Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Redux

After long week of rain that ranged from drizzle to downpour, Saturday arrived with a reprieve of pink tinged tufts instead of thunder . . . we hoofed it down to the market (all downhill to the port) to gather the following:
Pears and apples are what still remain from last week's haul.  The salted baccala is already soaking for cooking on Monday (or maybe Tuesday, depending).  I wish I had a shot of the signora of Pozzuoli who gave me that wonderful twist of the wrist with finger in her cheek that means "It's really delicious."  Hope to post a shot of the baccala when cooked.  Ciao and happy Saturday to all. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How to start a Saturday!

An early morning walk to the port market, a quick cappuccino at a cafe, and home again, home again, jiggedy jig, with this lovely array.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

From Homecoming to Party Frock

Emily asked me to make her a dress for Homecoming last month.  Though I got within a couple hours' work of completing it, we decided to not rush it that day and go with Plan B.  She looked smashing in her black wrap dress that night.  
But with the invitation to a fancy birthday party at a restaurant, interest was renewed in getting this Asian style dress completed.  We had bought the pattern, McCalls 5002 three years back, so I think it's OOP.  The fabric we used was a rich brown crepe-back satin with a Chinese medallion design embellished with vines, flowers, and, if you can believe it, tiny little bats flying about.  What a perfect combination for my girl who loves a touch of goth in her look.  Emily found it in my stash, and I have no recall how it got there. (Not a good sign.)  But there is probably enough left for a skirt, which I'm sure I'll sew up in my copious free time.*
The short version, View A, which Emily chose, has piping around the mandarin collar and keyhole opening and around the vented hem, and a side zipper.  I added the cap sleeves, too, from View C.  After inserting the hemline piping and twiddling with getting the lining to fall correctly and not sag beyond the piping, I gave up, ripped out the piping, and settled for a regular hem and tacking the lining at each hem corner.  I made the piping with a silver crepe back satin scrap I got in a Freecycle acquisition back in Virginia.  
She got many compliments on it, and I think the color really suits her.  And it stood up to a night of dancing and running about at a very frolicsome event.
I suggested wearing her hair up with this and was vetoed, but I think the collar/keyhole (with vintage pearl and rhinestone button closure) would be more dramatic without hair tumbling about. . . maybe next wearing.
These pictures were taken after there had been much sitting about in the dress -- so it's slightly rumpled, but I think the fit turned out pretty well, though I should probably shorten the fisheye darts on the back next time to remove a little creasing at the waist. 

*As to copious free time, I start my first full-time job in 7 years tomorrow.  So sewing, beading, etc. will be intermittent at best in the coming months, but I'm hoping that once I get in the swing of things, I'll have the energy and focus to be creative again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why and how I make (so much) limoncello

Why? Surfeit of lemons . . . and I love it!  Of course, this photo was taken a few months back.  This time of year we only have lime impersonators on the tree.  Neapolitans love their lemons -- there are trees everywhere . . . along the streets, in the parks, and, of course, backyards.  We have five lemon trees in ours along with two tangerine and two orange trees.  It's citrus overload February through April.  I do make all kinds of other things . . . marmalade, lemon cakes, citrus salad dressings . . . to reap the bounty.  But limoncello makes the sunshine last a long, long time (unless, of course, you are Danny Devito).  I didn't post this in a timely way for yard-picked lemons, but it's good timing if you want to give limoncello for the holidays. 
Here's how I make it.  

Pam's Limoncello

1 liter bottle vodka (inexpensive is okay)
1 liter of grain alcohol or everclear*
12-15 organic Meyer lemons or Sorrento lemons as the case may be
5 cups sugar
4 cups filtered water
1 3-liter glass container (I found mine at World Market)
potato peeler (sharp one!) or sharp small knife
coffee filters
soup ladle
4-5 resealable bottles (Ikea has great ones)

First, pour both types of alcohol into the 3-liter glass container.  Wheeeeew! Don't get intoxicated from the fumes, especially since you will be using a sharp object now.

Use a sharp potato peeler or a small sharp knife to remove the zest or yellow skin of your lemons.  Minimize as much as possible the pith or the white underskin on your peels because the pith will cause the brew to be bitter.  Place peels in the alcohol as you work.  NOTE: Above you see the peeling was done after these lemons were juiced.  NO juice is used to make limoncello, just the zest.  I peeled for this batch post lemonade juicing -- usually we do it the other way around: zesting for limoncello first; juicing for lemonade next. I recommend that order for maximum peel and less pith.  

After depositing all the peel in the alcohol, seal the glass container and put it in a dark cabinet.  Forget about it for two weeks, four weeks, six weeks -- I've never gone longer than that.  Of course, you may want to unseal it after two weeks and take a whiff.  It should smell very lemony and have a wonderful clear yellow hue -- liquid sunshine! One of the ways to see if your distillation is ready is to fish out a peel with a fork and snap it in half with your fingers.  If it breaks like a slightly soggy potato chip, the peel has given up its essence. 

Put the 5 cups of sugar and 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Stir to make sure the syrup is clear and turn off the heat.  Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.  Place a colander over your pot and pour the alcohol into the colandar so that all the peels are collected in the colander and the alcohol mixes with the syrup.  Stir to ensure the two are completely mixed.
Now it's time to filter the brew into bottles.  It's important to filter to create a clear brew.  I was given a bottle that wasn't filtered, and there's a tendency for browning if you don't get out the sediment.  Ick!  Because it takes time for the limoncello to pass through the filter, I like to do two bottles at once (and change the filter at least twice for each bottle).  Place a funnel spout into a bottle and line the funnel with wet unbleached coffee filter (wetting the filter first decreases loss of precious liquid sunshine!).  Begin ladling the limoncello into the funnel.  When the liquid starts to slow or stop passing through, change the filter.  
After every precious drop has found its way into a bottle,  it's time to stand back and admire your work.  

But you are not finished yet!  Proper brewing requires more setting time.  Place your bottles in a cool, dark place and let them rest for at least two weeks.  Then it's time to put one in the freezer . . . and have at the ready for all kinds of special events, like watching Project Runway, getting the kids to bed, and, my favorite, a nice sunset.


* I understand there are some puritanical places (usually where moonshine is made) that don't sell grain alcohol, use 2 liters of vodka in this case.  The Neapolitans use ALL grain alcohol (which is twice the proof of vodka).  I found this voltage a bit too high for me.  Of course, when using the pure vodka concoction, you should pour yourself a double. ; )

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Our family spent the long weekend in Paestum . . . visiting the beach, a winery, and the awe-inspiring Greek ruins from 6th century B.C.  We spent a whole morning exploring the extensive site which holds the remains of a town and three amazing temples, all three are now thought to be dedicated to female divines (always love that), specifically Athena and Hera.  We were early enough to have the site almost to ourselves . . . such a treat.

Just like the ruins of the Mayan, these amazing structures were abandoned and left untouched for centuries in marshland, until they were rediscovered and the site became an archeological attraction in the 1600s.  It is believed the city had waned and eventually was abandoned because of the encroachment of marshland and malaria as well as attacks by Saracen pirates during the 12th century A.D.

We spent a long time walking around the ruins that showed the further development of the Greek settlement as a Roman town,  with such features as an amphitheater, a bouleuterion, and public baths.
In the museum, we saw that some parts of one of the temples friezes included the exploits of Hercules . . .
so Quinn gave a little of the hero flavor to the site.
Of course, these notable features were easier to imagine because we had seen the well preserved examples at Pompeii and Herculaneum.  In Paestum, other than the temples, most of the remains exist only as stone outlines.
Felicity, a well-travelled American Girl Doll, joined us that morning.
But the temples are astonishing, unbelievably majestic survivors.  Inevitably, we spent much time just circling these massive testimonies to the divine industry of the Greeks -- Athena and Hera were well heralded here!

There is also a museum that houses many artifacts from the temples and the nearby necropoli, including the frescoed interior of a tomb with a diver, supposedly symbolizing the plunge from this world to the afterlife.  The metaphor was evocatively rendered.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Inspirations . . . serendipity . . . synergy

I just thought I'd share what's been going on this morning . . . it's hot here in Naples, so if you want to turn on the oven, you better do it early.  I've been smelling wafts of ripe banana and ripe peach in the kitchen since Sunday when we loaded up on fruit at the market.  The peaches were a mix of ripe and ripening, but the bananas had been around for a week and were on the cusp.  So before 7 a.m., I got a banana bread in the oven, using my current favorite recipe from the Apples for Jam cookbook.
I love the two Tessa Kiros cookbooks that I have -- they are full of great recipes presented in the most charming and visually appealing manner.  The other one I have is Falling Cloudberries.  She doesn't order her recipes in a conventional manner -- Apples for Jam is divided by color and Falling Cloudberries has a section devoted to the countries of her family's heritage and those she has lived in, ranging from Finland to South Africa.  The format of both books make them fun to peruse and find inspiration . . . inverting the usual order for me when deciding what to cook.  It's usually ingredients first -- what can I make with them?  In the case of Kiros' cookbooks, it's engaging recipe first, let me get what I need for that. I've had such success and been so intrigued by her recipes that they are worth a special trip to the store.
A few weeks back, I had come upon her banana bread recipe when thumbing through to the oil spattered page with her fabulous vegetable risotto recipe. At the time, more fragrant bananas were importuning upon me, and the resulting loaf was a hit.  One great thing about the recipe is that it calls for a 12-inch bread pan . . . so you get a nice long loaf that lasts through many between-meal slicings by family members.  This particular loaf made its welcome appearance by 8 a.m. for Quinn and Lily's breakfast, tweaking little noses awake with a marvelous cinnamon fragrance.  One of the best alarm clocks around.

After breakfast, I enlisted Lily in helping me make a peach pie with this very easy recipe.  I do use Pillsbury pie dough rather frequently.  It's great to have in the freezer for just such exigencies as peaches in danger of succumbing to severe brown spots.  We sorted through the crate of 24, placing the still unblemished ones in a bowl, and then got to work.  Lily was especially keen because I've been reading James and the Giant Peach to her at night.  So conversation rattled on about singing centipedes, kind spiders and ladybugs, and seagulls.  We made a lattice top for the pie with my little pinking cutter -- Lily loves to cut and weave the dough. Once the pie was in the oven, we had to carry on with James' adventures.  A few more chapters and -- voila!  Two home-baked goodies and the oven turned off before 10 a.m.  That's a successful start to the day!
Yesterday, I was reading one of my favorite blogs: Soulemama.  Amanda, the author of two books on family creativity, wrote about transforming cast-off skirts into new attire for her young daughter.  And this is just exactly what I do!

Amanda had repurposed her own skirts for this, but this spring I used two stockpiled vintage finds to make new skirts for Lil.
Notice the 25-cent sticker still on the gored skirt made from a lovely vintage floral linen! I picked it up at a garage sale in Wisconsin (so about 10 years ago!).  The Indian border print (complete with beading and sequins) was sent by my MIL for Emily, but was a tad too tight.  I use the same method Amanda uses . . . so check out her blog if you have a little girl in need of new duds for school (or for twirling as Amanda notes).  These recycled skirts have been in frequent "rotation" on Lily this summer as she loves pull-on clothes (who doesn't!)  As you can see, they are perfect for splashing and spinning around in unexpected downpours in the summer heat!

Next entry -- how a 12-year-old boy customizes some thrift store shirts for his back-to-school wardrobe, using outgrown t-shirts and spray paint!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Market Bounty and a Bag

Sunday morning usually means off to the flea market, but even the flea market vendors celebrate Ferragosto -- or the month-long, languorous holiday Italians celebrate in August.  But the fish and produce market at the port is open everyday but Monday -- even in August.  There is no dolce vita without the bounty of the garden. So off we went this morning to stock up veggies, bread, and lots of fruit.

I took my new "market bag" I just finished with leavings from my latest spate of pillow sewing.  I didn't use a pattern, just eyeballed the shape, cut a matching lining in lavender-colored oxford cloth.  I put some elastic in the side edges to make it more secure.  It's roomy enough to be a pool/beach bag.  The drawback on its size is that I need to dig for stuff, but I did add two interior pockets so I can keep cellphone and wallet at beck and call.
The shoulder straps are recycled from an old parachute harness Jon gave me years ago -- I think before we had kids (!) and the buckle is vintage bakelite (probably an eBay purchase, can't remember).  The fabric was given to me by my mother-in-law when she was clearing out her stash many moons ago, and I immediately loved how tropical yet modern it is.  I think she picked it up when she lived in Greenwich Village in the 1960s.  It came in two half-yard pieces that were plenty for creating two pillows and my "market" bag.  Here are those little numbers and their fellows:

At the market (sorry no pictures, left the camera home), I picked up squash blossoms (along with peaches, plums, tomatoes, parsley, bread, cookies, and cheese).  I had been meaning to give fiori di zucchini a try since last summer.  Since these were already a bit wilted when I bought them, I didn't want to wait for dinner.  So squash blossoms for lunch it was (made with this recipe). I don't think using Heineken in the batter is traditional, but nobody commented.  

I made some bruschetta and cut up a pineapple to round out the meal and we had pranzo al fresco on our patio.  I love having a proper lunch with the whole family at the table.  It makes the day feel so much more like a  vacation.  
Buona giornata!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Drink Coffee * Eat * Love

I saw Eat Pray Love last night in a theater full of women from the Naples Overseas Spouses Club. Now, I confess, I couldn't wade farther than thirty pages into this book, but I'll let it go at that.  The movie was a sensuous travel feast much like an old issue of Gourmet magazine (oh Lillian Langseth-Christensen, how you beguiled me with distant places in my teens).  As to chick-flick requirements, I'm not really susceptible to Javier Bardem's charms, but James Franco certainly compensated.
There were many moments of hilarity during the Italian episode that might almost qualify as insider jokes for this particular audience.  Perhaps the greatest outburst of laughter occurred at the opening of the Napoli sequence when a little girl on a fire escape accurately portrayed a certain less-than-welcoming attitude one comes across in this town.
I thought I'd give a little promo, though, to the Roman coffee bar where Julia meets her Swedish sidekick for her Italian adventures.  The Neapolitan pizza place, Antica Pizzeria da Michele (I'm going off recall), gets full credit in the movie with long camera sweep of its front awning, but the coffee bar is only recognizable to those who discern the telltale sunflower yellow packages.  They reveal that it must be Sant 'Eustachio's.  My friend Lea Giovanniello brought me there twice, and I thank her heartily.  I've just gotten down to my last grind from the bag I bought on my last visit to Rome -- which, looking on the bright side, means I have to go to Rome again soon. The coffee is so rich and lacking bitterness that even a froth devotee like me will take a few restorative sips before I pour in my milk.
Here's my morning cup in the polka-dot mug that's stood me well each morning for 15 years . . .

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer sewing and brief Roman holiday

Taking a little break from beads and jewelry to go back to my first love -- sewing.  I've never really stopped , but it got crowded out for about a decade with, oh, parenting, work, and a hobby that didn't require machine maintenance.  Home dec sewing always stayed in the mix, but now I'm back to making clothes.  Though not for me (yet).  I've got a few things piled up to tackle, but first were two projects for the girls -- a dress for Lil and an Anna Sui top for Em.  The Lily dress turned out well -- the Anna Sui top less so, though Emily likes it.  Let's focus on Lily's dress for this small entry.  It's McCalls 2880 -- which may be out of print -- it's a surplice bodice and gathered skirt.  I used a combination of Heather Ross prints -- a mermaid one on top and an aquatic octopus one on the bottom in apricot tones with a little orange rickrack to snazz up the top.  Lily wore it the day after it was finished to go pick up Quinn from his visit with friends in Rome -- so we'll have a little Roman holiday sewing expo here with some brother shots included.
This was taken on the train ride up to Rome.  We took the local which is a bit longer but much more to see (and cheaper) than the Eurostar.

We met Quinn with our friends the Giovaniellos who were preparing to return to Virginia after 20 months at the embassy -- it was a bittersweet day since their departure was imminent.
We walked through much of central Rome, eating gelato, people watching, seeing a few churches, and making a stop in Piazza Navona -- mostly killing time until the "Bone Church" reopened.  Both my kids wanted to see the Cappuchin monks' meditation on mortality --  which paradoxically is called the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
It is seven ghastly rooms festooned with human bones -- trust me, it gets redundant. It has become quite popular on the German Christian youth group circuit . . . long lines of them both morning and afternoon in matching hats, scarves, or t-shirts (one group singing what sounded like "My knapsack on my back" -- seriously!).  When I first visited in my early twenties, there was only me, my trusty travel companion, and a cantankerous monk in cassock glaring at us.  But I have to admit these monks were quite creative with spinal columns.  No photography is allowed, so you'll have to trust me on that  . . . or wait, I found a Bone Church posting by someone who ignored all the signs.

Then we had a little time in Villa Borghese park where the kids enjoyed a little amusement ride.

A posed shot with bougainvillea in the park.
(Quinn's has an almost-teen's reluctance to pose for photos)
Lily, on the other hand, loves to strike a pose!
Tomorrow, okay, soon, some posts on the 7 pillows, Anna Sui top, and shoulder bag (oh yeah, I did  sew something for myself), and my limoncello recipe and our grilled pizza adventures.  
Ciao-ciao amici!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back in the (reupholstered) saddle!

Yes, I've neglected my blog FOR MONTHS, and I have no good reason other than . . . laziness? reticence? diffidence?  Maybe the first with the other two liberally sprinkled in.  But as I've become more and more invested as a blog follower . . . I've decided to get hopping here again.  With two kids home all summer (and one working!), I've been pretty consumed with parenting, but as it is, I also have been getting our family room out of the doldrums and kitted out a bit.  I sewed some new pillows and have a few more planned. But my big transformation is the "found-on-the-side-of-the-road" chair brought over from Virginia.  If you can believe it, it was pristine when I found it set out for the taking on the sidewalk of a recently sold house.  It had practically new beige ticking upholstery underneath a brocade slipcover from fancy schmancy and defunct furniture store Domain.  But after four years of hard usage this is what it looked like:
I don't think this picture even does the grime justice!  Of course, I've already taken a hammer to it in this photo.  

What I wanted was something more like this:

Wow! Right?!  It's from the London shop Squint Limited.  I can't tell you how many times I've gone there to oggle the sofas, chairs, chaises, etc. But, the shop is in London and, well, chair prices start in the neighborhood of 3000 British pounds.  So I'm not in the geographic or the financial neighborhood of Squint. 
I had never done a proper reupholstery job -- a few chair seat recovers, some slipcover action, but nothing that required an electric staple gun.  And then I purchased an electric staple gun. Now nothing stood in the way of the Squintification of above chair -- no power tool and certainly not a lack of  fabric!
Anyone who knows me, I mean really knows me, knows about my large and ever-growing fabric stash.  Stash is really not the right word for it.  This cannot be stashed . . . it has to be stored in dedicated bins and closets -- occasional pruning has to occur.  It's more like an inventory than a stash. It includes fabrics that belonged to my grandmother, a couple of bins of upholstery (!) samples from the decorator shop my mother's friends shut down in the '90s, freecycle acquisitions, garage sale acquisitions, proper fabric shop purchases, mail order, ebay, thoughtful parcels from my mother-in-law.  What can I say?  I'm a fabric magnet (don't use the word addict).  
This surfeit of fabric, of course, makes this project even more apropos for a peripatetic creative type like me.  I took as my starting point this Heather Ross "Far, Far, Away" unicorn print (I interfaced it to give it upholstery heft since it's a soft cotton woven):
Then I kept loosely to a palette of green, yellow, orange, and pink (with a little blue, too).  I stacked up the fabric bits, mixing and matching as bins were dumped out all over the living room (to my husband's dismay).  Then I painstakingly removed the old fabric from the chair, disassembled the pieces to use as a pattern, then pieced each section.  I was impatient, so each section went on as it was pieced, and bit by bit, the chair came together . . . but no photos were taken of the process.  I'm a hapless blogger.   Until the end!  VOILA!  Here she is, my Squintified chair in her many sided glory: front



A little wonky in some parts and then the use of pom-pom trim -- not something you'll find on a real Squint chair.  But, it certainly neatens up first-time upholstery glitches. All in all, what a chair revival! And now I have my sight set on this little piece.  My trusty power stapler is ready . . . but it's button upholstery . . . am I?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hiking the volcano's rim

Vesuvius is the long-surviving representative of a Neapolitan family.  Dormant but still viable, it belonged to a daisy chain of volcanoes that arced around the Bay of Naples (long before Naples existed).  I live close to several craters here in Pozzuoli, including one that dependably belches sulfurous steam for the tourist trade.  The Solfatara infuses our mornings with its potent breath . . . but I've grown accustomed, if not fond, of its redolant a.m. greeting.

Another large crater was transformed by the Americans into a recreation facility for those stationed here after World War II. It is named for Admiral Robert Carney.  Still operating, and now also open to Italian membership, the private park offers an impressive array of recreational facilities.  Carney Park crater is large enough to accommodate a complex of sports fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, rustic cabins, a pool, and a golf course all nestled in its bowl.  

The wooded interior sides of the crater are crisscrossed with paths that lead up to the rim.  It's a steep ascent, steeper if you try to go straight up a rain gully (as we did last year when we didn't know about the trails).  But the effort is rewarded with a breathtaking panorama at the summit.  Spring weather inspired us to make a second ascent yesterday. Though we took the more sedate trail route this time, it was still almost one and a half hours to the summit.
  Once you reach the crest, you can't help but draw a breath of awe.  The vista encompasses the islands of Ischia and Procida (on a clear day, Capri, too); Lago d'Averno (on the bottom of which Virgil believed was the mouth of Hades);  the bay surrounded by the towns of Pozzuoli, Bacoli, and Baia; Baia Castle; and blue, blue Mediterranean to the horizon line.

We were lucky enough to surface at the site of a ruin.  Quinn and Lily spent quite a while exploring it.  A monastery, a hermit's retreat, a nobleman's scenic keep . . . we couldn't discern.  But the kids' imaginations were definitely in overdrive.

There were many chestnut shells along the path, wild cyclamen and ferns unfurling.   I thought I spotted wild fennel, but a nibble proved me wrong.  Oh well.  

But we rewarded ourselves amply after our descent with a big pizza lunch at one of our favorite places here in Pozzuoli: Zona A Pizzeria.  Jon swears the special "Zona A" pizza, featuring prosciutto, large shavings of Asiago cheese, and a healthy, post-bake sprinkling of the green rugola, is his favorite in  Italy.  
Needless to say, the potent combination of volcano hike and pizza feast led to lovely afternoon snoozes when we returned home.  A perfect way to spend a sunny primavera Saturday!