21 January 2007

A Strange Winter

Grandubbione forest fire
with a happy ending,
To say that the winter has been strange is an understatement. It has only snowed briefly and without real conviction. To complicate matters it is incredibly dry. This past week we have seen forest fires popping up thru out our valley. The helicopters and fire fighters have been stretched to their limits and driven mad by the gale force winds that hit a few days ago. They just had everything about out and then fires started popping up like mushrooms here and there. Yesterday we had 4 different fires going that we could see from Pinerolo. More than a bit disconcerting. It was so strange too yesterday as I strolled thru the market all the vendors were with out their usual canopies and tenting as it was so warm and sunny, but not so strong of a sun that they needed to protected their goods. This is January in the alps? On the way home I noticed some of my favorite purple creeping flower that are the first to bloom here getting well underway and more an more buds starting to break and peak up thru the ground. I fear that after such a bountiful year for fruit last year we are going to be lacking as I'm sure there is going to be some cold weather still to come, even if it is in June.
Then late this afternoon we had a fire break out at the end of our road about 5 km behind us and the helicopters and firefighters rushed here and put out one small fire and seem to be getting the bigger one under control Thank goodness to the dedicated people that help out in such an emergency. We hear the trucks going down now so it seem they have put it out. If only it would snow and help us all out.
My primulas are happy, so I'll take pleasure in them and hope we get some moisture.

19 January 2007

I Dare Myself Too!

I seem to be on a 24/7 dash, to revamp my B&B website, so not a great deal of time for guilt free blogging or blog browsing. The winter refuses to cooperate and happen, so instead of winter antics and activities to blog about, I thought I would finally write about a challenge that Ilva over at Lucullian Delights put forward way back on the 3rd of January. "Lucullian Delights, An Italian Experience" is where I first discovered the fascinating world of blogging, and discovered the power of blogs to draw me in regularly to not only savor her incredible droolable food photographs and moody Tuscan landscapes, but I found myself away on a trip to all sorts of culinary adventures and beyond to all sorts of places and people, thanks to My Blog Log. I no longer felt like I was in such a remote part of the Italian alps anymore. Well we're not so remote, just not so close to town up a small twisty road that seems like you're very remote. I love her inventiveness and courageous approach to cooking. She uses a lot of spices and food combinations that I haven't been so freely adventuresome with myself. I'm a different kind of inventive that has found a renewed courageousness when I find myself trying to make cuisine other than Italian without the proper Asian or Mexican ingredients. I have become very brave with forging on with local ingredients with interesting and usually very satisfying results. Anyway, She had started a meme one year previous called "This Year I Dare" to come up with 5 things she had not made before and didn't get thru all the list so has brought the challenge forward again for this year. I've been contemplating and it's not too late to put one forward myself. Ilva's is already in her archive for Jan 06. You might want to put one together also, feel free to do the same. We'll see how we get on by next year.
My list
  • 1) Fresh Ideas for some of my favorites veggies that I hadn't really made before coming to Italy. Fresh Artichokes and Cauliflower(the ones in the picture below are called Roman varieties) and fennel. Love em and want to expand my repertoire.
  • 2) Sardinian Ravioli. Rowena from over at Rubber Slippers In Italy made some awhile back and I have been wanting to try them ever since, as they are an upright dumpling type affair that looks like they take a bit of patience and practice.
  • 3)Dim Sum ok, so they aren't Italian, but I've never made any and I'm always curious to build on my somewhat weak repertoire of Asian food
  • 4) Scary flat fish. Turbot I think. Fish has never appealed to my adventuresome side but they always make it look so easy on our local version of "Ready Steady Cook",(La Prova delle Cuoco) that I think I must pick up the gauntlet. I was inspired by a picture of one I found on Toraa's, Norwegian site, after he stopped in the other day.
  • 5) Carnival Bugia, like the ones pictured at the top of the post. I've made one variety of filled ones that are sort of like sopapillas, but the flat lasagne strip types ones are so yummy and light, that I must discover their secret. Anyone have any ideas?
Oh and one last challenge to myself.
I would like to occasionally add some recipes and photos, but I'm not so hot with writing precise measurements especially now that I tend to do a combination of metric and American measurements, if I'm measuring accurately at all.

We shall see how I get on with that challenge.
Just had to tidy up my spelling and grammar errors, as I wrote this very late last night! Mg

13 January 2007

Universiadi Flame Arrives, Snow Hasn't

Well, it isn't quite the exciting event as last year's Olympic games, when the snow arrived late but arrived before the rest of the world. Pinerolo Market day had a tight turn around to get its town square cleaned and spiffed before the flame arrived in late afternoon. They of course managed to get it done. This year's University games are more like spring break in Daytona with out the beach or the crowds. Having said that, there was still a fair gathering of enthusiastic crowd that turned out in Pinerolo today to welcome the Olympic flame for the Games later this week in many of the same venues as last year. A bit of walk down memory lane. Pinerolo has the honor of hosting the curling events again this year like last year's regular and Paralympics curling events. It's an interesting game that when I worked in Austria, the local curling games usually turned into a drinking game somewhere between chugging Red Bull or Schnapps(and I don't mean the syrupy sweet stuff that passes for the real firewater that every bonafide mountain dweller thru out the alps makes for their winter supply).
Today the University supporters were handing out Red Bull to the crowd.
But I digress.
The flame arrived in a little lantern carrier, the torch was lit, and paraded thru town by a variety of flame carriers, but unlike last year instead of walking or running these torch holders were paraded about in a bevy of antique Fiat cars by a local motor club. The cars were stunning. The weather clear and lovely, the mountains pretty bare of snow, but there is still time for a bit of snow to save the day. Perhaps the act of parading the torch around will have the desired effect. We shall hope so.

Pinerolo is the birthplace of the calvary in Italy, so any chance to bring out another type of horse power is welcomed and attended. The horses were amazingly calm and impressively beautiful.

Update> RenneyBA"s Terella latest post talks about their lack of snow in Norway also. Not sure if that is reassuring or not, but Renny's blog is an interesting read anyway.

11 January 2007

Outing to Val Thures and "La Tana Degli Orsi"

Off we went the other day to visit our friends up and over our valley, Chisone and into the Susa valley, to remote and beautiful Val Thures. It was another gorgeous day and, of course, the scenery along the way was beautiful. We're not having the biggest snow year so far this year, but you can trust Val Thures to have a bit of snow stashed to make an outing for cross country skiing or snow shoeing a worth while effort. The area is famous for its cross country skiing and the ability to strap on a pair of snow shoes and head up the valley to the French border, with no border crossings to interfere maybe just a bit of steep up to deter you. Our friends, Faustina and Claudio were keeping the fires stoked in their charming Bed and Breakfast.
It was a welcome sight, La Tana Degli Orsi, (or Bear cave) upon arriving to the restored cantina with it's magnificent stone arches that now serves as the dining area and is the heart of the B&B. The "bears" (Claudio and Faustina) have been running their B&B in this remote little mountain area for the past 5 year and have become a welcome spot for all the people that love the tranquility and splendor of these magnificent mountains. There is always a warm welcome for all, even for the people that just drop in need of a warm up to keep them going. They, of course, don't get to enjoy the quaint rooms of the "bear cave", ot the genial hospitality and the gentle humor of the "bears" hosts themselves. What a pity. During the season, Mama bear, Carla (Faustina's mother) comes up to lend a hand and round out the family. La Tana Degli Orsi in Val Thures, is just another reason to make some tracks to Piedmont and our alps to discover more hidden gems that aren't on a topography map!

06 January 2007

La Befana has arrived!

Christmas holidays have been over for a week now in the states, but here in Europe I have always been surprised about the tradition of leaving up the decorations until the 6th of January, or 12th night. The British told me it was bad luck to leave the decorations up after the 6th, the Austrians had the local priest come thru on the 6th, burning frankincense throughout the house and applying a brand new chalk mark of the 3 wise men's initials above the front door to bless the house for the year and the Italians have witches everywhere and lots of candy and little gifts for the children today and all the grocery stores and banks and such are shut shut shut.

So when I asked Fabrizio what La Befana means to him, he says that if you're good you get chocolate and small gifts, but if you're bad you get coal.
So we both got a bit of chocolate today!
He also said that she's mean, so she takes Christmas away with her. Hence the tradition of taking down the Christmas decorations on the 6th, is away with Befana (which looks a bit like a derivative of the world epiphany)

Here's an excerpt from "Christmas in Abruzzo" about Befana and another by the About site. Fabrizio sang me the little ditty when he saw that I had included it. It seems to be a childhood rhyme. And tomorrow, well...it's back to work for everyone and the yuletide season is over and put to bed for another year, Bye bye Befana!

The Befana
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col vestito alla "romana"
viva viva la Befana !!

Porta cenere e carboni
ai bambini cattivoni
ai bambini belli e buoni
porta chicchi e tanti doni !

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all broken
With a dress in Roman style
Up, up with the Befana !!

She brings ashes and coal
To bad nasty children
To the nice good child
She brings candies and many gifts !

"What we nowadays call the Befana is an image coming from immemorial layers of cultures and symbols. On the one side was the Christian tradition of the Epiphany, the first "revelation" of Christ as man and God to the Magi who came with gifts for the Messiah. On the other side were the many folk and pagan traditions connected to the New Year, and to the twelve days following the winter solstice which in the centuries came to be superimposed on the Christian Christmas cycle.

The name Befana appeared historically for the first time in writing in a poem by Agnolo Firenzuola in 1549. She is portrayed like an old ugly woman, dressed in dark rags who during the night between 5th and 6th January flies over the houses riding her broom and entering through the chimneys (in modern apartments through a keyhole). Into the socks that children left hanging near the fireplace she leaves candies and gifts for good children, black coal (actually black sugar today), garlic and onions to the bad ones. Parents of course would always include some coal over the gifts, to cheat their children. And the night before the family leaves some wine and cakes for the old lady."

Another version from About:Italian Language

"La Befana: Kindly old witch who brings children toys on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6. According to the legend of la Befana, the Three Wise Men stopped at her hut to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem and to invite her to join them. She refused, and later a shepherd asked her to join him in paying respect to the Christ Child. Again she refused, and when night fell she saw a great light in the skies.

La Befana thought perhaps she should have gone with the Three Wise Men, so she gathered some toys that had belonged to her own child, who had died, and ran to find the kings and the shepherd. But la Befana could not find them or the stable. Now, each year she looks for the Christ Child. Since she can not find him, she leaves gifts for the children of Italy and pieces of coal (nowadays carbone dolce, a rock candy that looks remarkably like coal) for the bad ones."

04 January 2007

Another Day another Beautiful Skyline

It's still holiday here in Italy as we wait for Befana to arrive on Saturday, the epiphany. I'll have a bit more to say on the subject then, but for now I think I'll just leave you with this atmospheric sky that is our Bella Baita View today(well actually a few days ago, but it's still our daily view). I'm trying to redo my web site as well as educate myself about how to make my site better, be pulled up more often, be relevant, attract links, and on and on, so I seem to get nothing else done, so....deep breath, time for a little nature break..... Hope it soothes your spirit too.

01 January 2007

New Year, New Adventures and most of all New People!

This past year has been quite a memorable one for a variety of reasons. Fabrizio and I came back here to the Italian alps in 2002 to live in his family home that his family built. With the 2006 Winter Olympics as a driving force to return and start the B&B where formerly there had only been the family restaurant, now retired and passed on to someone else, we arrived to try to breathe new life into Serre Marchetto. We have met multi faceted challenges along the way to try and transform the family business into something that stimulates our interests and supports us in a way that plays to our strengths and resourceful creativity. 2006 has proved our efforts has been worthy. Our business has started to take off and lead us in directions that were mere ideas that are now starting to take shape and legs. We have met so many people especially this past year between the run up to the Olympics and a steady stream of visitors since, from all over the world. To say that Fabrizio's parents, friends and neighbors have been surprised to have so many different countries find their way here is putting it mildly. Actually so are we!
As one of our guests put it, the internet works. Which brings me to to the original point of this blog, which was to send some cookies to some people I have "met" on the internet. What an incredible experience to have virtual friends as well as live guests too. Keeps me busy trying to keep up. I'm still a bit new and amazed by the world of the internet having only started using a computer when I started working in Europe a few years ago and wanted to try and stay in contact with my family in the states. I have met so many incredibly accomplished and inspiring, ordinary people, whose passionate lives and writing border on extraordinary. So much that I find it's hard to get some of the things I need to get done sometimes, as I am drawn into other peoples lives and expertise in my desire to discover more and more and more. I'm sure many of you must feel the similarly? Perhaps being an ex pat and struggling thru rapid Italian and Piemontese conversations all the time, I am even more drawn to the fountain of the internet.
Anyway, along the way I have discovered an amazing group of ever expanding food bloggers and a quite diverse network of people with an incredible depth of interest and expertize thru My Blog Log.
I felt compelled to send some cookies to a few people that have shown an interest about what I'm doing for a variety of reasons. A fellow expat here in Italy has been decorating Ginger people in her native Hawaii for a few weeks for the holiday season. Rubber Slippers in Italy
She has some great stories and amazing food. Particularly inpressed with her Sardian ravioli amongst many. Lora of the Power of Trinity asked me which cookies I made and so the picture above depicts a few of the ones that I have pared down the list to this year. Josh of The HOV Lane mentioned that he might like to stop by and have a few cookies if his tour included the Alps. Perhaps when gets thru all 50 states, he'll hop the pond and visit with us over here.
For many years when I worked for the ski resort of Copper Mountain in Colorado, my colleagues and I use to make hundreds of cookies for the holiday season. My particular favorite time of the baking year is the yule time, even though it was the busiest time. We made ginger houses for various units around the village and many various cut out cookies with little bags of colored frosting, sprinkles and draggees for the village and visitor children's cookie decorating party hosted by Copper Village. Most personally satisfying, was the employee party where our cookies were a prominent feature and always a topic of conversation later on. I still am unable to resist having a few decorated cut out cookies around every year. Also on the pictured plate are the traditional Butter balls, which go by many names, a pasta frolla coin, and Hazelnut sables. Missing from the line up are a few of my favorites, like occhio di bui (Ox eyes), local Baci Dama(lady kisses), linzer hearts, stain glass cookies, and English toffee bars just to name a few. Perusing some of those food blogs I keep mentioning, they had a lot of great ideas that I think might become my new favorites. I always try to have some type of cookie here as we have a fair amount of guests stop in and it's nice to have a home made cookie to go with that expresso or tea when the time comes. One other thing I miss, that I hope to some day start up here, is the cookie exchange. One of my dear friends use to have us over for a girls night and usually we kept it to 12 women. Everyone brought 12 dozen of one type of their current favorite cookie separated into 12 plates. So that everyone left with 12 different kinds of cookies. You sometimes found some new favorites and didn't have to make so many different ones yourself. That worked for a few years until everyone decided that many cookies were sometimes too much, so they then it turned into a food exchange and all sorts of interesting things got exchanged. One of my personal favorites was cranberry chutney. So there's an idea for you next year to have a bit of fun with. Perhaps I'll have a go on the internet with some of the food bloggers and see how that goes. In the mean time, new year, new adventures and always a reason to come to Italy and visit with us in the alps .....
Blessed Be to all of you known and all of you that I've yet to meet.
Marla (aka Pasticciera)
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