Elba Island in May: Unplug and Recharge

Elba Island in May: Unplug and Recharge

This weekend Mr. Italicano and I finally gave ourselves 3 days of rest. We took advantage of visiting our client in Tuscany, then continued south towards the beautiful Island of Elba. On the way we stopped at the picturesque hillside town of San Gimignano–a truly magical place. We ate lunch outside at a small restaurant on the outer walls that overlooked the Tuscan vineyards and rolling hills while listening to the beautiful music of a street musician who played songs from a violin, guitar and an antique looking instrument. We then continued a mere 2 hours south, where we arrived at Piombino, an important Tuscan port, and the departing point for Elba Island.

Did you know that Elba Island is just a 1 hour ferry ride off the coast of Tuscany? This beautiful gem is covered with green shrubs and trees as far as the eye can see, curvy roads built alongside dazzling turquoise water, exclusive white sand beaches and delicious handmade pastas and seafood dishes. In essence, it’s the perfect getaway–at least in the month of May. While June, July, and August are overpriced and overrun with tourists, May and September are perfect for a peaceful and relaxing retreat even it if means risking a day or two of unpredictable weather. Fortunately for Mr. Italicano and I, we had sunshine and warm temps during our two days on Elba Island this past weekend.

Thank goodness! All I wanted for the past two months was a weekend, even simply one day, to unwind, unplug and recharge my batteries. I needed a break from work, from technology, from my million thoughts on how to grow our small business. Lately I’ve been feeling stressed, tired and overwhelmed–to the point that I break down in tears or get angry and snap at Mr. Italicano out of frustration. (Poor Mr. Italicano.) Too much of one thing is never good. For me working two straight months of nights and weekends was too much, no matter how passionate I am about my job or how much I love it. I needed some me time. I need some us time. I needed to recharge. Elba’s charming and deserted beaches were the perfect cure.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for all of the new projects that are keeping us busy, paying our bills and allowing us to follow our dreams. I put my heart and soul into my job and feel so grateful each day that I have the opportunity to be my own boss and follow my passions. I find it hard to work a 9 to 5 job for someone else; I love being consumed by the entrepreneurial realm where I hustle and keep myself engaged as there is always something to do.  I love having a purpose and a challenge to fight for each day. And, now that Mr. Italicano and I are working together it is even more fun and satisfying… and at times more problematic to take a break.  We’ve become a tight-knit team.

Remember my post on 5 Hard Truths I Learned about Myself in 2016? #4 was about how I put my business first before my relationship with Mr. Italicano. My goal for 2017 was to become a more thoughtful wife and to stop talking about work after 8pm. Hah! If only I could say this was true:

  1. We usually work well past 8pm.
  2. Now that Mr. Italicano and I work together and can offer more services regarding food content creation for companies, he too is absorbed in growing our business. There is no “off button.” Sometimes the last words before a kiss at midnight are strategies about our plans for the following day or our first words in the morning when we wake up. If you were a fly on our wall we may bore you to death. Yet, we couldn’t be happier. 🙂 We are engaged, stimulated and our business is taking flight.

But like all things in life, there is always a need for balance. And, for us it’s 1 weekend a month to hit the work pause button, focus on us as a couple and on us as individuals. To recharge our batteries before embarking on another amazing sprint of work. In Elba, we spent lazy days in the sunshine reading a book while listening to the sound of the waves hit the shore in the background, while every once and awhile taking a stroll on the beach to dip our toes in the cold Mediterranean water. We woke up without an alarm to the sunlight that crept through the white transparent curtains in our room and enjoyed the early morning air on our balcony overlooking the still sea. We walked on dirt trails to remote beaches, listening to the birds sing and enjoying the wafts of sweet wild flowers. We ate lunch on our lawn chairs with our feet in the sand, and for dinner we dined on fresh fish and vegetables. We explored Elba Island with the top rolled down in my little 500 Fiat car and sang along to songs on the radio. We played and laughed in the sunshine and kissed under the moon. Elba is a magic place. It’s the perfect place to recharge. I hope one day you can visit.

Practical Information

Getting There:

Ferry from Piombino to Portoferrario – You can walk on as a passenger or you can take a car. You can also rent mopeds on the island if you walk on but want to explore the island or take the local buses. Ferry cost for 2 people and 1 small car = 157euro. (A little pricy, but worth it. Helps if you stay for a week.) 

Where to Stay:

Booking and Airbnb are two great resources for planning your getaway. We stayed at a clean and simple hotel called Hotel Bel Tramonto in the northwest corner of the island. Our room had a nice balcony with a view of the sea. It’s quite remote and a car is necessary. We spent 79euros a night. We didn’t stay at these hotels, but we walked past them and they were a short walking distance to the beach and looked really nice. Gallo Nero  and Hotel Cernia Botanical Garden

Where to Go:

During our short weekend we spent our time at the stunning Sant Andrea beach, Sansone Beach and La Ghaia (only recommended if you need to kill some time while you wait for your ferry at Portoferrario as it’s a short walk from the port). We didn’t stop there this trip, but absolutely go (and even stay) at Fetovaie. It’s one of my favorite beaches in Elba.

What to Eat:

More than recommend where to eat, I would reccomend what to eat. Definitely try the fried calamari/fish plate which is typical on the seaside (1 portion is perfect to split between 2 or more people as it’s quite heavy.) If you find homemade gnoochi, don’t pass it up. Search for other homemade pastas with seafood (octopus, crab, shrimp etc.) If you want a simple sandwich, try a foccaccina with anchiovies, tomatoes, basil and artichokes.

If you’ve been to Elba and have other recommendations on things to see or places to eat, please leave a comment below!

Thank you for following this blog and I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing upcoming weekend.

More Photos! I couldn’t resist.  🙂

Upcoming Cooking Shows: The Easy Way To Prepare Ancient Grains

Upcoming Cooking Shows: The Easy Way To Prepare Ancient Grains

Mr. Italicano and I have just arrived in the USA! Over the next two weeks we’ll be in Chicago and New York City, doing a variety of “Ancient Grain Farro Cooking Shows” with Smeg USA at Williams-Sonoma, Eataly, Bloomingdales and the IHA trade show. For complete details you can check out my event calendar. I would love to see you there! I look forward to teaching you how to make nutritious meals with this superfood grain. I’ll show you how easy and quick my recipes are to prepare, with Smeg USA’s practical and beautiful 1950’s style appliances.

Every since moving to Italy, I have adapted a Mediterranean lifestyle.  I cook simple recipes made with natural and fresh ingredients that explode with flavors. During my last cooking shows, many complaints by the audience was that they are passionate about cooking but don’t have the time to get in the kitchen. I disagree. With the right recipes and kitchen tools, making homemade meals takes less time than going to a restaurant, let alone the meal will cost a fraction of the price! I talk more about this topic in an earlier post.

The art of eating well and feeling good is simplicity. When I got this basic principal down, I didn’t mind getting in the kitchen to cook because it wasn’t a strenuous task, but a way to have fun, relax, slow down and be mindful about what I was putting into my and Mr. Italicano’s bodies. Simplicity also means having a few tricks up my sleeves for our modern lives. Just like I wouldn’t go to the nearest river stream to wash my clothes (thank goodness for washing machine’s!), I also don’t waste my time mashing, kneading, rolling out, chopping and cooking every day. In fact, to keep my life simple, these are recipes that you can make once and enjoy them the following days. I also use use a blender, stand mixer, and a variety of attachments that do a lot of the work for me in rapid time. I heart technology that supports my mission to eat healthy and homemade.

I’ll be posting these recipes soon to my blog, but in the meantime here is a sneak peak on what I will be preparing at these fun culinary demonstrations in Chicago and NYC!

1. Farro Beet Soup with Greek Yogurt and Pistachios 

2. Homemade Matcha Pasta with Spinach, Zucchini and Lemons 

3. Beet Crepes with Ricotta, Arugula, Blood Oranges and Aged Balsamic Vinegar 

4. Spring Farro Salad with a Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette 

In the meantime, you can follow along on YouTube! We’ll be posting frequent episodes of our day preparing and cooking at these events (and hopefully discovering some good restaurants as well!) I would really appreciate your feedback and support. Please leave us a comment on youtube! Thanks so much!

Ciao ciao!

Cindy

This post is in collaboration with Smeg USA, but all of my thoughts and opinions are my own.

10 FOOD TRENDS AT THE 2017 WINTER FANCY FOOD SHOW IN SAN FRANCISCO

10 FOOD TRENDS AT THE 2017 WINTER FANCY FOOD SHOW IN SAN FRANCISCO

WHAT IS THE FANCY FOOD SHOW?

Mr. Italicano and I visited the Winter Fancy Food Show (or FFS) in San Francisco in January. FFS is a trade show held twice a year in America: the winter edition is held in San Francisco and the summer edition is held in New York City.

At the San Francisco FFS, over 33,000 companies from around the world operating in the food and beverage sectors exhibited their novelty products, while industry professionals (generally buyers, distributors, journalists, other producers in the sector) got a chance to learn more about these products and new food trends.

The fair was held over the course of three days, from January 20th to the 22nd. We were there the 21st and 22nd (the 20th we were doing a cooking show. ) We had press passes which allowed us to also listen to private talks/interviews about the food scene. 

In this article and through these short video interviews, I want to highlight for you the most interesting companies and products I discovered at FFS. I also mention briefly what I didn’t find that shocked me. Without further ado, let’s take a look at my rankings!  


# 10 PINK HIMALAYAN SALT

Pink Himalayan salt is certainly not a novelty … then why did I insert it in my list? There are two reasons. I believe that many do not know why pink Himalayan salt is different from common salt, and why the cost for it is so high. Salt is probably one of the most widely used ingredients in the kitchen, but not all salts are the same.  Pink Himalayan salt is extremely natural due to its extraction process which, unlike common table salt, does not use any chemicals (bleach) or additives ( anti-caking agents). In this video, I interview Himalayan Chef who talks more about Pink Himalayan Salt and its benefits. I hope you find it useful. You can find more information on the Himalayan Chef’s Website. 


# 9 ALOE VERA DRINKS

In addition to its remedial properties for the treatment of burns, Aloe Vera is becoming a trend in the food industry, thanks to its vitamins and beneficial properties for the immune system and digestion. Keep in mind though that scientific research around the benefits for humans is still ongoing and conclusions on whether it provides significant health benefits without negative side effects is still not clear cut. Another aspect that I noticed by examining the products seen at the trade show was that unfortunately many of the ingredients contained many refined sugars. In my opinion, if scientific research doesn’t uncover problems with ingesting aloe vera, these drinks will become even more increasingly popular and spread throughout the world. However, I invite you to always double check what you are buying and to always check the ingredient list to make sure there aren’t additives. 


# 8 BARREL-AGED MAPLE SYRUP 

Organic maple syrup, aged like a scotch. Although not alcoholic, it has a strong distinctive flavor depending on which type of barrel it was aged in. Barrel aging is only one method, this producer also has infused and smoked maple syrups that are perfect for the preparation of desserts, sweets, ice cream and even cocktails! These small artisans are gaining international success with their extremely innovative and interesting line of products.  Find out more on RUNAMOK MAPLE.  


# 7 VEGETABLE CHIPS

Last year I posted a recipe for homemade kale chips . I’m glad to have seen several companies offering these kind of “chips” in their line of products. Although a variety of vegetables were used for chips, the common theme among producers were kale chips, beet chips (I’ve already bought beets to try them at home) and broccoli chips (on my list as well). Strangely I didn’t see many pumpkin chips. I like the idea that many food producers are moving more and more towards the discovery of how to use vegetables in delicious ways, although, honestly, I read the backs of some of the packages and was surprised to find ingredients that weren’t natural. I think we are on track but there is still some steps to be done to get to have a very natural product and as little processed as possible. Surely this has an effect on producers’ pockets, but we consumers have to make our voice heard to protect ourselves and our children against harmful products. So, until I find a good brand I like, I suggest to make you own at home!  Check out the recipe above, and more to come!


# 6 APPLE CIDER VINEGAR

I already knew about apple cider vinegar and some of it’s health benefits. However, I had never tasted one quite so flavorful and complex like I did at FFS. When I took a sip from a sample at the Fire Cider booth an explosion of flavors invaded my mouth. Sharp, sweet, tangy and spicy…all in one sip. It’s packed with a variety of ingredients that you typically don’t find in regular apple cider vinegar: honey, oranges, lemons, onions, ginger, horseradish, garlic, turmeric and habanero pepper. I felt an instant energy charge. I watched Mr. Italicano with glowing eyes and said, “we have to interview them.”

Not only does this apple cider vinegar taste good, it also has great digestive benefits. The ingredients are all natural and organic with no added sugar. It’s fantastic to drink a shot in the morning to start your day or you can add it into cocktails, dressing for salads or marinades.  Find out more about on Fire Cider’s website. 


# 5 BEETROOT KETCHUP

Ketchup has always been my weakness. With Italicana Kitchen, very day I am committed to testing and promoting healthy foods made with fresh products, no preservatives and alternatives to white sugar. I try to always cook healthy at home because that is where we eat the majority of the time and I want to feed Mr. Italicano and I with good wholesome foods. On the occasions we do eat out, it’s a treat where I try any dish I want (whether it be healthy or on the unhealthy side). So, when there is a plate of fries in front of me, I often can’t resist adding a mound of ketchup next to them. (Mr. Italicano says I often eat more ketchup than fries! Which is probably quite accurate.)

The problem with ketchup is that it is usually loaded with white sugar and additives. So, when I noticed this natural beet ketchup by Foraging Fox I got super excited like a child in front of an ice cream stand. Using beets and apples to naturally sweeten the ketchup, it contains no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners and is perfect for vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free diets. I’m so glad to have discovered this small manufacturer from England who produces this delicious natural ketchup. I hope that this company starts a movement and that we’ll soon find these products on restaurant table tops. Good luck! Here is the link to the manufacturer.


# 4 MATCHA TEA

Another important product that is already definitely an ever growing trend in the United States is Matcha Tea. This is a Japanese green tea, originally used for ceremonies. Unlike the green tea leaves that are infused, Matcha is a fine vibrant green powder. As Sugimoto America showed me, to prepare, simply mix the powder with hot water. The fact that it is in powder form, gives way to a variety of uses in the kitchen; for example, in the preparation of baked goods, fresh pasta, drinks (hot or cold) or cocktails. If you want to color your dishes, and add antioxidant properties of green tea, check it out!


# 3 CAULIFLOWER PIZZA CRUST 

It was so fun to meet these two lovely Californian ladies at Outer Aisle Gourmet who created these truly innovative products! Their cauliflower pizza crust and sandwich thins are made with fresh cauliflower and cage-free eggs. They offer an alternative to regular flour crusts and bread. You can use them as a pizza or a sandwich base. They are perfect for those who have celiac disease or simply want to reduce carbohydrates without sacrificing a bread(like) base. Just pop them in the microwave or oven to warm them up, then load them with your favorite toppings and spreads. I think the idea is brilliant and I’m sure they will soon be well distributed in supermarkets and restaurants. I am also looking forward to preparing some dishes at home with these products! More information at Outer Aisle Gourmet.  


# 2 ANCIENT GRAIN MEALS 

I believe in this product a lot. More frequently, attentive consumers are trying “new” products in order to eat healthier foods that are simple to prepare. The answer to a “new” food in this case lies in the past: in an ancient grain called farro. There are three types of farro: einkorn, farro (also called emmer) and spelt.  I love farro and it’s the grain I use most in my kitchen. Here are some of my favorite farro recipes. Let me also give you a preview of the next two- three months: I want to dedicate myself entirely to the creation and promotion of recipes made with this ancient grain. I also want to write a small book ( I just have to find the time! 🙂 ). So what farro products did I find at Fancy Food? There were various producers and importers with farro flours, grains and packaged goods from colossal names like Bob’s Red Mill to a representative from a small Tuscan producer, Poggio del Farro with whom I started a fantastic collaboration with.


# 1 NATURALLY FLAVORED HUMMUS

I love hummus. Those who follow my recipes and my cooking classes are well aware. So far I’ve only created a perfect blender hummus, olive hummus , white bean hummus and beet hummus. What did I like here at FFS? I found many other innovative flavors! Spicy avocado hummus, kale pesto hummus, Thai coconut curry hummus, black garlic hummus and more! I stopped by a particular company called Hope Foods that is revolutionizing the market with innovative organic recipes and a new process of conservation. Fun fact: Hope Foods was created by one of the founders’ Robbie Rech, fiance’ of my childhood friend, Ashley Paul, who also grew up in the small town of Davenport, WA. She is the Manager of Events and Field Marketing at Hope Foods and it was a pleasure to see her and to finally be able to try their products and learn about the company. Ashley and Robbie live in Colorado. Since Hope Foods opened its doors six years ago, the company has now grown to over 65 people. They started out selling their products at farmer’s markets and now are present in some of the most important American supermarkets. What an amazing feat! I’m really happy for them and they are quite an example of how to succeed in the crowded food industry with delicious, novel and high quality products.  Now let’s talk hummus. To date they have 12 organic hummus flavors that are made with all natural products and preserved through an avant-guarde process of cold pasteurization called High Pressure Processing (HPP). This process prolongs the shelf life substantially, without the addition of preservatives and without having to heat the product (which alters the taste and properties). These naturally flavored hummus products are so delicious. I am hoping that they’ll be shipping internationally soon!  You can get more info at Hope Foods. 


WHAT I DIDN’T FIND AT FFS: ITALY!  

I was a little disappointed by how little the Italian section had to offer. It was quite absurd, given that it was the largest section of all. I was quite let down, because I’m often on the front line promoting the excellence of Italian products. I’m fascinated by traditional Italian products, they are the strength of Italy, and I came to FFS in hopes that my same passion was perceived by all participants who toured the Italian stands. I didn’t expect innovative products from the Italian exhibitors, but rather exciting events promoting traditional products and how foreigners could use them to prepare delicious and simple dishes.  Living in Italy for the past 8 years has given me the opportunity to find out what this land has to offer, and to see how much passion Italians have in making high quality products that are easy to use in everyday meals. The effortlessness to incorporate these high quality products into daily meals is not always so obvious; I believe the vast majority of American consumers view many Italian products as delicious, but also complicated to use, and certainly not for everyday dishes.

My personal opinion: Italians need to do more to promote their high quality ingredients in ways that show how easy it is to incorporate their products in anyone’s daily diet.

I was expecting for example to meet some famous chefs or food bloggers at these demonstrations to help producers educate consumers and buyers how to use their ingredients. I expected that there would have been more talk about the enormous quantities of organic products that are available in Italy, that are ready to be imported into America (or around the world) and consumed daily, with ease. I expected to find a crowd of buyers and journalists with goose bumps while watching these shows. Simply put, I expected more emotion. Italy is one of the most famous rock stars in the world of food, but it is as if he didn’t want to put on a concert because he thinks that his music tracks will sell themselves.  Come on Italy, show the world how special you really are!  

Il Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa 

Il Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa 

I expected only the best at Il Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa: nice rooms, quality food and good service. To say that this hotel lived up to my expectations is an understatement; it offers so much more.

Il-Renaissance-Tuscany-Il-Ciocco-Resort-SpaFirst we need to talk about the hotel’s remarkable location. I’ve been to Tuscany several times and I’m well acquainted with the soft rolling hills dotted with vineyards and lined with Cyprus trees. If you haven’t been to Tuscany, well then, you’ve at least probably READ MORE

Headed to Florence? Don’t miss: Il Santo Graal 

Headed to Florence? Don’t miss: Il Santo Graal 

In Florence there are a.l.o.t. of restaurants, and a.l.o.t. of tourist traps. How do you spot the difference? This isn’t a proven theory, but in my experience if there are signs offering a “tourist menu” with pictures of the food, it’s not a good bet. The restaurants :: ristoranti I usually look for are ones that are off the beaten path. Take the restaurant Il Santo Graal, for instance. To get to this holy grail (literally, that is the name translated in English) just leave the center of Florence at your back and head across the Ponte Vecchio and continue down Via Romana for 10 minutes until you find the restaurant on your right. Don’t expect to drink from a cup that grants you everlasting youth, but don’t be surprised either to have an experience you’ll never forget.

Il-Santo-Graal-1I immediately found myself at home in the rustic and elegant atmosphere, designed by owner and architect, Emanuele Canonico. I absolutely loved the CONTINUE READING

Agriturismo L’Elmo in Umbria

Agriturismo L’Elmo in Umbria

Don’t get me wrong, Rome, Florence and Venice are three cities not to be missed on a first time trip :: viaggio to Italy. Yet, for returning tourists or nature lovers, I recommend a peaceful getaway to the region of Umbria, nicknamed the “green heart of Italy” for it’s rich vegetation.

Umbria, ItalyUmbria’s landscape consists of endless rolling hills, forests, meadows, valleys and vineyards  stretching as far as the eye can see with castles, borghi and medieval farm houses scattered along the way. Many of these farm houses and stables have been been restored and converted into “agriturismi” or farm vacations. Mr. Italicano and I had the opportunity to spend a relaxing weekend at the lovely Agriturismo L’Elmo which is found in the peaceful countryside only 15 miles from the medieval town of Orvieto.

Agriturismo_Elmo_1

Agriturismo_Elmo_1aLike everything in Italy, it all starts with a story. In 1788 the farm, stables and servant houses for the prince of the area was built using local materials like stones, sand, and oak trees.  The property belonged to the Ruspoli family until the late 1970’s when the Agneni family acquired it, introducing the cultivation of organic hazelnuts :: noccioli bio. Mr. Italicano and I had never seen hazelnut trees up close before. Come to find out, prestige truffles spontaneously grow near the trunks of the trees which are often used in the agriturismo’s dinner menus. Yes, please!

Agriturismo_Elmo_2Throughout the years the farmhouse and stable :: stalla were restored and created into an agriturismo which opened its doors in 2000. The rustic quaint room that we stayed was absolutely delightful. Country sleeping is so peaceful. There was no noise of cars passing by, just the nighttime sounds through the open window: the chirping of the crickets and rustle of the wind through the nearby trees that rocked us to sleep.

Agriturismo-Elmo-3I had strolled around the agriturismo, but hadn’t appreciated the well maintained gardens until Marina gave me a private tour of her family property pointing out the various plants, flowers, trees and shrubs :: cespugli. When we stayed, there still wasn’t any fruit so I hadn’t realized that many of the trees were fruit trees like kiwis, cherries and walnuts or that the shrub I had passed was really a laurel where she got her bay leafs for cooking. And, how did I not see the large lavender plants that lined the walkway? There was so much for me to discover thanks to Marina.

Agriturismo-Elmo-4Shortly after, Marina showed me her large organic vegetable garden :: orto bio where in the summer she grows over seven varieties of tomatoes, various types of salads, celery, peppers, artichokes and cucumbers, just to name a few. In the winter, you’ll find broccoli Romanesco, brussel sprouts, cime di rapa and other winter vegetables. Breakfast and dinners are prepared by Marina ultilizing these organic fruit and vegetables, as well as sheep and chickens raised on the farm. You’ll also find organic products produced by Argriturismo L’Elmo, like extra virgin olive oil, hazelnut spreads and jams. If you are looking for a true farm to table experience, this is the place to go.

Agriturismo-Elmo-5As for activities, you can head to nearby wineries for local wine tastings :: degustazioni di vini, make the short drive to see the beautiful town of Orvieto where there is a remarkable cathedral or simply relax poolside at the agriturismo with a good book and a glass of white wine. The views are breathtaking.

Agriturismo-Elmo-7Or, if you want to do something more active, how about a guided horseback ride through the beautiful countryside? There is a stable with a variety of trained horses for beginners and experts. Mr. Italicano and I are taking horseback riding lessons in a closed ring near where we live, but it was a whole other experience to trot through the open field and dirt trails :: sentieri di terra. 

Agriturismo-Elmo-6We couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing weekend. If you are looking for a place to unwind and to enjoy the nature, homemade food and incredible views, I would highly suggest booking a stay at the Argiturismo L’Elmo.