a new sunday tradition

I’ve told you about the magic of an Italian Sunday before, and I'm always trying to think of ways for you to experience it with me. The lounging. (The food!) The strolling. (The food!) It’s really all about relaxing with your loved ones, showing off your new threads in the piazza (believe it) and eating some of the best stuff on earth. That’s why I’ve started a new tradition - little 15-second Instagram videos of typical Sundays here in good ole’ Italia and I think they really capture the Sunday magic!

For those of you who don’t have Instagram, I thought I’d share the videos with you here, along with a little recap. Here's what the last three Sundays in Barletta looked like:

Isn't that last one with Giuseppe and Manu cheersing adorable? He is probably my favorite part of Sunday lunches, and keeps us all very entertained throughout all the courses. (He also wishes you a happy Palm Sunday, if you're wondering what he's saying to the camera in Italian.) This Sunday we had a fun Vespa ride to the piazza where Manu got a coffee and we chit chatted with friends in the sun until 1:30 when lunch started at Manu's parents house. We had pasta al forno which is baked penne with sauce, tiny meatballs and mozzarella. Then she made veal cutlets baked in the oven and swimming in veggies. Then we had fresh pineapple and strawberries with a side of gelato and then Cinzia made a tiramisu! It's decadent but we try to keep our portions on the smaller side - try being the operative word. :)

Hope you had a happy Sunday! Here's the link if you want to follow along directly on Instagram! 

cauliflower cakes

We need to take a moment to discuss Italian cauliflower - which is light green, white and/or purple - but tastes just like the white cauliflower normally found in US grocery stores. I’ve been wanting to share these with you for ages, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to because cauliflower season is slowly ending now that Spring has come to Barletta. Thankfully, my greengrocer lady presented me with a whole stash of cauli she had just picked up this morning, and said were definitely the last! 

You are going to love these cakes; the consistency reminds me of crab cakes (one of my faves) and they’re so easily customizable to whatever “taste mood” you’re in. (Cumin= Mexican taste mood. Curry= Indian taste mood. Basil + Herbs= Italian taste mood, etc.) 
Cauliflower Cakes
(makes 6-7 cakes)
1 head cauliflower
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs + 1 tbs
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp Sriracha (add more if you prefer! or any spice of your choice.)
1 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Steam cauliflower florets until tender and a fork can be inserted easily. Strain any excess water from them and transfer to a bowl. Lightly mash the florets, but not too much. Add the egg, bread crumbs, 1 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper, Sriracha (or spice of choice) and parsley. Form into patties and lightly oil the bottoms and tops with the other 1 tsp olive oil. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with the 1 tbs of breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 30 minutes, serve warm.

Nutrition Facts per 2 cakes: 107 calories, 2.7 g fiber, 4.9 g protein, 71% Vitamin C! 

Hope you have a great week! 

P.S. These would go great with a side of Tabbouleh or some minty yogurt dipping sauce (just add some salt +pepper and fresh mint to plain Greek yogurt! Buon appetito.) 

two must-try pasta dishes from rome

On our last trip to Rome, Manu and I were determined to eat our two favorite pasta dishes in Roman cuisine: Bucatini all'Amatriciana and Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe. Much like Rome itself, both are equally as decadent yet unpretentious. 
Oh my god, this pasta. Cacio e Pepe is an institution in Rome, and the entire recipe is in its name: cheese and pepper. The spaghetti literally swims in the cheese, which after being thoroughly mixed with the pasta cooking liquid turns into a cream that I wouldn't mind taking a bath in. The pepper makes it and gives it a kick to balance the saltyness of the cheese. Basically an Italian mac n' cheese that trumps any other I've ever had! 

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
1/2 pound spaghetti or bucatini (the thicker the better) 
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano (you can also use Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, or a mix of the three)
2 tbs butter or olive oil
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, melt butter or oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan, until toasted, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter or oil. Reduce heat to low and add grated cheese, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is al dente. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry.) Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.
Bucatini all'Amatriciana is a bomba (as Manu describes). Thick, toothsome bucatini (spaghetti with a hole in the middle like a straw!) soak up the rich tomato sauce that has simmered with salt-cured pork and it's as hearty as you can imagine. We ate the above example at Taverna dei Quaranta, literally minutes from the Colosseum and an inexpensive gem of a restaurant! The recipe comes together in about 30 minutes and would make the perfect Sunday night one-dish meal.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana
(slightly adapted from this recipe)
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. thinly sliced guanciale, pancetta, or chopped unsmoked bacon
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic
1 28-oz. can peeled tomatoes with juices, crushed by hand 
12 oz. dried bucatini or spaghetti
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add guanciale and sauté until crisp and golden, about 4 minutes. Add pepper flakes and black pepper; stir for 10 seconds. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 2 minutes before al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
Add drained pasta to sauce in skillet (remove garlic clove) and toss vigorously with tongs to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and cook until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. (Add a little pasta water if sauce is too dry.) Stir in cheese and transfer pasta to warmed bowls.

P.S. Another classic Roman recipe to have under your belt: Carbonara!

top ten reasons why being an expat makes you a better person

1. You toughen up.

There will be moments when you will feel the inevitable pangs of homesickness. It might be the most depressing day of the year for an expat (Thanksgiving) or an ordinary day when you’re feeling like no one but you can relate to the desire for salty-sweet snacks, or to eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon. When you keep moving forward though, your expat skin gets a little bit thicker.

2. It teaches you compromise.

In my case, most of my compromise has to do with food. When I learned of the general Italian disgust for peanut butter (see #1), I learned to make do with Nutella. And when Thanksgiving rolled around that first year (see #1), I found a rotisserie chicken salesman who “knew a guy” who could get me a turkey. The turkey was triple the size I was expecting and covered in feathers, but I had my feast all the same.

3. You learn to accept yourself.

When I first arrived in Barletta, it was August and about a million degrees. Even still, on Friday nights the women (and the men for that matter) would be dressed to the nines -- full makeup, hair shiny and blown out, snazzy outfits with four-inch heels, jewelry and an overall sparkliness that I had yet to experience in all my 22 years. And I was the americana who stuck out like a sore thumb in flip-flops, a t-shirt and jean cut-offs. It was way too hot for anything else. When I felt self-conscious, I remembered that those girls weren't me, and that I would have been so uncomfortable dressed like that. That thought was freeing, and I began to embrace my non-polished ways.
4. The new culture will teach you a thing or two about life.

With #3 being said, there was plenty about Italians and the “Italian way” that shaped who I am today -- for the better. First, the cultural attitude of taking things slowly helped me immensely when I had bouts of anxiety. No one cares if you’re 10, 15 or even 20 minutes late in Italy. Everything is run with calma, and it’s refreshing. Italians are full of life and will sing or dance at the drop of a hat. I love that. They have no scruples when it comes to having a good time, and they don’t get embarrassed easily.
5. You will get satisfaction from sharing your traditions.

You would not believe how I great I felt when I made cupcakes for a group of Italian girlfriends who had never eaten them before. Pride, joy, satisfaction, wonder. Would I be exaggerating in saying that it was probably akin to giving birth? Maybe not. 

6. You see your culture in a new light.

I have never been a flag-toting type of American, but rather a fairly liberal, college-kid type. When I moved to Italy, all that changed. Now I find myself talking about “my country” like a war veteran and defend it to the hilt. Once in a class I had to practically wipe a tear away when explaining about hot dogs at a baseball game. Pathetic and true! 

7. The distance will bring you closer to your loved ones.

It seems like it would be the opposite, right? When you have limited Skype time or a few minutes left on a phone card, you cherish that time and make those minutes count. Sunday afternoons have become my Skype time ritual; and when I talk to my family and friends we try to cover every subject possible. If I were living at home, I would take for granted the fact that we could talk anytime.

8. You’ll learn a new language or two.

I already spoke a fair amount of scholastic Italian when I arrived, but I had no idea there was also slang, everyday expressions, proverbs and a whole dialect to learn! I had my work cut out for me, and everyday was a new discovery in terms of the language. I finally felt like I “had it” when I became obsessed with an Italian TV police drama. (Columbo included.)
9. You become brave.

I’ve been in Italy for five years now and I knew that one day I would inevitably get the call that someone at home had died. It’s morbid, I know, but you have to psych yourself out for things like that. In my case, it happened this winter. All I could do to keep from going crazy was to take action -- buy a plane ticket and get myself there. Those traveling hours weren’t the easiest, but knowing that I was only a day away from being home was comforting.  

10. You realize how lucky you are.  

When something really tragic happens, like #9, or really great, like marrying my husband, you have two sets of families and friends to share it with. Two sets of people who love you unconditionally. Two sets of people looking out for you. That’s the best thing about being an expat.

kitchen reveal

The time has come! We’ve been homeowners for three months now and I’m just itching to show you our kitchen! Granted, I still have about 3,782 projects left to do in the house, but as the Italians say: piano piano. Slowly but surely.

Before --> This was the stage when I would sit on a chair in the middle of the rubble and close my eyes and try to imagine how on earth my plans would look. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, and thankfully the lovely people at Ikea came through.
Ahh, the kitchen of my dreams! I can assure you that when people see it and touch it, they never guess that it's Ikea. The cabinets are super deep and durable and the appliances are nice and sleek. Our countertops are granite composite from a local marble guy (it's Italy, after all) and our floors are like a slate tile (not sure the exact name).
My favorite parts are the cookbook shelf, my blender, the white sink, my little Massachusetts ornament (thanks Paige and Paul!) and our gas range. Oh, and we have a dishwasher for the first time ever! I adore it.
We still need some stools for the island and I'm trying to figure out how I want to organize the cabinets. As a good Italian girl, I also need to expand my tablecloth collection. Piano piano!

Here are some more posts about our house renovations, if you're interested!

banana oatmeal raisin cookies

These were originally meant to be just plain, old oatmeal raisins (healthified), but when I added the mashed banana they tasted so much like banana bread that banana had to take first place in the title. Even Erica tried them yesterday and said, “These taste like banana bread.” See?

They’re cake-like too, adding to the banana bread experience. They’re the perfect pre or post workout snack and very customizable. Don’t like raisins? Add chocolate chips! Mmm, then you’d have chocolate banana bread cookies…I think I need to try that.
Banana Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
(makes 12, based on this recipe)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 ripe banana
1 egg
1 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup cane sugar or brown sugar (I used a little less, and they were still just as sweet!) 
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup oats
1/2 cup raisins
Whisk the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, mash the banana with the egg, oil, sugar, honey, yogurt and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients. Fold in the oats and raisins. Refrigerate dough for an hour (this yields better consistency and flavor!) and drop teaspoonfuls of the batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until golden around the edges. 
My Uncle Rich (the Italian professor) is visiting this weekend with 18 of his American study abroad students. We’re giving them a tour of Barletta and some surrounding towns! I can’t wait to see their excited, study abroad faces. If you did it in college, wasn’t it the best time ever? I'll make sure to share some photos of the weekend in Instagram. :)

P.S. More healthy dessert recipes: Double Chocolate (Secret Ingredient) Brownies and Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars!

blender love + homemade almond milk

I’m sure we’ve talked about this before, multiple times. The old, sad story never changes. I’ve lived here for five years and all I ever wanted was a source for nut butters and milks. Not to mention seeds and grains, cumin and cilantro, black beans, maple syrup and the like. I would stockpile every time I went home, but a few months later when the supply would run out, Manu would inevitably find me scraping an empty almond butter jar in vain: if I could…just…get…my face in here…..! He’d walk away shaking his head, in disgust of course. 

But now. Now. I put my dreams into action. I bit the bullet. I made the best decision of my life.

I bought a 1,000-watt blender. 
This baby is capable of magic, my friends. Almond milk magic! Peanut butter magic! Blended everything magic! When I finally got to unwrap it and stare at it like a bust on my countertop, I grabbed Manu by the shoulders and asked, “Do you know what this means?!?!” He knew. He nodded and said, “I’m happy for you but you’re crazy.”

First things first, almond milk. Yes, you can find milk alternatives here (soy and rice) but they’re loaded with sugar and preservatives and are oddly thick. And making your own almond milk is a breeze. (Pun intended, and please tell me you got it.) Just soak the almonds overnight, blend with water, strain with a cloth over a jar, and refrigerate. 
 Step One: Soak the almonds.
 Step Two: Blend!
 Step Three: When the magic happens.
 Step Four: Pour into a cheesecloth (or dishcloth in my case) and squeeeeze.
Step Five: Use reserved almond pulp to put in things!
Step Six: Pour into a cute jar and pretend you're a blogger.
Homemade Almond Milk
(based on this recipe)
water for soaking
1 cup raw almonds (skin on or off, it’s your choice)
3 cups water 
sweetener of your choice (optional)
Cover the almonds with about an inch of water and soak overnight or up to two days. Drain and place in blender with 3 cups water (2 if you like it thicker) and sweetener if using. Blend for two minutes or until the mixture is white like milk. Pour over a bowl covered with a cheesecloth or thin dishcloth. Squeeze out all the milk from the pulp by holding the cloth tight around your hands. Pour into a container and enjoy! Can be stored up to two days in the fridge. (The leftover almond meal can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, and muffins as it is. You can also spread it out on a baking sheet and bake it in a low oven until completely dry (2-3 hours). Dry almond meal can be kept frozen for several months and used in baked goods.)

Will you give this a try? I promise you’ll love the result - fresh, almondy greatness!

this old casa

For Barletta’s standards, our casa is actually not old at all. Built by Manu’s grandfather in the 40’s (a feat in post-war Italy), and meant to hold three apartments, it’s considered a palazzina, or little apartment building. Manu and his sisters grew up within these walls, and though completely different now after the renovations, I can almost imagine him shuffling down the hallway after a soccer ball, or singing his favorite song as an eight-year-old cross legged in front of the stereo. I always ask him if it’s weird to be back and see it so different, or if he has flashbacks of childhood memories. Nope, of course not! Why do I have to have all the emotions in this relationship?

I wanted to keep some aspects of the old house though, if not for Manu’s emotions, but at least for mine, because how sweet is it that he grew up here and now is back after all these years? To live? (It’s sweet, admit it Manu.) 

Here's the archway at the entrance of the apartment. We kept the original wood because I love how it pops amongst all the white.
Originally, we thought we’d make this built-in plant pot in the archway into an area to dump our keys and things, but then I decided that having a built-in plant pot was pretty awesome. Props to Manu's mom for thinking of it when they moved in!
We also kept the original doors, but had them painted white. They look so new now, as opposed to when they were just stripped down wood color, and they’re super solid. 

Do you live in an old house? Did you keep anything original after you renovated?

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