Thursday, August 23, 2012

At Home in Italy

The days at the end of August are among my most favorite of the calendar year as they are typically very warm (but not oppressively hot) with clear, blue skies, cool temperatures at night, and hints of the fall months to follow.  There is still plenty of summer left -- the first day of Autumn isn't until the 22nd of September -- and when I saw the cover of this book, At Home in Italy: Under the Summer Sun, I knew I had to get it!  It's just incredibly appealing, and reminds me that I want to make the most of my outdoor patio over the next month, including hosting a Rosh Hashanah dinner (if the weather holds). 

The book's cover photo was taken in an orange garden at Il Castelluccio, a baroque palace in a hamlet of the same name near Syracuse, Sicily.  In truth, the title of the book is somewhat misleading as there are far more photographs of interiors than outdoor living images.  But if you, like me, are crazy for this type of book, this detail is minor indeed, and you will love being inspired by these 21 Italian locales.

In her Introduction, Nicoletta del Buono (editior of Architectural Digest Italia), informs us of a book entitled Journey Through Italy that was written by writer and journalist Guido Piovene in 1957.  This work "documented the dawn of the economic miracle in post-war Italy," and it was so highly regarded that it was included in the reading requirements of secondary schools.  Del Buono says At Home in Italy is an attempt to resurrect the spirit of Piovene's book, though obviously with a different emphasis.  The gorgeous photos by Massimi Listri lead us "behind the scenes, inside people's homes, into places that reflect who they really are, and what they want out of life...these images speak volumes about Italy and its people."

Enjoy these end-of summer days with this book in your lap, preferably al fresco

At Home In Italy: Under the Summer Sun
Massimo Listri, text by Nicoletta del Buono
The Vendome Press, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child & Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Good Writer

I admit I'm following the crowd of bloggers and other writers today by acknowledging the would-be-100th birthday of Julia Child, but August 15th is also my sister's birthday, so I have an additional excuse to say bon anniversaire to Julia and Jen! 

If you haven't yet read Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland (Schwartz and Wade) I urge you to go out tout de suite and get a copy.  Schwartz and Wade may be a publishing imprint devoted to children but do not for one second think that this wonderful, whimsical, packed-with-facts book isn't for adults.  It is, as stated on the inside jacket, for "all ages," and I think it is nothing less than a work of art.  "The BOOK comes out!  The year is 1961," Hartland writes about the 734-page Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  "The writing is clear and precise, the design uncluttered and easy to read.  For the first time, cookbook illustrations are drawn from the cook's viewpoint.  The recipes are foolproof.  They talk the beginning cook through classic French recipes, explaining every detail.  Reviewers and chefs -- and home cooks -- call it a MASTERPIECE."

Julia passed away in 2004 at the age of 91, and as Hartland reminds us at the close of her book, Julia "taught and inspired millions of people to cook."  Like those million others, I was hugely inspired by Julia, and my copy of MTAOFC is just as stained and worn as everybody else's copies.  But most inspiring to me are words from Julia's The Way to Cook (Knopf, 1992) so inspiring that I feature them on page 297 in my Paris book.  I won't type it in full here, but under the heading of "fear of food, indulgences, and small helpings" Julia wisely notes that "the pleasures of the table -- that lovely old-fashioned phrase -- depict food as an art form, as a delightful part of civilized life.  In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal." 

Also in my Paris book, on pages 524 - 535, I feature a chapter from a terrific book, Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Food Writer (John Daniel and Company, 2004) by Jeannette Ferrary.  The chapter appears in the 'Personalities' section of my book as it recounts the time Jeannette was helping Julia prep for a cooking demonstration and book signing at Macy's San Francisco in 1985 (that's Jeannette in the photo above).  Jeannette, by her own admission, claims she had no idea what she was doing, but if you read her warm and wonderful book, and I hope you will, you'll see that she knows plenty about cooking -- she is also coauthor, with Louise Fiszer, of six cookbooks, and author of M. F. K. Fisher and Me (Thomas Dunne, 1998), and she teaches food writing at Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley.  Ferrary has also been a columnist for The New York Times and a book and restaurant reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle (one book she reviewed is How Blue-Blooded Julia Child Became a Red-Blooded French Chef by Noel Riley Fitch).

I've not yet met Jeannette, but we've been corresponding by e-mail over the last few days, and today she is going to make a blueberry clafoutis from MTAOFC, and an article she wrote about Julia appears in the August/September issue of Gastronomica

In honor of the day, I'm heading out now to one of New York City's Greenmarkets -- which I know Julia would love -- to pick up provisions for dinner.
Cheers to Julia, Jeannette, and my dear sister, Jenniffer! (and yes, that's spelled with two ns and two fs)

Friday, August 10, 2012

It Happened in Florence by Nita Tucker

A few months ago I read It Happened in Florence by Nita Tucker (with Christa McDermott), which I believe was self-published in March 2012.  Readers of my Tuscany and Umbria book know that I love The Florentine, the biweekly, English language newspaper founded 7 years ago, so when I heard about this book -- written by the paper’s publisher -- I couldn't wait to read it. The Florentine can be found all around town and is targeted to the Florentine English-speaking community, both residents and visitors.  It is positively the most thorough resource for events and activities listings and I wish there were publications just like it -- with its great mix of articles covering hard news, culture, politics, business, travel, food, and sports -- in all of the destinations I write about in my Collected Traveler series.  Some of my most favorite regular features are "The Medici Archives," "Il Fatto Bello," and "Italian Voices."  Additionally, the paper prints two special issues (Florence for Students and Summer in Florence) that are indispensable and it has a book publishing arm with some great titles (my friend Robin brought me back a copy of Florence con Amore that I particularly like).

Anyway, Nita Tucker is one very fortunate woman: she was part of a team that established this great periodical; she was able to live in Florence for four years; she has an extraordinary husband and wonderful kids; and she is aware of, and never takes for granted, that she has an amazing life. I would love to meet her.  (Tucker is also the author of How Not to Stay Single, How Not to Screw it Up, How Not to Stay Single After 40, and Beyond Cinderella: The Modern Woman's Guide to Finding a Prince, none of which I've read but now I know that she's the perfect author for these kinds of books because she is filled with optimism and enthusiasm.)

When I started It Happened in Florence I was hooked by the second paragraph, which reads, "I live here! This is my life!" (and yes, the italics are hers.) I am admittedly drawn to this kind of enthusiasm. While I usually spend a lot of time sifting through "amateur" opinions from those that are more "seasoned," I'm really not very impressed by jaded points of view, and I like when people recognize they are experiencing something unique and special. If they didn't, there wouldn't be much point to traveling in the first place, and just because thousands of other people have been moved by Florence in the past doesn't mean that visiting the city can't be a life-changing experience for someone now. That said, however, I admit that there are a lot of italics in this book and they do become annoying; but Tucker's enthusiasm continues to win the day.
This is essenziale for anyone who will be staying in Florence or Tuscany for a length of time, but it's also useful and enlightening for anyone who wants an inside look into daily life in Florence (as well as for anyone contemplating starting a business in Florence). Especially helpful is the chapter 'Nita Tucker's Top Ten List of Things You Need to Know' ("that Italians assume you already do know, should know and are stupid for not knowing!") but there are other helpful phrases, cultural taboos, traditions,and etiquette tips that turn up in every chapter.

I enjoyed reading this book so much that I read another one she wrote, with Victoria Miachika, called Essential Florence: The Practical Guide for Living in Florence (also self-published, I believe, in 2010).   This book is more like a directory (chapter 11 is an "Essential White Pages") and is super essenziale for English-speaking foreigners spending lengths of time in the city.  However, I find it very useful for insight into cultural traditions Tucker didn't include in her other book.  Chapter 9, 'Embracing Cultural Differences,' is eye-opening reading for anyone who wants more than a superficial knowledge of Italians (and the 'Superstitious Survival' article by Roseanne Wells, reprinted from The Florentine -- one of several included in the book -- is fascinating).  I admit that a big smile crossed my face when I saw that the first edition of my Tuscany and Umbria book -- published in 2000 and entitled Central Italy: Tuscany & Umbria) was first on a list of 'Some Good Reads,' but I can't help making a correction to another recommended title: Made in Italy: A Shopper's Guide to the Best of Italian Traditions is not authored by Suzy Gershman (misspelled as Gersham) but is by Laura Morelli (and it's an excellent book, one that I also recommend often). 

Tucker no longer lives in Firenze -- I won't spoil the story here -- but she does return frequently, and she hasn't lost any of her passion for it: "Before I hit the pillow that first evening, I feel as if I've never left and it feels great. Still enthralled with Florence's beauty, my spirits soar at the sight of the Ponte Vecchio or at the vision of Il Duomo lit up at night."
  Visit Tucker's world at