Sunday, January 30, 2011

Comments on Should you go to Culinary School?

Well, it's nice to see you folks are concerned for my welfare.  Donna said they had a GPS and never got lost. Just make sure it's programed for Italy.  Greg told me to rent the car at the airport.  Denise was comforting and explained at the very least, Chris would be by my side in the car. 

All so much appreciated.  I was given a TomTom by Franco to use while I'm in school.  Which means I can use it to get to the airport today.  When Chris rented the car using AAA, they didn't have cars at the airport from Hertz, which is the company AAA uses exclusively and at a very discounted price, for the time we wanted to rent the car.  Doesn't make sense to me either, but I wasn't there.

And as our daughter Erin will attest to, I love my wife with all my heart.  But as a passenger in the car, she rates about a -100 on the friendly passenger scale.  Love you dear, I really do.

Since we are here long after school is over, I will get the GPS, pay the extra dough and breath.  It won't make the other guys better drivers, but peace of mind means alot when you can't see the road signs in the city and most of the street names all begin to look the same anyway.  The added bonus of dropping the car off in Rome, since we are spending our last few days in the city, will mean I won't have an extra drop off charge. And I can take the train directily to the airport when we do leave.

Finally, only Denise asked if I could answer my rhetorical question about going to culinary school?

Thanks Denise, Donna and Greg.


Sunday came and we were back to work.  Good news!  Paola, still not feeling 100%, had started the days menu for our six guests and it was a busy one.  Starting with breaded and fried chard & fried cheese.  Then naked ravioli, cooked with butter and parmasean cheese. Fennel wedges covered in a bechamel cheese sauce.  A pork and prune kabob with a orange zest, fennel powder, salt and pepper rub.  A cheese and speck pizza.  Vegetable soup with pork skin and beans. Soo good! I made Pate a Choux with a lemon pastry cream filling for desert.

Then more good news, their daughter Cecila came in from Roma with her boy friend.  He is preparing to circum-navigate the globe in a sailing sloop, single handed.  Very nice man and spoke a little english.  Not much, but a little. 

Not so good news, the guests cancelled at the last minute.  Better news, for me, I got to eat all that food with the family, Julie and Annalisa, their worker and sweet girl who is a kick to be around.

And to top it all off, Chris comes to Roma tomorrow.  Somehow, the news just keeps gettin' better and better.

Naked Ravioli (top) kabobs and fennel wedges

Fried Chard with tomato sauce and pesto

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Should you go to Culinary School?

The last two days, we haven't worked.  Chef Paola is under the weather. Friday we went in, made lunch for Franco, then left.  I  helped him later that day carry up tables and boxes to their new kitchen/school/apartment just up the stairs from where I'm staying.  The new school will be ready at the end of February.  No more pick ups at town center for the 2 minute ride to the cucina.  End of an era.

Saturday, Julie and I went to Rome, she to shop, I wanted to find the rental car place in Villa Borghese.  Finally, Chris is flying in to Italy and I'm picking her up Monday afternoon.  But the Hertz rental place is just around the corner from the Spanish Steps.  So, I have to take the train in, pick up the car, drive thru Rome to the airport, then drive back around Rome to Casperia.  Anyway, when I got to the Hertz rental place, they close at 1 on Saturday.  It was 2 when I got there.  But I at least know where it is and hope to get maps when I'm there.  Please, keep me in your prayers!


Public Fountain Drinking

Made a meat sauce with Penne pasta and fresh bread for dinner. Drank a bottle of cheap Italian red wine and called it a night.  I'm re-reading Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain and I'm enjoying it all over again.  He may be an egotiscal bastard, but he writes good and his stories are funny.  It's his much later follow-up to Kitchen Confidential.  Both good reads.  I love his advice about wether or not you should go to culinary school. 

Check it out!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Festival of St Antonio and 1000 BC

Last weekend, the town celebrated the Festival of St. Antonio.  He is the patron saint of animals.  The people from neighboring towns and homes throughout the valley all came to Casperia to have their animals blessed by the local parish priest.  Paola told us that now that the working animals have been replaced by tractors, the tractors come into town and get blessed by the parish priest.  Hey, can't be too careful these days.  Franco took two of his 7 dogs and one cat to be blessed.  The town follows a procession of elders carrying St. Antonio up thru the village to the church at the top of town.  Followed by a music procession and cadets from the school dressed in cheer outfits.  I think it was about 28 degrees.  Following behind you must be very careful where you step, as the animals are not cleaned up after. And there are no curbs in Casperia. 

Afterwards, they shoot off massive amounts of fireworks, scaring the hell out of the animals.  At least they had been blessed before they died from the shock from booming fireworks. Some of my pictures didn't save, sorry, no pics of the animals.

Wednesday, we left early as Paola was feeling ill.  Franco was kind enough to drive Julie to Riete so she could add hours to her TIM (pronounced TEEM) wireless card for internet access.  Very important to have internet access in Casperia.  Medievel papers in Italian only go so far.  Naturally, we got to the TIM store at 3:30 and, you guessed it, they were closed till 4.  When will we learn?  So we walked down the steet to a bridge that crosses one of the bigger rivers that goes to ROME.  There beneath the bridge we were standing on was another bridge, half submerged in the river.  Franco said it was 3000 years old.  That's 1000 years BC. I don't know about you, but it hard for me to get my head wrapped around internet access and 3000 year old bridges.

Keeping it in the cooking theme this blog was started for, we made Gnocchi and a Gorgonzola cream sauce with Walnut Pesto paste.  Also we made candied orange peels that we dipped in Bittersweet Chocolate. Sooo Goood! Finally, we made spaghetti and meat balls!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peeing for Free and enjoying Stinko

Monday brought another day off after a fun Sunday.  We made Stinko.  A very popular dish in Italy.  Plural of Stinko is Stinky.  We actually made Stinky.  With a gravey or sauce poured on the Stinky, it takes on a very "comfort food" feel.  You actually want to roll around in it and become Stinko.  Served with rosemary roasted potatoes, the ever popular sauteed broccoli, it's a perfect Sunday dish.  Stinko of course being a pork shank.  Braised and cooked slow with white wine and stock.

Monday we again navigated our way to Rome.  Two new things I learned while there.  Burger King is in Rome.  Like McDonalds.  When in Rome, it's great to find the venerable fast food giants.  Not to eat, but be able to pee for free.  Pay toilets are the norm.  Even if you can find them, they are a mess and I'm glad I can stand up to take care of business least half of the time and feel for the opposite sex. 

Stinky comes to mind.

The other thing I learned is Monday is not a good day to go to Rome.  Most things are closed for the day.  If they do open, they open at 4 PM.  We went looking for cucina (kitchen) tool  store and found one on the internet that had several locations and good reviews.  In fact, it was called C.U.C.I.N.A.  We got there at 11 and they opened at, you guess it,  4 PM.  There it was, 5 hours away and we had just eaten.  What to do?  Well it was much better than being in Poggio Mierteto like the previous week.  If  museums are closed, the sites in Rome are spectacular.  Roaming the Plazas and Via's of the city, there is always something to see.  Stop for a cappucino, have biscotti and people watch. 

And find a Burger King so as not to have to step in Stinko and pee for free.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Say Cheese

Saturday morning came cold and dark.  But, we were excited as Paola was taking us to a cheese factory. Not Cheese Cake Factory but a place that makes cheese.  It's a cooperative that makes sheeps milk cheese.  Pecorino and Ricotta cheese.  Pecorino cheese is a close relative to Parmasean in it's use.  The difference here in Italy is parmasean is used in light dishes like vegetable soup or a light pasta or gnocchi.  Pecorino is used in hearty dishes.  It is stronger and would overpower most light pasta dishes or soups.  The soup we made yesterday with potatoes, sausage and broccoli was perfect for pecorino cheese.

The cheese is made by three people working in perfect harmony.  Large vats of sheeps milk is heated and cooled many times to different temperatures.  Finally, a curd settles to the bottom and it is brought out and place in poreous buckets.  Fennel seeds are put in the milk but settle in at the bottom and is not in the final product.  The remaining milk is then syphoned off into another vat and is heated again.  There the curd rises to the top, as it has much less weight by volume.  This is skimmed off the top and is the ricotta cheese. 

The Ecofattorie in Sabine.  They also sell, wine, bread, meats and olive oil.  All from co-ops in the area.

The second photo is the large vat with milk for the pecorino where it's scooped into buckets and allowed to drain.  The steamy photo is the ricotta being placed in smaller buckets.  There it is cooled and then refrigerated.  The pecorino is pastuerized.  The ricotta is not. 

I was allowed a small taste of the ricotta right out of the vat.  Still warm, it was like velvet and tasted heavenly.  We also were given samples of 6 month, 1 year, 2 year and 3 year old pecorino.  Stored in holes in the ground and kept from the open air, it ages and forms a rind that if left undesturbed will last years and years.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lettin' out a notch on the belt!

After yesterdays 'off day', we were back to it at Gusto al Borgo.  Paola had us make soup with ground up mira poix, sauteed in olive oil and then I added water from the broccoli that she had par-boiled. I added large diced potatoes, italian suasage and then she put in the broccoli and let boil.  A little tomatoe puree, salt, and (bow tie) pasta. A very hearty soup on a very cold day. We had snow on the surrounding foothills and hail in Casperia. 
     Julie cut fennel bulbs thin and sauteed them in olive oil and a bit of salt and water to soften.  It's served with some parmasean cheese sprinkled on top and is the best sauteed vegetable I can remember tasting.  So simple, but delicious.  We also had chicken breasts pounded thin, dredged in flour and sauteed in olive oil.  Once done, you deglaze with some white wine, butter and re-introduce the chicken to the sauce and add sauteed pumpkin with some garlic and sage.  I can't wait for holloween next year.  I'm going to make some killer pumpkin dishes.   Again, no customers so we ate good for lunch.

Hail Casperia

Last, but not least, we made Gnocchi alla Romana for dinner.  It's a traditional dish from Rome, hence the name.  No potatoes in this gnocchi.  Semolini flour, scaled milk, a bit of salt, TSP of butter and about 1/4 of a grated nutmeg.  Three spoons of parmasean cheese and once cooled, 3 egg yokes.  Mixed well and spread thin to cool even more on oiled trays.  Cut in rounds and stacked with more parmasean cheese and a dab of butter.  Cooked about 15 minutes at 375 and you thought you died and gone to Roma.  Let the old belt out one notch, thank you.

Gnocchi alla Romana

An Off Day

We unexpectedly had Thursday off as Paola and Franco had errands to run in Rieto.  Julie and I planned to trips to local markets to browse and shop.  Not two of my favorite things, but when in Rome....Well we wern't in Rome, we stayed local as I said, and it rained.  And it was cold.  As we walked in Poggio Mierteto, we got drenched by a passing motorist who was flying down the street and hit one of several puddles and just nailed us.  I was ready to pack it in, but the bus wasn't coming back till 12:30 and it was currently 9:30.  3 hours to shop and browse in a in a town with one grocery store, a pizza shop, a pastry shop, hair salon, sport cafe and auto garage.  The store we actually wanted to go to went flying by as our bus driver again was practicing for the Italian Gran Prix and failed to stop for us coming down the hill.

So we had some pizza and rotissery chicken at the pizza shop.  Went to the grocery store for food and such. Went to the local sports club cafe, had an expresso, shot the breeze, thought about playing one of the 6 slot machines at the cafe, then thought better about it.  It was 11:00.  Had another idea to go into Rome, but with a large bag of groceries, thought twice about that too.  Hmm, what to do. 

Before I came to Casperia, I spoke to Greg, a former student who attended school here. He told me, "I had to rent a car, I was going crazy."  I can understand the sentiment there.

We walked back to the bus stop, stopping along the way at the pastry shop and got some bread and sweets.  Finally, 12:30 came and we waited for the bus back to Casperia.  It was 15 minutes late, as usual, but we decided to try on the way back to hit the store we intended to visit coming down the hill.  We actually got this driver to stop for us.  Julie was looking for a particular cooking implement that Paola uses to grill bread and was told that it was no longer made.  Disappointed, we waited another 20 minutes for the bus back to Casperia.   Got back to town, thawed out a bit and decided to watch the third installment of the Bourne movies on Julie's Mac.  Afterwords, I made chicken soup from some of our purchased food, ate a few brownies we had made on Wednesday, read a bit and called it a day.

If I only had a car, I could have visited the auto garage and while waiting get a hair cut at the salon. 

Oh well, four for six ain't bad!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


About five years ago I read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.  If you're a foodie, I dislike that expression, then you need to read it.  Since the TV here in my apt is not hooked up, and if it was Italian TV is good to watch for about 5 minutes, I read.  I purchased his latest non-fiction book, Medium Raw.  I have been asked if my Le Cordon Bleu externship to Italy is all I expected.  Are there any regrets?  My answers are no, yes and no.  How can that be, three answers to two questions?

How food is looked at now has changed.  Celebrity chefs, food reality TV, competitions, humiliation and joyus victories over fellow chefs.  Mostly rubbish, but it provides good ratings and it's fun to talk about.  But how food has changed is also reflective in how we eat. Either at a restaurant or at home.  This is something we all can agree on since the crash of 2008 and brilliantly pointed out by Mr. Bourdain in his book.

I was asked by a golfing friend the time difference from Long Beach to where I'm currently staying in Casperia.. I flippenly replied, about 500 years!  After re-examination of that statement, it's more true than I expected.  Agriturismos, or country kitchens here in Italy, their methods of simple cooking have not changed.  Hand pressed olive oil flavored with garlic and chili peppers to sautee vegetables has been going on for hundreds of years.  Fresh pasta, sauteed in butter, garlic and sage is the staple here, not nuevo.  That's what I didn't expect and I'm finding it wonderful.

So my advise to all you "foodies" out there is this.  Experience food you never would try before.  From Pho to spaghetti alla bottarga--pasta tossed quickly with olive oil, garlic and hot peppers with salt cured mullet eggs. 

I hope you will find and appreciate the new perspective

Dial 115 for an Emergency

When I walked down the hill to town center this morning, there was a bee hive of activity.   There, located just outside the school, was a fire truck and up from them was an ambulance.  My concern that a student might be injured or maybe a school teacher was sick or a fire had taken place at the school kitchen, but I didn't see smoke.  I didn't see the firemen anywhere and thought they must all be in the school.  At last they came into view.  Seems they all needed a coffee break.  Just like back home with the great crews at the Orange County Fire Authority, it"s not Starbucks, but the Blue Cafe makes a great cappucino.

I'll need Chris to bring an OCFA patch and see if we can get a CFD (Casperia Fire Department) patch in trade. I bet there isn't another one to be found in all of Orange County.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stringozzi Secrets from Casperia

As today is Sunday, I was hoping to have guests to cook for and to learn more recipes from Paola.  We did have two guests planned, but they called and declined around noon.  Fortunately, I was able to learn a Casperian version of a pasta called Stringozzi.  Using 1 kilo of semolina flour, one egg, olive oil and water, you form a mound and then a well like we were taught in school and mix in the wet ingredients.  Once combined, you knead the dough for about 15 minutes and let rest covered for about a half hour.  Using only olive oil, you place your thumb in a ball of dough, add and rub the oil over the dough.  You make a donut and then by pulling and stretching you make the hole bigger and then double up.  Continuing till you have done so 4 or 5 times.  Making sure the dough has enough oil so it doesn't stick.  Then you pull the dough apart in stings and roll out the strings until they are about 1/8" thick.  Dredgeing in A/P flour and gathering them in circles, you place it on platers and cover with towles to dry.

Julie pouring olive oil into thumb hole

Making a donut hole, stretching and doubling

Rolling into 1/8" string

Drying Stringozzi

It didn't look like we were going to taste Stringozzi.  Fortunately, 3 guests showed up a 7:00, so they ate and we got to eat the Stringozzi, cooked and sauteed in broccoli and italian sausage...and ravioli with spinach and ricotta...and cauliflower... and roast beef with gravey...and a dessert torte of orange and ricotta with whipped cream.  We finished eating by 10.  An early night for Gusto al Borgo. 

It all tasted great!


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Art of Driving a Bus while on a Cell Phone

We had Friday off.  Paola had her big social buffet on Thursday and said, "take Friday off, see you Saturday at 10:30".  Ok then.  Julie and I made plans to go to Rome.  That's what you do when you're in Italy with a day off, you go to Rome.  Friday morning came and we were going to catch an early bus to the train station in Poggio Mirtteto and then the train into Rome.  Julie came up ill and instead we spend the better part of the morning trying to explain to two very nice ladies in la farmacia (pharmacy) that she needed something for her stomach.  After explaining that she wasn't pregnant, she wasn't vomiting and she didn't have cramps, she got the appropriate medicine for nausea and we headed back to the apartment.  At twelve she was feeling better so we headed back down to town center to catch the noon bus.  The bus came and it said Poggio Mirtteto, so we hopped on.  About a third of the way there the young girl driver made a right turn we hadn't experienced before.  No problem, we thought, its a new driver, young and a girl.  Not to be sexist but, I guess I am.  She was flying around corners on a very narrow roads, up an down hills, drafting behind slower moving Fiats driven by old people all the while on her cell phone.  When we got to a place we had never seen before, she made a U-Turn.  About that time, I asker in my best Italian, 'we go Poggio Mirtteto ora?"  No, no. She rattled off something, so we sat back and enjoyed the view.  Finally, we got to a train station. Buses always go to train stations, you just need to stay on it long enough, and got two tickets to Poggio Mirtteto.  Two euros and a stop later, we knew where we were.

By then it was too late to go to Rome,  so we thought we would go to the market to get food for dinner and it was closed.  Siesta time! So we got a beer and bought some chips at the local sports bar, waited till 3:15 to go to the market, still closed. We saw the bus for Casperia, got on, waited 20 minutes for the driver to get off his break, and made it back home.  Went to Conads, it was closed.  Siesta time!  Went back at 6, got stuff to make chicken soup.  Got some fresh bread, made the soup and called it a night. So much for our day in Rome.

I swear, that young girl drove the bus while talking on her cell phone and made every turn like she was in a Ferrari.   It must be in the blood.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Typical Days

The restaurant is preparing for a buffet at the local church on Thursday. In preparation, we have made a chicken loaf that has ground bolonga with riccota and black peppercorns, parmasean cheese and cracked pistashio nuts.  Two savory tarts, one with califlower sauteed in spices of cinnamon, clove and nutmet with parmasean cheese and the other is a artichoke tarte with ricotta  cheese. The artichoke is cooked with white wine, garlic and olive oil. Julie made chocolate torte brownies with a chocolate ganache.

We left early as Paola and Franco had to drive into Rome.  We wanted to go with them, but they were in a big rush so Julie and I took the bus back up to Casperia. Bus rides are an interesting story here.  You get on the bus, don't pay and then you get off the bus and don't pay.  However, some people have a metro card and slide it into a reader and I guess that is some form of fare.  But, the drivers don't carry money, never ask for any and you can get off and on anywhere along the route.

Some more photos of Casperia:

A local cat warming itself on a postable vehicle.
You can see the PT sign, that's the post office, a pastry shop, the smoke shop, where you can pay for wifi and the last door is the local beauty salon.

A major traffice jam outside of Conad Market. (two vehicles). The building in the background is the local bank.  I withdraw money using my ATM card. For E250 it costs me $335, depending on the rate of exchange and fees.  Chase Bank kills you on the fees.  Aaarrgghhh!

Dusk at the town center.  To the left is the school, center the petrol station and on the right is the Petroccio Bar or Blue Cafe.  I go there for my morning cappucino.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The days we aren't fed at Gusto al Borgo, we are left to our own devices. Sometimes with surprising results.  Last night was a good example. Since it was Monday, we did not work.  So we made lunch with some pasta with panchetta and peas with a tomato pesto sauce.  Julie, my classmate, did a great job.  But that's not surprising.  Dinner was a bit different.  I saw some bacon at Conads, the local grocery story here in Casperia, and had a hankeren for bacon and eggs.  But we had left over pasta as well. So I fired up the bacon, fried some eggs, reheated the pasta and poured some of the wine Steve and Denise brought me.

Squisito! (delicious)

It rained today and then the sun came out in a stunning display.  The air was fresh and cleansed of chimney smoke and the sunset was spectacular.   

Monday, January 10, 2011

I like Sundays

Sundays are good days for Gusto al Borgo.  The two sundays I have worked, we have actually had customers.  We start a few days ahead and prepare the things that keep and then just finish them off after the guests arrive.  Like making fresh fettucini, par cooking vegetables and such.  We marinated the wild boar on Saturday in red wine, carrots, onion, ground up juniper berries, black pepper clove and rosemary and let it sit over night.  Paola cooks it in a pressure cooker and it is melt in your mouth tender.  Sooo good!

The guests today arrived at 1 PM and we had 5 adults and 1 little girl.  After serving appetizers, a salad of radiccio and mozzerella, Cream of Mushroom soup, artichoke cooked and served in their olive oil (delicious), chocolate ravioli filled with fresh pumkin and ricotta cheese, wild boar, fettucini in a butter sauce and finally a chocolate torte with whipped cream followed by conversation with Paola and Franco, the quests left.  The time was 5 PM.  It's like family, but nobody is related.  It's just how it works here.  I like Sundays!

While they ate and conversed, Julie and I sorted through the fresh vegetables Franco had picked early that morning.  Artichoke, Roma broccoli and other assorted greens that they organically grow in their garden on their property.

Monday we are off, so I get caught up on laundry and language homework.  Laundry is interesting here.  Using a small washing machine with directions all in Italian, a bunch of symbols and all manual.  It took me two days to figure out how to wash my darks.  My jeans are still not dry, 4 days later.  Good thing I brought 3 pair. 

Me taking the greens off the stems.  Sorting through the half eaten, by bugs, and good greens.

Roma Broccoli

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pizza and Beer

There are few things in life better than eating pizza and drinking beer.  Well, I found tonight that making your own pizza with home made dough, fresh mozzerella cheese, tomato sauce and fresh garlic and drinking home made beer is even more better. (double negative) Especially when you're watching Italian TV  and you can't understand a single work except  when they slip in a word or two of english.

One slight problem over here, people in Europe which includes Italy, like to eat two big meals a day.  First at around 1 pm, then siesta till 4, back to work and then a second meal later. Say around 9 PM.  Like today, big meal of chicken scaloppini, fresh fennel bulb sliced thin and sauteed in the freshest olive oil known with salt, pepper and fresh parmasean cheese sprinkled on top.  Dessert of fresh Clementine tangerines.  At 9 o'clock we're making fresh dough, enough for four pizzas',  make the pizza and eat around 10 with 4 glasses of beer.  I get home and it's 10:40 in a 500 year old walled city with no night life and now have to stay up or not sleep.  I keep this up and you'll have stuff me into that plane with a shoe horn and a straight jacket to come home.  But right now, I'm lovin' it!

That's the fourth of four for four folks.
Yes I ate the equivilent of one of these.

Proving the small world theory

Buonasera, (good evening)
I got a special treat today as we made gnocci served with walnut paste and a blue cheese sauce.  Oh My God!  And, a very nice visit from Steve and Denise Haerr.  Steve and Denise have taken up residence in Spoleto, Italy from their California home of Temecula.  I did not know them before, but were introduced by a good mutual friend, Bill Baccus.  Bill and I go way back to our neighborhood days, but acutally he is a friend of my older brother.  Anyway after a few Skype chats, the Haerr's came by the restaurant for a first time visit and lunch while on the way to Rome and a long flight home to see kids and parents.  After a great visit, things we descovered about us; their favorite place to visit is the Arc Light Cinema in Hollywood.  Which happens to be right across the corridor from Le Cordon Bleu where I attended school.  The fact they know a long time friend in Bill and are fun travelers made for a fun afternoon. See photos:

Chef Paola, along with classmate Julie and Denise.

Steve, Denise along with most beautiful and tasteful pumpkins I have ever had.

Dining at Gusto al Borgo.

When Chris comes to Italy later this month, we have been asked and readily agreed to stay with Steve and Denise for part of the time here.  They also came bearing gifts.  A huge jug of home made wine and a culinary book of foods by region in Italy...all the things a good cook needs to survive in Italy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Epiphany and the legend of La Bafana

This is a repost from 2011.  The Epiphany is very much a celebrated day in Europe.

According to the legend, the night before the Wise Men arrived at the manger they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied that she was too busy. Then a shepherd asked her to join him but again she refused. Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Wise Men and the shepherd bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. Having no means of transportation, she wept on her broom. Her sincere tears brought her broom to life, and she flew off in search of the men. She got lost and never found the manger.

Thinking of the opportunity she had missed the old woman stopped every child to give them a small treat in hopes that one was the Christ child. Each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out looking for the baby Jesus. The legend continued to include children, who misbehaved, would  be given a lump of coal in their bag.

Sound familiar?  This was obviously way before Santa, corporate Christmas' and shopping to ensure end-of-year profits for department stores.

Yesterday, Paola and Franco and us students packed bags of candy that also included a lump of coal. Sort of covering all the bases, just in case.  At the local school, children lined up to receive there bags of candy from the witch Bafana.  If you look closely at the child, she is about to cry out for mamma to get her outta there.  I don't blame her.

La Bafana

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gusto al Borgo (Taste of the Village)

This is the school and cucina where I am studying and working in Casperia. It is also the home of Paola and Franco Angelelli.  Paola is our chef, a matter of fact kind of woman who is very patient with us.  Franco does not cook but wanders into the kitchen all the time looking for something to eat.  She tells him in Italian, "Franco, go do something and get out of my kitchen, momma mia!"  He speaks very little english,  but responds back with expressions and impressions that make you laugh.  They are wonderful people and very giving to the students who come here.
 Unless there are advance reservations, business is slow this time of year.  So we cook lunch for ourselves, then eat it.  Clean up, take off a few hours, cook dinner, clean up and then go back to Casperia. With dinner!

This photo shows a small portion of the land they own with olive groves everywhere.  They have their own olive (olio) oil called Asprese (As pressa).  This was the original name of the town now called Casperia.

I'll have more photos and descriptions as time goes on.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A few pictures from New Years Eve

 I know these are a few days late, but I thought I had lost these pictures on my new pc.  I found them and wanted to share them with you.

Godersi! (enjoy)

 Chef Paola preparing the lobster in the kitchen at the public school where the New Years Eve party was held.
Salmon steaks. One of seven courses.
Chef Paola again working the stove.
Party girl Paola and my class mate Julie just before midnight.
 Wild Italians dancing the night away.
Annalisa and a young girl celebrating with, what else, fireworks.

Me cooking on about 4 hours sleep after arriving in Italy the day before.  The clock shows 5:45 PM and I left 8 hours later and slept for 12 hours.   I think I was cooking potaotes, but don't make me swear to it.

Pictures of Casperia

The views from my apt window in Casperia.

Looking down and left out my window.
Looking down and right out my window.

Casperia is a medivel town that is circular in design.  Each street goes higher up the hillside.  As you can see there isn't room for cars, so foot traffic is the mode of travel.  There two churches, a school, post office, tobacco shop, pastry shop, a small coffee bar and 1 restaurant in town.  The restaurant Gusto al Borgo is about a 4 minute drive from the main town.  Paola and Franco pick us up at the roundabout outside the coffee bar and drive us the short way to work.  It is also their home. 

As you walk thru town, most people leave their keys in the doors as when it's dark, you can't find keyholes.  The people are loud in their greetings and very expressive.  Everyone acknowledges you and your response is important as it is rude not to respond.    Even if you are foriegner like me.  A simple ciao or buongiorno (good day, used in the morning), buon pomeriggo(good afternoon) or buonasera (good evening) is appreciated.

Today is Tueday, the 4th and my first offical day of work.  More later.  Oh, work starts here at 10 or 11 AM

Arrivederci per ora
goodby for now

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Day one

After more than 28 hours I was able to eat, take a shower and sleep.  If I had rank them in order of importance, it would be impossible.    I was able to navigate my way around Rome/Fiumicino airport without much difficulty.  I was probably more wary of people than ever after hearing horror stories of gypsies and pick-pockets.  I needened have worried.  Met a couple from Reno who were vacationing as we went through the passport check point.  Seems the more people I tell what I'm doing, the more I hear, "I would so love to do that".

I ask a security guard  where the train station was (in English) and he responded (in English), right out the door, upstairs to the second level and follow the train signs.  I  had to check where I was for a second.  I Bought my round trip ticket to Poggio Merteto and called Paola at restaurant and told her I was on my way.  Exactly 90 minutes after the train left I was at Poggio Merteto and Paola, Franco and AnnaLisa were there to meet me.   We drove about  5 minutes to the restaurant where I met Julie, my classmate, who is here for 12 weeks. She leaves the same time I do.   

Day 2
New Years eve day we worked. Paola had a big party to cook for at the town school for 40 people.  They use the big room like we used the hall at local church or school.  Paola was serving, lobster with fresh pasta, salmon, a potato octopus salad, lentils with a stuffed pork shank.  The bone is removed and stuffed with a forcemeat, poached and served with the lentils.  Homemade custard ice creame thingy served on puff pastry with chocolate chips and sliced oranges.  They partied till way past midnight with music, dancing, fireworks and of course, eating.  I worked until 1:45 AM 1/1/11 and called it a night. Julie and I walked home up the hill to our apts and I slept until 1 PM.  Julie woke me up as we were going to see a lady about Italian lessons.  I passed and the lady never showed up anyway.  Julie was bummed.

So I am using Julie's wireless device and her Mac for now.  Need to get to Rome and get wired up. Hopefully in the next few days as we work Sunday.  A busy day for Paola and her restaurant.

Ciao for now.