The Dog Days of Summer at Dog Beach in San Vincenzo, Italy

As many of you know, I am a big ‘dog person‘ and my beloved Labrador, Leni, is one of the most spoiled dogs around. He has a passport, has travelled overseas and, quite possibly, has been to more countries than many adults. I am always conscious of choosing a vacation that will meet his needs and not see him left for hours at a time while we head off for fun.  So, with this in mind, imagine my absolute delight when I was organising our first trip to San Vincenzo, Italy and I came across the Dog Beach website. Could it be true? Could we really take our water-loving Lab to the beach with us in Italy? It seemed like a clear win-win for our entire family…and off we went!

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Found it!!

Dog Beach is located on the Mediterranean coastline of the western Tuscan region of Italy. Just south of the major port city of Livorno, Dog Beach lies on the pristine sandy outskirts of the town of San Vincenzo where the summer days are sunny, hot and long! A trip to the beach for you and your furry friend are practically what the doctor would order as a cure.

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Dog days of summer?!

Dog Beach is accessible off the main road, with limited free and abundant paid parking nearby. There is a small entrance fee for your dog, which helps pay for the facilities and a vet available in case of emergency. Dogs run around primarily off the leash but if your Fido isn’t very friendly, you might want to consider keeping him/her on a leash.  Sun beds, chairs and umbrellas are all available for rent.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough, we were delighted when a guy came by on a 4 wheeler selling gelato (ice cream).  It was only once I approached and asked him what flavours he had did he surprise me with “is it for you or for your dog?”  Yes, they sold all the wonderful flavours one would expect from Italian gelato, and similar dog-safe versions. Our dog consumed his pineapple and ginseng one too fast for me to get a decent photo but as you can imagine, he was thrilled.

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Dog-friendly gelato, devoured in about 30 seconds…!

If you find yourself wondering where to go this summer and don’t want to leave your four-legged friend at home, I highly recommend the San Vincenzo region, with daily trips to the Dog Beach.

Good to know:

-Shower/wash stations are available for spraying down your dog at the end of the day. On our last trip, these cost 1€
-A small snack shop is located nearby with sandwiches and cold drinks for sale. Cash only
-there is a dog gift shop where you can buy toys for the beach for your dog, kids and different souvenirs
-if your dog has never been in salt water, watch his/her consumption. It can give some dogs an upset stomach, just be aware
-there is a free fresh water station for filling up your dog’s water bowl
-Bring cash with you as you will need it for everything and hard as I tried, I failed to locate a bank machine/ATM nearby

Most importantly, have fun!! Bring an extra towel or two…!!

 

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Dog Beach San Vincenzo

 

 

 

Photo Journal: Lake Como, Italy

My family and I are bona fide Italiophiles. We love anything and everything to do with visiting Italy, as readers of this blog may have already learned once or twice before! Once we cross the Italian border, we feel relaxed and happy. This may very well be built up in our heads, but even if that is true, is it really so bad?? Italy represents a slowing down of life for us. Taking some speed off of the pace of things and allowing ourselves to enjoy leisurely days and delicious food.

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Wine, sun, mountains and Lago di Como – when life is perfect

We recently booked a last minute long-weekend trip to Lake Como (Lago di Como) and spent 5 marvellous days soaking in the sun, the culture, the wine and the gelato! Lake Como, often known for its most famous resident, George Clooney, is breath-taking any time of year. The weather starts to heat up in April and really pumps up its volume in June, July, August and September. Outside of these months you can expect cooler weather and perhaps some rain but I promise, even then, Como will not disappoint.

Alas, we did not find George on our trip (to be honest, we didn’t look that hard) but we did find our own little paradise along the lake. We may not be in the same tax bracket as Mr. Clooney, but we were able to borrow his lifestyle for a few days. Thank you, Como. We’ll be back!

Enjoy the photos!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hart

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking: Panettone

Love it or leave it but Panettone season is upon us again! Pana-what-y? Panettone (pan-eh-tone-eh). If you have to ask what this is then you must not live anywhere near an Italian market or somewhere like Switzerland where Italians make up a good chunk of the population. Something magical seemed to happen on the first of November in every single grocery store across Switzerland (and no, I’m not talking about discounted Halloween candy). Panettone popped up everywhere!! Just like cheese did a few weeks prior, panettone has taken over the supermarkets with bright boxes, colourful containers and more varieties than you knew were even possible!

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My homemade chocolate panettone!

So, what is panettone? Panettone is a sweet leavened bread with flavourings added. The traditional mix includes dried fruits but over the years versions such as hazelnut chocolate (think Nutella), grappa and lemon have appeared to gain in popularity. Panettone is similar to a brioche and is often served with tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

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Endless selection
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Gluten-free versions

What to do if your local store isn’t chock full of panettone and you want to try it? You could always make it yourself! YES, panettone is a somewhat time consuming recipe but it is not difficult. You basically work with the dough or 10 minutes or so then leave it for a couple hours and repeat. I know someone that left their dough accidentally for 5 hours and it still turned out fine. It is a forgiving recipe so even newcomers can handle it.

The same basic recipe can be used for a chocolate panettone or a fruity one, just choose your ‘extra’ ingredients based on your taste. You can always mix and match. I’m a big chocolate and orange fan so candied orange with chocolate chips would be awesome! My husband and I like a bit of Grand Marnier splashed in the dough but we avoid that with the kids. Just have fun with it!

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With Grappa in the mix!

Panettone:
*NOTE: a panettone tin would be perfect for this but if you have another deep (20cm/7inch) dish, feel free to use that. Some bake shops and grocery stores sell disposible panettone dishes that work very well! I’ve heard of people in North America using old large metal coffee tins. Alternatively, I have heard of panettone being made in metal IKEA utensil holders (the silver one with holes) after being lined with aluminium foil and parchment. Deep is what you are after so get creative!

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My panettone tin
  • 60ml/4tbs warm milk (soy milk may be used if you are vegan but beware, the final texture may not be the same)
  • 14g/0.5oz dry fast-action yeast
  • 100g/ 1/2 cup of caster sugar
  • 500g/2 cups of strong white flour
  • 250g/1 cup butter or butter substitute
  • 5 eggs (or flax egg equivalent), lightly beaten
  • 1oml/2tsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1 orange (you can omit this but I feel it rounds out the flavour)
  • pinch of salt

Extra items:
For a traditional fruit panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of your favourite dried fruits (i.e. raisins, cranberries, cherries candied orange and lemon, etc) You can chose just one fruit or several types to make a mixture

For a chocolate panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of dark chocolate chips, chunks or a broken chocolate bar (reserve some for sprinkling on top)

Finish for both versions:

  • 1 egg white, beaten (vegan – mix small amount of soy milk with sunflower oil)
  • 8-10 rough crushed sugar cubes or pre-made sugar crystals
  • optional – you can add slivered or whole almonds to the topping mix if you like

Directions:

  1. Place your warm milk, 1tbs/15ml of sugar and yeast together in a bowl and leave to sit for a few minutes. In the meantime, grease your panettone (or other) tin with butter or margarine. Using a different bowl, add the remainder of the sugar to the butter and vanilla extract. Mix together until pale and creamy.
  2. Gently add the orange zest and mix. Now add one egg at a time, making sure each egg is well incorporated before adding the next.
  3. Place all the flour in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Make a small hole or well in the middle and first pour the yeast mixture into the well, followed by the butter and egg mixture. Begin to stir and bring together, gently mixing all the wet and dry ingredients together. Once the ingredients seem well blended, knead the dough in the bowl with your hands for about 5 minutes. This will be a VERY sticky dough at this stage so don’t panic if yours is sticking to you!
  4. Take the sticky dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Here, you will knead again for another 5-10 minutes until you have a very stretchy and soft dough. If your dough is sticking to your hands and the surface, you may use small sprinkles of flour to help with this process. After 5-10 minutes, shape into a ball and place into a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for 2 hours to rise. Please note: your dough will double in size so make sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate this!
  5. After 2 hours, place the dough on a lightly floured surface again and knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding either your fruit mixture or chocolate mixture. If you are using chocolate, be careful not to knead too much and melt the chocolate into the dough. I would knead the dough for 4 minutes then add the chocolate at the last minute. Shape into a ball and place into your greased tin. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for another hour to rise.
  6. Heat over to 180C/360F. At this point, brush the egg wash or substitute over the top of the dough and add the sugar cube pieces. Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes (some ovens may take longer!). Test with a skewer before removing from oven. IF your panettone starts to brown too much on the top, gently cover with a foil tent to protect from the heat.
  7. Remove from oven and let sit for at least 30 minutes before attempting to turn out.
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Sticky dough
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My dough rising in front of the fireplace
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Final step! It gets exciting now and the smell is addictive throughout the house!

 

Final tips:
If you find the egg and butter mixture starting to curdle, add small (like a teaspoon at a time) amounts of flour to smooth it out.
Also, you can place parchment paper inside your tin before adding the dough to help remove the cooked panettone at the end.

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And she’s done!!! Yum!

Now, sit back and enjoy warm with a  fresh cup of tea or coffee!! Did someone say warm sugary bread? YUM!

Friday Featurette: Jet-lagged Emotions

A couple Fridays a month I will be featuring another blogger or up-and-coming writer on my site. Stories range from expat life to travel/adventure. If you are interested in possibly being featured, please read the info here and get in touch!  You may notice differences in terminology, vocabulary and spellings here but I think keeping it authentic to the author’s voice and background makes for a richer reading. 

Jet-Lagged Emotions
By: Katherine Wilson

People say the world is getting smaller, and I agree. When I moved to Italy from the USA twenty years ago, the transatlantic flights seemed endless: there was one movie that you didn’t choose, the old headphones barely worked making it hard to hear, and you had to crane your neck to see the communal screen. Talking to my family in the USA meant buying a phone card once a week and closing myself in a tiny, hot, smoke-filled booth.

‘What a whiner’, my mother chided me, ‘when I came to Bologna in 1967 we travelled on a boat, and I didn’t dream of talking to my family.’

Today, I can talk for free, any time of day or night. I can see my sister’s face in New York as she works out on the elliptical; can show her the piece of parmiggiano reggiano I’m about to buy at the market. The flight is direct, with great, individual movies that I can choose. The world is getting smaller, or at least becoming more efficient at feeling that way.

Smaller, except for one little thing. If only we could eliminate the six hour time difference between us. I understand this is unlikely, given that the Earth revolves around the sun and that might not change for my convenience. But in terms of communication, it creates a gulf. I am a mother of two and the morning is when I find myself having some time to talk – when it would be a pleasure to chat with my sister. By the time New York wakes up, I’m revving up for an afternoon of school pickups, shuttling kids and attacking Italian homework.

“Let’s talk at 11 my time?” my sister suggests via text. Unfortunately, her 11 am (my 5pm), is when I’m deep in Italian subjunctives and dinner preparation. It is also a point in the day when I tend to be tired. I no longer have it in me to tell her about whatever I had in mind this morning, when the day spread out before me and I was optimistic about the future: work, family, plans, etc.

“OK. 11’s good,” I text her back. I call her because she’s my sister and I want to hear her voice, even if it means perilous multitasking and leaving my kids to their own devices. I hear in her voice that it’s 11 am. She’s freshly caffeinated and wants to tell me about a date she had and ask about what are we planning for this summer.

“Um… yeah… I’m not sure yet… sorry just a second Anthony can you stop doing that, please?”. Sadly, this is about all my sister gets from me.

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Look familiar? Long-distance communication often happens when we can fit it in instead of when it is most convenient!

I realize, it’s not because I’m an ocean away, it’s because I’m six hours ahead. Her day has just started to hit its stride while mine peaks into the stressful hours of parenting, cooking and checking homework. She is Morning Anna and I am Afternoon Katherine. As a result, we are very much out of sync.

A friend of mine who had been an expat for years when I arrived in Italy gave me wise advice when she told me that when you fly transatlantic, it takes your soul a few days to catch up with your body. She told me, Katherine, with this experience, you shouldn’t expect too much of yourself those first few days, because it’s just your body. Your soul hasn’t quite arrived yet.

I think of that when I’m Afternoon Katherine talking to Morning Anna. Our souls are not in the same dimension. I give her my voice and my ear, detached from my emotions. That’s all I’ve got in the early evening.

I tell her before I hang up that I can’t wait to see her this summer, when we will be in the same place at the same time.

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Katherine Wilson is an American actress and writer living in Italy. Her memoir, Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia From My Italian Mother-in-Law is an ode to her adopted city and family, as well as a hilarious look at expat life. It was out from Random House this spring and is being published in seven countries.
Click here to purchase in the USA and her to purchase in the UK/Europe.
Click here to follow Katherine on Facebook
Click here to follow Katherine on Instagram

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Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part II

A weekend away in Torino is made easier with these tips and ideas!

My little family recently had the good fortune to spend a long, sunny weekend in Torino, Italy falling in love with its character, people, food and culture. As promised, I said I would follow up our visit with a list of What To Do and What to Eat in Torino. Although we were a family travelling with two kids (5 and 8) and yet I can just as easily see many of the things listed here as being fun for couples, friends, etc.

Here we go!

What To Do:
With no end of things to do in Torino, everyone in your group from the sports fan to anciet Egypt fanatic will be pleased. While not listed, I challenge you to count the number of Fiat 500s you see rolling through the small streets of Torino. A local car to Torino, it has never looked better than in her hometown! 

Egyptian Museum/Museo Egizi0 di Torino

-Parco del Valentino (Excellent spot for a run, walk, picnic or kick around with a ball. You can rent bikes in the park and there are a couple little cafes selling sandwiches, beer and gelato, of course)

-Market at Porta Palazzo/Mercato di Porta Palazzo (Located at Piazza della Repubblica, this is Europe’s largest market with 800+ venders and seemingly endless stalls to cruise past. Everything from fresh fruits, meats, cheese, clothing, home appliances and take-away food are for sale here. It can be a bit overwhelming but it is worth a nose around)

-Run/walk/cycle along the Po River (The Po River is the longest river in Italy and sparkles beautifully through the heart of Torino).

-boat tour along the Po River (you can either take a cruise along the Po river – departures near Parco del Valentino – or rent a kayak to go at your own pace. Times and departures are weather and season-dependant so please do some research on this one before adding it to your list. It is HIGHLY worth a tiny bit of effort!)

-Eat (see below)

-visit the Royal Palace 

National Museum of Cinema (a very different take on a museum but worth a visit – located inside Mole Antonelliana)

Juventus Stadium (home to the Italian Champions League 2015-2016 winners Juventus F.C., the stadium is a must see for sports fanatics and soccer/football fans. There are daily tours and a Juventus museum located inside)

-Mole Antonelliana (the official monument of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, this impressive monument is also featured on the Italian 2cent Euro coin)

-Eat more (see below)

-Palatine Towers (remnants from the Roman era, the Palatine Towers or Palatine Gate are an architectural must-see)

-Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange (shopping district – think high street to higher end)

What to Eat:
Take note: avoid the tourist trap restaurants. Piedmontese cuisine is so fresh, varied and exciting that despite potential language barriers in understanding menus in Italian,  I promise whatever you order will NOT disappoint. Give in to the local flavours and try something new and exciting. I understand many people are upset about the idea of veal but I included it in this list as it is a very proud dish from this region and at least now if you ARE anti-veal, you know what to avoid on the menus (which are often not translated or poorly translated in the better restaurants).

-Risotto (the main ingredient in risotto, Aborio rice, hails from this region)

-Gelato (ice cream of the best quality and the most amazing flavours)

-Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna mayonnaise and capers)

-Antipasti (my favourites being misto-mixed antipasti and Tomini-creamy cheeses served with chilis)

-More gelato 😉

-Agnolotti (traditional meat stuffed ravioli)

-Cheeses (so many to choose from but I highly encourage that if the restaurant you are dining in offers a cheese plate, you should order it)

Good To Know:
To anyone that likes an early dinner, I’m afraid Italians aren’t prepared for this. Most places don’t start opening for dinner until 7:30-8pm. If you can’t deal with this, perhaps stop by somewhere and ask them if you can get snacks for aperitivo. This way you can satisfy your earlier need to eat without sacrificing on taste! 😉
The buses and trams in Torino are EXTREMELY easy to use and clear. We walked almost everywhere we went but took both bus and tram at other times to see things further afield.  We bought 2 day travel cards for sale at any tobacco shop / tabacchi (welcome to Europe, right?). These shops are easy to spot with the following on display outside each one.

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Tobacco / Tabacchi where you can buy your public transport tickets

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

 

 

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part I

There isn’t much about Torino (Turin) not to love. We recently had the pleasure of spending 5 days in the former Italian capital and I have so much to say about it that I have decided to split this post into a few parts. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wealth of cultural, culinary and artistic activities to take part in, Torino is definitely worth adding to your travel bucket list.

Before I dig deeper into what to do, what to eat (a LOT) and where to go, I present a visual journey through this amazing northern Italian city where the alpine views are as impressive as the city itself.

 

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Wise words. I suggestion you follow them! 

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MMMMMMM!! Gelato as far as the eye can see (and stomach can handle)

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Like pasta? Like it A LOT?

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Rent-a-bike for an hour or a day – available throughout the entire city

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When you are a pig and forget to take a stylised photo of your food before you dig in. I swear, nothing tasted bad in Torino!

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Chocolate shoes! Know someone that would like these?
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Obligatory Juventus photo!

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Thank you, Torino, for such a memorable vacation. I will expand upon these photos soon but for now, you live in my heart and memory!!! I can’t wait to return 🙂

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart