Christmas gift giving in Italy doesn’t involve a cheery fat fellow in a red fur trimmed suit and it doesn’t necessarily happen on December 25th. The holiday season in Italy extends well into the New Year when La Befana, the Christmas Witch,visits Italian children on the eve of January 6th. La Befana arrives on the eve of the Epiphany, to fill children’s stockings with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal (black rock candy) if they are bad. Although in Italy Santa is a little old lady wearing a black shawl traveling by broomstick rather than a sleigh, La Befana does fly down the chimney covered with ashes and soot with a bundle of toys flung on her back.
In fact the tradition of La Befana is all about gift giving with vestiges of ancient manners and customs dating to pre-Christian folklore when the Roman goddess Strenia brought gifts of figs, dates, and honey to celebrate the beginning of a new year. In the Christian version, the Three Wise Men stopped to ask La Befana for directions to Bethlehem and invited her to join them on their journey to find the Christ Child. She refused, saying she had too much work to do. Regretting her decision La Befana began searching for the Wise Men but could not find them or the Christmas stable. Now, each year she looks for the Christ Child leaving sweets at every house with children to remember the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to baby Jesus.
Savoring the end of a perfect Thanksgiving dinner with pumpkin pie and a cup of espresso? Take a moment to give thanks to the Pilgrim Fathers of espresso.
In 1935, Francesco Illy created the “illetta” the first automatic espresso machine in the northern Italian city of Trieste destined to revolutionize the coffee world. The “Plymouth of espresso”, Trieste faces the blue Adriatic and not unlike its Cape Cod counterpart is battered by the Bora, a powerful north-easterly wind most common in the winter.
Other pilgrims followed including Achilles Gaggia, who in 1946 invented the modern-day espresso machine using high pressure and a spring powered lever system. The first pump driven espresso machine was produced in 1960 by the Faema Company. Both the spring powered lever machine and the pump driven machines are still in use today.
Although we don’t often associate turkey with Italy, tacchino is considered to be a favorite family style dish among Italians. They are particularly fond of the breast, stuffing it with various ingredients typical of the region like prosciutto crudo, pecorino and parmigiano cheese making it a perfect choice for an Italian inspired American Thanksgiving.
You can read about my favorite Italian turkey dish, one that I prepared with Chef Daniele Sorrenti at a Seeing and Savoring Italy cooking school in Emilia Romagna –
Duchese di Tacchino con Prosciutto Crudo di Parma e Caciotta Misto Pecora al Vino Passito.
Chef Daniele adds an inspired vibe to traditional Emilian Romagnan cooking that infuses every dish he makes with flavors both old and new. The net effect – something very exciting and filled with love.
One of my first purchases in Italy was a scarf. All my cousins were wearing them and even though the weather in early September was warm they still wore scarves. On that trip I became obsessed with scarves. I bought them in the fashionable shops of Milan, in the markets of San Lorenzo and from street vendors in Siena. I bought them in every style, color and texture my then lira could buy and watched in awe as Italian women effortlessly wore this simple yet profound piece of cloth tied in the perfect knot .
Italian women know that few fashion accessories have the power to add immediate interest and style to your wardrobe as easily and affordable as a scarf! These fashion “statements” are so versatile and flexible with many different ways to show them off, that fashionistas around the world have made the Italian scarf the accessory du jour. The Italian scarf is one grab and go fashion accessory that can create an immediate lifestyle change. A perfect way to experience Italy in 30 seconds!
PS: Size does matter. I have found the best length to achieve the look of the Italian scarf is 26 inches wide and 70 inches long. See Italian Rugby player Luke McClean make the perfect Italian loop.
Italy – Arizona. What’s the connection? As it turns out quite a bit especially in Sedona . The red rocks, canyons and undulating hills of the Sonoran desert minus the cactus reminded me of Tuscany’s Crete Senesi. The panoramic views and spectacular rock formations in and around Sedona are as impressive and breathtaking as the Tuscan desert. Native Americans consider the Red Rocks of Sedona a sacred site. Although a continent and ocean apart, I felt many of the same feelings standing among the crimson sandstone cliffs that I felt among the spires and mosaics of Italy’s great cathedrals.
After an early morning espresso I decided to take an Itailan-inspired hike on the Coffee Pot Trail, to the base of Coffee Pot Rock (yes, it really does look like the spout of a coffee pot). The trail description for this 2.4 mile round trip hike is marked easy, meaning there is little change in elevation. But remember you are in the red rock country of northern Arizona so be prepared for loose rocks, stepping-stones and hiking across ridges and gullies. Also be prepared for the stunning beauty of a sandstone suite of colors created by the facets of red rocks against the bluest of skies.
Note: Look for cairns (carefully arranged piles of stones) that mark the trail and bring sunscreen, a hat, water and a charged cell phone. Even though this trail is in site of residential houses, it is part of a wilderness area and you need to be prepared even for a short day hike.