Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Buone Feste!

The end of the academic semester and the holiday season is a busy time. With that in mind, this blog is taking a holiday hiatus until January 2013. I look forward to seeing you then.

In the meanwhile, here is some celebratory Italian vocabulary for you. You can also send Italian e-cards (Christmas, New Year or Befana).

Happy Holidays: Buone Feste!

Merry Christmas: Buon Natale!

Happy New Year: Buon Anno!

Happy birthday: Buon Compleanno!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Italian-American Literary Web Resources

I’m glad to have attended the IASA (Italian American Studies Association) conference and learned about some great Italian-American literary web resources:  

Bordighera Press: Contemporary Italian American Writing. The same site has a great list of related web resources.

Gradiva: International Journal of Italian Poetry

Italian Americana: A cultural and historical review dedicated to the Italian American experience in the new world

What else would you add to the list?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recommended Italian Language Books

Are you planning a trip to Italy this winter or spring? Start learning a few words and phrases early. Last week I recommended some online Italian language resources. Here are some great books (and stocking stuffers for your favorite traveler):



Schaum’s Outlines in both Italian Grammar and Italian Vocabulary are very thorough. The answers are in the back and they can take the place of a more expensive college textbook.

Living Language has some strong series of CDs. I recommend DriveTime Italian which has 4 hours of lessons on 4 CDs.

Linea diretta: Corso di italiano per principianti is an immersion text that is hard to find, but if you google it, some online sellers have it. It comes with a CD and uses complete immersion technique for language acquisition.

For more recommendations, check out my Amazon store (and help support this blog!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Online Italian Grammar Help

Sala Consilina (SA), 2007

Grammar books are great, but have you tried online grammar help?

Here are two of my go-to sites:

UVM's Italian Grammar site

Fodors' Travel Phrases

What are your favorite websites or books for Italian language learning?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! or, Ordering a Turkey in Florence for Thanksgiving

Mom's handmade pop-up Thanksgiving card from 2011

Of course, Italians don't celebrate Thanksgiving. Usually. On the American campus where I worked in Florence, Italy, we celebrated with the students in the cafeteria and many of us hosted our own Thanksgiving dinners, too, with (curious) Italians in attendance.

The first year I was working there, I remember ordering a cooked turkey from the butcher up the street. Not yet realizing the extent to which the Florentines use the passive voice (impersonal si) - and don't mean it as a regular stand-in for a second person address - I asked the butcher if "one could roast it." Since the answer is of course yes, I hung up thinking I ordered a roasted turkey and he hung up thinking I was an idiot.

When I called to check on the turkey a few days before Thanksgiving, the butcher said it was ready when I was. I was confused since, of course, why would it already be roasted? I quickly realized my language problem. Since my oven was tiny, I ran up to the butcher shop, measuring tape in hand, and measured the raw bird every which way. I'm sure that butcher won't quickly forget our American holiday.

In the end, I was able to squeeze the bird in my oven and still pull off a delicious Thanksgiving feast for my parents and a few friends.

If you are looking to add some Italian influence to your big day, you might try some of these "Italian Thanksgiving Recipes" (or perhaps the grouping should be termed, "Italian-influenced" or "Italian-American recipes") from the Food Network. I think we'll be sticking with a more traditional stuffing, cranberry sauce and other American favorites for this Thursday's holiday.

If you are hosting this year, you might read through my anti-drama-Thanksgiving-post from a few years ago.

See you after the holiday!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day! Vote Today!

Today is Election Day. Make the time to vote. 

Need more convincing? Check out OurTime.Org.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Themed Halloween food: Stuffed peppers / Alien pods



Would you like some Alien pods? Maybe you'd prefer if we called them stuffed peppers? 

Some friends recently threw an Alien watching party. Dinner was composed all of all stuffed (read: potentially exploding) items. The hosts prepared fish stuffed with crabmeat and butternut squash ravioli. We brought along stuffed peppers / Alien pods which were, coincidentally, vegan.

To prepare them, I carefully sliced out the stems and then cleaned out the insides of the peppers. I made three cuts to allow three (more or less) flaps and trimmed the edges to make them somewhat (very "somewhat") triangular. I brushed the pan and each pepper with olive oil. Since peppers are crisp when they are raw, this was tricky. With practice, I imagine they'd be more attractive (or frightening?)

The filling was a mix of diced sautéed vegetables (onions, zucchini, celery and kale) with brown rice and almond slices. I baked the peppers for about an hour at 350 degrees and we ate them room temperature. 

What's your favorite scary food for Halloween-y meals?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fresh Pasta: Pastaworks

Pasta slicing machine

Garlic focaccia

Artisan egg pasta sliced to fettucini width 

Fettucini with kale, garlic and mushrooms

This summer we stopped at Pastaworks Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon, for freshly made and even more freshly cut, pasta. In the store, you choose the kind of fresh pasta you'd like cut from the prepared sheets, and what shape you'd prefer. The market also has an amazing selection of traditional Italian goods like wines, candies and olive oils, as well as local and imported cheeses. 

After much debate (how to choose!) we decided on the artisan egg pasta sliced to fettucini width. I prepared it with locally grown kale, garlic and mushrooms from the farmers' market.


Who is ready for a trip out west?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teeccino: Caffeine Free Herbal Coffee

Warning: This is going to sound like an infomercial. 

I used to drink entirely too much coffee. The first thing I did every morning was brew Italian coffee in my moka. Later in the day, I'd have more coffee or a coffee soda (I love illy's coffee soda and Manhattan Special. I always felt proud that I'd stop drinking caffeinated products by mid-afternoon. What control I had!

And I was always a terrible, terrible sleeper. I'd wake up during the night and wake up ridiculously early. If I didn't have my coffee first thing, I'd have a searing headache and be annoyed all day, even if I eventually drank coffee and tossed back some Tylenol. Traveling was hell because I needed coffee immediately and of course, that wasn't always possible.

Clearly I was addicted.

I decided to try to break myself of the habit. Completely. It took me about two weeks to stop drinking any coffee. Emotionally, I still want it. I meet clients in coffee shops and now order sweet treats instead of the coffee whose delicious scent is everywhere. I tend towards sweets in the afternoon for a sugar pick-me up instead of a caffeinated one. While I deeply desire a beautiful cappuccino, I'm enjoying the effects of not being addicted: Less headaches and better sleeping.

I think I was able to cut the coffee out in part because I continue with the morning routine I've had for years. Every morning I prepare Teeccino in my moka and then sit quietly to drink it before doing anything else.

I started by replacing some of the regular coffee with Teeccino coffee and eventually replaced all of the coffee with Teeccino. Yes, even though I slowly cut back on the coffee, I still had a low-grade headache for days (back to the Tylenol for that period.) Eventually, the headaches faded away.

Teeccino is a combination of barley and fruits, like figs, that are roasted for a coffee flavor. No, it doesn't taste exactly like coffee and no, you wouldn't be able to fool anyone who is a real coffee connoisseur. But, it does the trick.

The grind is a little too fine for the moka (the last sip is grainy), but I can deal with it. The barley coffee is similar to Orzo Bimbo, an Italian, instant barley coffee for kids, but since it isn't instant, the Teeccino is better. The Teeccino also has a more complex flavor than a straight-barley drink.

The company was kind enough to send me some samples so I could try some other flavors that I haven't been able to find in local stores. I was always a purist when it came to coffee, so instead of flavors like vanilla nut, chocolate or hazelnut, my favorite is the Mediterranean Original (see picture above.) Order it here.

Have you tried giving up coffee and caffeinated products (chocolate/sodas)? 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lactose-Free Living

Like our recent gluten-free diet trial, I tried eating lactose-free for about two weeks in order to better answer friends questions about lactose-free dishes. And much like the earlier diet, it was initially quite difficult (no mozzarella? no ricotta? what?) and then eventually became easier. 

I often start my day with a milk, yogurt and fruit smoothie (usually with some flax seed meal, chia seeds or wheat germ thrown in). Instead of the milk and yogurt, I used bananas (a great thickener, as are chia seeds) and juice (orange and Trader Joe's lemon ginger echinacea mixed juices were favorites) with the fruit.

Lunch was the trickiest. I often pack my husband a sandwich and make one for myself working at home. And those sandwiches always have cheese. To eliminate the cheese, I tried some of these combinations, which were great, on whole grain bread:
hummus and tomato
meat (cured sandwich meat or leftover chicken, beef or pork) and avocado
roasted vegetables and avocado
egg salad
tuna salad (with olive oil, mustard and capers instead of mayo)

For dinner, many Asian (Chinese stir fries, meat or vegetable dumplings, noodle dishes, Indian curries, etc.) are naturally lactose free. It was easy to make a traditional American dish of meat and potatoes without milk products, but when it came to Italian pasta dishes, I needed to replace the cheese. I found that nuts offered a similar taste and texture to cheeses. I sprinkled some toasted pine nuts on pasta with a marinara sauce and prepared risotto with thyme, mushrooms and crushed walnuts. We also had roasted fish (olive oil, white wine, garlic, lemon juice and a few tomato slices) with brown rice and vegetables sautéed in garlic.

I generally cook everything with olive oil instead of butter, so that wasn't tricky. For dessert, we tried fruit or rice/soy ice cream. I was really taken with Rice Dream Bites (rice dream ice cream covered in a hard chocolate shell.)

For more information and recipes, try Whole Foods' guide and Livestrong's guide to eating dairy free.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Announcing Unrest, a poetry chapbook by Chloe Yelena Miller

As I suggested last week with my recently published poem Hunger, food and cooking often appear in my poetry. And it isn't any different with my first poetry chapbook, Unrest, which will be published by Finishing Line Press in January 2013. Unrest illustrates the experience of loss through food, foreign language, travel, visual art, and more. This collection allows what once was to be resuscitated.

Renée Ashley, author of Basic Heart, writes of Unrest, These poems rest easily in the world because they are so much of it: family, love and loss, mixed inextricably in the crucible of food, of consideration and preparation, literal and figurative, of artichokes and lemon water, tomatoes, figs, of guava paste on dry toast, foods that seduce and sustain us.”

Thomas Lux, author of Child Made of Sand, says, “This is an exceptional debut by a young poet unafraid of being understood while at the same time writing with utter originality. Read this book!”

For a preview, click through to read these previously published poems.

This is a limited edition collection, and pre-publication sales will determine the press run. If you are interested, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy during this pre-sale period by ordering online.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Poetry & Food: Poem Hunger Published

Thanks to Leah Umansky for choosing my poem Hunger, as a part of a special section in THEthe Poetry, from the Red Room Company.

Leah writes in the introduction:

Being a Woman in the 21st Century has its charges. It depends on the decade and the day. (…) It is glorious, despite what drags us often down. We rise. The difference, now, is the verve with which we arm ourselves -- that is what makes the 21st Century Woman. (…) Chloe Yelena Miller’s “Hunger,” focuses on food, smell and the past – a poem about the maternal and memory, but also a poem about the domestic.

Hunger first lists fancier foods, and ends with my grandmother’s ziti before introducing my grandmother. That is to say, a list of things that I hunger for.

My paternal grandmother would bake ziti in a wide pan with marinara sauce and lots and lots of mozzarella. My favorite parts were the drier ziti on the edges that became just a little too crispy in the oven. As you can see, it is impossible to separate food and cooking from my poetry.

For more on my writing and poetry, I invite you to read my blog, Chloe Yelena Miller