Tasty Halloween Spirit

IMG_3433-2Yikes, look at these cakes. This bakery has definitely gotten into the spirit of Halloween, which is starting to get more popular here in Italy. I think the funny thing is how the signs just say “Chocolate and Chantilly cake” and “Hazelnut cake”, without any mention of, say, “Giant Bloodshot Eyeball”, “Bloody Brain”, and “Freaky Undead Fingers Emerging from the Grave”. How appetizing.

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Italian Seasonal Cooking, Roasted Beets, and Red Beet Pie

beets-1Red Beet Pie

It’s fall! The weather has been really nice here in Torino. Sometimes I dread the arrival of fall because I like the summer so much, but I am enjoying the beginning of the season this year. We’ve had some chilly rainy days, but we are also enjoying many warm sunny days and generally pleasant weather.

I’ve been feeling a strong urge to cook traditional Italian seasonal dishes this fall. I’ll tell you something about myself: I like to cook but even though I live in Italy I don’t always cook Italian food. Many of my staple dishes are international ones like Pad Thai, spicy Moroccan fava beans, and squash curry. I also like to make American vegan dishes like black bean burgers, and when I don’t feel like cooking I’ll eat french fries and salad or frozen minestrone soup.

That said, I love going to the market and buying what’s local and in season and what looks interesting. Torino has a famous and very large outdoor market called Porta Palazzo and when I go there, I want to buy everything I see. There is a section in one corner of the market where the local Piemontese farmers sell their produce, and that is my favorite part. The prices are slightly higher than the regular part of the market, but I like to buy from the local farmers and the selection is vast and changes with the season.

IMG_3278A random shot from the Piemontese farmers’ section at Porta Palazzo. The cavolo nero you see is dinosaur kale which is in season now.

So, with the fall weather, the scrumptious local ingredients available, and my desire to cook seasonal foods, I have decided to get to work making some classic Italian dishes. I started today.

Around this time of year you can find roasted beets and onions in the markets. I didn’t know what they were at first and I must say they aren’t that attractive, so I stayed away from them initially. Curiosity eventually got the best of me and I brought some home.

The first time I bought them, I peeled the beets with a knife and made beet salad, which is made with the beets cut into strips, olive oil, salt, and oregano. It was pretty good.

beets-2Roasted Beets and Onions
 
beets-4What they look like peeled
 
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beets-5Beet Salad with olive oil, salt, and oregano

The beets have a subtle roasted flavor which is very good, and I prefer it over the taste of canned or vacuum packed beets.

I didn’t really know what to do with the onions. I baked them with oil, salt, breadcrumbs, and capers, but they weren’t fantastic since they are already cooked and take on a unique flavor from their original roasting. If anyone knows how these onions are usually prepared, I’d love to hear about it!

A couple days ago, I bought some more roasted beets and onions. I just so happened to have all of the ingredients at home that are used to make a Northern Italian mountain recipe, Red Beet Pie, so I went for it.

I love recipes like this, local fare made with just a few simple ingredients. There’s nothing fancy about potatoes and beets, but the end result gives surprising satisfaction. It’s also a vegan recipe in it’s original form, so I didn’t make any changes.

The pie was pretty easy to make. Boiling the potatoes took the most time. I used a store bought puff pastry pie crust (the soft rolled kind), but if you feel up to it you can make your own.

Here is the recipe (photos after recipe):

Red Beet Pie

Ingredients:

1 medium sized cooked beet, preferably roasted
3 medium potatoes
1 stalk of celery
1 clove of garlic
salt and pepper
1 puff pastry pie crust

Method:

1. Peel the beet if you’re using the roasted kind.
2. Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft. Let cool and peel the skins off.
3. Finely chop the celery and garlic.
4. Mash the potatoes and beets together, then add the celery and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Taste the mixture to make sure you’ve added the right amount.
5. Prepare a round pie pan with oil and flour, or use the oven paper that comes with a store bought pie crust. Lay the crust down in the pan. Spread the beet mixture evenly over the crust, and fold down the edges all around the pie.
6. Bake at 350°F/180°C for twenty minutes.
7. Let cool and enjoy at room temperature.

beets-6Ingredients: a beet, potatoes, celery, and garlic, plus salt and pepper and pie crust
 
beets-8Mashed potato and beet mixture
 
beets-9Add the chopped celery and garlic.
 
beets-10Spread the mixture in the pie crust.
 
beets-11Voilà!

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beets-13

beets-14Mmmm this is really good. I can taste every ingredient that went into it. It has a subtle flavor enhanced by the celery, with the salt, pepper and garlic providing “oomph”. The potatoes give it a creamy consistency while the beet deepens the flavor and gives it an attractive rose color. Success! (Yes, I just tasted it after writing this whole post.)

Goodbye for now. I’m going to have another slice. Buon appetito!

beets-15

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The Creeps

Months ago my boyfriend was joking around and said (in Italian), “Nothing you say makes sense.”

I rose up in my seat to contradict that and exclaimed, “Faccio sempre senso!

He froze, then burst out laughing.

Outcome not good. I figured I messed up somewhere and said something other than “I always make sense”, which is what I was going for.

He said fare senso means something like fare schifo (to be gross or disgusting) but with a slightly different meaning.

Well, I looked it up. I had proudly proclaimed to anyone who would listen that “I always give people the creeps!”

N.B.: We say ‘make sense’ and Italians say ‘have sense’, so ‘to make sense’ is avere senso (not fare senso).

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Teddy Bears and Dancing Men Teach Us Metro Safety

IMG_3211-2  IMG_3212-2If you have ever ridden the metro in Torino, you will probably recognize these signs. They are posted on all of the metro car doors.

For some reason they use a teddy bear to tell people to keep their arms clear of the closing doors. The unfortunate (yet still smiling) bear, arm stuck in door, is shouting “Ahiii!” which means “Owww!” in Italian. It’s not pronounced “Ah-heee!” like it looks, though. It’s more like a long drawn-out “I”, or “Eye-yeee” pronounced in one smooth syllable.

That’s how Italians vocalize when they are in pain, and they laugh when I say “Ouch!”

The second sign warns us not to lean on the doors, lest we risk losing our balance (or breaking into dance, it’s hard to say from the picture). This sign appears not just on the doors of the metro, but on the doors of every bus in the city. What I can’t wrap my head around is how, given the number of buses and the number of years they have been in circulation, no one has corrected the basic grammar mistake on the English translation, which is the case because the same sign appears on brand new buses and trams in Torino. (It should say “Do not lean on the doors”, rather than “to the doors”. “To the doors” is a literal translation from the Italian.)

However, apart from the entertaining signs, I think Torino’s public transportation system is really great. I don’t have a car, and I take the trams and buses often (other times I use my bike). The network goes almost everywhere, and each stop is clearly marked with a big yellow sign listing all of the stops on the line and the name of the streets on which those stops are located. The current stop is highlighted so you know where you are.

Sometimes the buses are really crowded, and sometimes you have them practically to yourself, but hey, it’s a big city.

The metro is fairly new and completed automated. Since there are no drivers, the ends of the first and last cars are made of clear glass, so you can see the tracks and watch your progress down the tunnel. The tires are made of rubber which means the metro is very quiet, which is my favorite thing about it. Also, no one can fall onto the tracks because they are closed off at every stop by glass doors, which open directly into the open doors of trains once they arrive. The only drawback is that there is only one line, so it doesn’t help the people who don’t live or have business near it.

What I’d really like to see, though, are more bike paths in the city. There are already a lot of people who use bikes in Torino, but safety and bike trails are an issue. If you speak Italian, check out the website of Bike Pride, which works to promote urban cycling, bike culture, cleaner air, and safety on the roads.

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Summer Vacation

Hello World,

I know I haven’t posted in a while. Please forgive me. I was on vacation! I’m back in Torino now and I’ll be posting more about Italian life soon. For now, here are some photos from this August in the U S of A. I took them all with my amazing point and shoot camera, which was all I felt like carrying around with me, since I was there to relax. All of the photos I took of Philadelphia, I took with film, so maybe I will post them later after I scan the negatives.

Ciao!

usa-1 One of my favorite places to be: the Ocean City, NJ beach at sunrise. You can see Atlantic City in the distance.

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usa-5  usa-6 The Ocean City boardwalk early in the morning.

usa-7 Part of the seven-mile long beach. I worked in that big pink hotel one summer.

usa-8  usa-9 A welcome change of scenery. These photos were taken on a camping trip in the Delaware Water Gap State Park, on the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border. It was beautiful. I didn’t even care that it rained most of the time.

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   The park contained hundreds of waterfalls.  usa-13A house on the main (and only) street of Walpack, NJ, which is inside the state park. It looked like a ghost town with about five or six houses, a post office, two churches, and the ruins of a gas station on a single street.

usa-35Need gas?

usa-14OK, I do have just one digital photo from Philadelphia… and the most important one! Nothing beats a genuine Philadelphia soft pretzel bought from a food cart on the streets of the city. Price: 50 cents. Mustard on top is a must, in my opinion.

usa-12Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. You can see Brooklyn in the distance.

usa-15 I liked the contrast between these older buildings in Chinatown and the skyscrapers in the distance.

usa-16 Brooklyn as seen from the piers.

usa-32 Took a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which is completely free, and saw these views.

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usa-18  usa-19 Coney Island

usa-34The original Nathan’s famous hot dogs, Coney Island

usa-20 Central Park

usa-21 Authentic bones in the American Museum of Natural History

usa-22 My favorite animal

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High Line Park, a park built on the tracks of an old elevated railway that passed high up in the city, really close to buildings and sometimes going right through them.

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usa-25

Barnegat Lighthouse, on Long Beach Island, New Jersey

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Walkway to the beach at Cape May Point, New Jersey

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An old World War II bunker built on the beach at Cape May Point, NJ

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usa-30Lighthouse, Cape May Point, NJ

usa-28 Humans

usa-29Seagulls :)

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Italian Cemeteries

IMG_2656This post is a personal glimpse of a small number of cemeteries that I have visited in Italy, which I find to have a particular quiet beauty.

Those who die in an Italian city will likely be placed in a cemetery like this one, which is part of the Cimitero Monumentale in Torino. The dead are not buried in the ground but entombed in vertical niches like those seen here. What I find most interesting are the photos beside the names, which are most always accompanied by flowers placed in special built-in vases.

IMG_2659I visited a small mountain village in Liguria called Fontanarossa, where one of my ancestors was born. Today the village has very few inhabitants, although in the 1800s it was a regular small farming town from which many people, including my great-great grandfather, emigrated to America. I found the cemetery to be very beautiful, if that is a word that can be applied to graveyards. The church of Santo Stefano, seen in the first photo below, was built in the 1100s.

Fontanarossa-7

Fontanarossa-11 A more modern structure with vertical tombs can be seen in the back.

Fontanarossa-12  IMG_4427 The next three photos were taken in the cemetery of another of my small ancestral villages, called Diecimo, in Tuscany. It is the birthplace of one of my great-great grandmothers, who in fact also emigrated to America and, in Philadelphia, met and married the great-great grandfather from Fontanarossa of whom I just spoke above.

Una curiosità (an interesting fact): the town’s name of Diecimo, which is related to the Latin (and Italian) word for “tenth”, comes from the town’s location at the tenth mile on the way from Lucca (a historically important city) to Rome.

IMG_4828There is more space here and the tombs are more spread out, but again, no one is buried in the ground.

IMG_4835Flowers and photographs adorn the graves. Many of the tombs displayed the last name of my great-great grandmother. The name was widespread there, both in the cemetery and on the doorbells throughout the town. I have noticed this in most of my small ancestral towns, which took me by surprise because I didn’t know anyone, besides relatives, with my name in the US.

IMG_4839The church that is just visible in the background is the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta, a very ancient church that was built sometime before the year 919 (Wikipedia says in the sixth century), as a historical document from that year mentions the existence of the church, but not the year it was founded.

I will end this post with one of my favorite travel photographs, which I took outside the town of Trino, about an hour east of Torino. The photo shows the old cemetery walls, which enclose the interior from view. In the distance the Alps are visible, and they are always a beautiful sight when they fill the horizon on clear days.

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Posted in Italian Life, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Farinata and Pizza al fresco

IMG_2584Me + farinata = happy

IMG_2585Pizza al Tegamino (Pan Pizza)

I went out for pizza on Sunday night and returned to Alla Baita dei Sette Nani (At the Seven Dwarfs’ Hut), a totally unpretentious, mountain cabin-style pizzeria downtown (which I wrote about here). One of the four tables out on the sidewalk was free, so we were able to dine al fresco which was nice because the street was closed to traffic.

I ordered farinata for an appetizer. It’s one of my favorite foods, even though I never even heard of it before coming to Torino (see my first post about it and recipe here). I was temped to get the abbondante portion, but settled for the medium size instead, to leave some room for the pizza.

While eating, I noticed two girls at one of the other outside tables. They had partial plates of food in front of them and were both leaning over their cell phones completely absorbed in whatever important things they were doing in their virtual worlds. It reminded me of what one of my friends told me about when she put her apartment up for rent for tourists in Torino. A potential renter contacted her and asked if there was wifi in the apartment. My friend said she wanted to put up a sign in the house saying “No wifi. Talk to each other.”

But I digress.

This pizzeria specializes in pizza al tegamino (pan pizza) cooked in a wood-fired oven. The pizzas seem small but they fill you up. The crust was very tasty, but the combination of vegetables they topped my pizza with was a little weird. My favorite pizza al tegamino is still the one I get from the take away pizza place a block away from my apartment, which is so flavorful and topped with a generous portion of grilled peppers, eggplant, and zucchini.

But I’m willing to taste-test my way around Torino’s pizzerias to see if anyone can make a better pan pizza. All in the name of research, of course.

In conclusion, a good time was had by all (except maybe the cell phone girls). Especially since there was farinata.

Postscript: If you promise not to tell, I’ll show you what I had for breakfast this morning.

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Jennifer & Massimo – Wedding in Cortazzone d’Asti

j-m-w_38IT Ho avuto il piacere di fotografare il matrimonio di Jennifer e Massimo ed è stata una bella giornata per due belle persone. Abbiamo cominciato la mattina presto da Jennifer, dove si è preparata con delle sue amiche e l’adorato cane Boby. Poi siamo andati alla Parrocchia Maria Ausiliatrice a Torino dove aspettavano Massimo e numerosi amici e parenti. Arrivata la sposa con suo padre, è cominciata una bella cerimonia e dopo aver lanciato riso e coriandoli siamo andati all’Agriturismo La Luna Nera dove si cominciava a mangiare e festeggiare. Il servizio si è concluso con un photobooth dove abbiamo scattato foto divertenti agli sposi con gli amici. Tanti auguri ed è stata una bella esperienza sia da fotografa che da amica.

EN I had the pleasure of photographing Jennifer and Massimo’s wedding and it was a beautiful day for two beautiful people. We started early in the morning at Jennifer’s home, where she got ready with some of her friends and her beloved dog Boby. Then we went to the Maria Ausiliatrice Church in Torino, where Massimo and many friends and relatives were waiting. Once the bride arrived with her father, a nice ceremony began and after throwing rice and confetti we went to the La Luna Nera Agritourism where everyone started eating and celebrating. The photography ended with a wedding photobooth in which we took funny pictures of the bride and groom with their friends. Best wishes; it was a great experience both as a photographer and as a friend.

Foto di Michelle Bottalico e secondo fotografo Giovanni Gambacciani

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Posted in Matrimoni - Wedding Photography | 5 Comments