I am a little ashamed to see it’s been more than a year since I have posted here. Worse yet is that we have been in stay-at-home mode for over eight weeks and I am only now finding the time to post. I am amazed at how fast the days fly by with little accomplished
Initially I spent much time feeling terribly sad about the problems in Italy and the extreme lock-down they were under. One of my friends would send me the daily death count every evening. Their restricted access held for the whole country under lockdown. Anyone leaving their house had to have a form filled out stating where and when they were going. And the only acceptable reasons to venture out were to go walk their dog, grocery shop or a medical visit. If you were found to be somewhere other than where the form said, or at a different time, the fines were quite high (several hundred euros for a first offense). In some smaller towns, people were only allowed to go 200 metres from their homes (that’s about 670 feet – not very far).
In watching the news, videos and messages friends sent I was impressed by the willingness of Italians to adhere to the rules. Following rules us not something Italians are known to often do. With the pandemic though, families, which most often have grandparents either living with the family or nearby were clearly most at risk. Italian children were told if they wanted their grandparents to live, they would have to follow the rules. Italians were much quicker to take seriously the threat of losing their senior citizens than we Americans seem to be. Social differences between the U.S. and Italy are reflected in the basic customs of Italians, which rely so much on community versus the apparent diverse concerns of Americans. It seemed perfectly logical for everyone to be communing from their balconies, to be playing music, dancing and singing. Because so many live in very highly populated areas, it was a natural way to continue the connections so important to all Italians. And with their usual consideration Italians showed their nightly appreciation for healthcare workers who were overwhelmed throughout most of the north. Images that children and adults made of a rainbow with Andrà tutti bene (everything will be fine) seemed to be everywhere in the country along with the Italian flag.
While it was a difficult and frightening time for all my friends, they determined to make the best of a dangerous situation. In fact, when the government said they were opening things up, none of the people I know were at all excited about it. They all are still quite fearful about going out. It does look like they will open the borders to Italy for travelers early in June, and they are slowly figuring out how to cope with all the changes to life.
For me, this break has made me reflect on the incredible differences a decade or two makes. If this were to have happened awhile earlier, it would have been so much worse. Without Amazon and all the food delivery services, the on-line stores to deliver goods to your door, without the connections the internet has made possible and the resilience of essential workers, it would have been a horrible experience. So much more difficult, I cannot imagine enduring such a long isolation. Without all the video calls, online classes, museum tours, zoom meetings, virtual everything, it would have been an unbearable experience.
Italy has been very busy during the shutdown utilizing all the technological advances available and inventing a few more. There is so much creativity in Italy, so many with determination to find ways around this global gut punch, that Italy will be ready for tourists again soon. There tourism groups are really quite sophisticated they had already been doing a lot of work on virtual tours, museum tours and all kinds of reminders that make you wish you were there. Now they are hard at work facing the challenges of social distancing, creating new innovations for tourist visits. One innovation is being to be used is in Florence’s Duomo. They have devised a necklace that helps keep social distancing easy in public areas. The Duomo official said in a statement that the device will be handed out for free at the beginning of each visit. When two people approach within a range of 2 metres (6-1/2 feet) the device will beep softly, vibrate and flash. The devices will be disinfected after each use. It looks like this type device will be utilized for many tourist attractions throughout the country.
Even with the great losses Italy has suffered they are ready to come back as they have many times in the past. I have no doubt that the bars that had expanded onto the sidewalk in front of their locations will expand even further now. Whatever the changes, the inconveniences, the difficulties, I am ready to return to Italy.
I was due to spend the month of May in Italy buying for my clients. So, the first several weeks of April I spent trying to cancel flights, hotels, cars, etc. It was bittersweet accomplishment with only Italo train refusing to refund and only issued a credit. But with all the seriousness, of all my friends and associates in Italy I don’t personally know of anyone there who contracted the virus.
I am anxious to hear that the market in Campo dei Fiori has completely re-opened. I am completely out of all Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes. Actually, I am out of everything I normally have for clients. The spring replacement trip would have enabled me to bring back olive oil, sundried tomatoes, honey (from Sardinia) and all those fantastic spice mixes. My current plan is to return in November, my normal fall trip, when I can collect the new olive harvest as well as dried porcini. I can only hope that by then, both the United States and the rest of Europe has settled in to whatever our new normal is.
The photo below is what the neighborhood market I frequent on Via Cassia looked like before the beginning of May. I can’t wait to see the streets of Rome with people again. The market I visit in Milan will hopefully be opening in the next couple of weeks too.
I recently read of a new chocolate developed by researchers at La Sapienza University of Rome, let by Prof. Francesco Violi. It utilizes extra virgin olive oil’s oleuropein, to keep blood sugar low. The study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition shows it will allow diabetics to enjoy the beneficial properties of chocolate (antioxidants and protecting the cardiovascular system.
I have not read exactly how this chocolate tastes, but I do have many recipes that combine chocolate and olive oil. The delicious recipe below is from The Sweetest Menu website for Chocolate Olive Oil Cake with cream cheese icing. I suggest using a fresh mild olive oil, like the oil I bring back from Farfa in the hills of Sabina. It’s consistently flavorful and has a green but fruity scent and a silky uniform taste with a slight peppery kick at the end.
for the Chocolate cake
280 grams (2 cups) plain flour
80 grams (1 cup) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
300 grams (1 and 1/2 cups) sugar
90 grams (1/2 cup) brown sugar
240 ml (1 cup) buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, add 1 Tablespoon white vinegar to 1 cup whole milk
180 ml (3/4 cup) olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
240 ml (1 cup) hot water
Chocolate cream cheese frosting
250 grams (1 and 1/4 cup) full fat block of cream cheese, softened
375 grams (3 cups) icing or powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons milk
- Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F) standard / 160 C (320 F) fan-forced. Grease and line two 8-inch round cake tins with baking or parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the sugars. Whisk together. In a separate mixing bowl, add the buttermilk, olive oil, vanilla and eggs. Whisk together. Boil the kettle and pour out 1 cup of hot water.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Start to fold together. Then slowly pour in the hot water down the side of the bowl, and continue to mix until all the ingredients are incorporated.
- Divide the mixture into two cake tins and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave for 10 minutes before gently removing the cakes from their tins and leave them to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Place softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy.
- Add half the sugar, all the cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon of milk and beat on low until combined and smooth. Add the rest of the sugar and the extra tablespoon of milk, and beat until combined.
- Spread half the chocolate frosting on top of one chocolate cake. Add the other cake on top and cover with the remaining frosting. Serve with fresh strawberries if desired. It’s easy to do and very good. Please do try it.
Today, May 20th was World Bee Day. Smile if you see a bee. We need them and they need all the help we can provide to keep them thriving. They are doing a world count of bees at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Today they officially unveiled the Global Pollinator Map! To view the recorded presentation, click here. Check out the Global Pollinator Map for yourself, and see the pollinators that they counted so far. The EU is planning on cutting pesticide use in half by 2030 to help save the bees. I don’t know if you have heard, but many bee farmers experiencing hive failure (or Colony Callapse Disorder) in greater numbers than ever in California. Apparently the utilization of vast numbers of bees to pollinate the almond trees here are causing massive deaths of bees. The need for pollinators for almond growers in trying to keep up with almond milk demand are putting the bees at risk due to the amount of pesticides used in the almond industry. The amount of chemicals used by large commercial growing operations puts the bees at great risk.. Independent farmers are much less likely to incur the same problems because they use fewer chemicals (and have less acreage to need pollination). Just another looming global problem.
We all have a different future on our horizon, with many opportunities to change directions in numerous areas of life. It is difficult to even grasp what may be required or possible. Let’s make the best of it and stay healthy and positive.