This was predestined to be a low-key Christmas. In fact, the most low-key Christmas either of us had ever experienced. When I was young, we would gather as a family and open mountains of presents before our grandparents came and joined in the fun. Jen’s experience of Christmas as a little girl was no different. Since we started dating over ten years ago, our two families have merged and we have always made the holidays the grand event it should be. Since it’s just the three of us here in Italy, we knew this year would be small in comparison. But at the same time, we were eager to set our own family traditions now that Julia is old enough to understand what’s going on.
Our low-key Christmas
We developed a plan based on our vision of how we wanted the day to unfold (OK, OK. Jen’s vision… Jen’s plan. I just helped when possible). Fortunately, our low-key Christmas did not disappoint. First we had to set up the tree, which we did well before the big day. We capped that evening off with popcorn (a real treat for Julia) and a movie (The Polar Express). Continue reading Buon Natale (Merry Christmas)→
If you are notoriously known for having eyes that are bigger than your stomach, then Italy is the ideal place for you during the holidays. You will eat some of the most delectable food known to man… but you will certainly eat far too much of it! If you possess a willpower stronger than mine and think to yourself, “nonsense Greg, I always stop eating when I am full” then you are mistaken.
A table like this means it’s impossible to pace yourself
First, it is impossible to “budget” your intake. You will definitely want to sample all the delicious and unique treats on the table. The courses come in waves bigger than Australia’s Gold Coast and there is no telling when they will stop crashing on the table. So even if you simply try a little of everything, you’re still going to eat three times more than a normal meal. But that’s hardly the main reason. If you are a visitor in someone’s home, the hostess is absolutely going to give you the largest portions. And before you’re even done, you should expect seconds. This will continue over and over until a cold sweat starts to break above your brow. The trifecta of being force fed occurs if:
A) you are a man (and therefore expected to eat copious amounts of food)
B) you are a visitor from another country (Italians are very hospitable and eager to show off their regional specialties)
C) you are in a house where a nonna (grandma) is present (as if the hostess herself wasn’t enough, a nonna is guaranteed to guilt you into taking another several portions of food) Continue reading Christmas in Italy… Your Taste Buds Will Thank You, Your Stomach Will Not→
If you’ve read a couple of our recent Christmas posts, you may notice a consistent theme over and over. We have been thoroughly enjoying the official drink of the season, vin brulé from the markets of Alto-Adige to the lakeside shores of Lugano, Switzerland. I promise you, we are by no means a pair of winos – but I’m pretty sure it’s against the law not to have a vin brulé in your hands as you stroll through the Christmas markets.
Homemade vin brulé
We have been having so much fun thawing the chill from our bones with this delicious winter drink that we thought we should make it at home for ourselves. I have to say, for our first attempt – it was pretty darn good! And since we enjoyed this easy and delicious recipe so much, we decided it was only fair to share it with you. Of course, that meant that we had to go back to the test kitchen and whip up another batch! Continue reading Warm Your Christmas Spirit With Some Vin Brulé→
Most people visit Europe in the spring or summer. Of course, these are great times of year to see such a magical and historical place. But may I suggest to you a unique alternative?
Come in December, when the weather is at it’s coldest and the people are their warmest. When the cobblestone streets are strung with lights and the ancient buildings are trimmed with garland. Imagine your most magical place for the holidays – a winter wonderland, if you will. You will be sure to find something that fits your image here in Europe. There are amazing markets and festivals across the continent. Some countries boast cities that are particularly renowned for their holiday cheer. Finland, Germany and Austria are at the top of the list. Denmark and Switzerland are there as well. And of course, our personal favorite place to be for Christmas is right here in Italy. Before you plan your next Christmas vacation, add Europe into the running.
“Boy, Clark – I think we should go to Europe next year”
You may have recently read that our Christmas spirit was put into gear when we attended a Milanese festival early in December. We continued our drive toward Santa’s big day by slipping into second gear and crossing the border into neighboring Switzerland. Our Christmas spirit grew as we set out to enjoy one of the things we love most about Europe in December – the Christmas markets.
Christmas trees like this are in cities all over Europe – this is in the main piazza of Lugano, Switzerland
It just so happens that one of our favorite things about living in Italy is access to wonderful markets year round. In the spring and summer, we can stroll the markets to buy fresh vegetables and aged cheese. In the fall, we can purchase delicious homemade jams and carefully crafted grappa. However, the winter markets are undoubtedly our favorite. The backdrop is perfect – streets framed with Christmas lights. Good cheer around every turn. Wonderful food and beautiful artisanal goods at each stand. Beyond that, it is perfectly acceptable to walk around drinking the specialty drink of the season, vin brulé. This cooked wine is seasoned with sugar and spices – designed to warm your hands and belly as well as comfort your soul. No market visit on a cold December day would be complete without a cup (or two). Continue reading The Christmas Markets of Switzerland→
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”… and that means so many things! It means snow flakes and Christmas lights. It means cold weather and hot chocolate. It means Santa Claus and stockings stuffed with goodies. When you live in Europe, it also means tremendous Christmas markets and delicious vin brulè (cooked wine, usually sold on the streets). Over the past couple weeks, we have been taking advantage of it all! Because Christmas is only four days away – I will spend the next four days posting about our Christmas fun. In order to do that, I have to bend my “unbreakable rule” and publish blog posts out of order. I’ll fast-forward to Christmas and then flash back to some exciting posts that I have in the pipeline.
Oh bej! Oh bej! No, you don’t have to say “gesundheit”! I didn’t sneeze. That is the name of a festival held each year in Milan, spanning from December 7th through the following Sunday. How did it get that wonderful name, you ask? “Oh bej! Oh bej!” means, “oh so nice! Oh so nice!” in the Milanese dialect. It is by far, the most important Christmas festival held in Milan. December 7th is the day of the Patron Saint of Milano, Santo Ambrogio. The festival is said to date back all the way to 1510.
Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow – here is a suggestion of something you can do to dress up your leftovers.
Risotto is a favorite of mine; winter, spring, summer or fall. While cooking risotto, I like to use fresh, seasonal ingredients – and with fall comes all things pumpkin. So, this was my chance to combine one of my favorite dishes with one of my favorite fall flavors.
Risotto con zucca (Risotto with pumpkin)
However, when it came to the Thanksgiving dinner we just had, I knew it would be too much for a first course. While risotto is relatively simple to prepare it is time consuming and requires my undivided attention for at least 20 minutes. I decided instead to create a new family tradition. My plan was to serve pumpkin risotto the day after Thanksgiving, along with all of the other delicious leftovers. I think it’s a perfect way to add a new element to a meal we’ve already eaten a couple times over by lunch the next day. I had plenty of left over zucca (pumpkin) from the soup course, which worked out perfectly. I have officially converted Greg into a pumpkin/squash lover. If you want to add some Italian flavors to your holiday meal this year, check out my simple recipe. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do. Continue reading Adding Italian Flavor to Your Thanksgiving Leftovers→
Can you believe that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Italy?! They also don’t celebrate the Fourth of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day! I know weird, right?!
Our Thanksgiving table is set
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Of course I love the spirit of Christmas, the fun costumes of Halloween (another holiday that they don’t really celebrate), the fireworks of our Independence Day… but nothing can match the guilt-free ability to gorge on delicious food all…day…long! And if that wasn’t good enough, you are then permitted… nah, encouraged to lay on your duff and watch football until it’s time to re-heat a plate of leftovers. Continue reading Thanksgiving in Italy→
Facebook is great for a lot of things. First of all, it’s a wonderful time killer. It is a spectacular medium for sharing funny videos about cats. The site is also great for shameless self-promotion of your unimportant blog (ahem). Facebook keeps me and Jen apprised of popular youtube videos and trending pop-culture stories we would have otherwise missed living in another country. But perhaps best of all – it helps reconnect people after many, many years.
You may have recently read HERE about our trip to the Dolomiti (Dolomite Mountains) to visit Franco and Claudia over Easter weekend. What I wasn’t able to fit into that post, was all the imagery we captured of the most spectacular mountain range we have ever seen.
Hilltop view – I had to trespass to get this shot
Mountain view from “Claudia’s” bridge in Canale D’ Agordo
We extended our trip in Canale D’ Agordo (Claudia’s hometown) by a day, because the three days we planned was barely enough to just scratch the surface in this region of Italy. Claudia wanted to show us not only her town of Canale D’ Agordo, but also the surrounding towns. We would like to now share them with you. Continue reading Dolomiti e Una Macchina Fotografica→