Jennifer and I simply love outdoor markets. Jen holds on to the belief that she’s going to stumble across a vintage Louis Vuitton handbag or uncover that perfect piece for our future living room. I’ve got much lower (and more realistic expectations); I’m just thrilled that I get to eat “street food”. Nothing is better than a porchetta paninio (pork sandwich) from a food vendor with freshly fried zeppole(Italian donuts) for dessert. I love sandwiches, I love eating outside and I love feeding my entire family for less than €20!
Jen has been trying to get to the Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande since we moved here nearly a year and a half ago. “What’s the big deal – why is it so hard to make it to a market”, you ask? Well, this particular market only takes place on the last Sunday of each month (except for July). For those of you that aren’t math wizards, that’s just eleven chances a year to make it to Milan for this 80-year-old Milanese tradition. Our first attempt was foiled – we set out one day in January of 2013, but got derailed when we couldn’t find parking. It was ambitious of me to try so soon after moving to Italy – had I known then what I know now, I would have just thrown my car on the curb like the hundreds of other locals. Instead, we stopped for lunch and found an amazing sandwich place, which I blogged about HERE. After lunch, we lost the motivation to go back and agreed, “we’ll try again as soon as we get the next opportunity”. Well, travel and other obligations delayed that opportunity fifteen more months. Continue reading Mercatone dell’Antiquariato – Milan’s Outdoor Antique Market→
Since the moment my wife Jennifer laid eyes on her baby sister, Jessica, they formed a strong bond that has only developed over time. Sure, Jennifer usually acts more like her mother than her sister and yes, there have been a few lively battles resulting in a couple “boo-boos”, but they are as close as any two sisters I have ever known.
That’s why we were thrilled when we learned of a last-minute vacation Jessica planned with her boyfriend, Matt. We were doubly excited because not only were we going to spend time with Jessica, but we were finally going to be able to meet Matt. Living in Italy comes with its obvious benefits, but we do miss out on a lot at home and so we are thrilled any time “home” comes to us. Continue reading Our Lil’ Sis Comes to Visit→
I have celebrated the year changing exactly thirty-four times. That is a lot of ball drops, backward counting and champagne toasts. In the thirty-four times I have seen the calendar progress another year, I have experienced elaborate dinners, small family gatherings, massive ballroom parties and cozy nights in. I have had “the night of my life” and “the disappointment of a lifetime.” In all this time, I have learned that a valuable life lesson. When you place an unhealthy amount of expectations on any one thing (in this case, an evening), it is hard to meet or exceed the vision you’ve created in your own head.
Fireworks light up the sky behind Milan’s Duomo
Fortunately, disappointment was not the theme as we rang in 2014. The stakes were at an all-time high and the night came together as well as anyone could have hoped. Continue reading New Years in Milan→
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→
Robert Downey Jr. will be the first to tell you that you never go full Italian. But if you’re planning on living in Italy for more than a few months… the chances of going “full Italian” are pretty strong. Truly being an Italian is rooted deeper than the country in which you live or the ancestors to which you are tied. Being Italian is a state of mind. It will affect the way you think, the way you eat and the way you love. Did I mention that it will affect the way you eat?
If you’re unsure whether or not you’ve gone “full Italian” – here is a list of telltale signs. The longer you live in Italy, the more susceptible you are to each and every point. If you’re happy with the changes (perhaps the improved fashion sense and appreciation of wine) – stroll in to your favorite enoteca and plan to stay a little longer. However, if the changes scare you (perhaps the increased volume at which you speak or your daily critique of the food you’re eating) – well then, hop on the first olive oil freighter and high-tail it home (there’s one leaving now… there’s another one… and another one…). Continue reading 10 Signs That Confirm You’ve Gone "Full Italian"→
“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.
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→
Living in Italy grants us access to a lot of great restaurants. We fully take advantage of that and eat at… a lot of great restaurants. I recently read that 75% of the food in Italy is great and 25% of the food is exceptional. I would agree with that – most meals leave you feeling completely satisfied and pleased with the overall experience. But occasionally, you’ll find yourself “mmm’ing” and “aahhh’ing” with more delight than you intended to express aloud.
We can usually spot these exceptional places before we’ve walked in the door. We may have heard about the joint from a friend or relative. It’s possible I’ve read about it on the internet or a travel book. Or sometimes, we just walk into a place and the intense amount of “old-world charm” smacks us in the face. We’re greeted by a little nonna (grandma) who then scurries to the back to cook our meal – and we just know that we are in for a treat. Since it is usually one of those three paths that lead to our exceptional meals, I had all but dismissed, Osteria da Clo’ Filomena when we made our reservation. The reason for the swift dismissal, you ask? Well, the restaurant was in our B&B, in a remote part of Emilia-Romagna, surrounded by nothing by small villages and towns. I’m usually quick to dismiss restaurants in hotels anyway, with a few exceptions. Furthermore, the place was empty. I wasn’t surprised, because it would probably be a 20-30 minute drive for most patrons to arrive. I assumed that the restaurant was in place, merely to service the guests of the hotel and therefore had to serve mediocre food (which, if you remember still falls into the 80% “great” category).
The Osteria at night – the outdoor patio is used in the spring
Jennifer, Julia and I had a wonderful time when my Uncle S and Aunt Deborah came to visit us this past March. That’s why we were thrilled when they mentioned that they would like to come back to Italy again this fall. They wanted to do a bit of traveling and invited us to join them on their adventures, using our condo in Como as a “home base”. They had sketched a rough itinerary and just wanted a little help filling in the blanks – assistance I was happy to give. They knew that they wanted to spend some time with us here in Como, some time in Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna (two regions adjacent to our region of Lombardia) as well as a quick jaunt down to the historically significant city of Pompeii and another to Venezia.
S and Deborah standing near the divide of Lake Como
Jen and I share the responsibility of planning our trips – researching restaurants, activities and hotels. But they’re usually in three or four day stints and one location at a time. This time, I had to navigate through a two week itinerary, complete with activities, restaurants, hotel stays and all at new locations each day. Putting the puzzle pieces of their trip together was a challenge not for the faint of heart. Jen and I dug in, and by the time S and Deb landed in Milan, we had an itinerary that we were both proud of. I think all of us agreed that it came together quite nicely. Of course, the key ingredient was the company, mixed with a little food and wine! Continue reading Our Second Love – A Bunch of Old Grapes→