I am currently beginning to pack to return to California. Besides having to find creative ways to get as much back with me as possible without triggering the dreaded third suitcase cost of $240, I have been watching a little local tv.
I have never written about Italian tv because it really is something you need to see for yourself. It is a little hard to explain in any language. I have just been watching Stasera Tutto è Possibile (tonight everything is possible). Now I am the first to admit my Italian leaves much to be desired, especially with long conversations or talk shows, where it is normal for at least three people to be talking at the same time. And over the years I have watched many of these competition type shows, usually with a confused look on my face and my Italian dictionary in hand. There is one where if you lose you are dropped through the floor if you lose (caduta libera – free fall ; one where they spend hours imitating famous singers and are made to look as much like them as possible.
I am not kidding about hours, that program is three hours long. I have seen Elvis, Amy Winehouse, David Bowie and numerous famous Italian singers I am totally unfamiliar with. And listened to the panel critique the contestants ability to mimic not just sound, but looks, style and mannerisms of more famous folk.
Introductions to these varied people
On Stasera Tutto è Possibile, I have no idea what the point is, but they take this motley group and have them sing along with familiar music, like Abba or The Village People. Then they take the away the recorded music and you hear what they actually sound like, which is pretty awful since they don’t know the words or have much in the way of voices. Then by twos they pair off for segui le labiale (sort of read my lips) where one has headphones and tries to figure out what the other is saying. Following this they have sketch games with angled stages and weird(er) costumes. Did I mention you really have to experience it yourself. It is unlike anything on American tv. Although Stasera is 2 hours long I admit by the time they got to the sack races I gave up. It is not the first time either. It is fascinating but I have my limits.
I highly recommend on your next trip to Italy forget whether you completely understand the language and tune in to the uniquely Italian spectacle of game shows.
As often happens a client is the catalyst for new discoveries. This time a client requested olive wood utensils. Having seen many I assumed it would be a quick easy request. As usual, it became something much more. While there are obviously thousands upon thousands of olive trees in Italy, there are not so many available to make olive wood good from. And, while there are commercially made spoons, cutting boards and rolling pins, there are not so many crafted bowls, boards and utensils (that are actually made in Italy).
With the internet it seems easy to find online anything you want. However, like many products, there is often a large difference between the lovely photos and catalogs you find and the quality of the finished pieces. And, the location of manufacturing can be far from where olive trees are grown.
Olives have been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean throughout history. The Romans cultivated olives throughout Italy and olive oil became so valuable they even used it as collected taxes. Ancient olive wood is beautiful and a real sustainable source. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, olives produce for hundreds of years, but eventually they stop producing and are classed as ancient. Usually it is this wood that is gathered and used for crafting the larger pieces of olive wood you see. The large cutting or carving boards, the table tops or large salad bowls. Every tree has its own unique pattern in the grain. You will never see two pieces created of olive wood that look exactly the same.
Olive wood is very hard, strong, durable and has natural anti-bacterial properties which make it ideal for production of items used for food. If cared for properly, olive wood items will last hundreds of years. So an ancient piece of wood becomes an antique long after it is harvested. Olive wood bowls, and utensils of the highest craftsmanship are not as ubiquitous as you might think given how many trees there are here.
Because the olives are a most important crop healthy trees are never felled for use of the wood. The limited availability is part of the reason for the high cost of quality olive wood articles. Although there are artisans in almost every region with high olive oil production, there are not as many craftsmen who work with olive wood. In Tuscany, I understand there are only a handful of artisans who work with olive wood. And, they tend to specialize in the types of pieces they like to make. There is one craftsman in a small town near Sienna that makes only small to large pots with lids, another near Florence that works only bowls. It seems that each artisan has their specialty. That is why I tried to find someone who has worked with these artists and could inform me how to determine the best pieces.
Luckily I found Ricardo Amoruso. He is from Tuscany and has resources throughout the region for artisans in a number of categories (his wife is a ceramicist) including the few who specialize in olive wood. Ricardo explained to me that there is always a shortage of olive wood. If the spring weather is below normal for too many days I believe he said 15) in a row the tree can be damaged and not just lose the crop of olives, the tree can be damaged beyond survival, but the wood also can be unusable from the stress of the cold. He explained that there are numerous makers of kitchen utensils because those do not require the whole tree to be used. In spring when they must prune the branches, they are collected and many are thick enough to be able to form spoons, spatulas and rolling pins. They are the most affordable of pieces in olive wood.
Once I saw some of the fine works he handles I knew that this quality was superiorto most of the other pieces I have seen. The prices will always be high so it is important to get the best quality wood that is formed by the best artisans.
His advice on how to make your wood pieces last forever… Do not soak them, or put in a dishwasher. Use only water to clean them. About once every month or so, brush or wipe on a light oil like coconut or sunflower oil and let it sit on some newsapers several hours or overnight. Afterward wipe any left oil with a paper towel.It is important to keep the wood from over drying. This prevents cracking or warping.
There are some really spectacular pieces that I am now sure I must have. The bowl below is from the works I purchased for another client.
This totally unique flat salad bowl is so stunning I start to drool every time I look at it.
Every trip to Italy introduces me to new places, people and products. It seems a never-ending journey. I have introduced my Sardinia honey source to olio nuovo from Farfa, I have been able to learn about the different grades of cashmere from my scarf vendor in Florence (who uses only Italian materials and workers and produces all she sells right outside of Florence). There are so many fine olive oils available from every region but my clients are spoiled by the consistently fabulous taste of Il Saporito’s olive oil from Farfa.
It is always a challenge to get everything done in the short time I have in Italy (a month is hardly enough time to get your breathing slowed down). And, I always end the trip with my stop at Campo dei Fiori to fill up on the “Spezie Famose nel Mondo” and meet up with Mauro Berardi for his amazing spice mixes that have people all over the world addicted.
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There is never enough time here, never enough space to bring all I would like and always too much weight. But I love it and hope to continue to introduce products and people from Italy to as many as I can.
It’s time to make a springtime visit to Rome again. I love visiting Mauro and wandering through the market early in the day looking at all the spring vegetables. I love those lovely little roman artichokes, watching them being cleaned and dropped into the acidified water. The women cleaning the puntarelle spend all day cleaning and dropping the puntarelle into buckets of water
But of course, the main treat for me is meeting with Mauro, Marco and Maurizio at Spezie Famose nel Mondo the most famous and largest seller of spices in the market. I am contacted by people from all over the world looking to replace the spice mixes they purchase from Mauro. Fortunately I almost always have a good supply of the most popular mixes available. Contact me to find out if I have the ones you are looking for.
I am off to Rome for the month of May so if you are looking for anything in particular don’t wait, send me a request by email to be sure I bring back what you are looking for.
In addition to shopping for spices with Mauro, I will be locating Olive oil. I know there is oil available in Vetralla and hopefully I can acquire some additional oil from Farfa, where I brought back the fabulous olio nuovo in November last year. I won’t know until I get there what there might be available. I have read the articles about the weather problems, but since I deal directly with growers sometimes it can be misleading and my sources availability is quite different. I also will have to wait until I arrive to find out if there is any honey from Sardinia left. I know those harvests were also short this year. I continue to bring back what is available – sometimes it is mostly Girasole (sunflower) and millefiore (wildflower) but if you have a particular type you want, please let me know, since sometimes Stefano can locate it for me in his hidden places.
Do not hesitate to email me with any special requests. I will be checking emails often. I will shop Milan, Tuscany (Orbetello, Florence and a few small villages) scarves from a few sources that are reliable with their italian fabrics and italian employees that are still priced affordably. And, if there are any new items that are interesting. It looks like the exchange rate will hover around $1.09 to $1.00 while I am there. If you are not on my mailing list please drop me an email and I will be happy to add you to my newsletter so you know what it available. Enjoy shopping Italy from home.
Rome is my favorite city in the world. I love being here. Although sometimes the graffiti and dirt dismay me, and admittedly my stomach often reaches my throat when I see how close cars come to one another or worse to the buses, While I am far too old to consider driving a motorino in this city, or maybe I never had that kind of courage, I do admire all those lovely women on their way to work looking worldly and chic. And I wish I had found myself in Rome much sooner.
I remind myself often that I am not a tourist on vacation. My schedules are full but have nothing to do with tour groups or monuments. My friendships in Rome run very deep and anchor me solidly to this country. I am welcomed into the home of a dear friend no matter the duration of my stay or how frequently I “visit”. I have parts of myself stuck in Florence, Milan and a few other cities as well. But, Rome . . . . Being here is more about reconnecting to the people and places so dear to my heart than just visiting. I am in Rome, but not of Rome. Too many people have passed over her streets and vicoli for me to ever really be a part of all this history. Sometimes I regret not having found myself in Rome earlier in life, but I do not really believe it would be different. I have not given up on speaking Italian well, but I have been re-thinking my aspirations of fluency. Yet each conversational attempt is met with affection and patient correction. from strangers as well as my friends. My days are crushed with the same things anyone returning home has; setting up meetings, making phone calls to friends planning lunches and dinners, and for me shopping. And, getting here is the beginning I need arrangements for travel to shop in Milan, Florence, and on this trip Bari. Expressly Italian was born to help cover the costs of my travel. No plans for expansions, or growth, only my desire to continue striving to afford my need to be in Italy.
It is exciting since every trip brings new people into my life, new products to share with Americans. Today, I was introduced to a lovely woman living south of Rome. She has lived in Italy fifty years, although she was born in India. She is intelligent, well spoken and thoughtful. And her name is Ushabella. Is that not a lovely name? She had worked many years for an airline when she was laid off. Then she began to think of ways to utilize her talents and connections. She is currently representing a cable and wiring company from Delhi. She also has pashmina from India nicer than I have seen in years to sell.
They are luscious colors and really fine quality. Unfortunately for both of us, Expressly Italian specializes in only Italian products produced by Italians. But I will certainly see if I find anyone to connect her with. There is synergy wherever you look and more understanding of how much different and the same we all are if you are interested.
I am grateful that Expressly Italian is offering me the challenge of getting real Italian tastes into mouths outside of Italy. Each trip I seem to find new beauty unseen by me before. I know that will never end. At heart, Italy is really all about beauty; in words, art, mountains or sea coasts.
I hope if you have been here or not visited recently that you will see for yourself how life changing Italy can be for you. In the meantime you can allow Expressly Italian to introduce you to the many items never sent outside Italy. You can try some of the special olive oils produced in small batches, some of the famous Mauro Berardi spic3 mixes from Campo dei Fiori or some of Sardinia’s purest, healthiest honeys Stefano cultivates and soooo much more. Email or comment but do send your questions or requests.
I have been in Italy a week or so. It’s not like traveling anymore. It is more like visiting my home. While I live in Los Angeles, my heart and mind often wanders to Italy. There are just so many beautiful an interesting places to visit throughout the country there seems never enough time.
This shopping trip is a little less hectic than the fall trip. I will make my visits to Mauro Berardi in Campo dei Fiori. It seems his self proclaimed Famous Spices of the World is a true statement. Almost every week I get an email request for information on how to acquire his spice mixes. They are amazing. He sells seemingly vast quantities of spices, but they are all still mixed by hand in his offices nearby the campo. Lately there are a couple of other vendors using “Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix” on their spices blends, but they are nothing like his mix. So, he is now referring to his mix as Maruro Berardi’s Pasta Mix. I am not certain this is a great change since many people will think that is all the spices are good for is pasta. His mix is universal not only in appeal, but in the ways it can be used. I rarely make eggs without a dash of this mix, or soups, stews, marinades or dry rubs, even in salads. In fact, I use it constantly since it can be cooked or used as is. So, if you are looking for Mauro, he is in the same place as always, but the mix name has changed.
Now that we are straight on that, I can tell you how exciting this trip really is. It is wonderful to be buying items for my clients and know that they are not paying 30% more than the price seems. I love that the dollar has been staying around $1.10 to a euro. I hope it keeps there for awhile (as I am sure all my clients do as well).
I have been busy shopping and have purchased some pre-ordered products for clients, including the spices. Also some of the amazing flavorful preserves that have so much more flavor than the U.S. varieties seem to. Maybe it is they use so much less sugar that you can taste the fruit?
I am off to Milan early next week. I look forward to meeting up with Stefano to pick up honey. I learn something new every time I meet with him. He has been worried I would not arrive soon enough since the current harvest product is almost gone and it will be awhile until the next harvest. Sardegna has one of the only totally pollution free environments left in the world. No insecticides, no soil additives, no smog. It is not wonder that Sardegna produces honey with thhe highest levels of antioxidants. He sells much of his honey for the health benefits, but I love the taste of almost all of them. And, my clients love all his products, the propolis, his beauty cream (which has only bee pollen, bees wax, olive oil and lemon oils) and his “Bomba” and “Rispero” for well being and breathing problems.
In addition to the honey from Sardegna this trip I am bringing bottarga as well. I have been bringing Tuscan bottarga from the Maremma, but thought I’d try the Sardinian bottarga which is supposed to be fabulous. It should be — it is quite expensive. I think I will buy a whole piece and divide it for my clients so it will only be pricey.
I cannot wait to see the scarves for spring and summer that I buy there as well. I do not bring many back, but I seem to have requests for them every trip.
If you are not on my mailing list, please get on it! Send me your name and address in an email to: ExpresslyItalian@gmail.com. I’ll make sure you are kept informed about my offerings.
I have another dinner with friends tonight, It is reassuring to know you cannot have a bad meal in Italy, Well, I guess you can, if you frequent tourist restaurants. So, do not do that.
If you are planning trip to Italy and would like to connect with some cooking classes or garden tours, I have some suggestions for the Rome area and I would be happy to help. And do not forget Expo Milan – from May 2 through October.