Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Donut Beauty Pageant.

Few of you will be aware of this, but in the midst of Christmas celebrations in Positano, a very special Festa takes place with contestants vying for a prize for sponginess, taste and hole-liness.

La Festa della Zeppola in Positano is a winter get together on the main beach which in amongst the organized games of football and treasure hunts, homebodies hibernate in their kitchens levitating dough and frying, dipping in sugar or dribbling honey in order to put their best donut forward to the judges.

But the donuts or Zeppole in Positano, which were once offered in a basket lined with lemon leaves, resemble not their industrial American counterparts, but are an ingenious way of putting together that which the Coast has best to offer.

Lemon zest, orange peel, pine nuts, and raisins grace the interior of these spongy delights, and local honey sweetens the exterior. Some add potatoes or milk to the mixture, others keep with the tradition of turning the dough over in the oil with a twig off the lemon or orange tree rather than the usual cooking implement, but most connoisseurs will agree that a hole in the middle is essential.

So when the proud ladies with their head held high present their wares to the judge and offer some to the bystanders what do I do? I skulk to the back of the crowd in shame, comparing these perfect beauties with my lot back home. Loving prepared, after an afternoon spent frying and filling oneself on oil fumes so that my husband has his traditional Positano donuts, I wonder how the heck do they get that hole to form so neatly in the centre. For if I were to present my Zeppole at this festa, they would be sure to get the ‘Ugly Betty’ award.

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My zeppole look as if they’ve been dredged from the bottom of a swamp (after being there a long time). With no hole to speak of they sprout antennas and feelers in all directions, their bloated bellies extending in defiance where there should have been a cavity. As they hit the hot oil, the yeast takes on a life of its own, a growing blob of dough reaches out gasping for air and then, like the sorry life forms at Pompeii, stays that way.

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But I haven’t given up on my Zeppole alla Positanese. My multi-limbed mutations still taste quite good, and despite the sniggers smiles from the kids, disappear as soon as I make them proving that you can’t judge a book by it’s unappetizing cover. Zero on presentation –ten on taste.

If anyone wants to give me lessons, I know I have a lot to learn.

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 Basic Zeppola Recipe:

Put 50gms of yeast to rise with 600-700gms of flour, add enough milk and water to create very soft sticky dough. Add a tablespoon of sugar, a good handful of raisins, grated zest from a lemon and an orange, pine nuts and a pinch of salt. Let it rise for an hour. Deep fry in small spoonfuls. Drain on kitchen paper. Drizzle with honey diluted in water or dust with icing sugar. Serve on the same day.

 

Merry Christmas from Positano! Buon Natale a Tutti !

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Gift.

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I was in the kitchen and I discerned the thud of a soft tread of footsteps running down the stairs past my window. Not having heard the wrought iron gate clank on opening, I was sure it would be someone familiar with the house. As I pulled the ancient front door open, a bundle of leaves appeared round the corner of the stone wall and our gardener followed them to the landing. He was holding a big bunch of orange blossom. “I’ve just been pruning the neighbours trees” he said, “and I thought ‘La Signora’(me) might like them.”

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This was not the first time we’d been offered an unexpected gift from him. Often I’d get phone calls saying to send my son up to the Grotta di Fornillo to pick up something he’d freshly picked from his garden in Montepertuso. He’d arrive at the Grotta on his Vespa, with a big box or large bag of tomatoes, strings of onions, peppers, white eggplants and entire plants of basil all tucked between his legs.

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For in Positano and probably in Italy in general, one of the most appreciated and loving gifts involves home grown, home bottled or (in Positano’s case) freshly fished food.

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Our favourite car service, long since become friends of the family, drops off pastiera, homemade struffoli and whoppers of tomatoes from their garden when passing through town.

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Over the years, fresh local fish like tontani or palamito (great with pasta); local artisanal panettone and home-baked cakes; crisp string beans; colourful fresh borlotti beans; sweet peppers; homemade limoncello and other liquors; the most tender home bottled tuna and mixed giardiniera; jams; fresh eggs and delicious dried figs stuffed with chocolate and walnuts then soaked in sherry have also featured frequently in offerings from other locals.

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I’ve even received handmade Positano soaps from Saponissmo made from local ingredients. And I’m sure I’ve left things out.

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There is a whole nurturing relationship between Italians and their food. It has to be locally produced and the simplest to present at the table. Zero miles to get from the garden to the plate. Prepared lovingly, each meal is savoured, discussed and complimented, with suggestions for later preparations and improvements. It’s no wonder that this exchange of homemade or home grown gifts is so appreciated in Italy and that Italian hospitality almost always involves a meal, or coffee with a food offering.

My Italian grandmother used to say ‘mangia, mangia!’to me every night at the dinner table, and when an Italian to tells you to eat, they mean it as a gift of love. 

So I thank you Positano, for your generous gifts of welcome to this beautiful town. And prego, have some oranges!

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This post is part of the Italy Blogging Roundtable’s invitation to post on this topic.

The roundtable blogs include: ArtTrav, At Home in Tuscany, Italylogue, Italofile and Brigolante.

Thank you for inviting me.

Monday, December 05, 2011

What to expect when you are expecting …to get your licence on the Amalfi Coast.

 

I put down my book. I’d barely read a page. It was high summer and the cool winds were blowing hard. Distracted by the view, I got up and watched bathers hold on to dear life as the orange umbrellas fought to free themselves and wheel across the beach. My son approached and I asked how him the studying was going.

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The two full days he’d spent reading a small book and doing online quizzes was not related to school or their degrees but was simply only for the written part of a driving licence test.

Sitting for your licence in Italy has nothing to do with the laws of driving in the rest of Europe.The written test, now a multiple choice on the computer, is darn difficult with very technical questions many of which you will never have any use for (unless you are going to build a road or drive a truck) alternated with bizarre ones which only the very dumbest wouldn’t know.

Based on my two kid’s real experiences, I have prepared a how to guide to getting a licence in Sorrento.

 

What to expect when you are expecting to learn to drive in Sorrento:

  1. Leave Positano one and a half hours earlier than the lesson, being sure to walk all the way to the first Sponda bus stop rather than Chiesa Nuova (which is twenty minutes closer) to increase your chances of actually getting on the Sita bus. Pay no attention to the crowd of harassed-looking tourists there before you. You have a purpose to the ride.
  2. After sitting in two hours of lessons, watch the bus for Positano leaving around the corner just as you get to the stop. Wait 40minutes for the next one getting home at 10pm. Repeat twice weekly for two and a half weeks then give up.
  3. Book the theory test so you can get your ‘Foglio Rosa’ and actually get behind the wheel. Three days before the test, open the book and start cramming like mad (university style), exclaiming loudly on the ridiculous things that they expect you to know before you get a licence. Start panicking when you don’t pass the online tests. Alternate reading the book right to the very end and sitting tests online until you start to pass (after approximately 50 trials).
  4. Pay for a driver to take you both to the driving school at Sorrento very early next morning. Promise faithfully to SMS home with the results. Listen to private driver wonder how lesser intelligent people can ever pass this test. Board mini bus with the rest of the driving test students and head for Naples.
  5. An hour later, arrive at the Naples Motorization Board and watch bewildered as the bus is parked directly beneath a no-parking sign. Protest with the driving instructor that you know what the sign means and that is that you can’t leave a vehicle there. Have your first real lesson in Italian driving when he shrugs and says ‘yeah but it doesn’t matter.’
  6. Enter the test room. Watch the supervisor walk amongst the contestants. Watch him talk to the girls, giving them the right answer. Watch him correcting the wrong answers for girls. Pass the test without help.
  7. Console others on the bus who have failed for the third time. Watch the driving instructor’s amazement at others who did pass due to pure luck.
  8. Book driving lessons. Arrive full of enthusiasm for first test. After an hour of road madness, return home full of fear, swearing that you will never get in the car again.
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Coerced by parents into continuing lessons you go back twice a week to Sorrento:

  • You drive with scooters coming towards you in one way streets. You become very well versed with avoiding a collision with said errant scooters
  • You inch your way in traffic overtaking trucks double and triple parked in narrow alleyways. You learn to back up into tight corners so that they can get past.
  • You learn that stop signs are for stopping because your instructor yells at you not because others use them.
  • You learn to use your own reasoning when negotiating traffic where rules are ignored.
  • You learn the code for cheating in parking on the day of the test (The instructor looks back as you are reversing. When he turns his head to look forward, you turn the steering wheel in the other direction)
  • You hear all about his hernia operation.
  • You swelter in the sun waiting to catch the bus back home at midday. Once again you ignore the queue.

The practical test:

The driving test day arrives. You hear the instructor ask the examiner if he minds that he helps an older Signora with the pedals as she hasn’t gotten the hang of it quite yet. The examiner says ‘it’s fine’.

You get in the car. You rev the engine. The instructor murmurs ‘La prima’. You take off down a busy straight road totally ignored by the examiner who chats to the instructor. Two minutes later you are asked to do a U turn and go back to the school. 5 minutes have gone past. You have passed. The  short practical test was just a mere formality. Your licence is waiting for you already laminated at the desk.

My children got their licence in Sorrento without:

  • Ever having gone above thirty kilometers per hour.
  • Ever having had to stop or go through a traffic light
  • Ever having driven in a two lane carriage way. They had no idea how to overtake, change lanes, keep in the correct lane when turning or use their mirrors to check before overtaking.
  • Ever having gone in a round about.
  • Ever having driven in the rain
  • But they know how to place traffic cones correctly along the road and the regulations regarding lorries.

I don’t know whether I’ll lend them my car in Luxembourg, but when we go to Sorrento, they are going to be the only ones behind the wheel.

This post is not intentioned to be offensive nor seen as negative. Just a comic view of how things really happened in Italy.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Positano – Playground of the rich

A plethora of yachts dots the harbour these days. The uncertain weather, the threat of rain and  consequential cold water hinders no one intent on enjoying a privileged holiday on luxury boats which look like they came straight out of the harbour of Monte Carlo.

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Locals proudly bandy names of visiting famous people around taking personal pride in the beauty of the coastline as if it were they who directed God`s hand in its creation. I just wish it had remained the town that it was in the sixties and sit smugly in the quieter part of the village avoiding the crowds in the central beach part as far as possible.

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But on Wednesday, while I was smugly ‘just sitting’, I witnessed the mounting of a fun slide to beat all water slides.

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And it came of the side of a large yacht.

 

P1040883 Immediately all the canoes for hire on Fornillo beach were paddled in its direction for a closer peek and the yacht was surrounded by red and yellow plastic kayaks with hopeful (maybe they`ll invite us too) locals.

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The guests on the yacht intent on enjoying themselves to a maximum didn`t stop at the splash into the silky blue waters but also had a large ‘biscuit’ float with which they were pulled by a speed boat.

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It`s times like these, I thought, that I´d happily exchange the sitting smugly for a  good zoom lens on my camera and even better, wealthy friends in the right places.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Slow Food on The Amalfi Coast - Minori

 

There are no tentacles in my bikini bottom!

You got to hand it to the BBC. They sure know how to make an excellent series.

When Italian Reflections alerted me about the upcoming series Two Greedy Italians - Poor Man’s Food in the Amalfi coast on BBC television, I was terribly disappointed to be in the wrong area to watch. But then my enterprising daughter found it on You Tube and I have reproduced the clips here (For entertainment purposes only. All rights go to the BBC). Unfortunately the links are not always available.

A cocky North-South duo, Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo,visit the small town of Minori, Gennaro’s birth place, just past Amalfi and talk food ‘con gusto’ in a thick Italian accent . The sound tracks of Fellini,‘Il Postino’ and ‘La Vita e` Bella’ lend a romantic touch to the dramatic back drop of coastal villas and shimmering seas, while they wax lyrical about the dolce vita in the poor past. Their friendly tongue in cheek banter accompanies what can only be seen as authentic Italian cooking seeped so deeply in tradition that you could mop your bread in it. Makes you want to jump on a plane and head straight for the Coast.

 

Il Simpatico Gennaro, a name so common in Campania that it must be the equivalent of ‘Tom’ in English, prepares a rich Ragu`alla Napoletana, finds room in his Speedos for a squid or two, prepares an impromptu meal of Linguine with prawns and mussels on the boat just off the cliffs of Amalfi (my favourite) and threatens to cook a lizard for Antonio.

The majestic Antonio Carluccio, a guest on the Coast although he was born in Vietri, samples the fresh homemade pecorino and cacciotella cheeses at a shepherd's mountain dwelling and prepares a ricotta tart with candied cedro lemon. A instant food fight ensues on the streets of Naples as they try to outdo each other and make the best fried pizza.

As I watched the charming series chuckling to myself over the comments in Neapolitan dialect as well as the theatrical English, I wondered what did they have, that I didn’t:

  • A traditional Italian family background where recipes are passed on in the family through the ages? Check!
  • A wooden board and plastic bowl exactly like the one used to make the twirly pasta and orecchietti? Check!
  • A jaunty little sports car to hug the corners of the Coast? Well no, but I love my red Fiat 500! And they didn’t show the traffic they would have encountered!
  • A lemon tree pergola to choose a lemon from? Take your pick!

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  • An alfresco dining  room with a view? Check!

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  • Fresh fruit just picked from the tree? Check!

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  • Arrangarsi’ to eat? Si`! Caught a lizard? Yes. They often slip prisoner into our bathtub. It’s either pick them up or flush them down. But eaten it? Never!

  • Tasted a sea urchin straight from the sea? Done (with a dash of said lemon from tree).
  • Held an octopus in my bikini?  No, what’s the word I’m looking for – too prudish or squeamish? But it doesn’t mean they didn’t want to be there.

fig basket cropped

  • Had uva fragolina (strawberry flavoured grapes)? Yes, but from our garden. Sneaky illicit tasting in someone else’s orchard would sweeten the moment.

  • But what I don’t have, or particularly want, is the great wobbly bellies that they are so proud to show.

       They are not great cooks and even better eaters for nothing!

 

Their Two Greedy Italians cook book is available on Amazon. I would love it I’m sure!

 

italytutto

Friday, June 03, 2011

Blog Stains – Dare to be Different in Amalfi & Ravello

My neighbour Laura Thayer from Ciao Amalfi blog absolutely loves the town of Amalfi and has spent a good amount of her time living in the Coast walking and exploring the villages surrounding it.

Who would be better to bring you a guest post about the wonderful places the Secret Costiera has to offer in her corner of the Amalfi Coast? Enjoy her wonderful descriptions and drool over her beautiful photos! Thank you Laura!

 

Top 10 Things to do in Around Amalfi

Right up there with Positano, the towns of Amalfi and Ravello are the most visited travel destinations on the Amalfi Coast. I love the Blog Stains series that Rosa has created, and it’s a pleasure to share some of my favorite things to do in and around Amalfi and Ravello. Most of these activities will take you away from the crowds and show you a side of the Amalfi Coast that many visitors miss. Pack a good pair of walking shoes, because there are some hikes you won’t want to miss! Read on for tips on the best beaches, walks and views in Amalfi, Scala and Ravello.

1. The beautiful beaches are one of the main reasons to visit the Amalfi Coast, but the large Marina Grande Beach in Amalfi can get quite busy on summer days. To escape some of the crowds, take a short boat from Amalfi to the beautiful Santa Croce Beach just west of town.

 Ciao Amalfi Santa Croce Beach

Along the way the boat will stop off at the Duoglio Beach, which is a popular spot on the Amalfi Coast for wind surfing. Santa Croce is a little gem of a beach with incredibly blue water and lots of rocks to explore. There are a two local restaurants that also rent umbrellas and sun beds, which are a nice treat on this rocky beach.

 Ciao Amalfi Santa Croce Arco Naturale

Swim over to the Arco Naturale, or Natural Arch, just west of the beach. During the summer, you’ll see brave kids scampering up the rocks to jump off the arch.

2. Few of the travelers to the busy towns of Amalfi and Ravello know that located high in the mountains just between these two popular destinations is a sleepy little town called Scala where you can get a taste of quiet daily life in southern Italy.

Ciao Amalfi Scala

Scala is located just across the valley from Ravello and stretches out along the mountainside overlooking Amalfi and Atrani. It is composed of a town center and many hamlets that are connected by a road. Follow the road out of the town center and you’ll visit the hamlets of Minuta, Campidoglio and San Pietro before returning back to the center. It’s about an hour walk, and the first half is entirely uphill. But the bonus is that there are no steps along the way and very little traffic.

 Ciao Amalfi View Ravello from Scala

From the top of Scala in the hamlet of Campidoglio, the view overlooking Ravello and the coastline is spectacular. What’s even better is that you’ll have escaped all the crowds and be able to enjoy the view all to yourself.

3. High in the mountains above Amalfi is the Torre dello Ziro watchtower. Built in the 15th century as part of the castle defending the sea republic of Amalfi, a hike to this watchtower offers fabulous views overlooking Amalfi and Atrani.

Ciao Amalfi Torre dello Ziro Scala

The hike to the Torre dello Ziro begins in the hamlet of Pontone in Scala and takes about an hour each way at a leisurely (summer) pace. Bring a picnic to enjoy at the top!

4. Enjoy the gardens and stunning views from the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello. Yes, this one is in the guidebooks, but I’m always surprised how many first time visitors or day trippers to Ravello miss out on enjoying this splendid villa just because it’s not located right in the center of town. Follow the signs from the main Piazza Duomo, which will take you along a quiet walkway through a residential area to the tip of the promontory that the town sits on high above the Amalfi Coast. Plan about 20 minutes for the walk, which does involve some stairs and inclined paths along the way.

Ciao Amalfi Villa Cimbrone Terrace of Infinity

Upon entering the gardens you’ll find a little ticket booth opposite a beautiful cloister. You’ll be given a detailed map and all the time you’d like to explore the grounds. The Villa Cimbrone is famous for the Terrace of Infinity (above), with its—literally—breathtaking views of the dramatic, sheer drop down the mountainside and panorama overlooking the Bay of Salerno.

5. One of the most enjoyable and surprising hikes around Amalfi is up into the Valle dei Mulini, or Valley of the Mills, which is located above the town. Along the way you’ll see the ruins of the mills that once produced Amalfi’s famous paper. (To learn more about Amalfi’s fascinating paper history, visit the Museo della Carta, or the Paper Museum, in town.)

Ciao Amalfi Valle dei Mulini Stream

Pack a picnic to enjoy next to the cool mountain stream. Even in August it’s freezing cold and wonderfully refreshing to take a dip in.

Ciao Amalfi Valle dei Mulini Waterfall

When you reach the top of the valley you’ll think you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in a rain forest rather than the Amalfi Coast. The forests are thick and dark and the waterfalls so very unexpected. This is the other side of the Amalfi Coast that few visitors have the pleasure of discovering!

6. In September, the town of Scala hosts their Scala Meets New York Festival, which presents concerts, exhibits, special events and a memorial service honouring the victims of the terrorist attacks in America on September 11th. While the Ravello Festival attracts most of the attention, don’t forget to check the schedule for this festival, which also draws some big names.

Ciao Amalfi Scala Meets New York Bocelli

Last year the star of the festival was the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli who gave a concert in the main Piazza of Scala. All events for the Scala Meets New York festival are free and open to the public.

7. If you’re up for a lot of stairs, enjoy the hike from Scala to Amalfi, which takes you through the hamlets of Minuta and Pontone.

Ciao Amalfi View from Minuta  

Along the way between Minuta and Pontone, you can see the ruins of the 12th-century church of Sant’Eustachio. While you can’t visit inside the ruins, you can walk up close and see what remains of the interior walls and columns from the pathway.

Ciao Amalfi View of Amalfi from Above 

Below the sleepy little hamlet of Pontone the stairs become steeper as you descend down the mountainside to Amalfi. It’s a gorgeous view of Amalfi from above with the blue sea beyond. When you get to the bottom, it’s time for a swim!

8. If the Marina Grande beach scene in Amalfi is a little too crowded for your taste, walk to the other end of the town’s harbor to the more hidden Le Sirene Beach. This beach has two entrances to the sea between rocks and has strong sunlight until late in the afternoon during the summer.

Ciao Amalfi Sirene Beach

Swim west just a little ways and you’ll find the Grotto di Sant’ Andrea to explore!

9. Long before the S.S.163—the famous Amalfi Coast road—was constructed in the 19th century, the only way to move about on the coastline besides by boat was to climb endless numbers of stairs. The town of Amalfi has many small hamlets located up in the mountains surrounding the town, and the walkway connecting them to Amalfi is called the Via Maestra dei Villagi.

Ciao Amalfi Via Maestra dei Villaggi

From Amalfi follow this walkway west out of town and be prepared to climb up and up to reach the hamlets of Pastena, Lone, Vettica and … up and up to … Tovere located high above the town of Conca dei Marini.

10. Just a short walk from Amalfi is the small village of Atrani, which is much less crowded and chaotic during busy summer days than its better known neighbor. This picturesque little town sits at the base of a river valley and has a wonderfully peaceful feel. If the pebbly beaches of Amalfi hurt your feet, head over to Atrani where you’ll find a black sand beach.

Ciao Amalfi Atrani from the Sea

On the right side of town is the colorful Collegiata di Santa Maria Maddalena. On July 22nd for the feast day of Mary Magdalen, Atrani hosts a fun summer religious festival with a procession and fireworks on the sea.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Expat Women Confessions

 

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Living in Positano is not about lounging around on a sunny beach all day and having beautiful views to console you when things get rocky at home or at work. A holiday here does not easily translate into everyday life especially if you are an ex-pat from a faraway continent.

Living in Italy in a small summer tourist orientated town with barely any winter entertainment because your friends move out at the first hint of cold is not everyone’s cup of tea. It can be a lonely experience.

Small cultural problems surface which can test your sanity like battling with bureaucracy at the town hall, dealing with medical care in a language you are unfamiliar with or the lack of suitable local schools. Plane tickets to return home become a big part of the budget.  But above all it is the frustration with the laid back local’s attitude to problems and ‘this is the way things are here’ acceptance which makes lobbying for services and changes to the system almost unheard of.

I didn’t imagine that life would be easy when I moved overseas as an expat. I really missed family get-togethers and holiday traditions, and lost the support system of life-long friends. I was grateful for being able to understand the dialect in Positano as well as speaking Italian as it made my integration easier in a town that was already used to accommodating foreigners. It was difficult adapting to the confined spaces in Europe after a lifetime in Australia and comforts of home I took for granted were quickly forgotten as I pulled on extra sweaters in winter rather than stand on ducted heating for warmth. Now of course, the internet (when it works) has made the world a lot smaller and communication over long distances an everyday affair and helps keep one’s sanity.

A new book has been launched this month together with a competition on Expatwomen.com. It is full of tips that I wish I had read when I moved overseas 20 odd years ago:

Expat Women: Confessions - 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad

51lZKw72FCL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ This comprehensive guide book written by Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth for expatriates or want-to-be expatriates discusses chapter by chapter a real life situation which can arise living abroad. It offers sensible advice for any practical or psychological problem, reassurance and weighs up the positive and negative aspects of the decision-making. I was surprised at how much I have in common with these women!

Among the many examples of the situations the book deals positively with are those covering guilt over aging parents, loneliness, visa, alcoholism, trailing spouses, holidays, families,repatriation and reverse culture shock. It also talks about coping with the feeling of having no real home base especially for those families who work intensively in many countries. It has comprehensive tips and encouragement. Living as an expatriate can be bewildering culturally but is also an enriching experience opening a sea of opportunies.

As @downatheel mentioned on Twitter:

 ‘Usually I live the adrift feeling of living abroad. Today an anchor would be nice’.                       This book would be good anchor to hang on to.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Slow Food in Positano : Carciofi Imbottiti or Stuffed Artichokes

There is no better place to linger over a meal on holidays or weekends, than one in which you can watch ships cruising past in the distance or waves crashing on the shore.
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Meals on the Amalfi Coast and all of Southern Italy often involve the simplest fresh locally seasonal ingredients. Frozen ready made meals are unheard of and pizza if not home cooked, is a meal that comes directly from the wood fired oven in the restaurant closest to you, rather than a packet. Time and care is taken in preparation from scratch and often recipes are ‘family hand-me downs’ generation to generation.

Spring seasonal food in southern Italy is heralded by fresh asparagus from the mountains, Fava beans (broad beans) from the garden and artichokes from the shop.

I love finding artichokes as extras on menus at Positano in April and May as I can be sure they are fresh and cooked in a traditional way. Roasted in coals, conserved in oil, with pasta or potatoes, as a parmigiana ingredient instead of eggplant, artichokes are sought after and valued in Southern Italy. The exquisite Island of Procida in the bay of Naples even has its own Artichoke Festival in April!

When the artichoke season unfolds in Italy in early Spring, my family squeals with delight when they hear that tasty stuffed artichokes are on the menu at my place. They love them prepared this way so much that my son used to ask for  them before he could talk by miming the action used to eat them. I shared the recipe with Anna Savino from Itali Anna who said they were a big hit at her place too.

The basic recipe I use comes from my mother-in-law, and was a poor man’s meal, using left over pieces of stale bread rather than breadcrumbs but essentially the recipe is the same. There are no measurements here. If you like olives, add extras; same for capers etc. I use about 5 to 6 olives per artichoke and the same for capers. You will have to take your own initiative regarding the amount of breadcrumbs depending on the size of the globe.

They take a bit of time to stuff leaf by leaf but if you are only making a couple, life is simpler. They really are a slow food, as they are eaten leaf by leaf by holding the leaf with your fingers and scraping the flesh off with your teeth which is messy and can take a while as you can imagine. But they are oh so good!


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Stuffed Artichokes
Ingredients:
Fleshy artichokes with their stems, preferably round and not too big
Potatoes baby or cut into wedges
Stuffing:
Breadcrumbs
Salted capers, rinsed
Olives -green or black
Parsley
A garlic clove
Artichoke stems peeled
Condiment:
Olive oil
Salt
Method:
Cut the stem off the artichoke, peel the stem of its fibrous exterior to get to the tender heart. Place stem directly in water and lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Peel two bottom layers of the artichoke’s leaves off and discard. If the artichoke has spines on the outside cut them off with a knife. Firmly hit the artichoke upside down on the chopping board to loosen the leaves and throw it into the lemon water too.

Place all the stuffing ingredients except breadcrumbs into a processor and chop roughly. Tip into a bowl and mix in breadcrumbs and a good douse of extra virgin olive oil. Starting from the outer leaves place a small amount of stuffing at the base of each leaf with a tea spoon, turning  and filling the  artichoke until you reach the middle.

If there is stuffing left over after you have filled them all, a little can be placed in its heart (centre).
Place artichokes in a shallow pot or tin. Peel baby potatoes and place them between the artichokes to help them stay upright. Place a little water at the bottom of the pot, add salt to artichokes and a generous round of oil on top. Cover tightly and cook for 20-30minutes depending on the size and tenderness of the vegetable.
Check regularly to see that the water does not dry out. The artichokes will be cooked when the outer leaf detaches easily from its base.


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Rest them awhile, take your time and slowly enjoy the taste of Spring…

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I’m back!

Dear Readers,

I’m back in control of my blog!

Blogger finally answered my request and ousted the hacker who had hijacked my account. I will do my best not to let him back in, the scoundrel, although I really don’t know what the benefit would have been too him in the long run.

He has deleted pages including your bloglinks. If you have linked back to me please leave me a note in the comments so that I can exchange the favour.

I have included the two posts below that I wrote on my temporary blog  will I was waiting for some reaction from blogger so you have something to whet your appetite for holidays in Positano.

I am so happy :)

Thanks for bearing with me!

Zoom in on Positano

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‘A picturesque cascade of pastel coloured houses tumbling seemly haphazardly down the mountain wall.’

How many euphemisms can one find on the internet for my pretty town…

Positano is justifiably one of the most photographed towns on the Amalfi Coast. The juxtaposition of the mountains, arched windows, bougainvillea and incredibly blue skies enchant the visitors all year round who click with glee for their photo memories.

But what do I see when I look at their photos?

I , like other locals, zoom straight into our home.

Visible only from the sea, from other villas in the neighborhood or from certain angles on the beach, our home is positioned such that I am certain that when I take photos of ferries headed for Capri or Sorrento, they are full of tourists clicking their shutter right back at me.

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Sometimes I find recent photos on the internet or Facebook with detail of the neighborhood area so that I can tell whether the gardener’s covered the citrus trees, the wisteria’s finished flowering or, as in a few weeks ago, someone had been in our home.

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I peered closely at the photo. I distinctly remembered closing the shutters on the seaside as the sun fades furnishings quickly here. But this time there was a shutter window on one side that was open.

I mentioned it to Hubby who told me the carpenter had probably been in to take measurements for mosquitoes nets on the house, but soon we had a phone call from the caretaker to tell us a window on the French door had been broken.

Apparently the warped old French door had not been  closed properly by the carpenter’s apprentice (it has to have a particular knee-jerk -hand held high -while pushing  and turning the handle to lock into place) and had been thrown open in a windy storm.

So, thank you for admiring the scenery, and keep those cameras clicking if you happen to sail past!