25 December 2017

Buone Feste a Tutti - Happy Holidays to all of our Friends Old and New

Wishing you a blessed end to this year 

and a fresh start in 2018.

Marla and Fabrizio at home with our cats Max and Misha and some of our cooking. Santa is in Pinerolo at the market. 

We've had a great season this year and I find that with all of our activities I just have a hard time keeping up on everything. I have however taking a lot of photos and have quite a few stories about what there is to see and do in our not well known but oh so deserving val Chisone. 

I plan to share stories and recipes in this coming year and will strive to get in a rhythm of posting more frequently as I love writing about our life and our neighborhood. 

Wishing you all the best now and in the coming year. 
I hope to get to know some of you and you will come back here and maybe even come and see us where we live.
Tanti Auguri!
Marla & Fabrizio
Bella Baita B&B -Italian Alps Retreat

05 June 2017

Making Fresh Tomini Cheese at Home

fresh Tomini Cheese
Super fresh Tomini Cheese
Tomini Cheese, in this part of Piemonte, Italy, means a soft fresh cheese that looks a lot like miniature ricotta cheese. Looking up Tomini in the large Piedmont chapter of our Slow Food book on Italian cheeses, Tomini is referred to as Tomini di Talucco, which happens to be the valley just on the other side of our on hillside, and it refers to it as pure goats cheese. It also states that the territory of origin comes from not only Talucco, but Grandubbione, which is where our road deadends  5 km further up the road from our house. It is the only Tomino listed in book which covers ever single region of Italy. So this type of cheese really is from our neighborhood. 
Here the Tomino is eaten in it's fresh state after a day of settling and letting the water drain out, it is salted top and bottom. Tradition is also to mature the cheese after it has firmed up by dusting them with some black or red pepper, or domestic or wild thyme and then place it in a earthenware vessel called an "ule", or glass jars, till it is ripened to the cheese makers taste. My mother in law loves to ripen them till they are quite aromatic.
Earthenware "ule" for ripening tomini cheeses, missing its lid
Ripened Tomini using black pepper and hot red pepper

So in our part of northern Italy Tomini was made completely with whole goat milk, although with changing times and palates you will find it also made with half goat and half cows milk or an all cows milk variety for those that like the style of cheese but not so fond of goat milk. I love goat cheese, so I'm a fan of the original, but not opposed to the other varieties. They are all delicious.
There is also a variety of Tomini that is sometimes called dry Tomini that has been innoculate to form a white crust similar to brie cheese. Most cheese makers here call this type of cheese Pagliarine. It's a great cheese, but to me it tastes nothing like the Tomini type that is typical to here. 
Dry Tomini or what most cheese makers here call Pagliarine
I've seen a variety of cheese makers work their their magic and thought why not give it a go at home since it seems relatively easy and I have access to fresh unpasteurized milk from what I like to call our mechanical cow over in Pinerolo.   It's great because it still has the cream on top once it sits and it truly is delicious. It's our very own local milk without the milking. 
Fresh unpasteurized milk, €1 per liter
We have a lot of cheesemakers in our valleys and a long history of being famous for our cheeses. Its been said that General Hannibal, of the elephant fame, crossed the Alps around 3through our valleys because it was not only the quickest way to cross, but it was an opportunity to try and nourish his dwindling number of men on our Alpine dairy products, most notably cheese. 

A few years back we went to a Tomini cheese making demonstration in Talucco at Agriturismo Pinareul Arios, which just happens to be cousins in the extended way that people are related when your family has lived in the neighborhood for many generations. They still make their Tomini over a wood fired stove and it all done by hand within the family. They also operate a charming dining room that features their delicious genuine home grown and made food and is famous, not only for their Tomini, but for also their Fritto Misto alla Piemontese , an extravaganza of all sorts of savory and sweet fried foods. It's a popular indulgence in these parts and they do it well.
Hand produced Tomini di Talucco at Pinareul Arios
We also take guests up our Chisone valley to Vento Grigio Farm for a demonstration of milking and Tomino making complete with a light picnic lunch outdoors with a fabulous view of the Chisone valley and a change to have a go at milking a goat if you want to. Naturally we get to sample some of Cesare's pure goat cheese Tomino and you won't be disappointed. 

Milking Goats at Vento Grigio
So now you can try and make some at home, as it isn't difficult, you just need some good quality whole milk, cows or goat, a large stainless steel cooking pot (needs to hold at least 5 quarts liquid), some rennet for producing the curds, something to hold the curds  and shape the cheese while allowing the water or whey to drain out. 
There are proper forms that you can find from cheese making suppliers or some cheese cloth lining a strainer or colander that you could use  while you decide if this is something you might make more than once in a blue moon. 
Tomino making steps

Tomino Cheese 

12 approximately cheeses, depending on how well you fill them


1 - 5 liter cook pot, stainless steel best
Cooking thermometer
5 cm x 4-5 cm (2inch x 1.75 inch) round cheese form for draining cheese in (strainer lined with cheese cloth will work) 


4 liters ( 4 quarts) whole milk, best if unpasteurized, but can make it with pasteurized milk
2 grams per liter (8 g = 1.6 tsp ) caglio ( rennet or vegetable rennet) 


If the milk has been refrigerated, let the milk set out to bring it to room temperature before heating. 
Place ambient temperature milk (37*C /  98.6*F)  in the large pot. 
Slowly raise the temperature of the milk to at least 75*C (167*F) that will pasteurize the milk. 
The milk can go as high as 85*C (185*F) 

According to some cheese makers, bringing the milk to 75*C-85*C (167*F-186*F)  pasteurizes the milk but leaves some good bacteria that adds flavor and nutrition. 

If you heat the milk all the way to 90*C (194*F) it sterilizes the milk. 
Once the milk reaches the desired temperature hold the milk there for at least 5 minutes.  

My pots hold the heat quite well, so I turned the heat off and kept the thermometer in the milk to make sure the heat didn't dip below the 75* mark until after the 5 minutes. Descriptions of making Tomini states the milk needs to go to 85*C, but cheese makers seem to have varying opinions on this point. It seems to be their twist on making the Tomino recipe their own.

Allow the milk to cool down in the cooking pot to 38* (194*F). 
While the milk is cooling measure out your caglio (rennet) and have it ready to add immediately at 38*C (195*F) 
The temperature can drop quickly so keep a close eye on the temperature of the milk.

Add the caglio (rennet) and stir throughly to distribute the rennet. Cover the pot with a lid and allow to cool undisturbed for at least 40 minutes - 2 hours.  You can raise the lid to peak in just don't stir or move the pot gently if needed so as not to disturb the milk curds. I did the 40 minutes one time and it didn't seem to be enough time for mine to set properly, so now I just go with the 2 hour timing. 
Once you let it cool down you will find that the milk has softly solidified and pulled away from the sides of the pan. There will be a clearish whey formed between the cheese and the pot. 

Take a long handled spoon or metal spatula and start by making a long cut through the top to the bottom of the curd and draw a line horizontally toward you. Lift the spatula out make the same motion horizontally across the curd to form the blessing of the cross. 
Then gently cut the curds up the same way throughout the whole of the pan until the curds form and the whey begins to be throughout the whole pot. Let the curd set for a few minties and then either scoop up the curds with your form or fill the forms gently lifting the curds and pouring then into the draining forms. Fill a few forms and keep going back to refill, as the curds will give a lot of whey even after sitting. 
**Do not let the cheeses sit in the drained whey because it is bitter from the rennet and will give an off flavor to the cheese. There are draining trays here for helping with that problem, but even with those you must keep watching them for a few hours as they will give off whey for a couple of days. After the first few hours the amount will slow down, but be very vigilant with making sure the cheese does not rest for very long in the whey. 

They can be eaten after a couple of hours, but will be quite soft. I would let the others sit at least over night if you can before unmolding them to stand on their own. If desired, you can sprinkle a bit of salt on the top and bottom of the individual cheeses, but not everyone does that. Many people here prefer them with out the salt to taste the freshness os the milk. its a bit like unsalted and salted butter. They both have their place. You can always salt them to taste when eating. 
The cheeses will last several days to a week ot so depending on your salting or not and how you hold them. I keep the nin the refrigerator unless I am going to salt them and dry them with a bit of pepper or herbs. After a day or two of air drying you can then put them in the jars or earthenware jar. They will get strong tasting after a week or so and you can ripen them to taste. Usually for us, they never get that far, as we will have eaten them with tomatoes, and a drizzle of good olive oil or hot pepper oil, a few cranks of fresh cracked pepper for a delicate fresh cheese that you made yourself. 
Do enjoy.
Fresh Tomini cheese with a parsley garnish
*The whey is good as an addition to bread and some types of baked goods. It has also been used in making home made soap. You will find that many animals will enjoy the rennet also, but not all. 

26 February 2017

Pasta and Potatoes / Pasta e Patata - A Classic Recipe to Chase the Chill Away

Pasta and Potato
Pasta and Potatoes
It's still chilly these days even though February this year was milder than usual and bowls of hearty vegetables and pasta still go a long way to taking the edge of that chill off. This particular recipe I started making this summer after one of our volunteers, Mascia, prepared us one of her favorite dishes, her grandmother's recipe for pasta e patata, or pasta and potatoes. It's always a treat when someone cooks for us, and especially so when its from one of our volunteers. We've had a variety of International cuisines over the years, Japanese, French, Dutch, Italian vegan / macrobiotic and even my familiar American. 

Most everyone can always use another pasta dish to add to their repertoire.This one seems to be a classic dish in many parts of Italy with as many variations as their are cooks I would imagine. In it's simplest form it is very much like what many of us think of as minestrone soup without the beans. Some people like to add a bit of saltiness and flavor punch by adding in some form of porky cut of meat with various levels of fattiness and smokiness or not. Some like a bit of red pepper zippiness or a touch of oregano. Most are a thick "stick to your ribs" kind of consistency. The Neapolitan version is  finished off in an oven proof dish smothered in smoked, or not, provolone cheese slices and heated till the cheese melts and served right away. 
This version is a simpler straight forward version that Mascia insisted that the butter used to sauté the vegetables was her nonna's secret ingredient.  Here in the north they are fond of using butter and it does make a tasty addition to this simple dish and is highly recommended. What ever your preference might be I think you will find this classic pasta dish a great comfort and "go to" recipe for any day of the week. 
Thanks Mascia for sharing your nonna's recipe. 

Yield : 4 servings


2-3 T olive oil, extra virgin
30g / 2 T butter
50 g smoked pancetta, prosciutto, or guanciale (optional)*
80 g / 1/2 c  white onion 
80 g / 1/2 c carrots, diced
80 g / 1/2 c  celery, diced
100 g / 2/3 c cherry tomatoes or pachino, blanched, peeled and diced

3 ½ – 4 cups water or stock
1 vegetable bullion cube, use if you don't have chicken or vegetable stock
500 g / 2 3/4 c potatoes (peeled and cubed)
160 g / 1 1/3 c small shaped pasta ( small tubes, wheels, gnocchetti, mixed pasta, half penne)
2 -3 Parmigiana or Grana Padana crusts (optional)*
Parsley chopped to garnish  or some oregano as some recipes call for 

Grated Parmigiana to sprinkle
Salt and pepper  or hot red pepper to taste

*Variation: In Naples and other southern parts of Italy they will put the finished dish in oven proof bowls and cover the top with some slices of smoked provolone cheese. Heating it to melt the cheese before serving.


In a medium pot, at least 2 qt/L, heat your pan, then add the butter and olive oil.
Once the butter has melted and the oil is heated, add the diced onion, carrot and celery.
Sauté the vegetables on a medium heat for a few minutes.
Cook until the vegetables are soft, but hasn't picked up any color, about 3-5 minutes.
Then add the meat if using, and tomatoes, cook a few more minutes.
Add 3 cups of water to the sautéed vegetables along with bullion cube, if using
and the potatoes and pasta.
Taste and adjust seasonings keeping in mind that the crusts will add salt to the dish.
Add the Parmigiana crusts if you have them.
Cook until the potatoes and pasta are cooked, adding the other ½ -1 cup of additional water to reach a creamy texture, but not too soupy.
Serve hot and garnish with Parmigiana if desired. 

Buon appetito!!

26 January 2017

3rd Annual "SMTA - Sustainable Mountain Tourism" Ostana, Italy

Heading over towards Monviso, in the distance, to Ostana
It's the beginning of another annual ride around the sun for all of us who mark our calendars beginning with January 1. 
What will 2017 bring to us and what will we focus on in our alpine Italian life?  
Good questions that had one immediate answer when Fabrizio was searching around the internet one night last week. Lo and behold he found a symposium on "Sustainable Mountain Tourism" that was to take place in 2 days time in Ostana, Italy, which just happens to be 65 km away and a couple of mountains over from us, where mighty Monviso peak resides.                                                               
Approaching Monviso -Ostana in the Summer
Naturally this piqued our interest as we started our own "Sustainable Mountain Eco Tourism" - "T.E.M. Association" ( Tourismo Ecosostinible Montano- Associazione Di Promozione Sociale) about 10 years ago. 

What is sustainable mountain tourism you might ask?
 A simple definition of sustainable tourism that lines up with our beliefs I found on the   The Sustainable Tourism Gateway website. 
"Sustainable tourism in its purest sense, is an industry which attempts to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate income, employment, and the conservation of local ecosystems. It is responsible tourism that is both ecologically and culturally sensitive."

Our Eco Sustainable Mountain Tourism Association Logo

The addition of Mountain into Sustainable Tourism, creates a specific viewpoint as life in the mountains can be a delicate balance between maximizing economic development and protecting fragile environments and sensitivity to cultural heritage.
According to "Euromontana", a European association of Mountain areas, with whom we presented our Bella Baita B&B  mountain living model to their annual meeting in 2013; 60% of all Europeans live in the mountains. I found that statistic to be rather astounding and important to consider how important it is to support these rural and sometimes fragile communities. 


We were thrilled to write to the SMTA and within minutes find out that they were happy, on short notice, for us to attend their 3rd annual international  edition of "SMTA  Sustainable Mountain Tourism Alliance"
It was with great excitement that we set off to join the discussion. We really knew nothing about them, but off we went on Friday (the 13th no less)  to check out this day of exploring what Sustainable Mountain Tourism means, building a meta-network (a network of networks) and the circular economy. 

Arriving at Ostana in winter was just as as impressive as arriving in summer. We drove over there in July for a days outing on my birthday to see a restored and revitalized mountain village that we had heard a lot about. The mayor of this village has been committed to revitalizing for the village for the past 20 years or so to try and breathe new life into what was an almost deserted village.  The buildings were neglected and crumbling after the town was all but abandoned when people moved on to look for economic opportunities, mostly after WWII. We have the same scenario in our mountain neighborhood.  And it was the same story in the mountains of Colorado that I use to live in until they started the ski areas. 

Ostana has struggled along, mostly being home to a few hearty souls and a few who came for the beauty of the area and the outdoor mountain activities that are on hand. The Monviso ski area use to draw in people in the winter when the ski industry was buzzing in the 70's. That however has slowed to a trickle as many ski areas have felt the sharp pinch of the Italian economic slow down along with aging equipment and a lack of funds to upgrade. 
The town's mayor has made a real effort to bring in support for getting the buildings renovated and attracting new life into this small but now growing community. 
Sant Antonia - a small borgata, a part of and up from, Ostana, where our meeting was held. 

We had lunch this summer and also during the symposium at the beautiful Galaberna rifugio, another project that has brought business into the  mountains. There is also a bar and a couple of stores, one offering quaint home accessories and another with outdoor sporting goods and local artisanal products which adds quite a lift to this charming hamlet. The revitalization of this community is a testament to commitment to a vision to bring growth and find the ways and means to do so. Good for Ostana and its residents, you are inspiring. 

Back to the symposium. 
Our symposium was up, and I do mean up, the hill to another cluster of houses and buildings  that had a very state of the art meeting room,  along with a tiny bar that made for a cozy day of exchanging ideas and lively discussions on mountain tourism. 

We met some fascinating people that share many of our ideals of supporting life in the mountains through tourism that supports tradition and innovation. The symposium was led by one of the founding members of SMTA, Swiss educator, Dr. Tobias Luthe, who presented what work they have done in working towards making sustainable tourism a concrete and  viable means of income in the mountains of Europe.  Starting with the focus on concrete means of bringing money for rebuilding and attracting others to live in rural areas that are in need of new ideas for saving abandoned hamlets and revitalizing these communities through reconstruction and touristic activities that can support small local businesses. Tobias was the main moderator but there was at least one other founding member and other students and educators and various business partners who participated and shared their vision for mountain redevelopment. 

We broke out into several small groups to discuss specific topics and came back together to share our thoughts.  One of the things that struck me was even thought we all had the exact same discussion topics, we came up with such diverse ideas and angles of approach. I think that is what makes getting people from different countries and diverse touristic backgrounds together such a worthwhile endeavor. It brings many different points of views and ideas to the table. I found the topics stimulating and the company pleasantly interesting. 
SMTA 3rd Annual Symposium Ostana, Italy
 Dr. Tobias Luthe presenting in the top middle photo
We took a break for lunch with a walk down to Galberna Rifugio for a convivial and traditional Piemontese mountain lunch that was outstanding. High quality food and wine, prepared simply with the personality of the chef shining through, made for a delightful meal together with new friends. Then after our break we trudged back up the hill which seemed to get just a tad longer and steeper on the way back, but the fresh air and beautiful mountain scenery made it all worth the effort. It also helped to keep us alert after such a satisfying meal and enabled us to remain engaged for the afternoon topics. 

Photos of Ostana this past July when we had lunch at La Galaberna.
The food was excellent both times we ate their. Highly recommend it!
The small group discussions included not only what exactly is needed to identify what exactly sustainable tourism is, but how to you brand it so that people will know what they are looking for and what exactly they will be receiving.  Also, how do you measure if this type of approach to mountain tourism is easily recognizable and effective. How do we bring this movement forward together and also concretely measure progress being made. 
Sharing our ideas 
I'm not sure how the symposium found its way to Ostana, but I am sure there is an interesting story there. We learned there is the beginnings of a "Monviso Institute" in progress to bring yet another portion of this cluster of mountain neighborhoods back to life. 
Some of these same folks have bought a small cluster of abandoned houses even further up from these buildings and have started to renovate them to turn them into a project 
"as an experimental real-world laboratory for sustainable design and living." MonViso Institue  
It all sounds very exciting to not only meet people that are trying to generate a way of bringing economic life back to the mountains, but who are actually putting in to practice the systems they are trying to create and nurture. 
In summing up the whole concept of sustainable tourism we talked about a circular economy. The term has been used in the industrial realm to move away from the linear model of 'take, make, dispose' economic model to  "a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design, aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. "  
For me a circular economy is really just a getting back to basics of relying on your community to provide services and goods from local sources and sourcing things closer to you so that the money stays in the community and recycles itself around. I love purchasing our food from the farmers that produce it and try to make a habit of keeping that in mind whenever possible. From my perspective we are looking to go back to a system that we lost sight of when the promise of globalization seemed to be an answer to so many needs. Communities use to rely more on each other. I think you still find this interdependence in rural communities still, but it is ever increasingly important to commit to buy and work with local professionals for supporting a healthier and more robust local economy in order to keep the circle to include your neighborhood.  
I think that one of the biggest takeaways from the conference was to generate enthusiasm for thinking globally and acting locally, through talking together and sharing ideas to take back home and see what can be implemented and what other ideas can be generated with ones own community. Our concerns for our natural environment, our neighbors, and communities economic health is brought into clearer focus with an eye towards generating more opportunities to work together with ur neighbors to build the community we dream of. Lofty goals indeed, but starting from where one is situated and reaching out to others is a place to start and communicating around a table, usually laid with  great food, is where we like to start. So we shall see what we can bring about in our community and we look forward to participating with this group again as well as discovering what the MonViso Institute will have on offer as well. 
View of Monviso from our neighborhood
Onward and upward, I say. 
Ciao for now!!

21 December 2016

A Few Easy Gift Ideas Just in Time for Christmas

"And we've really no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....."

Christmas is more than rapidly approaching and the countdown is almost at ground zero. If you are in need of some inspiration for any last minute ideas, I just happen to have a few that mostly should be there in time for making an appearance under the tree or on someone's device. The wonder and glory of downloadable gifts or certificates. I don't know about you, but I love this new virtual world, most of the time at least. When you don't live close to many of your loved ones, the internet highway is a high speed way to get the message that I love you and am thinking of you done fast.
Many people think the internet option is too impersonal, but I love all the choices and possibilities on finds on line. However the look and touch of real books and other tangible items will never be completely replaceable, but there are some great options to there to be had.

The Framed Winter "Bella Baita View "
I have started to embrace the written word on electronic devices even though I don't have a dedicated reading device, I do have an ipad and that has made recipes in the kitchen a delight to use. I also have started to read fun novels and even a magazine or two on my iphone and ipad. It makes for an enjoyable read without more magazines and books around our small apartment. I have even taken to scanning or photo graphing some of my favorite cook book recipes so that the recipes are readily available. I have even found some cook book titles that have been on sale and so I have tried them out and that helps me decide if I want to have an actual hard copy of the cook book to my ever groaning cook book shelf. I do think there are limitations with cook books as they are sometimes difficult to get to the page you want in some of the formats that the authors have laid them out in, but still I love my little collection of mostly bread cook books and a smattering of various titles of cuisines around the world and my new expanded love of fermenting and culturing foods. It's been exciting learning all about foods that are alive and often feel like being a mad scientist. But I do digress.

I have gathered a few of my favorite reads at the moment and one fantastic apparel company with some suggestions for gifts that can give more than once and sometimes to different recipients. These are easy to purchase ( I guess that is the case in most purchasing now isn't it, although you can do it from the comfort of your home ) and easy to tuck under the tree, stuff in a stocking or have delivered to your designated device. Some of these ideas are so nice you may just want to some for yourself as well to enjoy as well. I hope you find something to intrigue and delight you this year. 
and visions of sugarplums danced in their head..

#1  First up  -  "Living in Italy The Real Deal" Stef Smulders

If you have ever thought you might want to chuck it all and live in Italy, run a B&B or some other type of business, then this is a book you cannot afford to miss! When Stef Smulders reached out to me to have a go with his newly English translated version of his ebook, Living in Italy - The Real Deal, I readily accepted. How lucky for me. His book about his and husband Nico's experiences of deciding to leave their native Holland to purchase a home in the Oltrepo Pavese region of northern Italy is a fun and enlightening read. You may think you have read this story before and maybe you have, but this book is a fresh and engaging story that has real benefits if you are seriously considering this very adventure. Stef's use of real  Italian phrases while telling their tale  will also be extremely useful as you will most likely encounter many if not all of these chapters in this process of buying in a foreign country such as Italy. He doesn't sugar coated their experiences here, and that is a good thing. You will find there is always a way through the morass of red tape and cultural differences that makes for light hearted entertaining reading and hopeful happy endings. Of course, the process is always a journey and Stef will have you enjoying the journey along with them. This really is an entertaining must read if you are serious about moving and purchasing a property in Italy. It is also a story that will have you scratching your head and chuckling along with them on their journey. 

You can purchase a copy of his book here  at Living in Italy - The Real Deal

You can also find our more information about staying with them at the destination at the heart of this book here Villa I Due Padroni. You can stay and let them point you in the best way to discover yet another worthy "off the beaten path" destination in Italy. I am sure they are very happy to share more stories about their whole adventure with you as well. Tell them Marla at Bella Baita sent you. 

Susan Van Allen's very popular book is a must read also for anyone wanting to visit Italy and doesn't know quite where to start. Even seasoned Italophiles will find much to discover on her website and in her book, blog and "Golden Day Series".  Susan has let me know that the book has been fully updated in the newest edition. 
You ca find her website here, and information as to where to purchase her book. 
You will find my blog Bell Baita View listed in the book's new edition in its Online Resources.

You can also read about what I consider a perfect day out and about in our beloved Val Chisone at  my post on her Golden Day series. 
You'll find it here.
Golden Day Fifty-Three: A Little Piece of Heaven in Serre Marchetto

#3 - Dream of Italy Newsletter and now TV Show

Kathy McCabe's website and Travel Newsletter is a wealth of information about traveling in Italy. It is a subscription service that also offer the subscriber many extra perks aside from the premium content that is on offer. There is also an abundance of free content  to entice you and help you make the most of any visit you might make to Italy. She now has a new TV Show in PBS about here visit and suggestions of Italian travel and you can find more information on the website here  and the this other link takes you directly to the membership page.
Dream of Italy - Travel Resource and Now TV Show

You can find us mentioned on her site on the Piedmont Page as well as on her  Cooking School page .

#4 - Some Cookbooks I have found of Interest this year:

These a few of the books that caught my attention this year. The first 2 titles are new this year, the third last year and the other two are older than these, but all are very worth discovering.  I know some of the authors from online and expats groups, although have not met them all in person.  

In a nutshell, I fell in love with so many aspects of this book. I have the hard cover and I love the look and feel of the matte finish cover, the recycled paper, the incredible photos and writing and lastly the recipes. I enjoyed the well researched history behind the recipes and the culture and history of Rome through its food. I read some critiques of this very fact that it isn't an exhaustive list of Roman dishes, but I found that I loved all of the recipes that made the cut in the selection process. I love that some of the classics are pure and some have a modern take and some simply are not something I would make, but still all entranced me and had me reading it like a series of short stories. 

I came across this book a bit too late in my preserving season to truly put it to good use this year. That's ok, because I now will have the winter to read through it and make a plan for next year. I have quite a few favorite recipes for preserving fruits and vegetables the Italian way, but there are plenty of recipes here to delight and try out. The syrups, liqueurs and fruits have quite a few that have my attention as well as some interesting variations on vegetables that are sure to ratchet up the flavor profile. It has a wide range of preserving methods and some recipes using what has been for later use. A very enjoyable book that portends well for putting food by the Italian way. 

I have made a number of Letizia's delicious recipes from her fabulous "Madonna del Piatto" blog, so when I heard she was making a cook book I was excited. This cookbook is exquisite in its beauty and feast for the eyes, much as they view from her kitchen offers. Her recipes are classically simple and yet refreshingly diverse with flavor. and surprises She is generous with her knowledge and that is helpful when making an unfamiliar dish. I think this would be a welcome addition to anyones Italian cookbook repertoire. 

This is the latest gorgeous book on the subject of Italian cooking close to this authors heart. Long before she moved to Tuscany full time and started her organic olive oil farm and holiday apartments, she has written numerous cookbooks on Italian cuisine. This volume celebrates the simplicity and splendor that is simple Italian cooking that elevates what is on hand in the pantry to exquisite new heights. The Italians are masters of this; making much from virtually nothing. That is the beauty of Cucina Povera. There are stories and background to put the recipes into context and for me I love this aspect of cooking, as it often brings a deeper appreciate for the dish. These type of recipes rely even more heavily on the quality of the ingredients to elevate the dish to memorable so no scrimping there. There is a very reasonable priced ebook available to might convince you that a hard copy os the way to go as well. E-cookbooks help preserve your hard bound cookbooks from the drips and splatters that happen along the way when cooking with them in the kitchen, an added bonus. 

This book is usually the bellwether and standard for which most people refer to in reverential tones when one talks about the revival of fermenting and culturing food and drinks that has exploded on the scene the past few years. I had no idea about so many of these foods until more recently when Kombucha and the revival of milk kefir seems to have taken the US by storm, and brought to light all the places where this tradition never completely went away. It's a fascinating and delicious journey that like so many disciplines, seems to be endless and that, actually, is a good thing.  The book is full of sound advice based on science and easy to glean the information. The Cultures for Health website is a treasure trove of resources to get you started and access to start this culinary journey. There are a goodly number of free ebooks on the various culturing disciplines for merely signing up for their newsletter. This community is generous with their knowledge and very helpful when needed. Just ask. 

#5 A New Active and Casual Athletic Apparel Company, 
whose goal is to empower women....

What can I say except I love this concept, this idea, these products, these 2 women who are making it happen, following their dreams and working hard to bring other women along with them. Their company was founded so the 20% of their proceeds, "supports and funds a wide array of non-profits that directly impact women who are aspiring to do more." What is not to like about that?

Founded by Hanna Bowden and Laurel Kasel, friends and basketball team mates from their years at Colorado Mesa University playing college basketball and all the other sports that Colorado has on offer. Their years in the women's sports field inspired them to found their company.
Hanna spoke about their motivation in an interview she did last month with "The WON - Women's Outdoor News" publication in which she noted,
" Mpowher was born from the fact that we saw a lack of empowerment of women from all our years playing team sports to working in corporate America. This lack of empowerment was everywhere."
All I can say is they are producing a great looking product line of casual active athletic apparel that does more then keep you comfy and styling. Have a look at their products and support this small business to reach their dreams and achieve their goals in which they realize a business that is about empowering women more than merely making money. Refreshing perspective in this world today.
Go Hanna and Laurel!  

** Full disclosure...I have known Hanna since she was a twinkle in her parents eyes. Her mother is a dear friend that dates back to our days working together at the Sunshine Cafe in Silverthorne, Colorado and her dad when he was a snow cat driver at Keystone. This family knows a thing or two about sports. Hanna and Laurel came and stayed with us a couple of years ago on their whirl wind tour in Europe. They were a delight to have stay with us and we are just so delighted to see them really doing something that stands out in their industry. they are starting from where they are and I am sure they will be very successful. Please encourage them on their journey!**  Marla
Fabrizio, Marla, Laurel Kasel, and Hanna Bowden- May 2014

# 6  Last but not least - Take an online class and learn a new skill or craft

I discovered Craftsy a few years back when Peter Reinhart offered his bread baking class on this site and discounted it to boot just before Christmas. I just checked now and there are a lot of classes on sale on the site right now. Very worth checking out. There are hundreds of classes to choose from. I also bought a cheese making class as well. They are great, because you have a lifetime access to the class, there are recipes to download, video to watch at your leisure and over and over again if you like and an online forum where you can ask questions of the teacher or other students and share your triumphs or less than stellar attempts. It really is a nice format. There are also a number of free classes on a wide range of topics too.

Speaking of FREE.... Skill share is another site where most all of the courses are free and as wide ranging as learning to paint to learning how to code computers. there are some cooking classes and design classes and all sorts of interesting topics that people are willing to share for free with you. There now is a premium feature that gives you access to more involved , but there really is a wealth of free classes to choose from and probably something to interest most everybody.

Christmas tree in Naples bar
With love from Marla & Fabrizio 
at Bella Baita Italian Alps Retreat

Wishing everyone, everywhere a very special 
Winter Solstice, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas
and any others you care to celebrate in peace. 

"Peace on earth, goodwill toward hu-mans!"
Our Bella Baita View - Winter Version
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