We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Buon Anno 2015 !

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year's Eve and that today, the first day of the new year, started off on the right foot for you all. Did everyone eat lentils last night and/or today?  And remember to wear some red underwear?

This morning we took the vaporetto to the Lido then walked the short distance down to the beach to watch the annual "Polar Bear Plunge" which is called "gli iberisti" in Italian. I can't comprehend how these people jump into frigid water! One of the women told me it was very invigorating.  I was invigorated enough just walking over there and standing watching them in -2 C temps today!

Last night's New Year's Eve cenone turned out to be beyond our expectations. Excellent food, excellent company, a great night all around.  But, it didn't start out so great, and had all the markings of a monumental disaster. 

As I stepped out of our building headed to pick up our dinner from the caterer around 4:30 pm yesterday, this is the sunset I got treated to.  What a sight for the last evening of the year!

The caterer is located on the complete opposite side of the city, way over near the train station, in the Santa Croce district. The most convenient way for me to get there was to take the 5.2 vaporetto, get off at Piazzale Roma then walk the rest of the way. Knowing I had to pick up food for 4 people, I took my trusty carrello (grocery cart).  It was really cold, I wasn't liking the whole idea of doing this as I started out, but was eager for a good night so off I went.

When I arrived at the caterers, he took one look at me with my carrello and gave me a look of pure horror.  ( I need to interject an important fact here, something I have not mentioned yet. I was picking up the food at the caterers place of business, which is a take out pizza joint. I suspect he wanted to expand his business a little, so he advertised a take out 6 course dinner for New Years Eve.  The menu looked great, the price was very reasonable.  I proposed this to our friends Anne and Greg who would be joining us on NYE, and when they agreed to give it a go, I made the reservations. )

The caterer, Andrea, dressed in chef whites, a red apron wrapped around his waist and a red chefs hat on his head, motioned to a stack of 5 large, long white boxes on the counter. Then he motioned to my carrello and said "What did you think you were doing with that?"  I asked back, " Can we take all the food out and pile it into the carrello? "  "NO. " I understood the emphasis on the period after that word as he said it. I asked if we could slide the boxes into the carrello carefully.  "NO."   I thought for a second he was going to give me the classic hand motion to get out of the shop.  Instead, he walked around a bit, back into the kitchen, back out to  the counter area, then back into the kitchen and back out again. His wife made an appearance. She laughed. I wasn't laughing. Here were 5 very large boxes of food and I had no way to get them home.

Andrea came back out to my carrello and slid the canvas bag part of the thing off it's frame. Then he walked off again, returning with a plastic crate that coca cola bottles get delivered in. He turned that upside down and began duct taping it to the carrello frame. His wife quickly joined in, I just stood there and looked.  Next, he took 2 of the food boxes and strapped them down tightly to the plastic crate. Then he did the same thing to the remaining 3 food boxes.  He duct taped them up. He duct taped them down. He duct taped them all around. He gave it a test drive around the shop to make sure nothing would slip and slide around. He gave me the thumbs up and said "Ok to go!" with a big smile.

His wife asked me how far I needed to go to get home.  "Sant'Elena", I responded.  Oh good lord, she says to me, I hope you make it home by mezzonotte (midnight!).  Me too!

I carefully wheeled my carrello down the street and over bridges as I made my way back to Piazzale Roma.  To do this most carefully, I should have taken the #1 vaporetto home because I could have just wheeled the cart onto the boat without having to go up or down any steps. But, the problem with this is the #1 boat would have taken me 20 minutes longer to get back home. I opted to take the shorter route, and got on the 5.1 boat. I carefully maneuvered my unwieldy cargo down the stairs but had to sit out in the open part of the boat, in the cold frigid night air. It was -4 C last night.

My carrello and boxes

My New Year's Eve dinner and I arrived back home safely.  Mike came down to help me carry it up to the second floor, and then we started unpacking everything in the kitchen. Andrea had very meticulously packaged each of the food courses for person individually in a box. We had 2 big boxes labeled Carne (meat), 2 labeled Pesce (fish), and a fifth labeled Zuppe (soup). I also had a small plastic bag Andrea had handed me before leaving the shop.  Inside each box were separate small containers each with a different course in it.  I can't imagine how much work he had to go through to organize each order.

Our next task was to figure out how we would heat up each of these different courses.  Mike devised a cooking plan and had everything staged perfectly. Our guests arrived, we all got a great laugh out of the whole food retrieval saga, and sat down to a wonderful New Year's Eve Cenone.

I took a few photos of some of the courses, and regrettable, got so involved in dinner that I forgot to take the rest of them. Here are two courses each from both the meat and the fish dinners. Absolutely fantastic meal.

Turkey and almond salad in a parmesan basket

Shrimp in saor

Shrimp with pomegranate sauce and clementines. 

Pumpkin, eggplant and zucchine medalions with proscuitto crudo di Parma and Morlacco cheese.

To end the night, we had a selection of yummy pastries. We were all so stuffed it was all we could do to get up from the table. Mike and Greg braved the cold weather to walk down to Giardini to take photos of the fireworks. Anne and I watched from our kitchen balcony. 

I get some hairbrained ideas now and then, and I must admit doing catered take out New Year's Eve dinner is one of them. Now that I know what the drill is for carrying boxes home, I'd do this again it was that good. I'd take extra arms along with me and just carry the boxes carefully in our hands. 
If I were back in the US, all of this wouldn't have ever occurred. I'd have put all of the boxes in the back seat of my car, or perhaps in the trunk.  But no. I had to pull our dinner home on a duct-taped carrello. It makes for a better story this way! 

Buon Anno!! 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve 2014

In a few short hours, we're closing the cover on 2014.  I took this photo on the morning of New Year's Day over on the Lido beach, one full year ago. It was a bright sunny morning, the perfect way to inaugurate a brand new year.

I've spent some time reflecting on the past 12 months. It's been a good year for me, filled with some unbelievable moments. I can happily say I ticked off my list of goals, and then some. Not bad for a habitually lazy person. You know my middle name is procrastination, don't you?

The highlights were indeed high.  Here's the recap:

  • I started and  finished writing a novel. 
  • This was the year of the Great Weight Loss Adventure. I lost 43 lbs! 
  • We traveled places we'd never been before : Casablanca and Tangier in Morocco; Cadiz, Valencia and Barcelona in Spain, Savona and Tirano in Italy, and St. Moritz in Switzerland.  
  • We returned to some favorite places, a few of them numerous times - Lisbon, Portugal; Rome, Italy; and Portovenere and Cinque Terre, Italy. 
  • I became a member of the Pink Lioness in Venice rowing group, and learned to row in a dragon boat. 
  • I've rowed and  explored both the North and South Lagoon surrounding Venice, including the islands of San Francesco del Deserto, Sant Erasmo, San Servolo and Poveglia. 
  • We've made new friends from around the globe.
  • I continued with my Italian language studies. 
  • I taught myself how to knit in the last 3 months of the year.  So far I've completed a scarf, a cowl, a baby blanket, a hat, a pair of fingerless gloves, and one sock. 

And, I've made my list of projects for the coming year.

Keep the weight off. Continue to eat right, exercise and stay healthy.
Knit the other sock.
Be much more consistent with the blog. 
Travel to one new place (destination unknow as yet)
Put more time and energy into the Italian lessons
Keep remembering to live the simple life every day.
Get the book edited and in print. 
Row the Vogalonga with the Lionesses. 

I'm going to do everything in my power to do something every day that moves me in a positive direction towards accomplishing my goals. 

Today is San Silvestro Day in Italy, the last day of the year. Another Italian word for today is Capodanno. In the Italian tradition, on Capodanno you have a  huge meal, cenone, with family and friends.  Yes, another meal of  multiple courses, including lentils for good luck. This is also the night to put on your red underwear ( remember my Advent Calendar post Day 12?  

We are doing a big cenone at home with friends tonight, but decided not to cook. Instead we're having it catered in, all 7 courses!  Yes, we will eat lentils. And yes, we will have on red underwear (underneath our clothes, that is).  In fact, I need to head over to the caterer in a few minutes to pick it all up.  This was a new idea, I'm crossing my fingers everything works out ok. After dinner the plan is to  walk out to Riva degli Schiavoni to watch the fireworks and ring in the New Year , if I don't chicken out. It's bitter cold out here today! I may be watching some fireworks on TV instead. 

Do you make resolutions for the new year too?  I'd love for you to share them with me. 

From our house to yours,

Happy New Year 2015 

 Buon Anno!



Friday, December 26, 2014

Buon Santo Stefano Day!

Today is Santo Stefano Day, a national holiday celebrated throughout Italy. It's the last day of a three day eat-a-thon in most houses, starting with the Christmas Eve cenone.
Santo Stefano Day, December 26 ,is a day commemorating St. Stephen who was the one of the  first deacon of the Christian church and also the first martyr.

In Venice, like most other Italian cities, almost everything is closed today. Shops, restaurants, businesses, you name it, all but the most touristy of establishments will be closed yet again today. While Christmas Day is a day spent with the family, Santo Stefano is a day to get out in the streets to see your friends and neighbors, to wish everyone Buone Feste and Auguri (Best Wishes).

We also took to the streets, walking through Castello, ending up at Via Garibaldi where we met up with our friend Anne for a mid-morning cup of tea.  The last several days have been gorgeous! Clear skies, enough sun, and above average temperatures for this time of year. Just the right ingredients for exceptional reflections in the canals of Venice.

By late afternoon, the sun disappeared and a thick fog began to roll in. We watched it roll over the lagoon getting closer and closer to our terrace. It quietly crept over the terrace until we could barely see out the windows. Thick as thieves out there tonight, and all we can hear are fog horns as boats make their way between Lido and Venice.

This is the view out our kitchen window tonight. Fog (la nebbia) .

The weather forecast for tomorrow is rain during the day, snow starting late evening to Sunday morning. We don't often get any snow in Venice, so whenever there is even a little bit, it makes for a great occassion to take photos, especially of the gondolas docked in front of the Doge's Palace.

Buone Feste!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Buon Natale!

Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of you a very happy holiday season. 

Karen and Mike

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian Style ! December 24

photo courtesy www.dreamstime.com

We did it!  We made it through the whole month! Can you believe it's already Christmas Eve?
I can't. I have no idea where the time went.

Day 24 (ventiquattro)!  Vigilia di Natale! Christmas Eve. It's here!

In Italy, this is a BIG day! Fish markets are a madhouse in the morning, selling every variety of fish imaginable on this last opportunity to buy before the three big feast days. The fish mongers have been busy every day, they will need the time off over the holidays. I'm writing this at 10:50 pm Venice time, the Cenone della Vigilia has ended, and now, families are getting ready to go attend midnight mass at their local church.

Here in Venice, going to midnight mass at St. Mark's Basilica is a popular Christmas tradition. People queue up in the cold about 45 minutes early, in order to be able to get a seat in the packed Basilica. St. Mark's,  one of the most important churches in the city, was completed in 832 and consecrated in 1085 after the city obtained the remains of Saint Mark which are in a tomb at the altar.

Attending midnight mass here will leave you near speechless. The insides of the Basilica are encrusted with glass tiled mosaics backed with gold leaf. On a normal day, viewing the inside is 
special, on this holiday it is spectacular. When the Basilica is awash in lights the mosaics
sparkle like millions of twinkling stars in the heavens.

   I hope my posts over the last 24 days spotlighting my favorite things about  Christmas in Venice  inspires you to put a holiday trip to Venice on your list of must-do's.

                                                               Buon Natale!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian Style! December 23

photo courtesy felt.co.nz

We are ALMOST to the end! Welcome back for Countdown to Christmas- Italian Style Day 23 (ventitre).

Everyone I know, including myself, was running around today shopping for all the ingredients they need to make the traditional Cenone della Vigilia or Christmas Eve dinner.

The word Cenone means big dinner in Italian, and is usually used when referring to the Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve feast. The Christmas Eve meal is also commonly called the Feast of Seven Fishes, because during this meal you would eat seven different types of fish or shellfish. They can be seven different courses, or seven fishes spread out over several courses, as seven different fishes are used during the meal.

The reason we eat seven different fishes or seven fish courses is because seven is the number that is repeated most often in the Bible. There is the Seven deadly sins, the seven sacrements, it took seven days for Joseph and Mary to reach Bethlehem, it took 7 days for the creation. I know you can think of even more examples of seven - the seven hills of Rome, seven wonders of the world. Essentially, the feast of seven fishes can refer to just about anything referencing seven and you are good to go.

Fish was traditionally eaten to purify the body and prepare for the big feast that is to come on Christmas Day.  In Italy, the next few days are huge eating events. We have not only the Cenone on Christmas Eve, then there is another big meal on Christmas Day, followed by Santo Stefano Day on December 26 and even more eating.

The Rialto fish market was packed this morning as locals purchased all the fish and shellfish they would need for the coming days.While the dishes served may vary from region to region throughout Italy,   eel , usually grilled or fried, is the one dish you will find in common whether you are in the North or way down South in the boot.

                                                                   At the Rialto Fish Market

In the Venice area, most likely you will find Bacala (made from Salt Cod), Sarde and saor (fried sardines marinated in onions), clams, mussels, octopus salad, mixed fried fish, shrimp, and whole baked or grilled fish.  For a pasta course, it will typically be spaghetti with vongole (clams).

Here's a sample of our Feast of Seven Fishes from last year. Tomorrow we're not going to have so many courses, it might have to be renamed the Feast of Three Fishes at our house!


Sardines ready to be breaded and fried

Spaghetti al Mare (mixed seafood)

Baby soft shelled crabs (moeche) at Rialto Market

Moeche, fried ready to eat

Topping off this enormous feast would be the favorite holiday sweet treats,  panettone and pandoro.

                                       Buon Natale!

Countdown to Christmas -Italian Style! December 22

photo courtesy www.betweenuandme.com

If you are following along with my daily Countdown to Christmas blog posts, by now you know that I went missing-in-action yesterday, December 22.  I have an excuse, flimsy as it may be. I'm going to offer up huge apologies, and do a late post.  Yesterday, our friends Mary and Linda hosted a wonderful holiday cocktail party. I fully intended to be home about 9pm, leaving me plenty of time to get my blog written and posted for the day. The party was so good, we couldn't bear to pull ourselves away. I looked at my watch as we unlocked the apartment door- it was 12:25 am! Needless to say, all of my best laid plans to write when I got home went right out the window.

Besides being late, myCountdown to Christmas Day 22 (ventidue) post is going to stray a wee bit. Instead of showcasing something related to Christmas in Venice or Italy, the subject for today is strictly Advent Calendars. The reason I'm doing this is because my friend Yvonne, a devoted reader of this blog, sent me a photo of an Advent Calendar yesterday. It is too funny not to share.

While we're on the topic of Advent Calendars- during my searching for all the Advent Calendars I liked to be used for this series of posts, I came across several that I really liked, but didn't have enough days left to use them all.  I'm including them here, hoping you enjoy taking a quick look at them, and that perhaps they will inspire some of you to create your own Advent Calendar next year. 

courtesy www.thepinjunkie.com

photo courtesy www.makeuseof.com

photo courtesy www.pinksuedeshoe.com

photo courtesy www.decoist.com

photo courtesy www.tendir.com

Count Down Calendar
photo courtesy www.tipjunkie.com

I love every one of these, as well as all the calendars I've posted during the month. So many fantastic creative ideas, I may just have to make more than one next year.

And now, I must get writing if I expect to get today's post done in time!

                                   Buon Natale!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian Style! December 21

photo courtesy justagirlblog.com

Welcome back. We're at Day 21 (ventuno)

All of my countdown posts have been of things that, to me,  say Christmas is coming here in Venice. Today I have another food tradition for you, one that is particularly Northern Italian, and very much a custom in Venice.  Mostarda.

Mostarda, an Italian fruit and mustard condiment, typically served with boiled meats,  consists of fruits preserved in a syrup mixed with either powdered mustard seed or mustard essence. The one shown above  is in the window of one of my favorite shops,  Drogheria Mascari, a wonderful old grocery  located on Calle degli Spezieri in the San Polo district, very close to the Rialto bridge. 

photo courtesy www.imascari.com

When you see the mostarda bowls in the window of Drogheria Mascari, you know it's the beginning of the Christmas holiday season. 

Mostarda can also be purchased in jars in local grocery stores, or you can prepare it yourself at home.

Here's  a link to a typical Mostarda recipe, in case you are tempted to try for yourself.


                                                             Buon Natale!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian style - December 20

photo courtesy www.newford.org.uk

Day 20 (venti)!

Believe it or not, I selected each of the Advent Calendars I was going to feature on these blogs way back on December 1. I chose the calendars, and assigned them each to a day of the month.  I got a huge chuckle today when I opened the file for today's blog and took a look at this calendar, because what is behind door number 20 is the annual Babbo Natale Regata in Venice!

How perfect is that! Babbo's for the Babbo Natale Regata.  What a great coincidence.

The Babbo Natale Regata is one of my favorite events of the season in Venice.

For the last several years, on the last saturday before Christmas, the city holds a special regata on the Grand Canal.  The requirement for anyone rowing in the regata, either as a competitor or one of the boats in the corteo (parade) is that everyone must wear a Santa Claus (Babbo Natale) costume. I

Usually, I take up a spot near San Zaccaria vaporetto stop to watch all the Santas rowing. This year, I got to don one of those fantastic costumes myself!  The Pink Lionesses in Venice (of which I am now a member), suited up at the Bucintoro rowing club along the Zattere.

 Here we are waiting to get into the dragonboat ( our sleigh for today's regata)

 Loading up all the Babbe (lady Babbo Natale's) into the boat

                    100 Babbos (technically that would be Babbi) rowing down the Grand Canal on a                                                                  beautiful sunny December morning.

Even the boats are decorated!

We've all arrived at Ca'Foscari.  A very happy bunch of Babbi !

Festive boats!

                                        Buon Natale!