Missing Italy Archives

August 8, 2007

Missing Italy Part 1: A Little Background


I grew up in an "Italian village" California.

Let me explain. My mom was the youngest girl of ten siblings, five sisters, and five brothers. The older siblings were all born in Italy. Mom was born in New York. All five sisters moved to California in the 1940s. They came out to visit a friend for a vacation, and one by one settled in Fresno, California. This is in the middle of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, where much of the nations' fresh produce, especially fruit and nuts come from. It looks A LOT like Puglia, where my grandparents were from. I can see why they felt at home. The sisters bought houses very close together. My mom, dad and I lived a few miles away. There was a twenty year age difference between she and her oldest sister, Aunt Antoinette. So when I was born, my mom's first (and only) child, when she was almost 45, it was quite a novalty to have a baby in the family. All these aunts and uncles were grandparent age. My first cousins were grown and married. Some of them had children my age. For the next 20 years, I was called, "the baby".

Food was SO important. Every Sunday, we went to Aunt Annie and Uncle Natale's house for pranzo. Her back yard was across the alley from Aunt Antoinette and Uncle Leo's. Across the street was Aunt Mary. Close by was Aunt Jenny (Giovanna) and Uncle Alberto (my Godfather). We lived the farthest away (10 minutes by car). The neighbors were often part of the "extended family" and also sources of food. Next door was the baker/pastry chef from Naples who kept us all in cannoli and sfogliatella. Martha and Nick across the alley had a garden full of tomatoes and zucchini. The aunts had the fruit trees divided up. When Aunt Annie's apricots and peaches were ripe, they canned jars for the winter. When the plums were ready, we all made jam. When Aunt Jenny's almonds were ready, we all went there to pick and shell nuts, and eat dinner.
Mom grew basil, lemons and asparagas.

Uncle Albert had close friends who owned a pasta factory. They kept us in dry pasta.
10-pound boxes of various size and shape noodles and macaroni would show up, and be divided. Uncle Nat was Godfather to a local winery owner. He brought cases for all. I could go on and on. Someone grew melons, someone else oranges, figs were plentyful during the summer months, first green, then black Mission.

The sisters were all great cooks, but each had their specialty. Mom was the baker of delicious pastry and coffeecakes. Aunt Annie made cavatelli (like orchetti) by hand (by the hundreds) with a quick flick of her arthritic fingers. Aunt Jenny had a sweet tooth and made desserts. Aunt Mary was lasagna queen. Each of them thought they made the best sauce. Every Sunday, Aunt Annie would ask, "Isn't this the BEST sauce I ever made?" We were afraid to disagree! I liked Mom's meatballs best, and her rich pork and beef ragu. She made the best cutlets, and fried calamari, and carbonara.

Mom (the only one who married a non-Italian) introduced the concepts of more "American" food, so they came to our house for prime rib and mashed potatoes, or stuffed pork roasts. Everyone talked about food ALL the TIME. They were either cooking, eating, planning the next meal, or talking about what they had just eaten or were going to eat. Every morning that they weren't planning a family meal together, they would call and ask,"What are you making today?" The inevitable next line would be, "That sounds good, and I'll bring some______".

"The aunts", as I called them were kind of poor. They had small houses, older appliences, and had to really watch their money. None of them, (including Mom) had more than an 8th grade education. They worked in the garment district of NYC making assembly line clothing until they married. Aunt Mary hand-beaded wedding gowns for Dior before coming to California. None of them drove, or were ever on an airplane. But they had everything they needed. They were content, and spoiled me with love, attention, and beautiful baby clothes! They looked just like the ladies I see in their windows in Italy, with their housedress and apron, or in their Sunday best in a church pew with their rosary beads.

I remember summer nights the best. Since I was out of school, and both my parents, and ALL the aunts and uncles were retired, we could get together more frequently.
ALL the aunts and we had a "summer kitchen". This was either a separate building, or a remodel of part of the garage. It was used for canning, frying, anything messy, cooking the Thanksgiving turkey to free up the oven in the house for other things, and summer eating. It had air conditioning, all appliances, and a huge table for parties and regular meals.

After dinner, the women usually sat together outside, and the men went to the vine covered terrace to play cards ("Scopa", or "Sweep" in English). I would translate or signal my dad when my uncles started cheating in Italian. Then I'd go back to the women to see if it was time for fruit or cookies. There were ALWAYS taralle with anise seeds. There were ALWAYS biscotti. We hung out. Friends and neighbors walked over. We never watched TV on those nights. It was neighborhood passagiata! Sometimes the "party" moved to another yard of a friend or neighbor. More food!

My family referred to US as "the Italians". EVERYONE ELSE (regardless of ethnicity) were called "the Americans". (This included my father.) I was adamant about being one of the Italians. They would tease me about my Germanic coloring. I would scream, "I'm Italian!" They would laugh, encourage me, and then say, "Yes, you are 100% Italian". My father would roll his eyes and go listen to the Giants play baseball on the radio.

At school I had prosciutto or soprassata and cheese sandwiches. I had fritattas. I had zucchini and eggs, or pizza rustica. I saw bologna for the first time in college, and asked what was wrong with the mortatella?

We celebrated birthdays, feast days (Palm Sunday was mine), and holidays. Of course everyone cooked extra, in case someone stopped by. People stopped by all the time. Having "company" was the norm. I learned from my mother to always have "a few quarts of sauce with meat, a dessert or two, and enough other side dishes that you could throw together a dinner or two on a moment's notice if someone drops in".
My mom spoke Italian (or at least their Barese dialect) when speaking to her sisters.
They spoke English when my dad was at the table, so he would not be left out. They even switched to a Naples dialect when the neighbor was there to make her feel at home. They switched to "proper Italian" when another northern Italian friend was present (I don't think they ever mastered Piemontese).

My point of all this rambling is that THIS was my experience growing up in California.
Every time I arrive in Italy, I feel like I have come home.

Missing Italy Part 2: Sauce in the Freezer


This is the hard part to write about (talk about, think about).
(If you didn't already read "Missing Italy Part 1: Some Background", please start there.)

For 35 years, I guess I have been trying in different ways to recreate this "Big happy Italian family". Though I was not blessed with biological children, a HUGE sadness in my life, I have always been drawn to big noisy families. My substitute has been friends, dinners, and parties.

In many ways, I have become my mother! Mom loved to cook and entertain. She planned, she poured over cookbooks. She baked. She "over did it". She had lots of dishes! She had two freezers, and two refrigerators. She bought in large quantities BEFORE there was Costco.

When Mom died, I used her stash of paper towels, tin foil, plastic wrap and waxed paper for FIVE YEARS before I had to buy any. I gave away at least 20 boxes of band-aids and dozens of new toothbrushes.

I have life-long friends (sorority sisters) who are in some ways like an extended family. Though we do not see each other often, we connect by phone and email. We visit a couple times a year.

My "Italian sister", Ida, and I talk daily, often sharing recipes, pouring over menus for dinner, holidays, and entertaining. This was how we first bonded on the beach in Maui 15 years ago. Jerry and I, and many on the ST food boards do this through sharing recipes there or on our blogs.

My therapist friends and I connect over other similarities and professional respect.

My REAL cousin, Palma, in New York, and I share food stories, and memories of our parents, aunts and uncles during our monthly phone chats.

I have appetizers and sauce in the freezer, desserts and side dishes ready "in case", but no one has EVER stopped by and stayed for dinner (OK, I can think of ONE TIME!). My desert friends rarely cook, and eat out much of the time. Don't get me wrong. I value our privacy and have boundaries, but would like more spontaneous getting together. Last minute invitations are fun. Brad and I continue to seek connection with those whose priorities are NOT just money, things, and competition. We have made a few close friends in the desert. We love those we have met who are REAL, honest, vulnerable, and non-judgmental. We miss them as they are away half the year.

In my hapy, naive world, sharing what you have with your friend is better than trying to have more than your friend. Friends don't play "tit for tat" or "keep score" on kindness. If I invite someone for dinner, it is not a contest, and they don't OWE me anything.

In many ways we have found a sense of community on Slow Travel. Through this community of travelers, we have met so many great people. This is a wonderful "Italy Connection" of people who either live there, or have traveled there and love it as we do.

After three years in our new home and community, after hosting parties, inviting neighbors for drinks, dinner, etc., I have been invited into three homes (two included Brad). In our recent three-week trip to Italy, we were invited to share meals or come over by six families of people we had never met before. THIS is the connection I don't find at home.

SO, yes, we joke about missing the pasta and gelato in Italy. We miss the stunning scenery, the piazzas, the passagiata, the pace, the three-hour meals with wine. We miss the countryside, the hilltowns, the magnificant cities, the art, music and architecture. All those things I can wait for. It is exciting to look forward to them on our next visit.

But, DAILY, I miss the connections, the relationships, the sharing, the kindness, the "Buon Giornos", the smiles to a stranger, the children playing safely while "the village" watches out for them. I miss the generosity. I miss having those who "get it" that this is NORMAL, not an exception. Daily I try to create those kinds of connections in my life at home. I will die trying. In the meantime, I will cook Italian, use the ST chatroom and GTGs as my piazza and passagiata, and continue to visit Italy once or twice a year.

I dream of and long for the hospitality, warmth and comfort of Italy.

If you're in the neighborhood (or want to visit), call first, then if we're home, come by.
There will be new sauce in the freezer.

March 25, 2008

Dreaming of Italy... Soon!

51 days away, and I am dreaming of Italy!

I long to see road signs like this:


And hill towns like this:


And eat bread like this:


Soon! I have begun the Italy countdown!

April 26, 2008

Coffee and Planning

Come have a cup of cappucino with me.


You'll never guess what I'm CONSTANTLY thinking about: Here's a hint!


Right! Italy in 21 days. Three weeks from now I will be in Rome for a week, and then off to


Today I am organizing all of my "printed material: itinerary, car rental, hotel confirmation for one night in Florence, restaurant lists for Rome, driving directions, and of course my RECIPES to feed the troops at the villa! I have a nice little binder so I will not be shuffling papers in the passenger seat while I read the GPS and ask Brad to "take it easy".

If I talk about something else, will you stay for another cup?


April 28, 2008

Italian Breakfasts

My typical breakfast at home consists of several large mugs of coffee. I have very little interest in food in the morning...UNLESS I am in Italy!

Breakfast in Italy can be anything from 2-3 lattes, to a full meal!
Last summer in Montalcino I would walk the empty streets around 6AM, and then was there when the caffe opened at 7.


I enjoyed a bit more on the lovely outdoor breakfast terrace in Torino.


Sometimes breakfast looks more like lunch. Here is one morning's breakfast plate in Bologna:


Continue reading "Italian Breakfasts" »

April 30, 2008

Italian Dreams

16 more sleeps!

I dream of Italy most nights now. I go to sleep imagining that we are in Italy, so when I remember a dream, there is usually a bit of something Italian that pops into the scene.
Sometimes I see countryside. I'm a real sucker for those vineyards and olive trees.


Sometimes I "remember" a certain place or image.

What a surprise...I dream of FOOD!

Mostly, I think of spending lovely days and nights enjoying Italian life with Brad! (This was our anniversary in Umbria in 2005.)

May 2, 2008

Villa d'Este, Tivoli

When I think of Rome, I also think of a lovely day trip to the beautiful Villa d'Este.


Grab a beverage of choice, and enjoy a few minutes in this SPECTACULAR setting.

When we were last there, we saw a bride and groom. Oh what stunning photos they must have!


June 22, 2008

I've been scrapbooking...



Sandi gave all of us these wood letters spelling "Montisi" several months ago. I have finally used mine. I painted them green, added some flowers, and did a grouping of photos in my guest room with poppy pictures in green frames, and 3 people photos.


Next, I took some food photos of fruits and veggies, and framed them for a long, thin space of wall in my kitchen.


Finally, I take lots of photos of flowers in Italy. I made a huge collage frame of "Fiori di Italia" for the guest room.


One more way to "bring Italy home"!

July 17, 2008

Missing Italy Again


We got a lovely surprise delivered: sunflowers from Gail and John, as an appreciation for our kitchen help in Montisi. The card read, "Thought you might be missing these."

I AM!!!

Last July we were in Umbria looking at these:



Don't they make you smile?

I got a great "poppy fix" in May, and next July we will be back in Umbria with our guests from PalmabellasItaly.

The good news is we will be back to Italy in 45 days!

For right now, these put a smile on my face!


Is anyone else missing Italy today?

August 2, 2008

Waking up in Italy

One of the simple pleasures (and there are SO many...) of being in Italy, is just waking up in the morning! Even in my pre-caffinated state we call "stunnato" in my mother's dialect, I love early morning. The light, the mist or sfumato, sometimes an incredible sunrise, are all possibilities. So is the smell of the espresso and fresh bread or pastry.

I remember my first morning at Diana's:

It was a perfect Piemonte sunrise!


Of course, mornings are lovely in Positano:

in Umbria:


in Capri:


in Venice:



and finally, this shot from our room at Genius Loci!


See what you miss when you sleep in? As I've said before, I can sleep at home! But afternoon NAPS are good!

Just 31 more sleeps, and I'll wake up on Lake Como!

August 19, 2008

The Story of Luigi the Seagull

Once upon a time there was a little seagull named Luigi. He lived far from his homeland of Italia on a quiet beach near San Diego.


He so missed his old life in Italy, and would give anything to go back. Here is Luigi dreaming of his home across the huge continent and an even bigger sea.


Sadly, he went for his morning swim.


He felt refreshed, and began his walk on the beach.


He had a bath...and an idea!


Soon, he met some of his American friends.


None of them wanted to play cards or go for a doppio. He went over to his buddy, Herb by the castello. " Look at these lousy monuments", he said. "Herb, want to fly with me to Little Italy? "


The two seagulls visited Little Italy, and sipped the remains of a capuccino and some cannoli crumbs. "Molto buono!"



Luigi was happy for the rest of the day. Domani, they will visit a local pizza place, and maybe some GELATO!

October 17, 2008

If I Were in Italy...

If I were in Italy this morning, I would have been at a favorite cafe on a tiny piazza having a great cafe latte and a yummy cornetto.


I would read, and watch the beautiful Italian bambini play. (children were photographed with parent's consent)



Then I might walk to the market and buy something luscious to eat.


Maybe pick up something fun for dinner...


It would be


October 22, 2008

More Ceramics?

Last summer I bought a set of Rampini dishes in Radda. When we were in Florence in May, I stopped in the Rampini store there, and added 8 coffee mugs and a cream and sugar set. It takes a while for them to be shipped. They said it would probably be August. Well, as soon as we left again for Italy again in September, the package arrived. Of course we were not here to sign for it, so Fed Ex left three notices on my door (that my friend took off for me). I was sure they had gone back to Italy, as the last notice was September 8, and we returned September 23! I emailed Rampini my disappointing news.

About an hour later, Fed Ex called, and said they had received a call from Rampini, saying we were home. They delivered my package that afternoon. Who says the Italians aren't efficient?



May 29, 2009

Sogno di Italia

Yes, I often dream of Italy, and not only at night! Here are a few daydream places I have found recently to think about before we take off in 27 more days:

I can completely see myself living in this charming yellow kitchen outside of Cortona!


Maybe you would like to join me in this sweet little villa in Trequanda?


Or how about living in this cute little Umbrian farmhouse outside of Todi?


I bet you would come visit me and join me for a glass of prosecco on the terrace...


or a capuccino in the "conservatory".


Since we are dreaming... I'll show you my favorite Umbrian fantasy property that is ready to move into. Just follow me!



I have a "thing" for courtyards! Can you imagine some antipasti and vino here?


Or perhaps you would prefer this view at sunset?


Come on in the kitchen door.


I can live with green!


The painting has to go, but there is an inviting living room,


and a charming family room.


There is even a a cozy "library" to settle down with a good book.


Dining room...of course!


The three bedrooms (one with a fireplace) are also lovely!
How about a dip in the pool before we leave my fantasy?


As soon as we win the lottery, I'll be packing up the ceramics!

Photos courtesy of

June 10, 2009

Italian Language Meet-up Group of the Desert

Last month, Brad and I joined the Italian Language Meet-up Group of the Desert. They are fairly new, and meet twice a month, either at a restaurant, or at someone's home. At our first meeting, we all got to know each other by saying a little something about ourselves in Italian. There are all different skill levels in speaking Italian, from Brad, who is a true beginner to being completely fluent. Everyone is very patient, and helpful, so it is safe to struggle and try out your skills. At our next meeting in two weeks, we are meeting at an Italian restaurant, with Italian speaking waiters, and each person will share a recipe, or something about a dish they like in Italian.

We began the evening with hot artichoke dip and prosecco or wine.


Dinner was interesting for me, as half the group are either vegetarian or vegan. I actually prepared a meal without cheese in every dish!

Brad grilled lots of veggies.



We had a big spinach salad with berries and pecans.


There was grilled flank steak for the carnivores.


The fresh berries were wonderful, drizzled with a little Italian honey.


Bean-Corn-Rice Salad was a hit with everyone.


Dessert: Another fresh berry tart!


Part of the evening's activities included a blind tasting...of olive oil! We tasted 5 olive oils, and three balsamic vinegars. Favorites were Mauro's Umbrian oil, Pasolivo Tangerine oil, and Fig Balsamic vinegar.


Here are some of our group members:

Chris and Cindy have traveled to various regions in Italy.


"Enrico" (Harry) and Armando have lovely pronunciation, and continue to practice their skills for a future trip to Italia.


Caterina studied Italian in Perugia, and Diana plans to WALK through Umbria next year!


Tony's skills are very good, and he will be staying with Ego during part of our trip. Frank (our meet-up organizer) owns an apartment and a "country house" in Siracusa, Sicily, where he lived the past five years.


We look forward to many more evenings with the group to chat and practice speaking Italian!

July 15, 2009

Travel Day

We left our hotel at 7 am, left FCO at 9:30 am, JFK at 5:30 pm, and arrived in San Diego at 7 pm, California time. LONG DAY! We drove back to Palm Desert, played with Ego, and went straight to sleep.

I always seem to forget how FAR we are from Italy! I slept MUCH of the way home!

July 28, 2009

How Do You Know?

that you have the SWEETEST husband in the world?

Saturday, it was VERY hot, I was VERY lazy, but we needed groceries. I sent Brad off to Costco with my list. He returned with everything on my list...


Continue reading "How Do You Know?" »

November 16, 2009

Returning to Bologna


It is official! I'll be back in Bologna the end of May 2010. I am booked for three weeks of private Italian language classes. I will be in an apartment in a city I love that has fabulous food. Since Brad will not be with me, there will be no excuses for speaking English. I will be forced to put my skills to use, and have daily lessons and practice. I better start NOW, reviewing what I do know!

Brad and I will return later in the year for our vacation to Italy.

January 18, 2010

49 Reasons to Return to Bologna

I'll be returning to Bologna in May for three weeks of language study. Jerry will be visiting me for part of my stay. Here is a preview of why I love Bologna!

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July 9, 2010

Campo dei Fiori

I painted one of my favorite places!


No matter how many times I visit Rome, I never get tired of the market at Campo dei Fiori! The colors, scents, people, excite me every single time. I LOVE to wander among the stalls, and even when I think, "Palma, you have so many photos of this already!", the camera comes out, and I smile and take more, trying to capture the magic this place has for me!















July 31, 2010

Cucina Italiana


Palmabella's Italian kitchen was busy this weekend! On Friday, I prepared two dishes to take to our Italian Meet-up Group party: Eggplant Parmesan, and a home-made pasta for pesto-ricotta lasagna.




When dinnertime came, I was pooped from both cooking, cleaning up the kitchen, and especially washing dishes, so we kept it VERY simple...a spinach salad and some cacio e pepe! If I lived in Italy, I would have walked to the neighborhood trattoria!


August 6, 2010

Bologna Tour 2011


We are excited to announce a new small-group tour to Bologna in 2011!

Yes, Palmabella's Italy is back with a 10-day trip planned for May, 2011. Three rooms are already booked, but we have room for one more couple! If the interest is greater, we will add another tour in September, 2011.

Last summer, we took our very first group to Umbria for 10 days, and had a fabulous time sharing our knowledge of the area and passion for Italian food, wine and people with six guests. They ALL want to go again, and Bologna and the surrounding area will be the perfect place!

Check out our new website for all the details, and come join us! Palmabella's Italy (or click on the sunflower picture on the right!)

August 20, 2010

Veneto, Here We Come

14 Sleeps!

Here's the itinerary:

Arrive Venice, drive directly to Verona for 6 nights.

During that time, we will take a day trip to Bologna to firm up some arrangements for our 2011 Palmabella's Italy Tour.

5 nights in Bassano del Grappa

4 nights at Villa Abbazia in the prosecco wine region to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

One day in Venice before flying home.

In the meantime... I paint.


September 27, 2010

How to Make Friends in Italy

It is always amazing to me, ok, maybe not amazing, but NORMAL in Italy, how easy it is to forge new relationships with wonderful people. I've already written about how I met Rosalia and Roberto over lunch in Bologna, exchanged emails and phone numbers, and ended up seeing them for THREE days during our Veneto trip. How likely is it that this would happen in the U.S? In my neighborhood, you could live next door to people for 5 years, and not know their names!

On our first evening in Follina, (population 4,019) we walked a block to the main intersection of town, and had a choice of three bars/cafes. We went to the most crowded one, where many locals seemed to gather. DOCG prosecco: 90 cents. How could we go wrong? We grabbed the only free table outside (maybe there were a total of six tables), and began watching the local scene.

There were a group of 7 or 8 local men gathered at the other tables. After a few minutes, the church bells rang 7 p.m.. Many seemed to begin their good-byes, and the group split off on foot, or bicycle and one work vehicle to head home. There was one gentleman left at the table with his glass of prosecco. I looked over and smiled. He smiled back. I said "Buona sera". He said "Buona sera". I said in Italian, "Do you live here?" That was all it took. In seconds, he was at our table chatting and asking about where we were from. The server was summoned, and he ordered "two more glasses for his new friends."

We spent the next hour with Giuliano, exchanging info about our lives, families, the town, the area, travel, work, etc. At 8:00, he left to go home for dinner. ( I believe I could go to our local wine bar every night for a month and not end up with a new friend. I think I will do a little experiment on this...ok, maybe once a week! LOL)

The next morning, we were in the bar/caffe across the street having coffee. Three interesting things happened. Another of the men we had seen the night before was seated out in front with a glass of prosecco (at 10 a.m.). He spoke to us, and seemed to already know we were "the Americans in town". Another man walked by and stopped purposely to ask how our visit was going. He already knew I could speak enough Italian to chat. He said, "You are American, right?" I said we were, and he replied, "But you are of Italian descent, no? I can see it in your face. You ARE Italian." I wanted to hug him! Soon Giuliano rode by on his bike, and stopped. We invited him to have coffee with us. He said he was on his way to work, but he would be there at noon.

It was market day in Follina. We browsed the two block area of stalls and booths until 12. We returned to the caffe, with coffee to wait for Giuliano. He never showed up. We waited until 1:00. We were somehow disappointed we had been stood up!

Unbeknownst to us, Giuliano had to work until 2:30. We were out for the afternoon, but he came by our hotel several times, asking at the desk for the "blond lady from California." He kept trying, and finally found us on the terrace having a drink at 7:00, before our anniversary dinner. We invited him to stay and have a drink with us. He was so apologetic, and had a business card with his home phone, cell phone and email. We spent another delightful hour with Giuliano, our new friend in Follina.


I am as friendly in California as I am in Italy. I have never made a friend in a bar/restaurant or caffe in the U.S. What is the magic that happens in Italy to make this a common experience? Maybe it is just because we are visitors from afar, but I don't think that is all. It think we have unfortunately become less trusting of strangers, more paranoid about safety or crime, and that there is also a cultural difference of connecting over food and wine. Maybe it doesn't matter why this is so easy there, but thank God it is.

October 5, 2010

Favorite Towns in Italy


Recently, Valerie, at 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree, did a blog about her "Five Favorite Towns in Italy". Brad and I have discussed this many times, but I am fickle! I love so many, it is very hard to choose. Then, if we get more specific, the lists could go on and on. (favorite large city, favorite foodie town, favorite wine town, favorite shopping town, etc.) Oh my!

If we look ONLY at the big three, ROME would win for me. There is no place else with the energy, the grandeur, the quiet neighborhoods, the history, well, you know! While I also love Venice and Florence, Rome is my favorite.

If we eliminate those, here are my top five (in no particular order):

Acqui Terme





If we go for picture postcard beautiful:

San Donato
Castellina in Chianti

If we go for too many tourists, but still wonderful (and I will ALWAYS want to go back):

1. Pienza
2 San Gimignano
3 Cortona
4 Positano
5 Capri

I better post this before I change my mind again! I could have EASILY put 10 places in each of these lists!

For all of you Italy lovers, what are YOUR five favorites?

October 12, 2010

Italian Festival in Reno

Well, there was a reason we chose last weekend for our visit to see Fiona and Steve in Reno: the annual El Dorado Italian Festival. Food, music and everything Italian! I felt like I was "home" again, for a fabulous Italy fix! Check out the highlights:

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October 18, 2010

A Lovely Parting Gift

On our last morning at Villa Abbazia, when we checked out after breakfast to head to Venice for our last day in the Veneto, we were given TWO lovely gifts. Everyone gets this beautiful book about the Treviso provence.



I am determined to spend a day in this town during my visit to Venice in the spring. Besides the food and markets, I want to see the charming canals and old water wheels!

The second gift (everyone does NOT get this, but the owners were so happy with my slideshow of the property, and touched that I painted a watercolor of our view from the terrace) is a beautiful watercolor print, featuring Treviso radicchio, I hope to frame soon and hang in our dining room.


I hope to soon have a few of my own watercolors to share of Villa Abbazia.

October 25, 2010

Italian Vegetables


There is nothing like getting a large shipping box delivered from Italy (unless it is one of dirty clothes I have mailed home to myself). It is like an early Christmas, because after almost 2 months, you have ALMOST forgotten what you purchased.

Once I got the box open, I dealt with styrofoam popcorn, LOTS of it. That stuff gets EVERYWHERE: the floor, the counter, my hair... it is messy!


I looked at the photos I took in the shop in Nove, outside Bassano del Grappa. I should have had 15 little items (9 veggies and a few small serving items). But there were 17 things bubble wrapped, and one was quite large.


Sometimes ceramics shops put in an extra small item as a "regalo", or gift. That explained the set of ceramic salad utensils. I unwrapped everything that was mine, and nothing was broken or damaged. Now, what was in the BIG package?

It was a three sectioned serving plate, like 3 clam shells attached at the top with a "coral" handle. I didn't order this, so someone else's order must have gotten mixed up with mine. What to do?

A. Keep it and say nothing?
B. Ship it back to Italy?
C. Give it as a gift?
D. Sell it on E-Bay?


I went with "None of the Above": The next morning, at 6 a.m. California time, I called the shop. This conversation was all in Italian: "Good afternoon, this is Palma Hansen from California. You shipped me a box of things I bought in September." At this point the woman said, "Oh yes, Senora Hansen. Is something broken?" I replied, "No everything is perfect, but I got one large plate that is not mine. It is like three small white plates together with coral. It must belong to someone else."

The woman was SO SHOCKED I called. She kept saying, no, she did not want me to ship it back, it was their mistake, and they hoped I would enjoy it. She said several times, how kind and thoughtful and courteous I was was to call, that no one would bother to do this, and she hoped I would return to the shop on another visit!

All's well that ends well, and I love my Italian veggie platter! Anybody love coral?


October 2, 2011

Home and Jetlagged

Another 26 hour day of travel, but we are home and safe! Luckily, I always forget this part. Actually, if someone gave me two tickets to Italy, I'd go back this week!

We had a 4:30 wake-up (Rome time) on Saturday morning, and left the amazing Fontana del Papa at 5:30. Assuntina insisted on getting up to make us coffee before we left. That was above and beyond all expectations (and greatly appreciated). We arrived at FCO by 6:30, returned our rental car and had time for another cup of coffee before our 9:30 flight to LAX. I slept much of the flight (with a Tylenol PM), and then it took 3 HOURS to get out of LAX (I HATE that airport)! We finally arrived home to a very happy Luigi at 7 p.m., just 23 1/2 hours later. We managed to stay awake until 9, then crashed. I was up and WIDE AWAKE by 1 a.m., and drinking coffee by 2 a.m.. Maybe a nap later...

This trip was one of our favorites ever! I prefer spending at least 3 weeks on a trip to Italy, but we must work within the budget and have limits of time off from work and reality. This journey gave us 15 nights in Italy and two travel days. We had three new destinations to explore, each for 5 days and nights, and each were wonderful for different reasons:


Ascoli Piceno is a jewel of a town. It was a perfect way to begin our trip and the highlights were the people, the piazze, and the passigiata!

The people were warm and friendly, the two piazze were alive with a wonderful energy, and the passigiata on the weekend nights were amazing. I could sit in a cafe and watch people all night! We also enjoyed the surrounding hill towns, and great food and wine!


During our next five days at Locanda Valle Nuova, we fell hopelessly in love with Le Marche! This view is right around the corner from Giulia's, and every curve of the road brings more spectacular scenery, tiny hill towns, glorious vistas, rivers, valleys and more wonderful food, wine and people. I could move here tomorrow!

Urbino and the Palazzo Ducale are fabulous, but the scenery, houses and farms on the hillsides, really stole our hearts. We also enjoyed the tiny towns we visited, and drove through. We covered a LOT of ground in our rental car each day, from the mountains to the sea, and we loved it all, and still had plenty of time to sit on Giulia's terrace with coffee or wine and relax. It was good for the soul.

Finally, after a LONG travel day through Le Marche, Umbria, Toscana, and finally Lazio, we reached the beautiful Fontana del Papa, (60 km from Rome) and our amazing hostess Assuntina and her delightful family.


Our days here were relaxing and fun. Assuntina is an amazing woman, and we became fast friends. She called me Palmina (my nonna's name), and we spent many hours talking and laughing together in Italian and English. We also spent a day in Lake Bolsena, a full day in Rome for a shopping fix, a morning at the market for 6 bags of flour straight from the mill at the Panificio, and lunch at one of the most beautiful and exclusive resorts in Italy. I took a whole afternoon off to paint on the terrace, and we met 5 wonderful girlfriends who came from Toronto for a week of cooking. Evenings were spent with lots of laughter, fabulous food, wine, and the warm attention of Assuntina and her daughter, Emma. What could be a better way to end our trip? It was PERFECT!

It is now 3:40 a.m., and I am WIDE AWAKE! I will be needing several of these to make it through Sunday!


I will go back to the beginning of our journey, and blog the details and photos from each day, so stay tuned...

July 1, 2012

Go Italia!

July 3, 2012

Italian Poppies

There are many things that really put a smile on my face in Italy. A field of poppies or sunflowers will do it every time. I can't even tell you how many times I have made Brad stop on the side of the road for a photo! Here are some papaveri from Le Marche!






January 9, 2014

Dreaming of Venice

It is puzzle season at my kitchen table. I HAVE been dreaming of sunny days in Venezia! The count down has begun. Only 180 more days until our special Grape Hops-Palmabella's Italy tour to Bologna and Venice with Palma and Shannon. Would you like to join us?


March 4, 2014

Venezia, See You Soon


This one took a while, but was really fun to do, and took up much of my kitchen table!

122 days. Yes, I am counting!

July 2, 2014

One More Sleep

Thursday, I'm off to Bella Italia, a few days before our GrapeHops-Palmabella's Italy group in Bologna and Venice. I am looking forward to seeing Shannon, being back in beautiful Italy (even in the heat), and eating and drinking some wine (and COFFEE)!
I am MOST excited about seeing my son, Federico, in Venice, after our group!!
Whoo Hoo!

It's my last day of work, but I'm packed, and the house is ready for my house-dog sitters. Brad will join us in Venice in a few days!


July 27, 2014

From the Beginning: Arriving in Bologna


I was very stressed before leaving for Italy. I had been dealing with the "new teeth", issues at work, Brad's new job and commute, and other stressors. I got on the plane (business class, no less), and all the stress went away! A glass of wine got me to Chicago, another at ORD, and I slept the rest of the way to Bologna, (OK a latte macchiato in Munich helped too)!
I landed in Bologna on the 4th of July at 4:30. By 5:00 I was pulling up to the Hotel Porta San Mamolo. I had a royal greeting from all my friends there; the owner, Roberto Condello met my taxi with hugs in the street and brought in my bags. Elisa at the front desk, also greeted me with a warm hug, and she and Monica took care of every detail for our group guests. It is my home away from home.



Soon Shannon walked over from her apartment to meet me for a drink. I gave her the tour of the hotel, and then we hit two neighborhood bars for a glass of wine. Later we had a great pasta dinner at Al Sangiovese. One last glass of vino at La Mura (next door to the hotel), and I had a wonderful first night's sleep.

July 28, 2014

Bologna: Saturday, July 5, 2014



I am so happy at "my spot" at San Mamolo. I have my little terrace. When Paola is setting up breakfast at 6:30, she immediately brings me a coffee on my little table, before the breakfast room opens at 7:00.

I enjoyed my peaceful early morning time in my "happy place", and wrote this little poem:

Italian morning
Birds chirping, soft sunlight, the trickle of a fountain;
Scents of honeysuckle, lavender and geraniums;
Dark, rich coffee and smiling dark eyes;
"Buon giorno"
How could it not be?

I had an early breakfast, unpacked, and went for a long walk down Via Independanzia to the Saturday market. I bought an Italian cotton nightgown and a pair of mint green sandals for a total of 15 euro. I stopped at the TIM store and got my month's plan for my Italian sim card for my i-Phone with unlimited calls, texts, data, and 250 minutes to the U.S. to speak with Brad until he arrives. I wandered into a few shops and stopped for coffee. Then at 11:30, I met Shannon at the market to gather items for our welcome bags. We had coffee at Eataly, then shopped for goodies and treats for our bags. We were done by 2:30 for some down time.

We met at 6:00 at the Bar Celastina for an apertivo. From there we walked to the neighborhood where we would have dinner. A soccer game was on, so we found a funky bar a couple blocks from the restaurant, that turned out to be the weirdest place I have ever been to in Bologna! We called it the "anarchist-gay-hippy-tatoo bar" with great 2 euro wine. It was very hot and humid, but Shannon got to watch soccer, and watching the people there was QUITE an experience. Let's just say we were the oldest, most over-dressed, non-lesbian, untattooed women there!

I chose one of my favorite restaurants, Antica Osteria Romagnola, for our dinner. We were not disappointed.


We began with their assortment of antipasti: sliced mortadella, fresh ricotta (that tastes like the cow was JUST milked in the kitchen), beans, tomatoes, olives, and cippolini onions in a balsamico glaze, all served with fresh bread and piadini. Our entree was a baby suckling pig (maiolino) for two with roasted potatoes. The wine was delicious, and we had their special dessert of coffee gelato with espresso and coffee liquore. (Shannon was up quite late from the caffine!) Amazing as always!





After dinner, we headed to Piazza Maggiore, where hundreds of chairs were set up for a film festival. We never thought we'd get a seat, as they were showing a documentary before the main feature, A Hard Day's Night. We lucked into a table at one of the bars on the piazza with a great view of the huge screen, and a table and waiter for wine to boot! Lucky us! It was so fun to watch the Beatles (no subtitles for the Italians), and of course I sang along with every song. There was the cutest young Italian guy, half my age sitting next to me, sharing my ashtray, whose feet were bopping to the music who was also singing along. It seemed like the whole city was in the piazza enjoying the classic music of my youth! Awesome! A perfect Saturday night!


July 29, 2014

Bologna: Sunday, July 6

It was a lazy Sunday morning. Shannon and I agreed to meet at noon to finish up some errands (buying wine, prosecco and water for our group). I was up early as usual and read in "my spot", then had breakfast. I checked on all group details with the hotel staff. All of our dinner reservations, bus transportation and room assignments were in place. I filled our goodie bags, then went out for a walk. The Furla store opened at 10, and the sales girl actually remembered me from four years ago when I was in Bologna studying Italian. It was one of my daily stops to practice speaking. I got a gorgeous black and white bag at the sale price, and carried more water bottles home from the Coop. Happy Palma!




We met at Piazza Santo Stefano, and enjoyed coffee and wine. After discussing group details, and some good people-watching, we had pizza at La Mela for a late lunch-early dinner. Five of our seven group members were coming in a day early tomorrow, to avoid jet lag, and we were ready to greet them at at the hotel in the morning.


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