Tuesday, December 22, 2015


A few weeks ago, I thought to myself, "Should I work on a new holiday gift guide?" My answer was resounding "Nah" (as resounding as a "nah" can be), because I thought the 2014 holiday gift guide covered pretty much everything, especially with the suggestion of a labor-free staycation for mothers that I hope Mr Bee is considering.

Then I remembered there's a product so pretty, so Italian, so dear to me, and so reasonably priced that I have to recommend it to you for this holiday season. I'm talking about the caffettiera, or moka pot, the wonderful contraption that gives you a wonderful, strong coffee in minutes right from your stovetop. Coffee made with a moka pot is similar to espresso in its dosage (roughly) and instantaneous kick, and it is served in an espresso cup, sometimes with one or two teaspoons of sugar and/or a dash of milk. I believe every Italian household owns a few moka pots in various sizes, and drinks moka coffee first thing in the morning, after lunch, and with friends when they drop in for a visit.

There are many beautiful moka designs from different brands, but my favorite is the aluminum Bialetti pot patented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti and carrying the classic logo of the "little guy with a mustache" that you can see on the right. (Now that I think about it, they could have found a more inventive name for an Italian mascot.)

Here is everything you need to know about your moka pot once you decide to gift it or in case you become a lucky giftee. Read on.


You can find Bialetti pots online and at many Italian specialty stores. For a beginner, I'd recommend to start small with a 1- or 3-cup moka pot (around $25 for the latter) and a packet of replacement gaskets ($3.80 on Amazon). I'd also recommend enriching your gift with a bag of ground coffee, ideally from Lavazza or Illy moka or espresso ground (but once you get addicted, Café Bustelo at CVS purchased at dawn will also do). If you're dealing with a coffee lover, I would visit your local coffee roaster and ask for a dark or medium roast ground a little finer than drip coffee but a little coarser than espresso. And in case you're dealing with someone very special, you could gift a set of espresso cups, too.


A moka pot needs to be thoroughly cleaned before it can produce proper coffee. Wash the three main parts (see diagram below) with warm water ONLY, then run the pot with only water for 3-4 times to remove any protective residue. I know you don't know how to use it yet, but I guess you'll have to read the entire post.


1. Fill the bottom container with filtered water up to the internal valve.

2. Insert the funnel and fill it with ground coffee. You can make a small pyramid here, but in any case, NEVER press the coffee. Remove any ground coffee on the filter rim.

3. Screw on the top container. No need to apply a ton of strength here, but do a decent job so your coffee doesn't come out from the sides.

4. Place the moka on a low heat until the coffee emerges and fills the top container. If you're in another room, you'll be alerted by your moka's happy gurgling. DO NOT leave the coffee boiling any longer: It will taste burnt and awful, and you run the risk of ruining the gasket.

5. Pour your coffee, doctor with sugar and/or milk (or sambuca, or grappa) if this is what you're into, and drink.


Maintenance for a moka pot is very easy. Wash the three main parts of the moka pot after each use with warm water, never with soap or detergent. You can use a stiff plastic brush to remove stubborn residue. Leave the parts to dry on a rack. Done!

Every six months, or whenever necessary, disassemble the moka and wash each part thoroughly making sure the filter is clean and the gasket is clean AND still soft. Run water through the moka chimney and make sure the valve is clean. If the small metal piece sticking out from the valve doesn't pop in when pressed, it means that there's coffee residue that needs to be cleaned. To remove limescale buildup, fill the bottom container with water and a little vinegar or lemon juice and let it boil for 10 minutes or more.

Replace gasket and filter as necessary, usually when they have become irreparably dirty, hard, or when coffee starts to sputter or comes out in only in part.

To read a poignant reflection on the diverging attitudes towards coffee for Italians and Americans, read Slow Food/Fast Coffee.

Monday, December 14, 2015





You know you want them.
As Christmas approaches, I find myself spending all of my evenings at home compulsively folding origami Santas. (Do you remember them? I wrote about there in last year's holiday gift guide.) This is the only craft I have spontaneously and joyfully taken on in my entire life, and if anybody has any insight on the possible significance of this strange proclivity, please let me know.

As I was losing myself in the folds of my red origami paper once again last night, it hit me: Why don't I share the joy of origami Santas with you, my dear readers? It's not like I'm the only one who likes Xmas decorations, right?

Without further ado, welcome to Dead Chef's first holiday giveaway! 

From tonight until Saturday, December 19, 2015, 10:00pm EST, you will have a chance to score a baker's dozen origami Santa clumsily folded by me, Dead Chef.

In order to participate, just leave a comment here or on my FB page (be nice), and I will commence a true vintage drawing: I will transcribe your name on a piece of paper, fold it shut, throw into a bowl with the others, and then draw a random winner in the presence of another human being that might very well end up being my husband, Mr Bee.

The winner will be announced on Sunday on this blog and on my FB page.

So, what do you say?


*Sorry, Italy. Next year I'll think about a giveaway before mid-December, and you'll be included.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


As I've previously admitted here, I am obsessed with the new science of gut bacteria. In the past 5+ years, scientists have begun to suggest that our intestinal bacterial flora might have a far more significant influence on our health that anyone could have previously imagined, and its unbalances might contribute to a variety of ailments such as asthmaobesity, and diabetes. Many even argue that gut bacteria may strongly influence the brain in how we think and feel, playing "a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders", according to this article published in the Atlantic a few months ago.

The idea that gut bacteria might dictate brain function is simply astonishing to me. Microscopic organisms in our bellies telling us how to feel and think? Isn't that amazing? Why have we never thought about this before? After all, it makes perfect sense. There is an average of 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut (yeah, trillions), and it's perfectly reasonable that they would contribute to a lot more than the occasional bout of diarrhea due to shitty takeout food.

Think it about this way: Imagine an alien race decided to solve climate change on Earth while ignoring the role of the humans living on it. I can see them trying to refreeze the Earth's ice caps with their alien technology, while us humans keep driving SUVs all over the place with the AC blasting and melting everything all over again. The lesson is, don't ignore the parasites.

Gut bacteria
Think about it: You can't spell "colonize" without "colon".

What truly excites me about all this, however, are the sci-fi implications. I see gut bacteria as alien colonists, acting as a shadow government for the brain. It reminds me of The Matrix. We were all fascinated by that movie because it spoke to us about a life under totalitarianism with a collective loss of consciousness, but what if the true puppeteers in our lives were not corporations and secret evil interests, but these microscopic prehistoric beings traveling inside food and hiding in plain sight along the creases and folds of our bowels?

And the situation gets even more complicated, because gut bacteria varies wildly and can be altered by diet, illnesses, and medication. So we could see bacteria as transient populations with their own history and culture and whose fortune is determined by the capricious lifestyle of their hosts. At times they might be blessed by a glass of kefir. Another time they are attacked by a foreign bacterial army living in a poorly-reheated clam chowder. And finally they are get exterminated by an apocalyptic run of antibiotics.

The possibilities are endless, and I could even go for a psychological angle. Because if gut bacteria can really influence our actions and tell our brain to make us depressed or happy, then I'll even argue that gut bacteria might even end up being our collective unconscious, the Jungian idea of a primordial wisdom nested just below our consciousness (How far below? Right under our belly button but above our sphincter, apparently.)

So, that unique, beautiful mark of humanity and its deepest moral compass which many religions call the Soul? Scientists may still be silent about this, but I'm betting it's made of yogurt.

Carl Gustav Jung
So Dead Chef has a post with a picture of Jung.
This blog can't be that stupid, then, can it?

Netflix suggestion: This whole thing reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of Futurama, titled Parasites Lost, in which Fry eats an egg salad sandwich from a vending machine and gets a worm infestation that makes his body indestructible and his brain super intelligent (please, please, please watch it on Netflix, series 3, episode 2).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


The Italian theory of evolution
I was born in the mid-70s in Italy, which means my childhood was spent during the economic boom of the 80s (Alpine vacations in winter AND summer) and my adolescence and young adult years in the cozy and undemanding arms of modern technology. Between a game of Simon, a text message, and a Napster download, I never found the time or reason to question whether my body truly represented the latest model of an evolutionary process started 15 million years ago (I'm talking about human evolution). Given how quickly I could recover from hangover, I just assumed it did.

Everything changed after my pregnancy and the birth of MiniBee, experiences that compelled me to test the process of reproduction, which I believe biology still considers the main goal of human existence. My first stance towards the experience was one of great curiosity and excited anticipation, but after only a year that stance had turned to one of bewilderment. I have to say, human reproduction really doesn't seem as well-planned as popular science wants us to believe. The so-called "miracle of birth" seems more to me like a half-assed experiment, an unconvincing and unconvinced attempt at evolutionary success, a random dart thrown drunkenly at the future in an attempt to somehow cope with the harsh demands of natural selection. Perhaps this shouldn't surprise me, but Mother Nature has revealed herself to be just like any other parent: godlike and omnipotent at first, but ultimately just a mom, tired and overwhelmed, with eyes filled with disillusionment. I can't help but to imagine our confrontation.

ME: "Mom, was this really the best plan your could think of? Stuffing women with a 9-lb meatloaf that has to come out of their vaginas?"
MOTHER NATURE: "Oh, stop it. You have no idea how busy I was, and how hard I had to work. Do you think humans are the only ones I have to take care of? You don't hear the lemmings complain, and I have them jumping off a fucking cliff. And remember, your father is never around."
ME: "My father?!?"
MOTHER NATURE: "You humans call him God, which is frankly kind of rich, given that he left me completely alone to take care of you, the house, and all the animals."
ME: "Are you telling me that God exists?!? Where is He now?"
MOTHER NATURE:"I told you a million times already, but you never, ever listen. He left. He made this world in six days, this wonderful world of whales and gemstones and instincts and quantum particles. That was just one of his projects back in the day. Did you think he was going to just magically settle down and help me raise you all? No, of course not! He's too much of an artist to be a parent. Mr Know-It-All needs to create! And I was stupid enough to support him... Now leave me alone. I need a smoke."
ME: "Do you smoke cigarettes?!?"
MOTHER NATURE: "Are you crazy? With those prices? I'll just inhale some of the carbon dioxide you kids have kindly provided me with. Now leave me alone! It's November, for fuck's sake. Shouldn't you start collecting acorns for you den?"
ME: "Are you talking about squirrels?"
MOTHER NATURE: "Whatever."

But I still have lots of questions! Well, I have three actually.


Wooly mammoths needs to be cooked to
a 145F temp for safe consumption.
Right from the bat, women are saddled with a punitively long pregnancy during which they are at increased risk for listeria (18 times more likely than general population, according to this). What is the purpose of this immune weakness? Women are growing another human inside their bodies: bone, muscle, brain tissue and whatever else is there. Shouldn't their immune system be at its strongest? And mostly, shouldn't they be able to eat whatever they want, raw or cooked, especially when their strongest instinct is to eat any and everything they see or even imagine?


The human advantage and a tricky storage problem.
Okay, you know this. We humans have developed massive heads to contain our massive brains, and we are born basically premature otherwise we would never make it out of the birth canal from the neck up. This makes human birth more difficult and painful than for most animals, and results in human newborns who can't literally do anything. A foal will stand and walk right after birth, but babies take weeks just to focus enough to see there's more to our faces than a nose. Still, I have to wonder how a species who has to told their tiny babies for one or two years or more was able to survive this long. How is a woman supposed to gather (as in "hunt and gather") with a child constantly attached to her?


First they're screaming and now they're drawing on the walls?
When is this day going to end?
Why do children cry so much, and so loudly? This doesn't make any sense to me. Why on earth would an insignificant, tiny, clawless, non-poisonous being call so much attention on itself? If I were a cave woman, hidden in said cave, freaked out and exhausted after birth and waiting for someone to deliver my Paleo dinner, the last thing I want is for my baby to advertise its juicy presence to all saber-tooth predators for miles around. And babies do not scream only in their infancy. In fact, their loudest and most irrational cries happen in toddlerhood and early childhood, when I would think a mother would want to leave her cave to go back to gathering (as in "hunting and gathering"). Why can't babies simply whimper quietly and adorably like newborn kittens? How great that would be?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Torta di riso alla Carrarina - Tuscan rice cake with rum and custard

My mom is visiting from Italy. Her presence has of course been a great help with my two children, but has also turned into an opportunity for me to rediscover old recipes–both from my childhood and from the land of my grandparents. My maternal grandfather was from a tiny town in the north of Tuscany called Montignoso, an adorable little place that I remember fondly for the cute-as-a-button farm behind my grandparents' house (bunnies everywhere) and the amazing food we got to eat everyday. My favorite memories concern a fantastically oily and delicious farinata (a simple triumph of chickpea flour and olive oil), the soft and sweet donuts filled with pastry cream called bomboloni, and the torta di riso alla Carrarina, a custardy rice cake infused with rum that I would savor in slow, meditative bites in a state of generalized gratefulness. 

It is this rice cake that my mother and I decided to prepare a few weeks ago. We used the recipe from our relatives in Tuscany and we set to work right away, following the original recipe to the letter in excited and deferential expectation. Two hours later we were both kneeling in complete awe before the most beautiful and perfumed cake we had ever baked in our lives. The top of the cake was perfectly caramelized, almost brûlée, and smelled of rum and lemon and vanilla like a mythical Arcadian paradise. We then tentatively tasted it, and there it was, the wonderful physical manifestation of my childhood's torta di riso in all of its starchy, custardy, and boozy glory. The rice worked as a soft crust, and above it was the perfectly firm custard that gently yielded to the pressure of our spoons. It was a complete success, with a touch of divine apparition.

But as much as this success made me proud, there is the dark side of this story. A week later, I decided to make the rice cake again for friends, and I had the gumption to add my "personal touch" by cutting the original amount of sugar and substituting rum with bourbon. I mixed the ingredients quickly, distractedly, arrogantly–leaving some unbroken lumps of egg white in the custard ("It'll work fine"), and threw the cake into the oven. When it finally came out, an unsettling feeling grabbed the pit of my stomach, telling me that the gods of Italian food had decided to punish my insolence. The surface was not as caramelized as the first time, and the lumps of egg white had solidified independently into an unappealing reminder of scrambled eggs. When I finally tasted the cake (in the company of my guests, no less), I had to admit to myself with great shame that the bourbon was almost undetectable, and that the lack of sugar had allowed the eggs to dominate in flavor. It was a half sweet, eggy frittata with a base of lumpy rice, a grotesque imitation that filled me with shame and my guests with useless cholesterol.

I apologized to my friends and family for the botched rice cake, and then closed myself into my confessional pantry—my altar to Italian food—and promised to never again take lazy initiatives with perfect Italian classics. No rash substitutions, no presumptuous subtractions, no distractions. Just humble, grateful respect. And you, reader, should do the same.

Read about another of my baking fails in Happy Easter, Bitter Memories.
Torta di riso alla Carrarina - Tuscan rice cake with rum and custard
A slice of the good torta di riso.


1/2 C short-grain white rice (Arborio or Carnaroli, but I used sushi rice and it worked fine)
5 eggs
1 1/4 C sugar + a tbsp for dusting the pan
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon (zest and juice)
2 C whole milk
1/3 C rum
a pinch of salt

  • Cook the rice in 2 cups of lightly-salted water for no more than 10 minutes. Rice should be al dente. 
  • Drain the rice and let cool.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Butter a 10'' cake mold and dust it with sugar.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and juice, milk, and rum. Use a spoon for this, and make sure all of the egg white is broken to avoid a scrambled-egg top (no big lumps, just very small patches).
  • Add the rice to the mix. It will be very liquid.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake mold.
  • Carefully transfer the cake into the oven, and bake for one hour, or until custard has set and looks brûlée like in the picture above (do not skip the browning!). If you're using a glass mold, it will take you up to 90 minutes.
Serve cake lukewarm or at room temperature, or the next day (it really shines after resting for a bit).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Up until five years ago, there was only one baby in my life, and she was cuddled and adored beyond imagination. I had hundreds of pictures of her in my phone, I would cry when I had to leave her home during my Italian trips, and I made sure she was raised a classy lady, exposed to the best Italian cheeses. Mr Bee and I nicknamed her "Most-Kissed Dog", and one night I even got on my knees and asked her to marry me. That baby is now 7 years old, and her name is Trixie: She's my crazy pitbull mix.

After the birth of my two boys, the level of attention that Trixie was used to plummeted in a way that I'm not proud of (I'm not going to bore you with details, but my sentiments are perfectly expressed by this spot-on apology by The Ugly Volvo). Nonetheless, Trixie will always have a huge and special place in my heart that I want to celebrate today.

Trixie is the most hyper and affectionate dog you'll ever encounter, a canine tornado of love whose only goal in life is to French kiss all of our guests. Once she calms down from her bursts of PDA (it might take hours with our dog-loving friends), she will curl up into a ball right next to you, wagging her tail every now and then to show you that her love is real. And given my food-centric view of the world, the first time I saw her curl up to sleep, the only thing I could think of is that she looked like the most amazing marble bundt cake.

The "donut" position gets tighter in winter.
I started researching recipes to replicate Trixie's beautiful, dark brindle coat as closely as possible, and that's when I found that I could get pretty close with a standard marble cake, including one that used used cocoa and apple butter. However, I wanted a more distinctive flavor, so I replaced the apple butter with pumpkin butter, and then reworked the amounts of butter, sugar, and yogurt so that the cake would be rich and sugary to my taste (universal tip: more butter, less sugar). I then doubled the amounts to make a bundt cake. 

After several attempts, I can say that my current Trixie Cake is perfect: a soft, fragrant cake that all of the talking men in my house have on permanent request for birthdays, holidays, Sundays... you get the idea. The pumpkin butter really comes through and pairs very nicely with the cocoa, and the yogurt makes it moist and soft as I like it. The visual effect is a perfect representation of Trixie's brindle coat, with reddish and dark brown layers rolling together into crumbly ribbons. It's such a pretty cake in her unassuming simplicity, and I almost feel bad cutting it: She looks so cute when she sleeps.


3 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 C sugar
2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
2 C plain yogurt (no-fat works fine)
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
juice from half a lemon
1/3 C pumpkin butter (for a change of flavor, pear butter is the best alternative)
4 tsp powdered cocoa

Utensils: Bundt cake mold
  • Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Butter and flour the cake mold.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and sugar.
  • Mix in the butter in small pieces, and then pour in 1C of yogurt until mixture comes together but is still very lumpy.
  • In another large bowl, mix together the eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, pumpkin butter, and the rest of the yogurt until well combined.
  • Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture in 2 or 3 batches, mixing until just combined.
  • Transfer half of the resulting batter in the bowl that is now empty, and then mix in the cocoa until well combined.
  • Pour the chocolate batter into the other batter, stirring with a spatula just a few times in order to create a marbling effect.
  • Pour the final batter into the cake mold, and place in the oven for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.
Very important: Trixie Cake is best served with a dollop of whipped cream to reprise the white marking Trixie has on her chest—and the whipped cream might or might not be spiked with bourbon according to whom is going to eat it.

And here's another shot of Trixie, because you deserve it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Pasta with smoked bell peppers.

What I love the most about Italian cuisine is its simplicity. There are so many fantastic dishes that rely on just a handful of ingredients... Which means you really have no excuse for not cooking good food even for the quickest and loneliest of home lunches. Of course, when you're working within the parameters of simplicity, your ingredients need to be top-notch. But even if you can't count on the best, slow-dried pasta or the freshest Neapolitan mozzarella or the sweetest ripe cherry tomatoes from Campania, just focusing on moderately good ingredients can yield something truly delicious. This is a long way of saying, have fun with your Italian cooking but don't use egg noodles and broken-up Velveeta slices for pasta cacio e pepe.

One dish I like to make in the warmer months is pasta with roasted bell peppers. In the past, I would roast my peppers directly on the gas stove, charring the skin until it would to peel off easily. You might be acquainted with this technique: The "gas burner" method is the quickest and easiest way to have perfectly cooked bell pepper fillets for your pasta (or bruschetta, or sandwich, or vegan side dish, or whatever).

A year ago, however, Mr Bee and I were experimenting with roasting whole eggplants on the stove by wrapping them in aluminum foil, and we were delighted to discover that the eggplant would come out with a great smokey flavor (perfect for baba ganoush). So, we thought, why not try with bell peppers? Thank you, insatiable human curiosity! The peppers tasted amazing, as if we had just pulled them out of the smoker. And since it was time for lunch, we chopped the peppers up, sautéed them with a little chopped onion, and served them on pasta. Perfect, mega-flavorful, super-easy, four-ingredient (vegan!) dish.

This pasta is so easy and rewarding in itself, it really doesn't need any extras. However, if you are one of those people who likes bolder flavors, you can add cheese (Parmigiano, Pecorino, ricotta salata, or fresh mozzarella), salt-cured olives, capers, or fresh basil. But, really, you don't need anything fancy. This can be the simplest of lunches, with just a touch of private celebration.

Pasta with smoked bell peppers.
OK, so we added some cheese to this one.


2–3 bell peppers (any color except green)
2 tbsp EVOO
1 smallish onion, chopped
10 oz good-quality pasta (any format will do with the exception of egg pasta and thin, long pasta)
  • Wash the peppers and wrap them tightly in two sheets of aluminum.
  • Place each pepper on a gas burner, and roast for 15–20 minutes, turning every few minutes or so with metal tongs to make sure the peppers are cooked all over. Bell peppers are ready when they feel soft when prodded.
  • Once the peppers are ready, let them cool down and then peel off the charred skin. 
  • Cut the peppers into fillets and then chop them in smaller pieces.
  • Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large frying pan.
  • Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and browned.
  • Add the bell peppers and a pinch of salt and cook for another 5–8 minutes to blend the flavors.
  • Cook the pasta al dente in the appropriate pot.
  • Drain the pasta, add it to the pan, and cook for another minute or so.
  • Serve immediately, and drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil if preferred (I prefer).
And since we're making pasta, let's refresh our basic pasta skills:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


This might not surprise you, but my greatest passion, right after eating and sleeping, is watching movies. (Yes, I really enjoy not moving.)

This week, I present you with ten mini-reviews of movies I watched recently. I'm a work-at-home mother, so forgive the single movie from the current year, but really, this is all I can do.

Please let me know what you think, and enjoy the new series' logo on the right created by Mr Bee himself!


The best romantic movie involving orchids, worms, pigs, and identity loss you will ever see. I'm completely obsessed with Shane Carruth's imaginative, haunting, and rigorous filmmaking, and you should be too (watch Primer, too, if you haven't already).



Great to see The Rock in all of his 3D glory, but I really wished the producer had allotted at least $500 for a coherent script rather than filming straight from the preliminary text messages.



Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who picks up men on the streets of Scotland for her mysterious alien purposes. Dreamlike, terrifying, and an unconventional and surprising meditation on gender. I get uncomfortable just thinking about it, and it's a good thing.



A family of four is enjoying a ski-vacation in the Alps, but an avalanche throws everything they know about each other and themselves in the air. The über-chill cinematography alone is worth a viewing, but the content is great, and there's some humor, too. Great if you enjoy post-movie discussions and re-evaluating your marriage.



Paolo Sorrentino directs this bitter portrait of contemporary Italian decay in the hopes that the audience has never seen Fellini's La Dolce Vita. And he wins, considering the international acclaim. In my opinion, literally nothing in this self-congratulatory movie has not been said better and with much more depth by Fellini. What's the point?



Planet Earth suffered a climatic apocalypse, and the only survivors are found in a self-sustaining train in a perennial circumnavigation of the world. Each wagon belongs to a social strata in the new society. The allegory may be be unsubtle, but it works, and the violence and plot-twists are bold and convincing. Total fun.



I have a vivid memory of myself, elementary-school age, awe-struck and crying as an abandoned lamb at the end of this ecologist sci-fi film. I knew then this was definitely was the best movie I'd ever seen. I watched it again some 30+ years later, and I wished that had staid a memory. The acting, the script, the robots... My God. Never, ever watch again a movie you loved in your childhood without at least three glowing, professional reviews.



Raymond Chandler is my spirit author, and Philip Marlowe is my epic hero. Altman does an impressive job in transposing the novel in the 70s while maintaining the romanticism and irony of the original. I loved everything about this movie except the out-of-character final scene that was not in the novel anyway. Oh, and there's Sterling Hayden, too, the best actor in the history of the world.



Film version of the Kawabata's novel (and one of my favorite books ever). It's about an aging patriarch in late-40s Japan who deals with the failing of his adult children and his conflicting emotions for his daughter-in-law. The movie is absorbing, but cannot bring itself to contemplate the abyss of fear of looming death that the novel breaks open. On a lighter note, this movie shows the most adorable (and gigantic) baby you will ever see on the screen and possibly in your life.



I'm treating every year since its release like the 50th anniversary, because that's how much I love this movie. A poignant tale of friendship against the pressure of independence, love, and ambition. Alice Cooper makes a cameo appereance. What can I say? They don't make movies like this anymore.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Fresh fig and extra-virgin olive oil cake

I love the end of summer for a variety of reasons: Days are getting cooler, the sun is not slapping me in the face at every occasion, the kids are back at school, people have stopped asking me to go to the pool (it's not happening—way too much work), and mosquitoes seem less ferocious after two months of vampirism. My favorite season, fall, is peeking at me from the end of September with its lovely smile, and I feel happy. To make things even better, my favorite fruit has come back to me: Oh juicy, sweet fig, welcome back to my supermarket shelves! I'd plant a tree for you in a heartbeat, but I don't want to share you with my neighborhood rats.

To celebrate, I decided to work my beloved figs into yet another recipe. I looked inside my pantry, and was reminded of a 5-gallon tank of family produced extra-virgin olive oil that my father brought over from Italy, so I thought about a fresh fig and olive oil cake. Perfectly Mediterranean, and perfect for the cool days of summer's end. I used this recipe for a Rustic Olive Oil Cake with Honey Syrup from Serious Eats as a base cake, and made a few modifications. Namely, I cut the sugar amount in half and counted on the fig to provide most of the sweetness. And no Grand Marnier, just Meyer lemons. Finally, I replaced the milk with plain kefir, which worked brilliantly and delivered a fantastic moistness to the cake.

And about this, always (ALWAYS) add yogurt or kefir to your cakes. I've been doing this for almost 20 years now because it works wonderfully in keeping your cakes moist and soft. Did I just say 20 years? How is that even possible?!? Did I really start not only making desserts but willfully tweaking recipes that long ago? I'm shocked. Better have a slice of fig cake to calm myself down.

And if you need more figs ideas, check these old posts:


Fresh fig and extra-virgin olive oil cake.


2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 C plain kefir (or 1 C milk and 1/4 C plain yogurt)
2 Meyer lemons (for juice and zest)
3 eggs
1 C sugar
10-12 figs or whatever you have or it takes, halved 
powdered cocoa
  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Line a 9'' round cake mold with parchment paper. 
  • In a large bowl, stir the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a smaller bowl, mix the kefir with the juice of the Meyer lemons, and then stir in the zest from one of them.
  • In yet another small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar, and then slowly pour in the EVOO, whisking constantly.
  • Add the contents of the two smaller bowls to the dry ingredient, in batches. 
  • Stir in until combined.
  • Pour the batter into the cake mold, and the top with the halved figs.
  • Back from about 50-60 minutes, or until the cake appears lightly browned on the top, and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Dust cake with powdered cocoa.
Best served at room temperature or warm.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


What are the essential tools that would make your kitchen truly Italian? After months and months of pondering, I'm ready to present you with my final list. It is based mostly on my personal experience as an expat, especially from the first year in Mr Bee's house, where I would search every drawer and cabinet for these little gems before calling my family in tears. Here they are, in all their indispensable glory.


Moka pot

In Italian, la caffettiera. This beautiful, beautiful object appears in many formats in every single Italian household. The moka pot is the best and quickest way to have a strong coffee (just a little less concentrated than regular espresso) any time of the day, and especially in the morning. Just fill the bottom half with water, insert the portafilter, add espresso-grind coffee, and screw on the top half. Place on the stove, and you'll have your coffee in minutes. And, unlike an espresso machine, a moka pot is completely portable and requires minimal maintenance—just rinse in hot water after each use. In my opinion and that of many others, Bialetti makes the best.


Gas cooker support for moka pot
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In Italian, la crocetta. This is a godsend if you're using a smaller moka pot on a gas cooker. It's a support to keep the moka pot in place on larger gas burners. It usually starts out much shinier than the one in the picture, which is by now well oxidated.


Cheese server for Parmigiano

In Italian, la grattugia. If you need to grate Parmigiano or Pecorino for your pasta—and it's completely acceptable to do it right at the table before you eat—you need this. The small holes and the rounded surface allows you to grate the cheese in fine and soft ribbons, so that it starts melting immediately on your dish in all its salty and creamy goodness. The large-holed cheese grater that you use to shred cheese is not popular in Italy, where I believe it's only used for vegetables. I use this small grater from Ikea, but in Italy people use a larger one.


In Italian, la formaggiera. When you're not grating cheese straight on your plate, you can use a cheese server, great for formal dinners but definitely used everyday on the traditional Italian table. It needs to be filled with fresh Parmigiano, and people pass it along and sprinkle one or two teaspoons of cheese on their pasta. When I was younger, my grandparents would ask me to grate a small mountain of cheese on a plate and then pour it in the server in time for lunch. This one is from Alessi.


In Italian, il raccoglibriciole. In my opinion, nothing else encapsulates Italy more than this plastic brush designed to clean up your tablecloth from breadcrumbs after a meal. The popularity of this object means two things: that Italians like to eat at a table covered with proper tablecloth, and that they are going to have bread with whatever they're eating. After over ten years in the United States, I wonder whether Italians are keeping up with their social eating and bread dependency. I really hope so.


Pasta or pastry cutter

In Italian, la macchina per la pasta. I'm positive that Italians today do not make homemade pasta as often as their grandparents. However, this is a beautiful object that everybody who loves cooking should have. There are few things more satisfying than cranking your pasta machine on a floured table (and now that I have fresh pasta on my mind, I can't really think of any). Mine is a gorgeous red Imperia. Ask for one for you birthday.


In Italian, la rotella. If you own a pasta machine, then you cannot forgo the pasta cutter. It's perfect to cut ravioli, and of course you can also use it as pastry cutter for all your pies and quiches. Mine belonged to my maternal grandmother, and it's light, sturdy, and precise. I also love the sweet rattling sound it makes as it cuts through the dough. So satisfying.


potato ricer

In Italian, mezzaluna ("half moon"). I was genuinely surprised that this was not a staple of American kitchens, too. It's perfect to chop herbs and nuts. Just rock it side to side, occasionally sweeping everything back to center for another round of chopping. You can object that a knife would be quicker, but that's true only if you have good knife skills (I don't). Plus, you'd be really missing out on all the fun, and I can't condone that.


In Italian, lo schiacciapatate. This is basically a gigantic garlic press for vegetables, and especially potatoes, that gives you the creamiest, fluffiest ribbons of potato you can ever dream of. Use a ricer to make puré, the (slightly) lighter and more elegant version of mashed potatoes, but also potato gnocchi, and my favorite fancy ice-cream creation: spaghetti ice cream.


soup plate, use in Italy for the first course

In Italian, lo spremiagrumi. In winter, mothers all over Italy spend the best part of their day squeezing juicy Sicilian oranges for their little ones, because you know, vitamin C. And let me tell you, you really get to respect your mother when you see her exerting tremendous force on a tiny squeezer to obtain even the last drop of orange for your morning breakfast. Small and easy to clean, it's an Italian must-have.


In Italian, i piatti fondi. Don't be fooled by their English name, the piatto fondo is not only for soups. Rather, it is the plate where the first course, or primo, is served. On a classic Italian table, you eat your pasta, soup, or rice dish on the soup plate, and then your second course on a dinner plate. I was dumbfounded when I came to the United States and discovered you only use dinner plates for pasta. The soup plate is the perfect vessel so that your primo feels neither too crudely exposed nor too infantilized. (Makes sense, right?) Luckily, my MIL gifted me a set of 6 soup plates so I can feel a little better when I get a little homesick and make myself a megaportion of ravioli.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


I need to voice one regret I have about my expat life, and that is that I moved from the horribly humid and mosquito-infested Venice summer right to the horribly humid and mosquito-infested DC summer. It was really a masterstroke for someone who, when exposed to summer heat, turns into a wheezing fuchsia toad covered in welts. And yet here I am, surviving in DC in July (barely but surely) thanks to my highly refined immobility skills and Arctic A/C. What also helps? Caffè shakerato, or Italian ice coffee.

I don't need to convince anybody of the worthiness of ice drinks, and ice coffee in particular. And yet, many times I've felt like regular ice coffee doesn't really cut it, mostly because the melting ice tends to water down the coffee flavor and its ability to wake me up from my heat-induced stupor. The only answer is the Italian variation of ice coffee that is caffè shakerato. This is basically a long shot of espresso, sugared to taste, and shaken in a cocktail shaker so that it produces a thick and lovely foam on top. In Italy caffè shakerato is served everywhere, usually in a Martini glass, and it can really be a glorious break for your summer afternoon.

That's my husband's hand. I don't know why I get so paranoid about you thinking it's mine.

However, if your coffee bar doesn't serve caffè shakerato and if you don't care about formalities, you can make one at home very easily and drink it whenever you prefer. What I do is add a little bit of sugar to my coffee and shake it in a canning jar with three ice cubes. It's ready in 15 seconds with minimal amount of physical effort (which is really all I can afford in 99% humidity), and cools me down and wakes me up in no time. I almost (almost) feel like a functional human being when I drink one. Give it a shot.
CAVEAT! To make caffè shakerato, you can only use espresso or coffee made with a moka pot. If you don't have an espresso machine, I really suggest you get hold of a moka. It's fairly inexpensive, it's quick and easy to use, and it's one of the most beautiful objects you can own. Until I write a post about it, learn how to use it here.


Makes 2 coffees

Equipment needed: espresso machine or moka pot, one-pint canning jar

2-3 shots of espresso, or the coffee brewed in a 2-Serving moka pot
sugar to taste
5 ice cubes 

  • Brew the coffee, with a little bit more water than usual.
  • Add sugar to taste and stir well until dissolved.
  • Place the ice into the canning jar, and pour in the coffee.
  • Close the jar tightly, and shake vigorously for no more than 15 seconds. 
  • Pour the coffee into two glasses, holding any leftover ice in the jar with a spoon, letting the coffee foam pour over your coffee in all its luscious creaminess.