Friday, October 31, 2014

This Weekend

Happy Halloween (which is semi-celebrated in Cortina)! In fact, this is what we saw when we walked into our favorite cafe this morning for a coffee:

There's a lot going on this weekend: aside from Halloween, Ryan's team is playing Milan tomorrow (watch here) and for those of you in the US, it's time for daylight savings! Ryan and I were curious about what people do with their extra hour on Sunday so we asked ten people, just for fun. Almost everyone, with the exception of my adventurous father-in-law, said "SLEEP IN!!!"

In Italy, our daylight savings was last weekend and it gets dark so early now! But on the plus side, the light at the end of the day in Cortina is beautiful and now we only have to wait until 4:30 for that.

Ryan has a few days off, from Sunday to Tuesday, and we're heading to Lake Bled in Slovenia. We've never been to Slovenia before (even though it's only three hours away from Cortina!), so if anyone has any tips, please let us know! We'll be back here next the meantime, enjoy your extra hour of sleep!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions: Part 4

The last question in our Frequently Asked Questions series is “so…what do you do all day?”

I think that when people hear that we live in Italy for most of the year, their thoughts go one of two ways. One, they get visions of piles of fresh pasta waiting to plunge into a pot of boiling water, an olive tree in the back yard that we pluck olives from to make olive oil whenever we need it, and little Northern Italian grandmothers who teach us how to make creamy risottos. Most people tend to think of the Italy they see in the movies, and therefore conjure up images of us sitting around all morning drinking cappuccinos in tiny cafes, chatting (and wildly gesticulating) away with our Italian friends or else they picture us snuggled up under a cashmere blanket in a wine bar all evening, sharing glasses of Prosecco and kissing.

Or, they think that no one does anything in Italy (so not true unless you go south of Rome), so what could we possibly be doing all day?!

Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but even though we live in Italy, I still have to do normal things like grocery shopping! Sorting the recycling! Taxes! The only time I drink a cappuccino in the morning is if I have to go downtown for an Italian lesson and then I’m honestly not really focused on enjoying the cappuccino because I’m desperately trying to remember the passato prossimo form of the verb “andare.”

We also don’t sit around drinking wine and eating delicious fruit tarts all afternoon, unfortunately. Usually I write in the afternoons (my first two columns in the local Steamboat newspaper are here and here, and if you are in the UK, I write a monthly column for Italia Magazine, which can also be bought at Barnes and Noble in the US, if you feel like spending 11 dollars on a magazine). 

We don’t eat homemade pasta every night for dinner because it takes me about two hours to make one batch and I HAVE been known to spill things on almost every batch I’ve ever made, causing me to have to start.all.over.

After living in Italy for the better part of four years, this is our real life, not a vacation or a wonderful fairy tale where no one has to do laundry. Which, for the most part, is really nice. Especially when we can partake in all those really Italian things that people think we do, like sitting in the sun for a whole Sunday afternoon, or wine tasting in Bolzano or skiing on a Wednesday morning in January.

Friday, October 24, 2014


The other week we had a few people over for dinner.

“Why don’t you make a pie?” Ryan suggested when I told him that I was buying pre-made fruit tarts from the pasticceria down the street.

“I HATE baking,” I replied, “And this isn’t America, no one bakes pies here!”

This is true – strudel is the closest thing to real apple pie – but luckily, one of our favorite Italian desserts requires no oven (a throw-back to our first two years here when we lived without an oven, and survived).

Enter affogato, the two-ingredient, super easy, and even more delicious dessert. All you need is a moka (and as I mentioned before, we have about five in all different sizes), or an espresso maker, some vanilla ice cream and you’re good to go.

What you do is make two espresso-cups full of espresso and pour each cup over a scoop of vanilla ice cream– easy as pie. (Ha).

PS – For those of you who have ever wondered this (Ryan), the difference between ice cream and gelato is that gelato is churned at a slower pace than ice cream, served at a warmer temperature so that the texture is softer and has a lower fat content so that the main ingredients apparently shine through more.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions: Part 3

Question three in our Frequently Asked Questions series is “do you speak Italian?”

Well… really depends on who you ask. For example, if you asked any of our Italian friends, they would say no, definitely not. If you ask Ryan, he would say that he knows all the “locker room talk” – which is not at all appropriate for every day conversation unless you want to get run out of town. If you ask me, I would say "sto imparando" which means I’m learning (and since I just wrote that in Italian, I would also say YES).

The thing is, Italian is really, really hard. One time I heard the word "proprio" used in a conversation that I overheard outside my window. In the spirit of learning Italian, I Google translated it to see what it meant.

The basic definition, I found, is "own". But that's just as a noun. As a pronoun, it means "its". As an adverb it means "just", “really”, “exactly”, “proper”, “quite”, “real”, “at all”, and “jolly”. And as an adjective, don't even get me started. There were 19 different definitions. And then I stopped Google translating things.

There are times when we feel like we know no Italian at all: at the butcher, for one, or when speaking to someone who speaks in a different dialect that what we’re used to. Then there are times when we feel practically fluent: when we go to Austria for example and have no idea how to speak German, and when we can swear at each other on the tennis court in Steamboat and no one else knows what we’re saying.

As with anything Italian, learning the language is a process that we are actively involved in through lessons, countless worksheets of verb drills, hosting Italian-only dinner parties and making daily trips to the grocery store….so I guess the answer is si e no. That’s an easy one.

PS – Here is the infuriating story of a man who learned to speak French in 17 days…showoff.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Best Things About Italy

I recently read in a magazine a list of the ten best things about Italy: Rome, the food, the wine, the people, the pace of life, the fashion and of course, the gelato all made the cut. The list, thought up by readers of the magazine, was a tiny bit generic, we thought, and wasn’t necessarily written by people who actually live in Italy. And Ryan doesn’t even like Rome that much – so we made our own list of the best things about Italy:

When you get a whole shower full of hot water. Yes, this is at the top of the list. Hot water tanks in Italy must be as small as our kitchen sink:

…because hardly ever does the hot water last more than a few minutes. Those times when you get a whole shower of steamy, scalding water to yourself? Heaven.

When you go to pay for your glass of wine and realize it was only two euro (which is approximately $2.60 USD).

The sound of cow bells in the mountains. There is something so Alpine and perfect about this, I really can’t explain it because it’s like a fairy tale.

When you sit down to lunch in the middle of the week, on a freezing cold January day, and your lunch is a steaming hot bowl of pasta.

When you turn the right corner in Venice and come across the Rialto Bridge at night:

When you have an entire conversation in Italian and don’t walk away feeling confused or embarrassed or both.

When the perfect February day comes along, after weeks of snow, and you can sit out in the sun on the top of the mountain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions: Part 2

Question two in our "Frequently Asked Questions" series is "do you drive in Italy?"

"Yes," I say.
"Ryan drives?" they ask...
"Yes, he drives too," I say.
"YOU drive?!" they exclaim.

I get where these people are coming from. Italians don't have the best driving reputations. Neither do people from Massachusetts, for that matter. It's basically the same thing, just with smaller roads.

I first learned how to drive a stick shift (which all the cars in Italy are) during our second year here. Reluctantly. We NEVER drive in Cortina because we live so close to downtown, so I didn't really see the point of learning to drive when Ryan was right there to drive me around.

"But you'll feel so FREE!" one of my girlfriends told me. Ryan wholeheartedly agreed. So one November morning (I waited until November when the population of Cortina is about 500 - to lessen the chances of hitting anyone) we went to the parking lot of the rink, stalled the car 12 times and then drove to Austria.

Ever since then, this has been our little routine (although last year during my parking lot practice run I only stalled the car two or three times, I would say). Now that we're all settled in this year, I decided it was time to get back behind the wheel. So, Ryan drove me off to the rink parking lot where he shut the car off and we switched sides.

When I started the car perfectly (and got it going with zero stalls this year) Ryan commented that this tradition was a little silly.

"Driving a stick shift is like riding a bike!" he declared. Yeah, except you don't have to go to a parking lot to practice riding a bike every time you get back on one.

"I think you've gone beyond the parking lot tradition," he said. Yeah, except that Italians LOVE tradition, and I don't feel that it's right to break this one.

So off we sped to Austria, on tiny winding roads where the speed limit is faster than most highways in America. We went to the grocery store to buy peanut butter and sweet potatoes and to the gas station where the gas is 20 cents cheaper per liter. The trip went well - the car was unscathed when we returned home, for example. Ryan claimed that I seemed anxious the whole drive, but really I was just on the lookout for large deer (there were three) and for any cars that might be passing at inappropriate times (there were five).

On the way home I switched spots with Ryan while we were stopped at a construction site because there was no way that I was going to back into our driveway which is a) on a huge slant and b) gravel - the two worst things for stick shift driving. And so, as long as Ryan can get the car in and out of the driveway for me, I'm back on the road again.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Home Sweet Italian Home

As I mentioned on Monday, Ryan and I are now settled into a new apartment. When we arrived at the end of August, our "real" apartment wasn't ready for us yet and we lived in a smaller, temporary one until NOW!

This is our fourth Italian apartment, and our favorite. I'd love to share some pictures if you'd like to see and talk a little bit about Italian apartments in general...

Here's a picture of the outside of our building:

We live in one apartment on the 2nd floor (which of course is really the first floor, but not in Italy). There are two apartments on our floor - the one we lived in for the month of September and the one we're in now. Our landlady, whose family owns the building, lives upstairs with her mother. Then there is another apartment on the lower level below us, which is empty right now, but I believe is occupied in the winter by people from Rome.

In Cortina it's very common for one family to live on one floor of a house and another family to live on another floor. Most "houses" are actually made up of three, four or even five separate apartments. People don't live in single-family homes here, the way they do in the US. It's also very common for children to live with their parents well into their twenties, or until they get married. Many of our Italian friends still live with their families and our landlady, like I said, lives upstairs with her mother.

This is our little front balcony and our door is at the end, to the left. Here's our view from the front:

In Cortina, almost every building has big, winding balconies for things like drying laundry, sitting in the sun and for window boxes! Since it's October, most of the window boxes should be down by now, but people are leaving them up longer because they had such a rainy summer here.

When you open the front door to our apartment, you walk into the hallway:

That's my closet at the end of the hall - this is the first time that Ryan and I have been able to each have our own closet and it's thrilling and spacious!

The first door to the left is the kitchen:

This is our biggest kitchen yet (the first two years we were here we didn't even have a separate kitchen - the living room and kitchen were one big room with a small table where we ate). This year we have an oven, four burners AND a dishwasher! This is the first year that we've had the kitchen trifecta - last year we had no dishwasher and the first two years, we managed to survive with no oven and only two burners! We're moving up in the world.

We have a very sunny table that's perfect for eating breakfast and drinking tea...

...and I love the pattern on our teacups. One thing that's hard about living in houses that aren't your own is that you obviously don't get to choose your own things, like dishes, pots and pans, and even things like towels and it's nice to like what you're given!

All Italian kitchens have about 8 millions things to make coffee or tea with. Here's our cabinet of them:

Only one of the coffee makers actually belongs to us - the rest were all there! We've also been known to find multiple corkscrews and many sets of tiny drinking glasses, ranging in size from small to teeny.

This year though, the thing that's really teeny is the kitchen sink:

As you can see, it's less than half of a normal-sized sink. It's also wedged into a corner of the kitchen behind the door and next to the heater, so there is very little room for washing dishes. Thank goodness for the dishwasher.

To the right of our front door is our bedroom - conveniently located right across from the kitchen which is perfect for midnight water trips.

 Not pictured in this photo are the tiny duvets that we sleep under. In Italy it's very common to sleep with two twin beds pushed together (although this is our first year with that type of bed situation) and each person gets their own duvet. It sounds like the perfect solution to the never ending stolen covers problems that many couples face, but in fact, the duvets are so tiny that they don't end up covering much of anything at all and are NOT very cozy. I would say within the next few weeks it's likely that our tiny duvets will be under the bed rather than on top, and Ryan and I will go back to fighting over the covers snuggled up under a larger, shared duvet.

The great thing, though, is that our bedroom is big enough for a dresser AND a desk - neither of which we've ever had before.

Our living room is down at the other end of the hall.

Italian couches are notoriously uncomfortable, and this one is no exception. But as you can see, it gets a lot of afternoon sun which is perfect for curling up with a TV here!

I've had the green plant in the top picture for three years now! That's actually only half of it, we had to plant the other half because it was getting out of control as vine-y plants tend to do.

Our bathroom has the other trifecta this year: a bathtub (we also have a separate shower), tons of counter space AND a washing machine. Last year our washing machine took 1.5 hours to complete the most basic cycle, but this machine is more modern with a "rapido" cycle that only takes 15 minutes!

Our back balcony is perfect for hanging the laundry out in the afternoon sun - there are almost no driers in all of Cortina, and they are very rare in Italy in general. (Last year I did a post on how to do laundry).

We're ready for this year's round of visitors!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions - Part 1

Happy Monday! I'm completely settled back into Cortina life now AND Ryan and I are settled into a brand new apartment, but more on that later in the week. I thought it would be fun to do a little mini-series for the month of October - I've noticed that when people at home in the US find out that Ryan and I live in Italy, there are four questions they always ask during the conversation that follows. So this October, I'm going to answer one question a week...

...first up: how do you like living in Italy?

I LOVE living in Italy, are you kidding me?! Next question.

Kidding, kidding.

Really, what's not to love about Italy? As I've mentioned many, many times before: you can eat pasta for lunch, you can drink Prosecco at 11 am (I don't, but I'm just saying you CAN), there are the most delicious cappuccinos in the world...Beyond the food (if you can even get beyond the food), you have the mountains if you want them, the beach if you like that, busy cities or teeny towns. There are ancient ruins, the most elaborate churches and enough museums and villas to last you for years. If you go far enough North you can speak German, if you go far enough South you can do nothing! There is the nicest leather, the best gelato, and it turns out that it was actually the Italians who invented batteries. And the typewriter!

Aside from the country as a whole, Ryan and I are living in our own little piece of Italy which we love for the people we've met and the friends we've made; for the fact that we can walk down to the pasticceria in the morning for a warm brioche and to the cafe in the evening for a quiet aperitivo.We love that we're both doing something that we love. We love our little apartments, love Christmas in Cortina and love that satisfied feeling you get when you figure out how to use the washing machine or the heater.

As Americans, living in Italy allows us to embrace a slightly different (understatement) way of life and the new cultures and traditions that comes along with it. It teaches us something new every day and always keeps us on our toes. It lets us think about things in a different way and see the world in a new light.

Of course it's hard sometimes to be so far away from our families and friends. We hate missing birthdays, weddings, holidays...we crave real Mexican food and hate the panicked feeling you get when an Italian asks you a question WAY too fast. We wonder WHY the grocery store can't be open on Sunday when I've forgotten to buy milk and WHY everything takes so long to get done - and then we sit back, gaze at the beautiful views and think about how lucky we are to live in Italy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


It's October and I am BACK! In the past two weeks, I spent a full 10 days visiting my parents which included a long weekend in Illinois for a friend's wedding, lots of cheddar cheese (of course) ...and kale, and overuse of the internet to compensate for our lack of in Cortina (which has now been fixed!). I flew back to Italy last Saturday night, Ryan picked me up in Venice on Sunday afternoon and we spent the rest of the day and night looking for George Clooney and eating delicious risotto at one of our favorite restaurants (Osteria il Milion).

Speaking of risotto, last year we did the risotto of the month and made seven different risottos....well, this year, we're switching it up to pasta. We LOVE pasta (who doesn't?) and we're in Italy - it's a match made in heaven.

Our first pasta dish this season includes pesto, shrimp, roasted cherry tomatoes and homemade linguine. I made the linguine and the pesto myself because I was feeling adventurous and because it was made on a night when Ryan had practice until 9 pm - but obviously store-bought everything works fine too!

Linguine with Pesto, Shrimp and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Serves 2

For the pasta - we made pasta in great detail here but for two people I roughly use 1 cup of flour and one egg with a little water mixed in, if needed. Or you can use enough dried pasta for two people.

For the pesto - 2 cups fresh basil, one garlic clove, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, a little salt and pepper, mixed in a food processor until smooth. Add more olive oil if needed to make smooth. Spoon into a dish and mix in 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Can be stored in the fridge for later or used right away - we make our pesto on the chunkier side.

For the shrimp and tomatoes - About 8-10 shrimp per person, washed and dried, cooked in a little olive oil. Meanwhile, coat the cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until they begin to burst open.

Split pasta between two bowls and top with pesto, shrimp and roasted tomatoes. Add extra Parmesan, salt and pepper as needed.