29 December 2013

LIFE: Bits and Bobs 2013

CHIAVARI, Italy – It’s the end of the year, not much is happening. Christmas is over and everyone seems to be quietly waiting for 2014 to see what surprises it is going to bring. To say things are moving pretty slowly in Chiavari would probably sum it up nicely but in other parts of Italy, like Florence and Rome, it’s a little different. Things seem to be pretty much on track there. Here are two bits and a bob from those two cities that you might find interesting.

Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze
 The First Bit. . . . is from Florence, Italy

The Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence Italy is currently hosting a Nicolo’ Machiavelli exhibition. You remember him, the Florentine writer, astute statesman, humanist, Italian historian, philosopher, ruthless power monger, father of political science, cunning schemer and unscrupulous politician who wrote that best selling treatise on how to get and keep power. Of course he wrote it 500 years ago, but it’s still a best seller in some political circles.   

Among the exhibit highlights are an autographed manuscript of Machiavelli’s L’arte della guerra, which has been called a Manual for Gangsters, and the original warrant for Machiavelli’s arrest in 1513. But perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibit is the Tavola Doria, a depiction of the central scene of Leonardo da Vinci’s Battle of Anghiari. The massive mural, which is now lost, was commissioned in 1503 to commemorate the Florentine Signoria’s glorious victory over the troops of the Milanese army in 1440. 

La via al ‘Principe’: Niccolò Machiavelli da Firenze a San Casciano

Until February 28, 2014

Biblioteca Nazionale (via Magliabechi entrance), Florence

Free entrance

The Second Bit . . . .  is from Rome, Italy

 Run Inna, Run

Inna Shevchenko, a well known pro-abortion activist and leader of the Ukrainian women's movement Femen, was stopped and arrested this week by Italian police while trying to enter St. Peter’s Square in Rome to protest the church’s anti-abortion policy.  The semi-nude activist tried to wiggle away as she shouted pro- abortion slogans but police quickly wrapped her in a blanket and hustled her off into a police car.

Femen is an anti-Christian, anti-Muslim feminist protest group that originated in the Ukraine but is currently headquartered in Paris. They are well known in Europe for their controversial topless protests against sex tourism, religious institutions, international marriage agencies, sexism and other social issues.

Ms. Shevchenko said that she, and other members of her movement, often take their clothes off to show police they are not carrying concealed weapons. 

And the last bit, or maybe this one’s a bob . . . . is back in Florence, Italy

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy

For those of you who don’t know, in Italy sometimes chestnuts are called marroni, and marroni are a less than polite name for a certain portion of a man’s dangling bits. But that isn’t why I found this bit of etymological research particularly interesting, honest.

In 1282 the historic Torre della Castagna (Tower of the Chestnuts) in the center of the city of Florence, became the meeting place of the Florentine Priori delle Arti. The Priori, also known as the Signoria, was the governing body of the Florentine Republic.

 Tower of the Chestnuts, Florence, Italy

The members of the Priori delle Arti were elected for two-month terms, during which time they were not allowed to leave the tower unless in the company of another member, ensuring that all contact with outsiders was monitored to reduce the risk of threats or bribery. Now there’s an idea worthy of revival given the sorry state of politics today.

The Priori were very influential in the decisions made for the Republic and they used a voting system similar to the modern day ballot. But instead of using pieces of paper stuffed in a box, they use chestnuts.  The number of chestnuts placed in small fabric bags indicated the voting preference of each member. In Florentine dialect boiled chestnuts are known as ballotte - you see where I’m going with this don’t you - and so there are some scholars who think this is why ballots are now called ballots. You think?

26 December 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Happy Santo Stefano

CHIAVARI, Italy – December 26, the day after Christmas, is an important national holiday in Italy. It’s the day of Santo Stefano. Santo Stefano, (Saint Stephen) was one of the Seven Apostles, and chosen by Saint Peter to collect donations to help the poor. He was also one of the first martyrs for Christ. In Italy il giorno di Santo Stefano is celebrated by feasting on the leftovers, if there are any, of yesterday’s Christmas dinner.
 Panettone and More
In the spirit of Santo Stefano today’s recipe for bread pudding is a great way to use up any left-over panettone. I never have left-over panettone, so I also buy extra just to make this recipe. Panettone  are so rich and eggy that the pudding bakes into an extra-silky custard that contrasts beautifully with the buttery golden top.

If you want to give your pudding a little extra zing, you can add a little scotch or marsala to your beaten eggs before you pour them over the panettone – no more than a teaspoon and a half of booze though for you only want a hint of flavor. This recipe comes out best if you use a shallow baking pan.

A Whole Lot of Yum

(serves 8)
½ stick unsalted butter, softened
1 lb. panettone, sliced 1 inch thick
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 ½ cups half and half (half whole milk, half heavy cream)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon marsala or scotch

Optional: ½ cup raisins softened with additional marsala, scotch or hot water

Butter sliced panettone on both sides and lightly toast in batches in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a deep bowl whick together the eggs, sugar, the half and half. Add vanilla flavoring and the marsala or scotch.

Tear panettone into bite size pieces and spread evenly in a buttered 13 x 9 inch bakig dish.  Scatter raisins over top if you are using additional raisins. Let stand for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/176 degrees C  with rack in middle position.

Bake until pudding is golden and just set, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bread pudding can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature or slightly reheat before serving.

22 December 2013

LIFE: T'was the Week Before Christmas

CHIAVARI, Italy – There is a big Christmas street party here in Chiavari this afternoon, with music, panettone and hot chocolate for everyone. This will be my first encounter with Christmas Chiaverse style, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. 
  When the Sun Goes Down at Oh Bei, Oh Bei
Last year at this time I was still living near Milan and the big Christmas blow-out there is the opening of the Oh Bei, Oh Bei. The Oh Bei, Oh Bei, which means ‘how beautiful, how beautiful’ in Milanese dialect, is more like a festive bazaar than a Christmas street party and has been big part of Milanese holiday traditions since 1288.

It’s more like a mega-market in the center of Milan, set up around the Castello Sforzesco with hundreds of local artisans selling everything from hand knitted scarves and sweaters to jewelry, toys and gastronomic delights, including roasted chestnuts and hot cups of mulled wine. It’s one of the biggest street fairs in Italy and an event no self-respecting Milanese would ever dream of missing. 

There’s more food (and lots of it, plus everything else) at the Artiginato in Fiera, a massive fair held at Milan’s newest fair ground, the Fiera di Rho. The Artiginato in Fiera is a multi-cultural event with artisans coming from as far away as South America and China to participate. It showcases the workmanship and traditions of hand crafted goods that have been passed down from generation to generation, the one-of-a-kind crafts you would only see at a local fair.

As there are times when pictures speak louder than words, here are some photos of the both the Oh Bei, Oh Bei and the Artiginato in Fiera. They will surely give you a solid dose of that happy Christmas spirit.

First up are photos from Milan's Oh Bei, Oh Bei (which actually means 'How Beautiful, How Beautiful in Milanese dialect). The photos are all from the Corriere della Sera.

 A Walk in the Park with Benefits

 So Much to Chose From

 Just Adorable

 Is That Santa Claus Up There?

 Here are his Elves

Round and Round the Castle We Go


 With a Little Music
 And a Little Polenta with Mountain Music
And Cookies
And a BIG Pot of Something That Looks Amazing
And Some Lip Smacking Good Salami From Piedmont 
And a Mountain of Sicilian Delights
And the Boss Says Try One of These
And One of These (I don't Know What They Are But They Look Good) Straight From the Oven
Did Someone Order Some Bread?
 What About These Beauties Straight From the Oven
And Last but Not Least the Christmas Cake

Merry Christmas