tropical pineapple coconut muffins

When you’ve been writing a blog for over five years, it’s easy to look back on old posts, recognize themes and realize what it is that you like, plain and simple.

This morning I was sitting here at the kitchen table eating my oatmeal and listening to the old ladies on the balconies opposite ours have their daily discussion of what the weather is like and what they’re cooking for lunch, when I thought, “I’m going to make muffins for the blog today! Yeah!” Like it was some revelation. But really, I’ve made a lot of muffins. Because I just like them. And I kept thinking about Harriet the Spy, when she’s making her tomato sandwich and says, “I know what I like, and I know that I like tomato.” (Random, I know, but Harriet has total staying power!)

I just like muffins, I guess.

These muffins are on the healthy side, because you know I like that, but feel free to substitute the whole wheat flour for entirely all-purpose, and the half honey and sugar for all sugar. You can also use buttermilk in place of the yogurt, which gives a great softness to the muffin. Experiment! 
Tropical Pineapple Coconut Muffins
(makes about 9 muffins)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 banana, mashed
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut flour or flakes
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl, combine the banana, yogurt, egg, olive oil, honey, vanilla and coconut. Mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Combine the ingredients quickly, stirring and folding and stop as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but quite moist. Fold in the fresh pineapple. Fill lined muffin cups almost to the top. Add a few more little chunks of pineapple and sprinkle coconut on top. Bake for about 20 minutes (about 30 minutes for larger muffins) or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before taking out of the tin.
Now I have some questions for you: What foods do you just like no matter what? (This is a long list for me.) And, did you watch Harriet the Spy as a kid? I think it's such an empowering movie for little girls! 

our living room progress

Just like the rest of our house, I knew exactly how I wanted the living room to feel, but had no clue how to execute it. I started with the couch: comfy, grey and with a chaise on one end. Which end, though? Then, I figured we should have a coffee table in front of it. What style, though? Next to the couch, a bookcase. And, you get the idea, what type of bookcase?

Considering the options in the Italian furniture shops - either super modern and cold or way too grandma - we settled on our one-stop shop: IKEA! Yes, you’d think these house posts were all sponsored by Ikea (I wish). Since Craigslist, second-hand shops and yard sales don’t exist here, we chose Ikea for general bang-for-your-buck and “American” style. In fact, everyone who comes to visit says immediately upon entering that it feels like an American house! 

Here’s a bit of living room progression for you:
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I’ll always remember this day. The Ikea furniture people were putting the kitchen together and other big pieces that we didn’t even attempt to assemble ourselves: wardrobe, bed, dining room table and couch. When I saw the couch in the space it finally felt like we had a house, eve though it was still so bare bones. My father-in-law was so excited and we spent the afternoon vacuuming up dust together and imagining how to arrange the rest of our future things. And now, it’s all coming together, even though there have been times when it felt like we were going to be living amongst construction forever!

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The next step will be to get a nicer system in place around the TV, with shelves and storage. Manu happens to be obsessed with the old stereo that's there now, even though we don't use 3/4 of what's in it (tape deck, cd player, radio...) but I surrender to his whims and that's what marriage is all about, am I right? I would also love to fill the whole wall with art, gallery style.

P.S. Check here for more house posts! And, how awesome is this, Ikea bought a wind farm to cover 165% of its electricity in the US! 

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!

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