eat ice cream before bed

6 Dec

Many families have The Patriarch. The Man in the family separate from the other men, the head of the family. I was born with them too, Clarence Saling and Anthony Petitti. My grandpas.

Very weird, but kind of understandable- when I was really little I used to beg my mom to marry my grandpa (her dad) because I wanted him to be my dad- Ha! But he was such a loving man my pahpaw, what I called my Grandpa Saling until I was about 6. My grandpa was my favorite person in the world and I didn’t have a “dad” yet, so it just made sense to my three year old mind for my two adults to be married… sorry grandma.

Only my dad’s dad would be able to show so much love and bring such laughter through being so blunt. One of the last things my Grandpa Petitti said to me when he was literally on his death bed was “Maybe you’ll be able to shut the hell up now”. We were all wearing surgical masks so we didn’t expose his sensative immune system to any of our winter colds and I was basically always talking. He couldn’t resist the urge! It made everyone in the room smile and laugh because we could see the real him again.

And then there was my immediate family. Which has consistently been my mom and myself, with my dad making the longest appearance otherwise. Anthony Michael Petitti Jr. Perfect by no means, but I’ll be damned if the man didn’t live. He might not be my birth father, but as our dear friends from West Virgina like to say about me in relation to my dad ‘You’re shit right out your dad’s ass’. Which is West Virginian for something along the lines of ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ He shared with me his greatest passions that in turn became my own- travel, scuba diving, entrepreneurship, seizing every single day.

I had them too at one point. The men.

My mom is one of three girls and my dad, the lone boy among five sisters. Growing up I had grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles and tons of cousins. I didn’t notice the women more than the men necessarily. However there were always “The Sisters” and “The Girls”, my dad and mom’s sides respectively. But when I was 14 things started changing. To quote my Great Uncle Bobby, this is when the families started “dripping in estrogen”.

My Grandpa Saling, my pahpaw’s, auorta ruptured and after a failed attempt at a replacement, he died. My mom’s side has never been the same. We just didn’t recover. My grandpa knew what to say to everyone when things went to those places they inevitably do. Our healing continues. So he was the first one to go. Let me say now that all my aunts are married to wonderful men and I love my uncles, all us women are just a lot and tend to dominate sitations. Next was my dad in a tragic boating accident. He died “surfing” on his feet down the slide on the back of our houseboat. At least he was doing what he loved, with people he loved and in his favorite spot in the world when he died.That and donating his organs were the saving grace, the silver-lining in the sitation. It might have even been when I first learned to look for and how to always be able to find the silver-lining. While I wish I wouldn’t have needed to, I have developed quite a skill at staying positive and joyful where others struggle. So now the Salings and my immediate family are Patriach-less. And then call it what you will, but some of us call it a broken heart from burying his only son. My Grandpa Petitti died very quickly of colon cancer about two and a half years after my dad. So the Petittis were the last to make the transition from Patriarchal family and form the new group of people I know and love as my family today.

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But not everyone has left. And you know who was there through all of it? Even if they had to drink a little bit of brandy just to fall asleep for a few months after her husband of 50 years died? Even after her husband and her father died without nearly enough time to heal inbetween. Even if she left her husband and baby to not leave my side when my husband died. My Tribe. My grandmas, mom, aunts and cousins who are the strongest bunch of women the earth as been graced with. Between all of us, life has very much been experienced to the fullest with canyons of sadness, but also mountains of joy. These women are my masculine and feminine energy. My ying and my yang as far as family goes. We are a matriarchy. A beautiful, strong, bitchy, emotional, loving matriachy. Oh and both of my Matriarchs eat ice cream every night before bed. So if it’s good enough for them… eat ice cream before bed. Maybe it’s the secret to not just making it through this life, but actually enjoying the journey.

he was my world

30 Nov

he was my heart.

he was my love.

he was my grounding.

he was my future.

he was the father to my future children. The man I would own a vineyard with in Chile and a winery in Canton. My sweet, sweet boy who asked before kissing me for the first time. The man who had purchased an engagement ring within 3 months of our first date… and held onto it for 2 years before proposing in Rome. My Eagle Scout who sent his badge back to show is support for LGBTQ Scouts and Masters. My farmer who’s arms have made me melt since we were 13 years old. Ironically, the man who I sat next to in the same room as our other two lifelong best friends (both of these men were in our wedding) as we watched the second plane fly into the South Tower and our precious, innocent 12 year old lives were forever changed.

he was my world. Of course I didn’t know how to act or what to do or how to behave or how to eat or be a FUCKING human! I had lost my WORLD. I still feel like people don’t understand that the man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with and raise babies with died in front of me and just because I’m not slitting my wrists in my bathtub does NOT mean that it’s okay to make jokes about drowning around me. Or call him my ex-husband. He’s my late husband. There’s a difference. Or lots of other things people seem to think it’s ok to do around me because I’m “strong” or “handle things like this well”. I handle them well because I’ve been through so many tradgic things that they commonplace. That doesn’t make one stronger as quickly as we all hope. It makes us far more fragile for longer than we like to admit.

But I’m finally realizing how I busied myself and “I’m fine”ed everyone until I was blue in the face… well actually until I up and moved to Phoenix… haha But that’s another story. I see now how much I was avoiding the feelings of sadness. But they just hurt. So. Bad. Like my heart was falling out of my chest. Like I could just die then and there because my very essence was lost at the bottom of that god damned lake with him. And my dad for that matter. But again, another story. But I didn’t die. And my essence came back slowly with laughs and hugs and through many tears. And I think for a long time I have been struggling in this inbetween of wanting to move on and be happy but not being ready to let that mean that all those things I wanted with Mitch are no more. But as I was thinking about it I kept thinking “he was this” and “he was that”. Never once “is”. And that’s when I realized that as much as it grieves me to say and know it to be true, those dreams, wishes, hopes and that future died with him. I can say he was my soul mate. But only for that time in my soul’s journey. I think I had one soul mate before Mitchell and I pray to find one after him. And with that soul mate I will have a completely different, but equally as wonderful love. With our own dreams, hopes and future. As much as every past lover has a piece of everyone’s heart, Mitch has a piece of mine.

But my future is mine. Mine to make right. Mine to make right through writing. So here goes.

New Years’ Eve in Canton

31 Dec

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New Year’s Eve can be so touch and go. Everyone wants the night to be epic, the ultimate culmination of all the fun had in 2012. Never wanting to completeing comitt for fear of missing out on something more fun somewhere else, you can end up bouncing around from bar to bar, party to party only to ring in the New Year sitting on “weird friend from high school who’s home for the holidays” couch. Not this year people! There are so many fun things to do in the Canton, Ohio area! Whether you’re a 20 something ready to hit the bars and through back some drinks or 60 something looking for a nice dinner, dancing and simple champagne toast I have done the dirty work and found you some great Canton-only options! I would like to credit the Canton Repository for their list of 28 Ways to Celebrate New Year’s Eve, The North Canton Patch  and The Canton Stark County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau as I’m using some of their suggestions. Hope you find something both fun and safe for this evenings festivites, please see the bottom of the page for alternative ways to get home if you’ve had just a little too much to get behind the wheel. Happy New Years!!!

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1. The McKinley Grand Hotel Present

All-Inclusive New Year’s Eve 2012 Package Includes:

Deluxe Overnight Accommodations for Two, Dinner for Two in Thorpe’s Market Avenue Grill, Bottle of Champagne for The Midnight Countdown, Live Entertainment in Thorpe’s Market Avenue Pub, Breakfast for Two on New Year’s Day, Late Checkout of 1:00 PM New Year’s Day

All-Inclusive Package Price of Only $195.00 Per Couple

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2. New Year’s Eve Dinner with Gervasi

Dinner seating 4:00-8:30PM Featuring Music by Stan Miller 6-10PM

Call 330-497-1000, opt 2 after 2PM, Ask for Nicolle to assist you with Reservations for dinner

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3. New Years Eve with New Wave Nation at 356th Fighter Group

Starting at 9:30 p.m.  Midnight Special, a second band will also be performing in the ballroom. Tickets, $25 advance and $30 at the door, include food stations from 9 to 10, party favors, and sauerkraut and pork at midnight. For reservations, call 330-494-3500.

the barrel room

4. Triple Play at The Barrel Room

9:00- midnight with free pork and sauerkraut!

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5. New Years Eve Gala at Fieldcrest of North Canton

Doors open at 7:30 pm. Hot and Cold appetizers and a cash bar begins at 8:00 pm. Featuring dance band “Class Action” playing music from the 1940’s thru the 1990’s. Also featuring: On site dance instruction for each era. Learn how to dance your favorite dances. Pasta buffet available from 8:00 to 9:30 pm. Pork and Kraut dinner served at 11:00 pm. Champagne toast at midnight. Reservations are requested for this event. Call 330-966-2222 for more details.

$50.00 at the door.

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6. The Wanderers at Elks Lodge 68 at 3201 Parkway St. NW in Canton Township (No website, sorry!)

From 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. The band features saxophonist Fred Davis (in black), who has performed with Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, Frankie Avalon and the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras. Tickets, $15 per person, include snacks, pork and sauerkraut, and champagne at midnight. Tickets may be ordered at 330-453-0105.

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7. “The Contraltos: Miami Shore,” an over-the-top audience-participation whodunit that spoofs “The Sopranos,” at Meyer’s Lake Ballroom

Tickets, $59 single or $110 couple, include the show, a full dinner with choice of entrees, soft drinks, dancing, party favors and a champagne toast at midnight. For reservations, call 330-455-5900.

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8. Ides of March at Canton Palace theater 

Ryan Gosling stars as an idealistic campaigner for a Democratic presidential hopeful (George Clooney) who gets a shattering reality check in the drama “Ides of March,” which will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $15, include a pre-show wine and cheese reception at 6 p.m. in the theater’s upper lobby. Movie-only tickets are $5.

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9. New Year’s Eve Bash at The Pub and Panini’s

8:30pm- 2:30am The biggest ballon drop in stark county… Over $2000 in cash and prizes falling at midnight. Dance the night away with DJ JT. Live broadcast with Q92 and DJ MOE. We are taking reservations for bottle service and champagne bottles now.
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8:00- 1:00 a.m. at the ArtsinStark Education Center at 1014 Cleveland Ave. NW in Canton will include an auction of work by local artists, food, drinks, live music and more. Tickets are $5, with proceeds to benefit the ArtsinStark SmArts program.

Stay safe, transportation options:

Stark Area Regional Transit Authority

New Year’s Eve Schedule or call 330-47-SARTA, 330-47-72782

COSMO Transportation Service– (330) 454-44451306 Milford St Ne, Canton, OH

Tiger Cab– (330) 209-4617Canton, OH

Mc Clinchy, DE Shay-Team Taxi Company– (330) 244-9641Po Box 35728, Canton, OH

Yellow Cab Leasing Incorporated– (330) 491-43434137 Martindale Rd Ne, Canton, OH

AAA Canton Transportation & A Taxi Cab of Canton– (330) 353-44832916 Harrisburg Rd Ne, Canton, OH

**Thanks for reading, hope everyone enjoys their New Year’s Eve, Cheers, Maranda!**

New approach?!

22 Dec
Mint Martini from The Basement in North Canton

Mint Martini from The Basement in North Canton

So now that Mitch and I are back stateside I’ve been having a hard time with where I wanted to take the blog. Adventures aren’t as easy to come by the in Canton area haha I’m thinking of taking the vantage point of being a 20 something in Ohio who enjoys supporting small business, eating organic and getting one nicer, quality item as opposed  20 cheap, dollar store ones and spending time with interesting, open-minded people who have fun and thought provoking topics to bring to the table. That is definitely not the mentality of most in this area and seeking out those people and those businesses can be tough. I think I’d like to take one for the team and do the legwork for others looking for similar things.

So I will be posting about restaurants and coffee shops I love, local businesses that offer local products or craft products of a higher caliber and fun things to do in the Northeast Ohio area if your not a soccer mom or retired Vietnam Vet. Some of the posts might have a wedding theme as Mitch and I will be getting married in Canton on Oct. 19th, 2013! Hope everyone enjoys where the blog is going, it would be great to have some comments and really get the dialog going about how to seek out what we’re looking for! Cheers!

14 Dec

Even though our last blog post ended with our last day in Europe, it skipped the center of our trip to Ireland. On Thursday morning Mitch and I were up early to catch the bus to Galway. We had a tour that took us first to the Dunguaire Castle  and next to The Barren. This is a part of Ireland famous for its rocky plateau and we visited a beef cattle farm in the area. After a chilly, but humorous walk up the mountain (Irish mountains aka slightly tall hills haha) as our guide, Daragh charmed us with his too cute Irish charisma and resistance to the chilling wind. I’m fairly certain the only one completely oblivious to the cold was the tail-wagging, happy go lucky golden retriever, Mildred. Such an appropriate name for a pup right?! We ended our tour of their grounds with some heavenly strawberry-rhubarb cake and an Irish coffee in their Grandma’s house! Now I can see why the Irish staked claim to  coffee with a shot of whiskey, coming in from that cold you not only need something to warm you up, but something to give you a little zip in your step. Leaving the farm we headed to our main attraction of the day, the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

 

While on my first trip to Ireland as a People-to-People Student Ambassador ten years ago (ahh!! I feel old!) I couldn’t wait to see the Cliffs of Moher, but when we arrived the fog was too thick to see anything. As the rain started to come in on our way there this time I was beginning to worry, but for not- it was as beautiful any picture! We walked along the entirety of the cliffs from the tower around to the other side to enjoy a look from the top. The fog definitely sets the mood for the Irish folklore, it’s easier to believe in a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow you can’t see! We finished off the day with a delicious meal at a quaint pub and were dropped off in Galway again. After a quick walk in the Christmas Market we headed off to Cork.

Cork was definitely our sketchiest hostel, when we walked in the 50 year old man in our room was watching a youtube video titled “How to get laid” so that was awkward… but after he left on his quest to get some it was same old. We woke up in the morning and headed for Blarney to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone. Blarney is a really beautiful small town and the gardens around the castle alone are worth the 12 euro entrance fee. Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give the gift not only of Irish gap, but eloquence. One of the signs read: “Baloney is when you tell a 50-year old woman that she looks 18.Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.” Cute right?! Both of us kissed the stone and went for a tour of the grounds before having a picnic lunch. We did a walking tour of Cork before catching the 2 1/2 hour bus ride back to Galway.

Mitch kissing the Blarney Stone!

Mitch kissing the Blarney Stone!

Our last night on the west coast was spend at a pub just across from our hostel call The Quays (pronounced Keys). There was a really great band that played everything from American rock classics to Irish jigs. The bar was full of 20 somethings to 60 somethings all having a great irish time. We met a nice couple from Boston who introduced us to some of their favorite Irish drinks and finally called it a night around 2am. Waking up with no hang-overs was a definite plus! We were able to go on a walk out the Mutton Island Lighthouse and enjoy the ocean for a few hours before joining our free walking tour. On the tour we saw such sights as the Lynch Castle and went to the location where the first lynching took place (Apparently father Lynch hung son Lynch so when a Lynch hangs a Lynch it becomes a lynching??). Saint Nicolas Church was our next stop and had a great farmers market out front- we enjoyed some made-in-front-of-us donuts and sampled all types of interesting food. We went to the Spanish Arch, all that remains from the wall that used to encompass Galway, the Galway Cathedral, built in the 60s as the last “great stone church in Europe” and was built of old prison stones (the irony is not lost on me!) and the Town Hall.  We ended in Eyre Square where we started and where the Christmas Market was. We had just enough time to grab some lunch at a pub before we began the cross-country (albeit 2 hour) trip back to Dublin. We loved our time on the western half of the country. Galway’s average age is 25 so it’s the perfect place for everything from culture to night life. Next time we come we’ll have to head up north to explore more of what Ireland has to offer!

Dublin, Ireland

6 Dec

After a quick and easy flight from Rome to Dublin Mitch and I began our Irish adventures. We began with a walk around the city to acclimate ourselves. With the Christmas season upon us, the city is decorated to the nines with lights of all shapes, colors and designs! It felt really magical as we walked down the pedestrian shopping street, Grafton and the main boulevard, O’Connal St. We stumbled upon one of the sights Mitch knew he wanted to see, The Church. This might be my new favorite restaurant! St. Mary’s protestant church turned restaurant and bar where Arthur Guinness and his son were both married is a perfect combination of well-maintained character and historical value, but with a fun, chic feel. We had our first Irish Guinness’s there and some delicious eats. We followed the self-guided tour to from the bust of Arthur Guinness to the original pipe organ and down to the crypt where bodies have been removed to created a hauntingly beautiful bar and rental area. We were so excited to find almost every place we visited in the city had free wifi and were able to check-in on foursquare and facebook!

Our first Guinness at The Church

Our first Guinness at The Church

Wednesday we were up early for a walk through the fairytalesque St. John’s Park, on to The National Gallery of Ireland to see works from Carravagio, Van Gough, Rembrandt, Piccaso and Monet and to our free walking tour. Our guide was a sweet girl who attends Trinity college. She took us to The Dublin Castle and gardens, City Hall, Christ Church, The Ha’Penny Bridge, and into the Temple Bar area. Free walking tours are nice because you can tip the guide whatever you thought the tour was worth, which is a win-win for both guide and tourist. After the tour we stopped for what the Irish lovingly call a chipper or fish and chips before directing our attention to the Guinness Storehouse. We enjoyed the self-guided tour, especially the advertisements and marketing through the years. The best part hands-down is The Gravity Bar which offers stunning 360 degree views of the city and surrounding Wicklow Mountains all with our complimentary glass of Guinness. Pooped, we headed back to the hostel for wine and cheese night!

 

Christ Church

Christ Church

On Thursday we headed to Galway and the west of the country, but I’ll get to that in the next post. So when we arrived back in Dublin on Saturday night we just made it in time for the pub crawl! I was kind of skeptical about paying 12 Euros to go to some bars, but with the free shots at each bar, free pizza and fun people to play fun drinking games with it was actually a really fun evening. After our late night out we slept in a little on Sunday and enjoyed complimentary pancakes with the other hostel guests. It was raining so we were a bit lazy, but got going around 3pm for the Jamison Distillery. We took the scenic route over the Ha’Penny Bridge and past the Four Courts. The distillery was a bit cheesy, but I did learn a lot. Jamison, like most irish whiskeys is triple distilled which gives it the smoothness and without the smoky characteristics of Scotch or sweetness of Bourbon it goes well with many things. Mitch was chosen to be a “Whiskey taster” and got to sample not only the complimentary glass everyone enjoys, but an extra Jamison whiskey, Johnny Walker Scotch and Jack Daniels Bourbon- all the top-selling world-wide in their category. He said he was really able to taste the differences.

 

On our last day in Dublin we saw the Molly Malone Statue and visited Trinity College. Mitch had learned of the Book of Kells in an art history class in college and I’m glad is insisted on going. Seeing a thousand year old book isn’t something one does everyday. I also didn’t know that many of the celtic knots were first displayed in this text. The Old Library at Trinity is breath-taking. Easily the most beautiful library I’ve ever laid eyes on. From that great smell of old books and mahogany to the busts of all the literary greats it is a real treat. On display there are the oldest harp in Ireland and the proclamation that made  Ireland a free country. The next thing was something I’d wanted to do in Italy the entire time we were there and was very excited about- my first International Rotary meeting! The Dublin president was kind enough to meet Mitch and I in the lobby of the hotel where they meet and the Irish Rotarians were quintessentially generous, kind and extremely funny. The meeting was run extremely similar to our own Louisville Club, minus the name tags (which I really could have used!) and even had similar demographics. We were able to swap club flags, take a picture and after promising to e-mail them some of our favorite wines from our travels in Italy we were off for our last night in Ireland.

Being gone for nearly three and a half months left us with clothes (from summer and winter!), souvenirs and gobs of other goodies. Cramming everything into our bags wasn’t even the hardest part, that was the decision we had to make of what to take and what to leave. Who knew 50lbs could be reached so easily?! We had a life-changing experience in Italy and a lovely vacation in Ireland, not bad for some poor 20 somethings! We are so excited to get on to our next adventure, deciding where to plant our grapes and start our winery and planning our wedding!

Italians vs Italian Americans

28 Nov

I was raised in an Italian American family, complete with the pizzelles, ravioli and loud, hand-waving family members. We were always active in the Italian-American community* and maintained Italian friends. One of my best friends in the world, Tony Sylvester, is also Italian and our family’s relationship begin when our grandparents went to grammar school together in the 1930s at St. Anthony’s. Tony asked me if Italy Italians were different from our sort-of cliche Italian-American families. and this is what I have found.

First, let me give you a bit of a geography and history lesson to set the scene. Most Italian immigrants to the US came from southern Italy. Many from the regions of Campania, Sicily and Calabria. Italy is a very divided country, culture norms in the north and south differ as much as Asian and African. In the south they have a diet staple of pasta vs rice in the north. The south is more loud and “in your face” while the north is more reserved, mostly because of the German influence. Umbria, where Mitch and I lived is smack dab in the middle and takes bits and pieces from both as well as having uniques quirks of their own. Because most Italian Americans are from the south, that is the culture we associate with “Italy”. So while Italian Americans are Italian horn wearing, pasta and pizzelle eating, huge family in your face kind of Italians, Italy Italians from the north wouldn’t recognize you at all. In fact, our Umbrian Italian friends had never heard of pizzelles, I had to describe the Italian horn to them and we apparently do Italian food allllll wrong. According to them of course!

The other cool part of this story is how Italian words have crept into English as common place: cannoli, pizza, pasta, biscotti, cappuccino, pepperoni, ravioli to name only a few. The only problem is that the context in which we use many of these words, most Italians would have no idea what we were trying to say. The translations of the Italian American words to Italian is as follows:

Cannoli: the plural form of cannolo, you order 1 cannolo

Biscotti: cookies, any and all

Pepperoni: a bell pepper

They don’t even have pepperoni like we eat it! How crazy! Italians, as with most of Europe live a more structured lifestyle than us footloose and fancy free Americans! They eat at a certain time, in a certain way, have always done and will always do. I can’t tell you how many times Mitch and I got yelled at for eating something the wrong way or at the wrong time. Another huge difference, Italian Americans get drunk. Italy Italians very rarely do. They only get drunk when they’re young and strictly at a disco or night club. They do drink wine all the time and starting at a young age, but never in excess.

Pasta is pasta in America and in Italy 🙂

 

The most prominent difference we have noticed is efficiency. Italian Americans may be late sometimes, but they have been “Americanized”. Italy Italians live on the Mediterranean time table and are not only always and consistently 20 minutes late, they do very little with purpose and find themselves doing the simplest of tasks multiple times. Their goodbyes take 30 minutes on average, sometimes even up to an hour. My cousins and I get yelled at all the time for putting our coats and shoes on, saying we’re leaving and then standing their talking forever. Let me tell you, this is ingrained in our bodies! Italians typically say goodbye or “ciao” over 20 times before they actually walk out the door. Both groups talk with their hands, the difference is that Italian Americans use many gestures to mean a wide variety of things. Italy Italians however use fewer gestures, but with more passion and more often.

So Italian Americans are definitely Italian, if only Southern Italy. There are similarities they can’t deny, but also differences that are bond to occur with an ocean and decades between you and your old county. Thanks for all the memories Italy, we’ve learned a lot and had so much fun experiencing the beauty of your country and people! Ciao!

*For those of you how don’t know, Canton, Ohio has a rather high and recent Italian and Greek immigrant population.

From tree to table: Olive oil

18 Nov

Last week we had the lovely opportunity to see the process of making olive oil from tree to table, literally.

The net spread around the base of the tree to catch the olives

Olive picking happens late in the harvest season, after most other crops are done. Here in mid-Italy most people harvest early November. It’s hard to believe, but the majority of olives are still harvested by hand. For this reason you want to choose a dry day, preferably one that it hasn’t rained for a few days. In most cases, only the largest of olive farms harvest mechanically because of the permanent damage that is done to the tree. We also waited for the dew to burn off before we began. You’re under the tree so if the tree is wet, so are you. The first thing we did was spread the net under the tree. The net catches the olives as you knock them from the tree. We used our hands and these small, plastic rake-type tools to pull the olives off the trees. You simply run your hand or the tool down the branch pulling off as many olives and as few leaves as possible. The goal is to get all the olives off the tree, which is actually a bit of a challenge and quite time consuming. This was a very dry, hot year and yields were nothing of what they normally are, same for the grapes 😦 After all the olives fall onto the net you gather them into a compact pile and dump them into crates.

Gathering the olives

Olives are a tricky business, one should never wonder why olive oil is so expensive. You gather hundreds of lbs of olives and you get very little oil, typically only 10-16% of the original olive weight. We only have about 35 trees on the property, but during a good year it provides enough oil to last the family all year. I can’t imagine the families and farms that harvest thousands of trees by hand! Once all the olives are picked you take them straight to the olive mill. It’s crazy, they’re everywhere! Many, many Italians press their own oil and each have their favorite “frantoio”. You dump all the olives in the hopper where the leaves are removed and the olives are washed. The olives are then crushed, heated and the oil is extracted. The remaining, dried pulp is then sold to other companies that use chemistry to extract the last remaining bit of oil.* The pulp is also a perfect compost fertilizer to replenish the trees with the nutrients they lost in producing the olives. The whole process of pressing took about an hour. Fresh oil is a brilliant green, almost artificial looking and spicy with a very unique flavor.

Fresh-pressed olive oil! Look at that color!

Once you taste fresh olive oil you’ll recognize it forever. Claudia, our host mom/boss, enjoys fresh-pressed olive oil with the traditional Tuscan/Umbrian saltless bread. The traditional bread is done saltless as it has been since the middle ages when a salt tax made it too expensive for the average baker and has since stuck. In most instances I don’t enjoy the bread (who would have though that pinch of salt would make such a difference?!) but the strong flavor in the fresh oil compliments the bland bread well.  So that’s the story of how we picked and pressed the olives during the day and were able to enjoy it with fresh bread that night!

Getting crushed and heated!

*This oil is specifically labeled in Italy as it is not olive oil in it’s truest form, not Extra Virgin.

Venezia

12 Nov

Our handmade, paper-mache Venetian masks!

Mitch and I had the awesome pleasure of spending our last long weekend in Italy in the mysterious and beautiful city of Venice, or Venezia in Italian. After a bit expensive, but very comfortable ride on a bullet train we arrived at the main train station, San Lucia. We had a bit of an antsy situation when we arrived at our hostel, 45 minutes outside of Venice. We decided to try our luck at finding a hotel/hostel closer to the city center and headed back toward the island. Funny part about this our attempt… either 5 hotels were fully booked on a Thursday night in November, or Mitch and I looked super sketchy that night! We finally decided to just send me in to ask and for Mitch to stay outside with the backpacks and… SUCCESS! Thank goodness, because I was seriously coming to terms with sleeping under a bridge 🙂 It worked out in our favor because the suite was the only room available and they gave us a deal. We had a beautiful view of one of the canals and was very nice. Actually, the nicest room we’ve had in Italy. So now that we had a bed to sleep in, we could be off to enjoy the city!

The beautiful multi-colored homes of Burano

That evening we just walked around exploring the narrow alleyways and poorly lit corners. It’s part of the ambiance of Venice, the city definitely has a darker side. Everyone went on and on about how expensive Venice was, but we really didn’t find that to be the case. Rome, Florence and Venice are all equally expensive, I mean they make their money on tourists so that is to be expected. People spend more money in Venice because they are so many dazzling things to spend your money on! Murano glass, hand-painted masks and romantic gondola rides to name a few. Friday morning we woke up early to get a head start on sightseeing. We bought 12 hour water taxi passes and went to both Murano and Burano islands. Mitch and I fell in love with glass blowing 2 years ago at a Chihuly exhibition at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville, TN. That being said, Murno was amazing! We were able to watch glass-blowers at work, and marvel at everything from 6ft tall chandeliers to the smallest, most delicate flowers. From Murano we went to Burano which rather than glass, is famous for bright and fun painted homes along the canals. It is safe to say Burano is a rather picturesque site.

One of Venice’s canals

Next we took our next best alternative to a gondola ride, the public water taxi system down the Grand Canal from the top of the city at San Lucia to the bottom of the city at St. Mark’s Square. Even with the hordes of people and loud engine, the sights along the canal are awesome. One of my favorite aspects that displays that character of the city are the uniquely painted poles that are in the canals to tie the boats to. Many are painted different colored to represent the different families that own them and the corresponding building. It is awesome to see so many families still upholding the tradition that used to be an important indication of family ownership. It’s funny the slight alternatives that we’re willing to take because we’re pinching pennies, but it really works! We’ll take our romantic gondola ride when we come back and aren’t planning a wedding haha It was an awesome hour on the water and we ended at the Byzantine Basilica of St. Mark and enjoyed the chapel. Venice was a center of trade for hundreds of years and because of the Venetian merchants, Venice has a large international influence and you can see it evidently in the architecture. We proceeded to walk through the city up to the Rialto Bridge. We had been told of how beautiful it is, but even more beautiful is the view from the bridge. We shopped a bit and than caught some gorgeous views of the sun setting behind the city and Grand Canal. The sun is setting rather early this time of year so we knew we needed to get all of our daylight sightseeing done early. That evening we found a very cool wine bar, nice restaurant with reasonable prices and  bar full of touring Americans. It was a very fun and relaxing evening wandering from watering hole to watering hole in the city.

Sunset over the Grand Canal on the Rialto Bridge

On Saturday we booked our tickets home in the morning for 1:30pm and spend our last view hours visiting various museums and churches in the city. We visited the Scuola Grande di San Rocca, Accademia Galleries and the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. We were on a hunt to see Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man and because we recieved various spots that it could be located it felt a bit like a wild goose hunt. When we got a fairly confident answer that the print was at the Accademia we went and after hunting the whole museum were told that yes it was at the museum but “too precious to be on display”. Ahhh!!! 5 hours and tired feet later, Venice is lucky that we were able to hundreds of priceless works of art and Leonardo inventions along the way.

Venice isn’t the easiest city to navigate with over 400 bridges connecting some 118 islands. The best way to get around is to simply follow the few signs in hopes of finding your end goal. I’m a huge fan of these routes, actually my friend Allie and I love to get lost when visiting cities on our travels. This is great on days when you don’t have a time schedule, however we had a train to catch and walking back up to the train station Mitch and I got remarkably lost. This is rare for us, but non the less sent us sprinting across bridges and through throngs of tourists to make it to our train with 4 minutes to spare. It’s hard to believe that a mysterious city like Venice can be as real as the pictures, but it truly is. Mitch and I loved wondering through the tight streets and discovering the beauty of Italy’s Venezia.

Farmers market on the water! Awesome!

Wine Museum

3 Nov

Having spent the harvest season in the “green heart of Italy” as Umbria is loving known, Ev and Claudia thought it only appropriate to take us to the wine museum of Italy in Torgiano. Let it be known that not everyone has such gracious hosts when participating in a work-exchange program. We have been incredibly lucky to have bosses/hosts parents that take us with them to see the country and encourage our learning about Italy through experiencing it. Although the museum was initially funded and continues to be supported by a local winery, Lungarotti, the museum provides completely independent information on when and how wine came to be the delicious nectar of the gods that we enjoy today.

The Roman god of wine, Dionysus

Most likely having origins similar to humanity in the middle east, it is believed that wine was discovered by accident while trying to save grapes. After discovering the pleasant drink that crushed and fermented grapes turn into, the rest is history. All cultures from the Ming Dynasty to the Romans have cultivated grapes for the production of wine. Wine was not only used socially as we enjoy it today, but often used as a tonic or medicine and as the only pure thing to drink, as water was often contaminated.

 

Wine “flasks” shaped with holes in the middle to be strung on a rope and carried by your animal

We were able to see ancient practices of trellising the vines, presses, tanks and barrels. It was cool to see the way of trellising grapes that we still have examples of on the farm here in Todi. The practice has been given up for more practical ways of grape-growing, but for centuries vineyard owners would plant apple or other fruit trees in rows as in an orchard and than plant the vine right next to the trunk of the tree. The grape vine would grow up the tree and through the branches. It’s funny because it has the illusion of a grape tree, and was practical because you were harvesting two crops in one space, but the quality of wine was being hindered by too much shade from the leaves and only half the nutrients because sharing the soil with the tree. Most now use the wire trellising system in some capacity and have a higher quality grape.

 

Huge wine press continuously used in Italy since the 1600s!

As much as it was a wine museum, it was also a ceramics museum. The reason for all the ceramics was to feature how wine has been stored, poured and carried for thousands of years. It was magnificent to see the ingenuity of thousand year old flasks (see picture above) and what fun the artists had when making pitchers with trick holes so the wine would only come out by holding it in a very particular way. They had so many examples of these “trick” pictures. I told Mitch that being on this trip has helped me get a grasp on dates. Since the U.S. has such a recent exploration it’s easy to think that 1776 is a long time ago, and you always hear “This bla bla bla was built in bla bla bla BC” but it never registered in my head until recently that I was looking at a wine vase in perfect condition, crafted beautifully and that’s 2 thousand years old! I have finally gotten a grasp on the backward counting of BC and have a much better appreciation for everything from pottery to architecture.

Wine is amazing, just when you think you’re finally starting to get a grasp on it you visit the wine museum and your brain is flooded with information again! Wine is agricultural yet classy, fun yet sophisticated and ancient but ever-changing…basically awesome. It was very educational and enjoyable to see how wine went from an accident to grapes being the most cultivated crop in the world and it only continues to grow. This is definitely a site to see if you are planning on a trip to Italy.

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