Monday, 30 November 2009

Food Holiday

On Sunday morning we drove to Riano just 20 minutes outside Rome, we went to Wendy Holloway's B&B located on a hill which has an amazing panoramic view of the Lazio Province and Rome in the distance, truly breath taking. Wendy has been living in Italy for 25 years and for the last 10 years has developed her business which is called ''Flavor of Italy'' see her wonderful website at

It is a very easy drive from Rome on the Flaminia, you can also take the metro and then transfer to the regional train, getting off at Montebello, no more than 25 minutes from Piazza Flaminia in central Rome.
The Canadian Club of Rome had organized a cooking class for Sunday morning, Wendy thought up the menu and it was fun and wonderful.

We made several dishes, fresh anchovies, a wonderful little white fish marinated in orange juice, red and yellow roasted bell peppers in a sauce of anchovies, capers and olive oil, fresh pasta ravioli with a stuffing of ricotta and zest of lemon, the sauce was a light butter and cream with lemon zest, Salmon steaks Sicilian style, which is sweet and sour sauce, raisins and balsamic vinegar, Risotto with chanterelles mushrooms and mild Italian sausage meat, and a fig torte. She picks hundred of figs off her trees and then removes the stem and simply freezes them during the winter, so she can use them in recipes and they are as delicious as if just picked off the tree. We had a nice white wine from the Lazio region to accompany.

Each one of us made one dish and others then help out or observed with Chef Wendy encouraging us along.
Will and I have done many cooking courses around the world, the most memorable being in Vietnam 3 years ago in different cities, Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Saigon, and also in Thailand. It is always nice to learn how to do a dish and to learn the different flavors and mix of ingredients. You learn to appreciate the culture of the country, not just by visiting sites but also how food mixes with the culture and what is important to the people. Rice in Asia is very important as bread is in Western culture, olives to the Greeks and olive oil to the Italians, dates to the Arabs. You gain a better appreciation all around.

Will is good at making pasta and he made the ravioli. The anchovies though most people think that it is a salty unpleasant fish is in fact if fresh, a very nice white fish and very good grilled or eaten as we did marinated. The caper and anchovy sauce I made for the roasted peppers, I washed the salt off the capers and simply added them in the blender to the olive oil and anchovies.

Pasta has a range of cooking time from 8 minutes for raviolis and spaghetti to 12 minutes for bigger pasta like fettuchini, of course in Italy all pasta is cooked aldente (to your teeth), which is the way we like it now.

We are planning to return to ''Flavor of Italy'' B&B on 31 January for a weekend of cooking classes and olive oil tasting.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Italian, Italy Modern history

I am currently reading a book on Italy which is very interesting, the writer is Paul Ginsborg a fellow who is a scholar on Italy and who lived in Italy and was a fellow teaching at the University of Turin. The book is an account of contemporary Italian history from 1943 to 1980. It is fascinating, all that we assume about a country or think we know and in the end see that we know in fact little except for the clichés. The story starts on July 1943 when Benito Mussolini fell from power after a vote of no confidence by his own party, dismissed by the King of Italy and arrested after 20 years of absolute power. Hitler is furious orders his troops to invade Italy, the King makes a deal with the allies for Peace before he flees Rome, the allies are marching up from the South, there is no government and civil war starts.

Ginsborg then goes on to tell the tale of the different factions who will fight for power and then go on to rule a very poor country of mostly illiterate people, many forced to immigrate to Argentina, Canada and the USA and also internally within Italy seeking jobs in the North and tales of discrimination and hardships. A passage in the book about southeners arriving in Turin in winter wearing summer clothing and being bewildered by what they see in a big industrial city, all they knew was the poverty of small villages or towns south of Rome. The Vatican is also very present in all this, trying to influence events and doing all it can to regain its political hold on the country and the people which it had lost in 1870.

The USA also has a very large role pumping millions of dollars into Italy, so much so that Italy becomes the no. 1 friend and ally of the USA in Europe. In Rome the Palace of Queen Margherita is given to the US Government and becomes the new US Embassy on Via Veneto, Naval bases sprout all over the coasts. Most of the Fascist administration in government is retained so great is the fear of a communist takeover. The pope tries and succeeds in part in influencing elections in the late 1940's and 1950's. In 1955 only 7% of all households in Italy had electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. Most Italians did not speak Italian but dialects from the region they came from, living in isolation in small villages, no highways, few cars and poor communications generally. The Central government in Rome had to institute rules in education which made Italian mandatory for all. This explains why so many people I know in Canada whose parents and grand parents immigrated prior to 1960 speak regional or city dialects but no Italian.

I am currently reading about the economic miracle in the period 1955 to 1970 when the country transformed itself into a modern State. This book is fascinating, with a wealth of details and anecdotes on people and their struggles, it gives me a far better understanding of Italy today and why things are the way they are.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sunday in Rome with lunch

We got up early this morning and took the puppies for a long walk on the grounds of the Villa Torlonia which was prior to 1943 the residence of Prince Torlonia and for 20 yrs that of Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini. The Palace and all other buildings have been restored to the splendor of the time when the Torlonia family used the grounds as their summer residence outside the walls of Rome. The park is quite large and has hills and ravines and statues and ponds and fountains, numerous trees of all kinds and fake roman temple ruins. The puppies love to run and walk all over and smell the grass. They also met other dogs, all are on leashes, this is a rule in this park. It is important for them to get to see other dogs to socialize them. They will be 9 months old this coming week.

We then went to Piazza Spagna (Spanish Steps) to have lunch at what Frommer's and Fodor's describe as one of the best Enoteca restaurant in Rome. The Antica Enoteca (1860) at Via della Croce 76B belongs to a friend of ours a fellow Canadian who has lived in Rome for many years. See web site

I had smoke salmon with lemon, then a first course of a Crepe stuffed with ricotta and spinach in a creamy tomato sauce. My second was leg of lamb with roasted potatoes, dessert panna cotta. We had a bottle of Taittinger Champagne, tomorrow is a big anniversary for me and Will. Will had an antipasto of cured meats, cheese, olives, red peppers and artichoke, chicory. He only had a second dish of roast chicken, he skipped the first dish of pasta.

Then we walked back along the Corso which runs between Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Popolo, looking at the stores, we stopped at Schostal which is a men's store, near Palazzo Chigi which is the Italian Prime Minister's office. Shostal has been at this location since 1870 and sell only pyjamas, shirts, ties, gloves, handkerchief, sweaters and scarves, all products are 100% cotton,wool, cashmere or silk. All classic wear and beautiful, service is also old fashioned. I bought a shirt and was given an extra pair of cuffs, so I could change the cuffs should the original wear out before the shirt.

We then went to the Ferrari store, they have all the accessories to go with your car, should you own a Ferrari, there is so much that goes with that look. The store is near the Mausoleum of Emperor Augustus on Via Tomaselli. We have a friend who wanted something from the store and so we went to get it for him. They also have a kid section a bit like GAP kids though this is Ferrari kids.

We came home and within minutes the power went off, we were about to go for a walk with the puppies but found out that we could not open the 2 meter high gates of the driveway since they are electric, it is impossible to scale them and the only other gate at the back is locked and I did not have the key to open it. The portiere is off on Sunday's and the administrator is no were to be found. Luckily a neighbor on the ground floor had a key to the back gate and he opened it for us. When we returned from our walk with the puppies the electricity had returned.

Beautiful day today in Rome about 18C and sunny.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A walk in Rome

This Saturday Will and I went to the Vatican State on the other side of the Tiber to mail a letter at the Vatican State Post Office.
They have better service than the Italian Post Office at least it is faster.

So we took the no. 62 bus from Porta Pia all the way down and across to the Vatican. Not a very long ride considering you are crossing Rome, only goes to show that this is a very compact city. Then we went to this little restaurant run by two elderly brothers on Via Borgo which is a little street that runs along the long defensive wall between the Palace of the Pope and Castel San Angelo. They have the best Spaghetti Carbonara in all Rome, without exaggeration, I think this is because it is a family restaurant and it is made by another relative of the brothers who wait tables. We also had a secundi, (second dish) I had liver and chicory and Will had Veal Saltimboca alla Romana with roasted potatoes in rosemary.

After lunch we walked back across the Tiber to Rome and crossed at the Castel San Angelo Bridge which was originally built to connect Rome on one side with the gigantic tomb mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian on the other. Then we took Via Dei Coronari,
The street was open in 1475, by Pope Sisto IV, with the name of “ via Recta ” that is to say “straight”, to allow pilgrims to reach the old Saint Peter Basilica without passing through the labyrinth of alleys; it partially repeated the line of an ancient roman street which in the imperial epoch connected “ Via Lata” to a bridge “Ponte Nerone”.

It is nearly 500 meters long and ends at Piazza Navona, it is lined by 15th and 16th century beautiful buildings. At number 156/7 you see the XV century house of Fiammetta Michaelis, Cesare Borgia's preferred mistress.

The present name of the street derives from the many merchants who sold here sacred images and crowns (in Italian “ corone ”) to pilgrims until the 19th century. After Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II was opened, the street became deserted, but in the 1950's it became a center of little antique shops, restorers and artisans of many specialization. Many beautiful shops line the street today. At one point you arrive at an arch way standing 5 meter below today's street level, it was the main entrance to the Stadium of Emperor Domitian which is known today as Piazza Navona.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The word Pineapple is brought to you by the letter P

For some unknown reason we eat on average 2 pineapples a week in Rome. The only other fruit we eat in large quantities are bananas about 8 a week and apples, I really like the Pink Lady variety, 3 on average per week. I do not remember any other time in our lives when we ate pineapples on a regular basis at all. In fact it was not a fruit I would eat at all. Here in Rome, you find freshly cut pineapple on the menu of every restaurant, it is the dessert par excellence. Huge quantities of fresh pineapples are consumed every week in the Eternal City. They come from Central America from the tiny republic of Costa Rica, not from Hawaii as I first thought, too far away my Sri Lankan fruit vendor told me. I think the reason why we eat so much of it is because it is fresh. I notice that you cannot find canned fruits here, all fruits are fresh, maybe this is why so much fruit is consumed. Since they have them on display in the glass case of the dining rooms instead of cakes, people go for it. There is this tradition that only the wealthy could afford to eat fruit in the past, they owned the orchards and fruit gardens and had gardeners to look after their fruit trees, you see this in classical paintings and in frescoes of old castles, so eating fresh fruit today is a symbol of prosperity for the average person.

Pineapple must be a new import to Italy though, I say this because until 1965 Italy was not a very rich country or the wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few, so such import of exotic fruits would have been difficult if not prohibitive. Previously in largely agrarian Italy, most people lived in the countryside until the 1950's, the poor ate what they could and worked on large Estates to bring seasonal fruits to the markets in the cities, again only people in the middle class, the clergy, civil servants and the few who owned land could have access to this type of food. Italy grows a large variety of grape, melons and watermelons in summer, apples, pears, persimmons and pomegranates in the Fall, a variety of oranges, tangerines and chestnuts in the late Fall and Winter and in Spring berries from the woods, strawberries are plentyful.
All this makes for a healthy diet today and a sensible one at that too. Children do not grow obese, in fact children here tend to be slim. They also do a lot of physical activities, it is encourage, luckily TV here is still fairly mundane if not downright boring.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

restaurant Berlin

During our weekend in Berlin we went to restaurants and enjoyed the food scene. Berlin has very good restaurants, many specialize in Berlin or Brandenburg specialties like boulette (meat balls) or fish dishes like wild trout or smoked barbel, a Carp like fish or a fricasse of chicken served with crayfish. There are also more substantial foods, like stuffed oxtail simmered slowly in wine served with a sirloin steak and spring vegetables, Braised pork knuckle served with cabbage cooked in champagne. There is also the famous Curry wurst, spicy curry sausage invented in Berlin, you eat it with a pretzel and a glass of beer.
Lots of soups also on the menu, Beetroot with cream, creamy potato soup and Brotsuppe made from brown bread enriched with cream and served with crispy bacon and croutons.

Not to forget wonderful desserts, cakes and pastries. We really enjoyed them with a good coffee. Berlin has so much to offer, there are also the ethnic restaurants, Berlin has a very large and old Turkish population, who came to Germany in the last 50 years as guest workers and stayed on. Indians are also now a sizable population. Then you also have the Poles, Berlin is just a few kilometers from the Polish border, but Slav and Poles have lived in the Brandenburg region for 1000 years.
You will find a lot of Slavic influences in the food and many dishes are Polish.

We went with friends to one East Prussian restaurant, what is since 1945 the Russian enclave of Koenigsberg. The restaurant is at the Savigny Platz station on Mommsen Strasse 9. Marjellchen (pronounced Mar gel Ken) features typical heavy cuisine of eastern Poland and Eastern Prussia, Pomerania. Very good food for fall and winter, dishes of pork,beef and fish, lots of heavy soups with cream, you need a good appetite. I had a wonderful dish of chicken livers, the way I like them, sauté in a bit of wine. We also had appetizers to start beetroot soup with cream. Wonderful salads in between and a good white Riesling.

We also went to another restaurant which use to house the Trichter restaurant just around the corner from the Berliner Ensemble theatre where Bertold Brechts worked for so many years, he was often at Trichter, now it is redecorated and renamed Brechts (, the food was wonderful. Love the decor also with its large windows on the Spree River by the Friedrich Strasse train station, wood panel and high ceiling, very nice service. I had venison, another favorite of mine.

For the pastries and cakes we went to the OpernPalais Cafe, Unter den Liden 5. It is located next to the Stadt Opera and inside what use to be the Crown Prince Palace. The selection of cakes and pastries makes your head spin, so beautiful and so much choice all fresh and rich.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Berlin Weekend uber alles!

Last weekend was a return visit to Berlin, I had been there last for a week in 2002. What a beautiful city, everything is either new with spectacular architecture or restored as in old 18th century palaces and museums as in the Museum Island in the centre of the city.

It is truly a city reborn and refashioned as the capital of Enlightenment of the great philosophers like Schiller, Goethe and Humbolt. The Wall is gone, so don't wax nostalgic about it and also the Nazis, after all they only amounted to 12 years in the history of a city which is 800+ years old. The New Canadian Embassy is built on top of Hitler's bunker which is now sealed off and flooded. Art and culture are everywhere, concert, symphony, opera, art galleries and not to forget fine dining with excellent German wines. The public transit alone of over (U) and under (S) ground and the many train stations is a marvel by itself and makes travelling throughout the city and the region so easy.

We visited the newly re-opened Neues Museum (1855) built to house the ever expanding collections of the Prince of Brandeburg and the Royal Family of Prussia. The whole island is now complete for the first time in 70 years and all the museums are open to the public, beautiful collections and very impressive. The Island on the Spree River was sort of private domain for the Royal Family of Prussia, the City Palace, the Cathedral and the museums are all located on this small island. The bridge is guarded by the Armoury, Zeughaus, now the Museum to German history and the Commandatur where the commander lived. All of it is either Rococo architecture or a fantasy on Greek revival temples, quite beautiful and more on a human scale. We also walked on Unter den Linden towards the famed Brandenburg Gate built in 1788, which imitates in its architecture the Propylae of the Acropolis of Athens. This symbol of Berlin was buit as a Gate to Peace and was the ceremonial entrance to the heart of the city. This is where the ambassadors would gather on the day when they were invited to meet with the King and then escorted down the avenue to the Palace. Unter den Liden created in 1647 was also used as a riding path towards the Tiergarten forest where the Princes would hunt. At one end of the avenue is the equestrian statue of the greatest of all Prussian Kings, Frederick II the Great,1712-1786, riding down on his favorite horse. A little known fact about him was that he spoke excellent French and very poor German, he use to do small talk with his soldiers but he always needed help. He also spoke a little English but not much since his uncle George II of England was the German Prince of Hanover and he also spoke French and little english or let's say badly.

There is so much to tell about this city, so many interesting things to see and do and none of it has anything to do with the period 1934-1989.
If you want to visit Europe, I suggest you go to Berlin and look up the web site

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Visit to the Synagogue of ROME

Today we went to the Portico d'Ottavia near the Tiber River and the old Roman Forum. This is where the Ghetto of Rome was from 1550 to 1870. The Jews in Rome have been here for 2200 years, they are the oldest Jewish community in Europe. Jews and Palestine are of course part of the fabric of old Rome. Palestine was a Roman Province and part of the career path of any Roman aspiring to high office. After the destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem by Emperor Titus in 70AD, all the treasures of the Temple including the Arch of the Covenant were brought back to Rome and put inside the Temple of Peace in the Roman Forum where they remained for centuries, they are all lost today unfortunately.

The great Synagogue was built in 1901 and is part of the project of Garibaldi to make of Rome the new capital of the unified Italian Kingdom. The ghetto was demolished and the Jews freed and made full Italian citizens. What you see today was built after 1870, a modern neighborhood with water and electricity service and clean wide streets.

The Jews in Rome have an interesting history, they operate not as a congregation but as a community as a whole, you have Sephardic and Ashkenazy,Roman and Italian traditions. This is unusual for people visiting from outside Italy, they do not always understand how you can have all this in one building. The jews in Rome follow the Orthodox rite. Rome has a population of 14,000 jews today, there were about 15,000 before 1943. Some 2000 where deported by the Nazis between September 1943 and Spring of 1944, the rest took refuge at the Vatican State and in Churches and hospitals and in the homes of fellow Italians.

The Synagogue itself has an organ which is played during services, that is unusual and the decor inside the building is Babylonian and Egyptian and has some Art Deco touches with colors of Red and Gold, Imperial colors of old Rome. That is to say if we cannot have the Temple in Jerusalem we can have this one in the Eternal City.

The ceiling is painted in blue with little gold stars and the windows are stained glass with colored flowers. It is imposing and joyous all at once.

The museum has many beautiful textiles given throughout history to the community. Many silver objects for the Torah and other religious objects for the service. They have 850 covers for the Torahs, so they can change them daily. Services are held in the morning, afternoon and evening. Visitors in our group from the USA where amazed at this wealth of religious artifacts.

Our guide works at the Synagogue and was knowledgeable and a diplomat all at once. Some of the questions puzzled him, they came from American jews who asked in the way a rich relative asks about your well being, feeling a bit sorry for you and curious about how you are getting along.

One lady wanted to know about mix marriages between jews of different rites,let's say Sephardic and Roman, our guide told her simply we do like everyone else and go to the Hilton. Same lady wanted to know if there was a Jewish hospital, Yes there is one just across the street on the Island.

Another lady wanted to know who turned on the lights inside the Synagogue for Sabbath services. Are all the lights electrified or do you use candles. Our guide just told her, we turn them on, just before the service. The lady was a bit surprised and asked if they asked a non-Jew to do this for them. Our guide said no we don't.
But you are Orthodox Jews are you not, she says. Yes we are said the guide but you can call us Orthodox Italian Style.

Our guide did explain that Judaism for a long period was transmitted by oral tradition, the Popes forbade teaching the Talmud.
It was only with the liberation of Rome by the troops of Garibaldi in 1870 that the Jews finally could once again study. This explains the special tradition of Jewish Roman heritage where the practical joins the reality of everyday life. You also will notice that in and around the old ghettos are Churches set up by the Vatican as reminders to the Jews of the errors or their ways. Inscriptions on the front of the building in Hebrew and in Latin calls to them as unbelievers to accept the teachings of Jesus and the authority of the Pope. Viewed today, this historical legacy helps you understand the politics of religion. Our guide pointed out that it was Pope Jean-Paul II who on a visit to the Synagogue, said that the Jewish Faith was the big brother to Christianity. An interesting perspective after centuries of persecution by the Popes.

We had lunch at the Taverna del Ghetto,
We have been there several times and the food is great, with many Roman Jewish Specialties. We took a walk along the Tiber to help us digest on the old Tiberina Island. The photos here are of our walk on the island, where an hospital has stood for 2000 years. In one photo you see me touching part of the marble remnants of the boat shaped hospital dedicated to the God of Medecine.