È solamente Verdure!”

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

     

Olives!Olives!Olives!

Olives!Olives!Olives!

Then and Now

May 8, 2009 at 18:19 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | 1 Comment
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View Then

View Then

Two views taken about 31 years apart yet both so similar in their difference. The first is old and faded – barely saved snapshot thanks to photo editing of that misty day in 1977. The newer taken just a year ago of Gaeta from almost the same spot. Now there are lovely old street lamps and beautiful walkways to encourage the strollers along the shoreline. The boats still line the shoreline after a long morning of fishing. And the church still sits proudly on that hill at the center of town beckoning one to its silent beauty. But it is the harbor itself that calls one to the edge: the same water gently lapping the shoreline. How many fishermen set sail each day in the wee hours to find a catch to feed their families or sell to those who came down to meet the boats.  

Walkway

Walkway

 I have a brother-in-law who would go each morning to buy fresh fish – but if the fish was still not moving, it was not fresh enough to please him. How many of those men would sit each day seeming to while away the hours but in reality were sitting repairing nets making ready for the next day’s excursion? What conversations did they have – where were the fish, what was the weather to be tomorrow, who did not come home from the sea? Were the younger ones too foolish to listen and learn or did they know their lives depended on the wisdom of the older ones? Has life changed that much in thirty years or is that still the lesson we are trying to learn?

Gaeta Boats

Gaeta Boats

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