Italian Life Olympics – Event #2

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"If you missed my first post on Italian Life Olympics, click here to catch up.

So, back to event #2: crossing the street in Italy.

No, no! It’s no joke. In order to correctly perform this task in busy, crowded, car-congested cities like Roma or Napoli, there’s a certain level of skill required or else –


Some Mario Andretti wannabe will remorselessly metterti sotto (run you over) in their little Fiat 500 without a backward glance while you’re left, stuck to the pavement, newly resembling a human pizza. Fiat 500

Wishing earnestly to avoid this fate, you keep your wits about you and gear up for the event. (Some people choose to say a hearty goodbye to their loved ones beforehand – you never know!).


“Today I’m crossing the street.” “Call when you get to the other side.”

You walk to the curb of the street you wish to cross and size up the amount of traffic (probably molto) that’s crossing your path. You pay no attention (this is important) to what’s going on with the semafori (traffic lights) or the strisce (crosswalks), because the drivers don’t either. You take in the speed, the size of the vehicles and any other obstructions in the area. You toe up to the edge.

Then you turn your head towards oncoming traffic and catch the eye of a driver in the lane closest to you. Now, they’re not really slowing down yet, but you know this is your chance. You maintain eye contact with the driver, steel yourself for the exertion ahead, step off the curb and you…

Walk into traffic.

Chin up, head high, like you own the street. And you keep walking.

You catch the eye of other  drivers as they approach you, and something miraculous happens. Sensing that you’re actually serious about traversing their path, and that their sewing-machine engines are no match for you, they’ll take in your confident stride and acquiesce. Momentarily.

And like Moses parted the Red Sea, the traffic will part, if only briefly, to allow your safe passage to the other side.

But don’t dawdle, and per l‘amor del cielo (for goodness’ sake), don’t run. You’ve gotta look like you’re in control or else someone’s foot might get a little heavy at your display of weakness and – POM! The human pizza fate is once again yours.


All of this fuss can be avoided if you can cross in the company of a nun or priest. Italian drivers will sooner crash than harm someone in a habit!


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!