A View of the Mountains and the Hills

IMG_6806A friend of mine and fellow Torino-dweller lives on the top floor of her apartment building and, as you can see, has an incredible view. On clear days the view from the terrace stretches to the Alps to the North, which you can see in the first two photos.

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From the back balcony you can see the hills bordering Torino to the east, along with a view of typical Torino rooftops. It’s quieter and more peaceful up there.

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Farinata and the Seven Dwarfs

IMG_1955Farinata! I had the pleasure of eating it twice in the past week around Torino. If you don’t know what farinata is, check out this post I wrote about it. The quick and dirty definition is a flat baked dish made with chick pea flour, olive oil, and salt. But that doesn’t do justice to the flavor explosion, the warm and creamy interior, the crusty and flaky top and bottom, the hint of spice from sprinkled black pepper… OK I’ll stop now.

In the above snapshot you can see the farinata that I ate last night when I went out for an aperitivo at the Caffé Rossini in Torino with a friend. We got there kind of early so I was eating other things, but I kept watching the counter to see if they would bring out any farinata, which is really good there. Finally my friend noticed that they put some out, and we wasted no time in hopping to the counter in a single leap and filling our plates.

IMG_1771This photo, on the other hand, was taken last Friday when I was out for pizza at a pizzeria called Alla Baita dei Sette Nani (At the Seven Dwarfs’ Hut). I didn’t actually eat pizza that time, but just got this generous plate of farinata. They had three serving sizes, and I got the largest one, which the server described as abbondante.

This pizzeria was really nice. It had an old fashioned, homey mountain feel inside and posters and decorations of the seven dwarfs everywhere. The three people I saw working there also seemed just barely five feet tall (152 cm). Now remember what the place is called….

They had a big wood burning oven in the back and cooked huge pans of farinata. I think the pan they used accounted for this farinata not being crispy on the bottom, which was strange, but besides that it was some of the best farinata I’ve ever had (so was the farinata from the above aperitivo). To tell you the truth, it’s hard to find farinata that I don’t like, but it has happened.

This is a picture of my place mat at the pizzeria; the top says “The seven dwarfs recommend their latest specialties”. I finally learned all of the Italian names for the Seven Dwarfs.

IMG_1769Here they are, with [hopefully accurate] explanations:

Dotto – Doc (scholarly [adj] or intellectual [n])
Mammolo – Bashful (naive person or simpleton)
Gongolo – Happy (??? any ideas?)
Brontolo – Grumpy (from the verb brontolare [grumble, mutter, growl])
Eolo – Sneezy (Eolo is Aeolus, the god of the winds)
Pisolo – Sleepy (from pisolino [nap])
Cucciolo – Dopey (puppy or baby animal)

I have to go food shopping because there’s not much to eat in the house. But as long as you have chick pea flour, you can make farinata (olive oil and salt are staples that are usually in). So I had farinata for breakfast this morning too. Thank goodness nobody will ever find out.

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Comment Issue

Hello everyone, I’ve noticed that every once in a while WordPress automatically changes my comment settings to make readers have to log in before they can post a comment. I prefer to keep comments open to anyone, without logging in, so when I notice that, I change it back.

Any WordPress bloggers out there know why this is happening? If any readers notice this, please feel free to let me know and I’ll change the setting back. I really appreciate all of your comments and thanks for reading!

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Gone Skiing!

ski_01Here are some photos from my ski trip on Sunday with my friend Giovanni to Monterosa in Valle d’Aosta, the region to the north of Piemonte (where Torino is) that borders France and Switzerland. More precisely, we drove to the town of Gressoney-La-Trinité, one of several small towns at various points on the mountain.

We were in the middle of the Alps very close to the Swiss border, and the scenery was breathtaking.

It was so nice to be back on skis. I hadn’t skied in ten years. It was also interesting to ski in Europe for the first time. Most things are the same, but the trail colors are different (easy trails were blue, not green; intermediate trails were red, not blue; difficult trails were black, which was the same).

Also, the ski lodges felt so much more European. I’ve only skied in a few places in the US, but I was used to one really big lodge, maybe at the base of the mountain, with a public building feel to it, lockers, cafeteria food, and long tables with plastic chairs, and then another smaller lodge at the top.

Here, on the other hand, there were many small lodges scattered around the mountain, usually near chair lifts. There was outside seating and inside it was cozy and snug with a fire and a few tables and even a lone musician playing softly. In the back there was a standard Italian bar with typical drinks and homemade-looking cakes. The aroma of the food inside was lovely. You can eat really well in these rifugi as they are called (“refuges/shelters”); they are little mountain restaurants.

We were lucky and there was beautiful weather and good skiing conditions. It was also quite warm. I don’t think I’ve skied in the spring before, but we were up between 2200 and 3200 meters (7,218-10,499 feet), so there was snow. We also practically had the mountain to ourselves and there were no lines at the chair lifts.

The strangest thing was, while skiing down a trail, being passed by a group of super-fast little kids zipping down the mountain like professionals. They were groups of students with an instructor, and better than any kids I can remember seeing. Giovanni said they were kids who were born in the Valle and so practically grew up on skis. I also saw kids having downhill races in which they ski around the flags.

When I participate in a new activity in Italy, I usually learn some new vocabulary. On Sunday I learned these:

seggiovia – chair lift
cabinavia (or officially, telecabina, or colloquially, ovetto “little egg”) – gondola / cable car (the small one)
funivia – cable car (the large one)

Here are some other words if you’re interested:
sciare – to ski
lo sci / gli sci – ski / skiis
gli scarponi [da sci], i bastoncini [da sci] – [ski] boots, [ski] poles
la giacca, i pantaloni, i guanti, la maschera, la sciarpa – jacket, pants, gloves, ski mask, scarf
la pista – trail, run, slope
la montagna – mountain
divertirsi – to have fun

Not all Italian vocabulary is firmly impressed in my mind, to the amusement of my friends. After a wonderful day of skiing, which passed all too quickly, I finally took those rigid ski boots off and put my regular boots on, which at that point felt like ballet slippers, and felt that my calf muscles were really sore. I clutched my calf and said, “Le caviglie sono doloranti” (My ankles are sore).

Once in the car, I suddenly felt all the tiredness that the excitement of the day had prevented me from feeling before. I got home around 6:45 pm, took a shower, and buonanotte.

ski_02We were surrounded by this fantastic scenery all day.

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ski_04Seggiovia (chair lift)

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ski_06There was even a covered chair lift to keep out the wind.

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ski_14Lunch break! We packed lunch so we couldn’t sit at the tables at the rifugio, so we sat on these reclining chairs with this view in front of us. Ahhhhhhh.

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ski_16The rifugio

ski_17I liked how people lined their skis up right on the snow. There weren’t any of those wooden racks.

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ski_19  _K0A1069 copy Heh heh.

Giovanni, with his good camera, took pictures while skiing, without falling on it or dropping it in a snowdrift.

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ski_24That’s a statue of a stambecco (a steinbock / Alpine ibex), a wild goat that lives in the mountains of the European Alps above the snow line.

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ski_29This is the slope where I fell. It’s steeper than it looks ;) I was fine… the funny part was that I slid and slid and slid really fast down the hill, losing both skis and poles and turning into a “big white cloud”, as my friend said. It seemed like I would never come to a stop; it was like a giant slippery sliding board. Then I had snow up my jacket and in my gloves, but thank goodness it was a warm day and I dried off. That was the only time I fell, except for another half time when I fell over from a standing position. Maybe I should keep that to myself.

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ski_34Cabinavia (gondola / cable car) You can see Gressoney-La-Trinité and the parking lot down below.

ski_35Two photographers going skiing involves many photo breaks like this…

ski_36… how could it not?

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ski_42‘Til next time.

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Wildflowers… Happy Spring!

wildflowers_01Spring has sprung here in Torino! We had such a mild winter this year that spring hasn’t had as strong of an emotional impact that is has some years, but it definitely is welcome and enjoyed. The other day I took a nice walk in the park around lunchtime, and I felt happy in the warm sunlight surrounded by beautiful wildflowers. I’ve even started running again.

Wildflowers are my favorite kind of flowers, and I gathered a bunch for the kitchen. They’re free, they’re abundant, they’re beautiful, and they make me smile when I see them on the table. My orange espresso cup was the perfect size for a vase, and it was a good opportunity to use it since I don’t like coffee. (I bought them in Switzerland because they are in my favorite color. I actually didn’t realize they were coffee cups.)

That reminds me… the cups and saucers were sold loose, so you could buy whatever number and combination you wanted. I brought two cups and two saucers to checkout, and on the way I dropped one and it smashed into pieces. I grabbed another one and brought all three to the register and tried to explain (I don’t speak German) that I broke one but would pay for it. The cashier gave me a strange look, took away the broken one, and only rung up the two new ones. That was such a shock, since I was used to the “you break it, you buy it” mentality of the US and Italy.

But I digress. Happy Spring, and thank you world for wildflowers. Don’t forget to notice them on the side of the road.

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Dolce Attesa – Maternity Photography: Rosemarie and Luca

r01EN: Rosemarie and Luca are expecting their first baby and we did a photo shoot both inside their apartment and outside in the park to document this special time in their lives. Fortunately, we woke up to warm and sunny weather even though it was the end of February. I loved the lighting in their bedroom with the french doors and curtains and feel that the shots inside show their anticipation, while I focused on their affection for each other in the outdoor images. It was a pleasure to work with this kind couple and I’m looking forward to meeting their new baby soon!

IT: Rosemarie e Luca aspettano la prima bambina e abbiamo fatto un servizio fotografico sia all’interno del loro apartamento che fuori al parco per documentare questo periodo speciale della loro vita. Per fortuna faceva caldo e c’era un bel sole nonostante fosse la fine di febbraio. Mi piaceva la luce nella camera da letto con le porte del balcone e penso che gli scatti dentro la casa mostrino la loro attesa mentre mi sono concentrata più sull’affetto che hanno l’uno per l’altra nelle immagini all’aperto. È stato un piacere lavorare con questa coppia carina e non vedo l’ora di conoscere presto la nuova bambina!

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Roasted Fennel, Fennel Salad, and Fennel Tea

fennel_01Fennel is a popular Italian ingredient and in this post we will look at three common (and delicious) ways to prepare it.

The first is roasted fennel, but it is so easy to make that it hardly needs a recipe or a post of its own. That’s okay, I can use this post to show off my new orange terracotta roasting pan (thanks sis!)

Allow me to digress: orange is my favorite color, but when I lived in the US it was hard for me to find orange things. When I was in college I wanted orange sheets for my dorm bed. I wanted to put them with my yellow comforter and red body pillow- the cheerful rainbow-y colors made me feel happy. But let me tell you, it was hard to find orange sheets in the stores and I had to settle for an orange-white combination.

In Italy on the other hand, orange is everywhere! The exteriors of houses and buildings are painted orange (and pink and yellow…) People paint the walls inside their houses orange. There is orange furniture. Orange bedspreads. Orange sheets. It’s heaven for someone like me.

But I think this post is supposed to be about food. And the food isn’t orange, it’s green. That brings me back to the fennel, or finocchio (rhymes with Pinocchio) in Italian. Or as we Italian-Americans pronounce back in New Jersey in some kind of surviving dialect: fin-oic.

fennel_02Raw fennel

A nutritious and fascinating vegetable (tastes like licorice!), my earliest memories of this food were the raw pieces of fennel my grandparents would put out on the table after dinner in bowls of cold water. I found out in Italy that eating raw fennel after a meal is a surviving Southern Italian custom (along with mandarin oranges and nuts on the table).

Roasted Fennel

I first ate roasted fennel when I went out for an aperitivo in Torino and it was one of the vegetable dishes in the buffet. Before that I had always eaten it raw. Roasted fennel is so delicious (it turns creamy, sweet, and crispy) that it’s hard to believe that the only ingredient is… fennel (with olive oil and salt of course).

To make: wash fennel bulbs and cut off the stalks. Cut the bulb into lengthwise pieces. Place in baking pan and toss well with olive oil and salt to taste.

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fennel_05Roast at 375ºF (190ºC) for about forty minutes, mixing every ten minutes, until it begins to caramelize and get nice and happy. Make sure it’s cooked enough- it should lose its crunch and get very soft (it’s almost done in the below photos but not quite). You can eat it right away or at room temperature.

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Fennel and Orange Salad

fennel_08There’s also a way to combine fennel with something orange… be still my heart! It’s a Sicilian “poor man’s” salad and so very good. When I was visiting Palermo, one of my CouchSurfing hosts made a fennel and orange salad as part of dinner, which we had with red wine made with grapes from the slopes of Mount Etna. Just cut raw fennel into small pieces and toss with sliced orange sections, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Fennel Tea

And last but not least: fennel seed tea. I started drinking fennel tea in Italy and it’s practically the only kind I drink now, since I’m not a big tea drinker. Fennel tea has a heavenly aroma, is calming, and is good for the digestive system.

You can make it the easy way like this:

fennel_09Or you can make it yourself from fennel seeds or fennel leaves.

fennel_10Fennel seeds

Fill a tea strainer with a couple of teaspoons of slightly crushed fennel seeds or roughly chopped fennel leaves and place it in a two-cup serving of water in a pot. Bring the water to a low boil, and then remove from heat immediately. Steep for two to three minutes and then remove the strainer. Let cool and drink right away.

Buon appetito!

For more detailed information about making fennel tea: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/make-fennel-tea-5057.html
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Scrambled Scrabble

What happens when an Italian and an American play scrabble (abbreviations allowed):

scrabbleQuick Italian lesson:

uva – grape
doghe – plural of doga – slat (like under a bed)
ematoma – bruise
cubi – plural of cubo- cube
Barolo – type of Piemontese wine (we relaxed the rules)
aereo – aerial
vice – vice (as in President, same in both languages)
onerosa – feminine form of oneroso- onerous, burdensome
seria – feminine form of serio- serious
porno – pornographic, pornography
BO – refers to the province of Bologna

That is a strange vocabulary list, but that’s what playing Scrabble is like.

Now I’ve got a tray full of vowels so I’m going to play more Italian words.

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Superga and a Torinese Courtyard

IMG_1300-4I was visiting a friend, who lives on the sixth floor of her apartment building, for our weekly Italian-English language exchange, when I looked out her balcony doors and saw this scene. The Superga Basilica was clearly visible in the cloudless distance, and I could also see into the courtyard of the group of apartment buildings across the street. This is a very typical Torinese scene.

Buildings in Torino are built in connected groups around a common courtyard, and only the facades of buildings and the (often empty) front balconies are visible from the street. But the backs of the apartments face into the courtyard and the back balconies are more colorful and lived-in; it’s where people hang their laundry, keep supplies, grow plants, and even eat outside. The heavy green cloth or white plastic drapes are used to keep off the sun and rain.

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Superga and the Moon

IMG_1296From parts of the city, the Basilica of Superga is visible at the top of a hill (called the Superga hill) to the east of Torino. Yesterday I snapped this photo because you can see the moon too. The Basilica, which is bright yellow, is interesting to visit for its history and architecture, and a cog railway running from the Sassi suburb takes tourists to the top of the hill. I recommend it; there is a spectacular view of the city from up there.

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