Italian Life Olympics – Event #1

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the actual Olympics or any of the Italian Olympic teams. Mi dispiace.

Successful travel often requires travelers to have packed a fair dose of adaptability and resourcefulness in their luggage. At times it really does take skill to get from one place to another, work out a sign in a foreign language or make sure you’re not eating kitten tails for dinner.

But Italy… Italy’s another story all together.

Resourcefulness, adaptability, and furbizia (trickery) are brought into any experience in Italian society, even by the locals.  Especially by the locals.


Because successfully living in Italy is an Olympic sport.

Take, for example, the Key Toss. It goes like this:

You live on the top floor of a wonderful palazzo in a place like, say, Siena. You’ve got 110 steps between your place and the portone, the ground floor door into the building. You’re supposed to have a citofono (intercom buzzer system) to open the portone for you, but yours hasn’t worked since you moved in, and, in good Italian fashion, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that the likelihood of it ever getting repaired is nulla. Which means it’s actually 110 steps for you to go down and let someone in, then 110 steps back up to your abode. Never having been friendly with the StairMaster, you become the master of the Key Toss.


Your friends arrive in the street in front of your house. They know your buzzer doesn’t work, but they want in. Some might send an sms or give you a call on the phone. But the die-hards, they yell.

“Saaaaaa-rahhhhhh! Siamo sotto casa!” The first cry alerts you to their presence. Literally, “Sarah! We’re under house!”

The second contains your mission. “Butta le chiavi!” Throw the keys!

You snap into action, going to whichever room faces the street. You open the window and poke your head out.


Grabbing the set of keys you keep just for this purpose, you take aim and launch them. Out the window. Into the street. To your awaiting friends.

Points to you if they don’t get stuck on someone else’s roof. Or in a drainpipe. Points also to them if they catch it.

Your friends then let themselves in, brave the stairs, and return your keys to their spot near the window when they finally make it to your place. You rest easy, satisfied in having saved yourself the fatica (exertion) of doing 220 stairs.

Check back soon for Italian Life Olympics – Event #2!

Follies of a Frazzled Chef: Never Enough Gnocchi

Frazzled ChefSay ben tornata (welcome back) to the Frazzled Chef (me). It’s not often that I make a grand foray into the kitchen. Like I’ve mentioned before, cooking well is something I wish I knew how to do, but I don’t. What I can do well is cook very, very messily in a somewhat stressed, somewhat frazzled, often not-very-careful way.

My recipe repertoire used to be limited to pizza, coffee, and Nutella sandwiches. Now I’m proud do say I’ve added a few more things to that list like cookies, carbonara, and tiramisù. And salad.

Two days ago, I had a refresher course on making one of our family’s favourite pastas: gnocchi. And who better than to teach you about the family faves than your Nonna, right? So my dear (brave) Nonna invited me into the shiny, nice, new kitchen in her nice, new house to make two types of gnocchi: regular, and sweet potato. Also present for the day’s labour were my Mamma and friend/Italy travel companion, Martina.

My Nonna and I, hard at work. No, I'm not wearing heels. No, she's not crouching.

My Nonna and I, hard at work. No, I’m not wearing heels. No, she’s not crouching.

How did I do? Well…

Before we get too frazzled, let’s start with a little language lesson.  Say it for me, gnoh – key.

No, not gin-oh-kee.You’ll make my ears bleed doing that.

Gnoh – key.


Oh, some of you don’t know what gnocchi are? They’re delicious, that’s what they are. Unless they’re store-bought, in which case they’re usually mushy and slimy. But real, homemade gnocchi made according to my Nonna’s recipe are to die for.

Gnocchi are pasta made from potatoes and flour. No eggs, no water. Just potatoes and flour. It’s simple food at its simplest. You’ll also need a knife, a fork and, of course, your hands. Yesterday we made both regular and sweet potato gnocchi, hence the orange pasta in pictures below.

Ok chefs, don your aprons. On your mark, get set, gnocchi!

Peel potatoes. Boil potatoes. Mash potatoes.

Potatoes - peeled, boiled and mashed.

Potatoes – peeled, boiled and mashed.

Add copious, immeasurable amounts of flour to the potatoes. Knead. Add more flour. Get flour everywhere.

Adding flour.

Adding flour.

Mamma kneading the dough.

Mamma kneading the dough.

Knead. Wish you were done. Add more flour. Wonder how you’ll ever get this gunk off your hands.


Keep kneading.

Move over Crossfit, Martina and I are on the gnocchi workout plan.

Move over Crossfit, Martina and I are on the gnocchi workout plan.

You’ll know you’ve added enough flour when the dough isn’t wet and sticky any more. And your arms will hurt. And you’ll start to wonder why you just couldn’t have been happy with some store-bought gnocchi.Then, move your dough to a cutting board. Hack off a piece of dough. Roll it long and thin. Not spaghetti thin, but thin enough. Not too thick though! You get it, right?

Cutting and rolling.

Cutting and rolling.

Then, cut the gnocchi from that roll. They should be sort of rectangular, not too big and not too small, but it depends how you like them. Then, pressing quite firmly, roll one little piece of gnocchi down the prongs of a fork so that it comes out ridged.

The finished products.

The finished products.

Repeat fifty million times, or until your dough is finished, whichever comes sooner.

Not too worse for wear after a day in the kitchen.

Not too worse for wear after a day in the kitchen.

Cook in boiling, salted water until they bubble to the surface. Do not overcook! Cover in your favourite sauce. Enjoy.

Attenzione! Be careful! Because they’ve got so much potato in them, gnocchi are known, KNOWN for giving stomachaches to overambitious eaters. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Buon appetito!

Italian Word of the Day – “Ricominciare” (+ Visa Update)

La Maestra Maldestra

La Maestra Maldestra

It’s been a long time since I last published a Word of the Day post, but I figured this was fitting. Today we’re going to learn about the word ricominciare.

ri (again) + cominciare (start) = to start again

And that’s exactly what I have to do with this whole Italian Visa process, folks.

Grazie to all of you who took the time to leave a comment, send a message, say a prayer or light a candle for me when I went to apply for my Italian work Visa a couple weeks ago. Things didn’t quite go as planned (obviously) and now my team of trusty friends and I have to ricominciare da zero (start back at square one) with the whole process.

Back to the drawing board...

Back to the drawing board…

Having to re-do things because they weren’t quite right the first time isn’t as disheartening, however, as hearing that something’s impossible. And I’m (thankfully) sitting in the first camp. So now I know how things go. Now I know what to do, who to see, what to send and what to sign. This Visa is still within reach, and so is my dream of living and working in Italy (again).

So, to ricominciare is not all bad. No, not at all. Besides, I’m not the only one who has to fare salti mortali (jump through hoops) to get something done on the Visa or Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay) front.

Take a look at these posts from other great Italy bloggers to read their trials and tribulations:

Girl in Florence – How to Survive Your Next Permesso di Soggiorno Renewal

Italy Project 365 – How to Obtain a Permesso di Soggiorno per Lavoro

The Florentine – Let’s Talk About Visas II

And just because we are still talking about our Word of the Day, take a listen to Adriano Pappalardo’s 1979 hit, “Ricominciamo” (Let’s Start Over).

(If the original music video is available in your area, take a look. The guy looks like a pro wrestler-turned-singer!)