Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blogging Break

If you hadn’t noticed, I’v been taking a blogging break.  Between our return to California, the holidays and a whole bunch of unexpected (but welcomed!) work, the blog is on the back-burner for a few weeks.  Promise to return shortly in 2012.  

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


I just discovered I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Nichole at Cultural Comments...grazie mille!  I feel a little undeserving because I have not been at the best of my blogger game for awhile, especially while visiting my family back in CA, but the thought is much appreciated and gives me a chance to nominate some of my favorites as well.
Here’s how this works:

Rule #1: Link back to the person that gave you the award
Rule #2: Pass this award on to 15 other deserving blogs 
Rule #3: Give seven facts about yourself 
Blogs I adore and nominate:
  1. Little Paradiso
  2. A Certain Simplicity
  3. Ciao Lunigiana
  4. La Vita e Bella
  5. Madonna del Piatto
  6. At Home in Tuscany
  7. Hip Paris Blog
  8. Over a Tuscan Stove
  9. Help! I Live with my Italian Mother in Law
  10. Belle Provence
  11. Chez LouLou
  12. My Marrakesh
  13. Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome
  14. Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino
  15. Ciao Amalfi
7 (mostly little known) facts about myself:
1. Ok, known fact first: I live in the beautiful beachside resort of Lerici on the Italian Riviera, just south of Le Cinque Terre.  It’s a near perfect place in my opinion, as you feel far remove from things there, but the truth is you can be in a decent size city (La Spezia) in 15 minutes, on the autostrada in 10 and within an hour there are so many fabulous places to visit.  Also, the views and position cannot be beat! But I am originally from Laguna Beach, CA.  I consider myself still a bit of a “surf rat” and am most comfortable in beach attire and flip flops.
2. In my former/pre-Italy life, I worked for MTV, Motley Crue and Sony Pictures.  While it might seem all glamorous, it was a lot of organizing, negotiating and babysitting.  Fun while it lasted but don/t miss it a bit.  (And by the way, MC were some of the nicest dudes I ever met!).
3. I am obsessed with the old 90’s Japanese (and original) version of “The Iron Chef”.  Watching Chef Masaharu Morimoto come up with an amazing dish from one ingredient is food porn for me! :)
4. When I first moved to Italy, I went to school in Florence and worked at a B&B near Montecatini.  Loved going school but had to pull the plug on the B&B thing when the owner threatened me with a knife in hand!  
5. I wish I knew how to sew and could speak French!  I get great clothing and housing design ideas but no way to make them come to fruition.  The french is on the “to do” list for 2013.
6. The other country of my dreams is Thailand: beauty, grace, exotic, amazing food, tropical, colorful and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.
7. Come March 2012, we are expecting our first baby, Pietro.  A long time coming and a dream come true.  I am sleeping a lot these days as soon enough that won’t be the case (and would love anyone’s feedback on balancing motherhood and a business!).

Thursday, November 24, 2011


As I thoroughly enjoy our annual trip to the motherland (Laguna Beach, California), visiting family and friends, I cannot help but be grateful for all the blessings I’ve had in my life: health, beyond happiness, a beautiful family (on both continents!), a husband who brings me joy every single day, the unconditional love of the best dog on the planet, a job I love, fabulous friends, stability, and this year an even extra special gift, baby Pietro, arriving in March.  THANK YOU!!!!
My month here is always so precious, but when the time comes, I’ll be ready to head back to my adopted home, bell’Italia.

It is also a day to say prayers, send good karma and even help those less fortunate. Please continue to send support to the villages affected by the October 25 floods in Liguria and Tuscany:

Monday, November 14, 2011


This is a great blog/site (created by a group of expat women who live or have lived in Vernazza) for updates on its rebuilding progress, stories of its history and people, as well as a chance to donate specifically to its restoration: 

We hope her beauty will soon shine as bright as ever!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

It’s been a hell of a two weeks here in Italy, weather-wise, morale-wise, financially, etc.  I won’t go into the political or financial end of it too much, because 1) I am not an expert and 2) I don’t like to go there anyway.  My only remark will be to say how “pleasant” and reassuring it is to have politicians come to physical blows during a senate session the day after 9 people lost their lives in the floods of Liguria and NW Tuscany (and no, they were not related stories).
Two weeks ago today marks the death of one of Italy’s (deserving) “golden boys”,  Marco SImoncelli, a champion of motorcross (and wonderful role model) that took a bad turn during a race and lost his life in the process.  The country started to mourn that day.

RIP Marco...

Two days later, the nightmare began for Liguria & the Lunigiana area of Tuscany, as the land was pounded with a frightful amount of rain which unleashed a series of landslides turn tsunami.  Villages and lives were destroyed.  Some of Italy’s most picturesque coastline was churned into a stew of mud, cars,  and trash.  It was/is horrific.  

All that remains of one house in Vernazza, 
the top of the chimney...
We were fortunate here in Lerici taking a mild pounding, a few small mudslides but no major damage.  My in-laws place (and my husband’s warehouse) were a different story.  Both are located just a few 100 meters from the Vara River which bloated beyond its capacity sending nearly 2 meters of water onto the banks of the Val di Vara, again destroying homes and businesses.  Lui raced to the area (despite the torrential downpours in which no one should have been driving) to see what he could do to keep the water from entering into his warehouse and parent’s home.  When he got there, he realized very little, but God was on his side.  Two houses down was submerged in 4 feet of water, and brick and ceramic factory, just 200 meters from his place, lost over €1,000,000 euros in product.  A slight, unnoticeable slant in the road left Lui’s business and parents home in tact.  I cannot state enough the relief felt that evening, but also the overwhelming sense sadness and almost guilt that succumbed all of us knowing, we were the lucky ones when so many others were not.
A break of sunshine and good weather blessed the area for about 10 days so the villages could begin a very long and pain cleaning process.  It was a time of reflection and reinforcement of one’s beliefs and love for their hometowns.  Despite mother nature’s wrath, everyone seemed so determined to rebuild and overcome the aching sorrow felt inside.
Then came this past Friday.  Another awful storm that brought the city of Genova “to its knees” as stated in the headlines here in Italy.  If you read my blog in the past, you know I have a semi-love affair with Genova.  I find it to be a beautiful, raw, fascinating and very real city.  Watching the videos and pictures of a city submerged in water and out of control waves of water from what are usually small flowing streams, was like a horror film.  6 lives were lost and countless business gone.

Downtown Genova at Brignole Train Station...

Saturday, towns in Piemonte were evacuated and here on Sunday, everyone is still on pins and needles hoping the storm passes without further damage, especially to those areas who cannot afford or resist anymore.  We think the worst is over, but rain is still predicted over the next two days.  Lui can barely sleep thinking about the Vara River swelling over again.  My dear friend, Kate, who has done so much to help in her former hometown of Monterosso, now has to tend to her own home in Levanto, which was partially flooded, again by a little stream turn vicious wave of water and earth.  I am sure the people of Vernazza, Monterosso, Borghetto di Vara, Brugnato and Aulla are even more desperate.

Clean up begins...
I feel incredibly fortunate, but also exhausted by so much destruction and sadness here in Italy.  I also feel a bit of anger at the lack of coverage by the press outside of the country.  All they seem to report on is the “buffoon-ery” of Berlusconi and the financial woes (that yes, are also eating away at this country).  It would be nice to have the world know that Italy is not all about pasta, under-age escorts, tax evasion and good wine, but rather about the people who have worked their fingers to the bone to make ends meet or to even succeed fantastically (as many have in Le Cinque Terre), only to have their world shattered in less than 15 minutes of horrendous weather.  Real Italy is dealing with some serious problems and heartache, and could use a little empathy, prayers and understanding from beyond its borders.

Ok, off my soapbox now...

Friday, November 04, 2011


It’s been an exhausting 10 days for the people of Monterosso, Vernazza, Borghetto di Vara, Brugnato and Aulla.  These people have been working night and day to clean up as much of the damage as possible before a new storm arrives today.  
There are two blogs which I highly recommend for getting a first hand insight into what is going on in Le Cinque Terre:
Nichole in Vernazza at Cultural Comments
Kate at Little Paradiso in Levanto & Monterosso
I will continue to update what I learn as well and try to find someone in Lunigiana for information about that area (Sheila at Ciao Lunigiana is a good place to start).
Eventually I will start blogging again about life here in Italy and in particular my little corner of paradiso in Lerici on the Italian Riviera, but right now these villages and people take precedence.
Wish them all well as the storm clouds roll in once again.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Donating to rebuild this beautiful corner of the world just got easier thanks to the Italian Red Cross:
The instructions are in english and donations can be made by credit card.
Your help is greatly appreciated!

Friday, October 28, 2011

ON THE ITALIAN RIVIERA (and beyond)...

On Tuesday, October 25, Southern Liguria and NW Tuscany were violently hit by a freak rain storm that turned into horrid mudslides and floods, in some places more than 3 meters of water and mud.  The count of today is 7 dead and still several missing.  This is a miraculous number considering just how bad the damage is.  The famous seaside villages of Monterosso and Vernazza were virtually destroyed.  It will take a very long time to rebuild, but please help us to do so...
The town of Monterosso has set up an account for donations:
IBAN: IT64W0603049870000046275829
HEADING: “Un aiuto per Monterosso e Vernazza”
CAUSAL: “Alluvionati 5 Terre”
IBAN: IT11 Y061 7501 4000 0000 3452 080
CAB: 01400
HEADING: Società Edizioni e Pubblicazioni (S.E.P.) Spa
CAUSAL: “Alluvione Spezia”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Zuppa di Zucca e Porri
(Pumpkin & Leeks Soup)

It’s that time again.  The weather has taken its turn into fall with crisp days and low sun.  This is when I love to make soups!  One of the best things about soups is you can make big batches and freeze part so that you have some for the next time you have a craving.  I tend to make 3-4 of them over the course of two weeks and then use them throughout the month.  This week started off with Pumpkin & Leek soup as the “zuccas” are in season, and so yummy right now.

One medium size zucca (about 2 kilos or 4.5 pounds)
2 leeks
3 springs of thyme
1.5 liters of broth (I prefer vegetable)
olive oil
red pepper flakes
Pre heat the oven at 200° celsius (about 400° fahrenheit).
Cut up the pumpkin into 2 or 3 inch wedges and place on a cookie sheet (with carta al forno).  Bake the pumpkin wedges for about 45 minutes.  You can do this even hours beforehand as you want the pumpkin to cool a bit before adding to the broth.

While the pumpkin is in the oven, cut up the leeks down to the green part.  Add them along with the sprigs of thyme and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pot.  Simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so the leeks do not burn.  The add your broth, some red pepper flakes and let the whole thing come to a mild boil.

Once the pumpkin has cooled down enough to do so, scoop out the pulp and add it to the broth.  Let the whole thing come to a mild boil once again for about 30 minutes.

Cover and let cool.  You can do this part in the morning and leave all day as the flavors just become more intense.
Before serving, first taste to see if you want to add some salt (usually a little as the pumpkin tends to be quite sweet).  Remove the sprigs (mostly likely all the leaves have fallen off) and then take your handy-dandy hand mixer (cuisinart will do too but imo is a bit messy!) and blend into a creamy mixture.  Reheat and serve warm  with a dollop of robiola cheese or creme fraiche. Some other nice accruements include fried bacon pieces and chopped chives on top.


Friday, October 14, 2011

My Top Ten Places in Italy

People ask me this all the time and you know what, it’s not an easy answer!  There are so many places that I love in this country, the list really could be a few pages long.  But last night, I decided to take the first ten that came to mind (in no given order):

1. Portovenere, Liguria

My bias is big here as it’s where I met my husband, but the place is just magical.  An 1000-year old + seaside village characteristic of Liguria and its “pirate-like mentality”  Anyone who visits the region should spend a day here.

2. Mendolia Beach, Sicily

A simply beautiful cove just down the hill from Taormina where you can swim in crystal clear waters, soak up a little sun, enjoy a good meal ( the beach clubs makes some of the best canoli I’ve ever had!) and even visit the villa of Isola Bella.

3. Mercato Centrale, Florence

Built in the 1860‘s, this is a considerably new addition to Florence.  It was my “life line” when I first moved to Italy as a student.  I would get up early to do a little shopping before school, when it was full of little old ladies fighting over the produce!  You can find just about everything here, food and drink wise.  It’s an attraction all on its own.
With over 800 km (500 miles) of coastline, one is bound to find that perfect little beach spot. Be it on a white sand beach or craggily rock formations, the Adriatic sea will command you to enter her sublime waters for a swim or two.
5. Rooftop at Rinascente, Milan

Whenever I’m in Milano, this is one of the first things I do...head to the top of this department store for a caffè or glass of wine overlooking the Duomo.  The view stuns me as it feels like you could actually touch it!

6. Da’Adolfo, Positano

This private, little beach can only be reach by boat (look for the one with a red fish on it in the Positano harbor).  Here you can take a lounge chair for the day and enjoy a fantastic lunch right on the beach at it’s little shack restaurant (try the pasta with clams and pumpkin or spaghetti with calamari and tomatoes). Make a day of it - you will really feel as if you are on vacation!
7. Ortisei, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol

Charm does not even begin to describe this mountain resort village with its cupcake like building set in a dramatic valley surrounded by steep peaks and ski slopes. Additionally, you do not want to miss their fabulous breads and desserts such as “Le Fanziëutes da mëiles” (fried pastry with apples inside) and “Crafons da pavè” (krapfen with poppy seeds).
8. Salina, Sicily

Basically anywhere on this island could be summed up as paradise for me.  In my dream world, we would have a second home there.  Lush, rustic, lively, relaxing, beautiful beyond words and home to my favorite hotel in italy, Hotel Signum.  And there is nothing quite like the granite with gin you can get on this island!
9. Piazza di San Marco, Venice

I know, I know, it’s so popular and it can be a zoo, but is there anywhere like it (or Venice on the whole)???  In my opinion, no.  I love to sit down outside in one of the bars with a “spritz con aperol” and enjoy the music and atmosphere.  Despite its hefty price (at least €10 per drink), it’s a priceless scene.

10. Solaro di Lerici, Liguria

Where you might ask?!  That would be my borgo on the hill above Lerici.  To be specific, our terrace.  In the summer, it becomes my office, my refuge from the heat, my inspiration for meals, and our hand holding sanctuary after a long work day.  There is something hypnotic about it.
What about you?  What are your top 10 favorite places in Italy?  
Would love to see some other bloggers out there come up with their list!

Friday, October 07, 2011

La Spezia Train Station Parking

Good news for visitors of Le Cinque Terre arriving by car. After an extensive 3 years of construction, I am happy to report that the new parking lot at the La Spezia train station is finally open for business.  This will make a day in Le Cinque Terre much, much easier for those coming from farther afield (Lerici, Tuscany, etc.)

There are 116 spaces and a very nice, well-kept structure. Even with clean bathrooms as you have to use a code on your ticket to enter them and well as the parking area.  While a bit pricey (about €13 for 8 hours), you are able to use credit cards as well as cash, and the convenience outweighs the cost in my opinion.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Walks, Wine & Wonders 
on the Italian Riviera

Start your 2012 Italy planning and join us for a very special week on the Italian Riviera!  Not only will you enjoy the beauty and trails of Le Cinque Terre, but also make visits to fabulous (and underrated) Genova, the marble mountains of Carrara, gorgeous Portovenere and chic Portofino PLUS visits to local wineries and other hidden gems of the area.  

Check out our itinerary:

This is just one of several fun and unique hosted tours we are organizing for next season.  For more information and ideas, please take a look at our Hosted Tours page on

A presto!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another easy one for you all: 
Pagello (sea bream) and leeks with cauliflower pureé!  

Ok, we’ll start with the fish:
  • 1 Pagello per person (they are not that big), cleaned*
  • 1 leek per pagello, chopped in to thin pieces
  • olive oil
  • fresh oregano, chopped finely
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • salt to taste

Pre-heat oven at 200° C or 425°F
Make sure the Pagello has a nice cut from head to tail for stuffing.  Sprinkle a little olive oil inside, then a little salt, add the leek, a bit of white wine and then the oregano.  Stick them in a pyrex pan or regular pan with “carta al forno” and then cover with aluminum foil.  Cook for 25 minutes.

Next is my new favorite concoction.  I love mashed potatoes, but was looking for a new twist that might not bloat me up as much.  So I thought cauliflower!
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 cube of butter
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • salt to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut up the cauliflower and add them to the water.  Let boil for about 12 minutes, until the cauliflower is getting mushy. Drain and put in a bowl.  Add  the ingredients a little at a time.  You have to be careful that it doesn’t become too liquid-like as the cauliflower requires much less than the absorbent potato.  Use a hand mixer to create a nearly fluffy pureé.  Serve hot.

There’s a lot of white going on, on the plate, so add a few of the leeks to one side and a little mixed salad to the other and it will spruce it up a bit.  It can’t get much simpler than this!
*Pagello can be replaced with just about any flakey white fish, just make sure it’s a whole, fresh fish and preferably “pescato” (fished).

Friday, September 09, 2011

Tegame di Vernazza

I had an itching for anchovies.  Just love them.  Poor little guys get a bad rap, especially in the states where the only use for them seems to be in caesar salad dressing or on top of a pizza.  But these tiny, shiny, very pretty little fish (look at one closely) are jam-packed with flavor (and not fishy flavor like you might think) and a whole bunch of fabulous vitamins to keep us healthy. 
In a world where certain fish (that are less good for us) are going extinct, we need to rethink our fish intake and start to recognize that “pesci poveri” (poor fish) or “pesci azzuri” (blue fish) are, in fact, one of the best “meats” a person can eat. They are also plentiful and inexpensive.  Along with yummy little anchovies, this fish group includes sardines and mackerel.  All it takes is a little educating and trying out a few recipes to find there is nothing fishy about these fish.

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now and give you the recipe! This is a very typical dish of Le Cinque Terre (hence the name with Vernazza in it!) and very easy to make:
1/2 kilo of fresh anchovies 
2 large potatoes
1 large tomatoes
A handful of Italian parsley
1 clove of garlic 
olive oil
1 cup of white wine

Pre heat oven at 200° C (about 400° F)
The cleaning of the anchovies is the only real time consuming part of this recipe.  In order to clean an anchovy, you have to “pop” off the top of the head and then pull down to take out the insides.  Then along the same cut, open the rest of the body with your finger and pull out the spine.  Ok, might sound really gross, but once you do one, you’ll almost find it rewarding to continue, no joke!  If you get skirmish about these things, your fish monger will probably take care of the cleaning for you. 

Cut the potato into thin slices (about 1 cm thin) and then chopped up the tomatoes into little pieces.  Mince the parsley and garlic together along with a little salt and if you like, as I do, a little red pepper flakes for some punch.
Use either a pan with sides (ceramic or tin, but with tin use “carta al forno” underneath) and then start lining the pan in layers starting with the potatoes, then the anchovies, then a bit of the parsley mix, then the tomatoes, then a few more anchovies and parsley mix.  

Sprinkle the top with olive oil and the white wine.   Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30-35 minutes.  What comes out is a flavorful and super healthy “secondo piatto” for 4.

Please try this dish and let me know if I have converted you to an anchovy lover like me!